Recently I received the following question on another blog post I wrote titled When Submission is Twisted. Because my answer got a bit long winded, I decided to write a new post on this subject. If you find it relevant, I’d love to hear your comments.
I was once under church leaders that were abusive to me. How do I know if I did the right thing by confronting? Or if God put me there to learn submission?
They would never support me in my musical talent. They were the music leaders and even though I was gifted they hindered my progress. I stood under them for years. Then I was abused by someone else who just tried to bully me and had that “rule over you with iron fist” so I winded up leaving but had a confrontation that the main leader twisted because she knew she was guilty of hindering me.
I know the word also says to obey the harsh and cruel.
How will I ever understand if I was right or wrong? The pastor took their side because they ran everything. I’d wanted a meeting to confront the treatment but never did get it, so it left me confused not knowing if I was wrong. All I know is they broke my spirit. The Pastor said what was he to do? He could not risk losing them over me. I just think it should have been handled differently but still unsure. I winded up leaving that church broken and lost my church family.
I was also bullied by someone they put in charge. They disrespected me. Not sure I handled it correctly but I never got any resolution and I always thought I was wrong for not submitting properly.
I also feel God led me to jobs where I was mistreated by my bosses. Can it be he uses those situations to refine us? I definitely feel he led me to those jobs where I was abused on jobs even by bosses. You can’t always leave and can’t always confront either because you can get fired.
I don’t think God ever endorses abuse, but when we are in difficult situations He can use them to refine us. When similar situations seem to repeat themselves over and over in our lives, it’s wise to ask God what he’s trying to develop in us. I’m glad you’re doing that.
Take a moment to honestly consider:
Do others typically perceive you to be entitled, opinionated, demanding or rude? If so, perhaps God is trying to shape your character by allowing you to sit under authority.
Or do you think others perceive you to be overly compliant, accommodating or servile? Do you often feel like others walk all over you? Maybe you feel left out, rejected, inferior, intimidated or even victimized? When our character is marred by trauma and repeated abuse, it often pushes us into passivity and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’re drawn over and over again to relationships that are manipulative and controlling.
From what you mention, I suspect you might fall into the latter category.
If that resonates with you, I don’t want you to feel hopeless. Your difficulties aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Struggles come to develop us. To refine our character, perseverance and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Our suffering and adversity is often an opportunity for personal growth.
If you think your circumstances are ordained by God, I’d ask you to consider: Is God using people of power to train you in confidence and assertiveness?
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. Assertiveness is birthed out of the confidence that Hebrews speaks of.
Do not throw away your confidence for it will be richly rewarded (Hebrews 10:35).
You might also consider 2 Timothy 1:7. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
When we are continually drawn to relationships, work environments, and church cultures that are controlling it often reveals own need to develop assertiveness and confidence.
Authoritative, controlling, demanding or even abusive partners, leaders or employers need passive people in order to work out their agenda. However, it’s important to understand that passivity is different than submission.
Passivity is rooted in the fear of man.
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
On the other hand, submission is rooted in the fear of the Lord.
The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble (Proverbs 19:23).
Passivity hinders and restricts our free will, but submission is a choice we make because we trust a higher authority.
Passivity is rooted in the fear of man, but submission is rooted in the fear of the Lord.
Should you confront your leaders?
That depends. Most of the time we think of confrontation as something we do verbally, however, confrontation with controlling partners, employers and leaders may look different when they have shown by their actions that they’re unapproachable or not willing to listen or consider your request.
In that situation confrontations are best done by a change in our own actions.
You mentioned that you know the Word says to obey masters who are harsh and cruel. I suspect you’re referring to 1 Peter 2:18. Let’s take a look at what it says.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
Examining scripture requires that we understand the context and the cultural background. Paul was speaking to slaves.
We have a different concept of slavery today because of our own cultural understanding, but slavery in the first century was quite different. Many slaves in Paul’s day served as accountants and doctors and businessmen. This type of slavery most simulated what we refer to today as having a job.
You asked how you could know if you did the right thing by confronting, or if God put me there to learn submission.
I’ll answer your question with a question: Does God always call us to submit to ungodliness?
I can think of a few women in the Bible that didn’t submit to authority and were actually considered righteous for their actions.
Consider Rahab. She hid the Israelite spies on her roof. Then she lied to the king of Jericho when he inquired about which way they went. Even though she lied and disobeyed authority, she is listed in the Hebrews Hall of Fame.
Consider Jochebed, Moses’ mother who disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to throw all male babies in the water.
Abigail didn’t honor her husband’s choice to ignore David’s request.
None of these women confronted the men who were in authority. Instead, they changed the way they responded. They answered to a higher authority when the demands of the authority in the land had evil or malicious intentions.
From the examples of these women, we can see why verbal confrontations with controlling or abusive leaders or abusive partners isn’t always safe.
Proverbs 9:7 verifies this: Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Someone who is controlling will often view an inquiry, a disagreement or a confrontation as a rebuke or a correction. A rebuke can even be something as minor as a difference of opinion if somebody is very narcissistic or controlling. In situations like that the best thing to do is to remove ourselves from the situation or scale down the level of contact.
Your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!