среда, 5 апреля 2017 г.

Enabling theology

In psychology there is a concept called 'enabling'. In the sense in which I am using this term it describes the behaviour of a co-dependent person, who by their actions 'enables' a dependent person (addict, abuser or similar) in their dependent or abusive behaviour.

The usual examples given of this are things like bailing addicts out of debt, helping them conceal their addiction, shielding from the consequences of their addiction (e.g. preventing their prosecution).

I want to apply this same terminology to theology. What do I mean? In my pastoral work and beyond I have observed situations where Christians have used Biblical interpretation and theology - wittingly or wittingly - to enable abusive behaviour. I am particularly interested not in the use of theology in this way by the abuser themselves, but by the abused and by third parties.

Let me give some examples.

In a given Christian family the husband starts to drink heavily. I am not talking about moderate social drinking, on which there are a variety of convictions, but about regular problem drinking. This has financial consequences, impacts on relationships and gets in the way of the problem drinker's work life. However, the wife - in part out of fear of her husband and of consequences, hoping 'everything will work out in the end' - perceives her duty to be loyal and compliant, to tolerate this behaviour, not to nag her husband and not to disclose this problems to others outside the marriage. This sense of duty is reinforced by third parties who may also encourage the wife along these lines.

A second example is a situation where there is someone in a position of power and responsibility - for example in a work situation. They are known for their strong character and determination. It is better not to cross them. Some people have crossed them in the past and have paid the price. In that situation others - again partly out of fear of the person in question, out of fear of consequences and hoping that 'everything will work out well in the end' - enable the abuser. For example they may abdicate responsibility: "Don't get involved. It's not up to us to challenge the person in authority. God has put them there. Just get on and mind your own business." What is really going on is that the cowering subordinates are trying to find a way to survive, not to annoy the abuser, to avoid unpleasant consequences for themselves. Sometimes they will do things to pacify the abuser ("Feeding the Dragon"). Someone might be brave enough to stand up to the abuser, calling them out about their behaviour and others may respond by not supporting this act of courage and not showing solidarity, fearing for their own skin.

It seems to me that in relationships and in all areas of life we need to have a clear sense not only of responsibilities but also of rights. If you don't like the concept of rights or consider it not to be Biblical, then consider the Biblical notion of "judgment" (mishpat), i.e. what is due to a given person before God in accordance with what God has promised (see, for example, Exodus 21:9). While God may allow suffering along the lines of 1 Peter 2:19, no one 'deserves' to be abused or oppressed. There is every difference in the world between capitulating to injustice and the dignity with which the Lord Jesus faced his execution for our salvation.

Enabling theology - in the sense in which I am using this term - is when Biblical interpretation and theology are marshalled in support of abusive people and relationships. Genuine Biblical truths and duties are used to prop up un-Biblical, sinful behaviour and to undermine brave attempts to confront. For example, submission is portrayed as being absolute, while the Biblical commands are always qualified by the phrase "in the Lord" and also in the light of Acts 5:29. Likewise only the abused are expected to fulfil their responsibilities, while the abuser can do what they like. There is an underlying passivity and fatalism ("God will deal with them, if he needs to") which is at odds with Christian discipleship. And often the underlying driving factor is not exalted moral principles but instinctual fear of the abuser and of the consequences ensuing from their actions.

One of the most difficult things in life has got to be standing up for yourself, for others and for what is right. It is so easy not to do. It is so easy to relent in the face of violence, threat or vilification. It is so easy to concede untruth for the sake of an easy life. 

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