Spiritual Abuse

If you’ve grown up in an Evangelical church with contemporary worship, traditional Lutheran liturgy can be the most yawn-inducing, mind-numbing, head-pewing, soporific experience ever. The congregation painfully wends its way through a march hymn in the ELW, (or the LBW before it) sounding as joyful as Ralphie getting a pink bunny suit on Christmas Day.
As we face the baptismal font and dolefully recite the Apostle’s Creed, you start to get the eerie feeling that any minute everyone will start chanting, One of us. One of us. If you happen to have a non-charismatic, horrible story-telling, devoid of point-making/lectionary tying-in pastor, you’ll start looking around at others during the sermon to see if they’re engaged. You think, Seriously? Where did you find this guy?

So, the first time Mike and I went to the church I grew up in, (which has become a mega church since leaving for college) I knew he would get to see how worship was really done. We entered a dim auditorium, starkly contrasted with the sterile, light-flooded narthex in which we had been moments earlier. Christian “rock” played over the sound system as we found our movie theater-style seats. We face a curtained stage where instruments sat dormant, waiting for their players to bring them to life. The stage was flanked by two large screens that flashed announcements and Christian imagery for people to look at as they milled about in conversation before service began. Finally, the worship team took the stage, and I smugly awaited the moment I would get to tell Mike, Told you so! But that moment never came. With the first strum of the amplified guitar, my brain exploded and my ears bled. For the next 15 or so minutes, the music team led in worship performed and I clumsily tried to follow unfamiliar songs, unable to hear the sound of my own voice. Later, as we left the service, I realized I was unable to hear normally. My ears rang and everything sounded muffled. My mom, who had asked us to come to church with them that day, apologized and assured me that the sound level was abnormally loud that day. The next time we came was a couple of years later. This time I had two things: a baby and the sense to leave the sanctuary with her the moment my ears started bleeding.

I tell this story because I want you to know that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to loud, Evangelical worship before I talk about this open letter from the Mars Hill music minister to concerned congregants who have complained that the music during worship is too loud. If you are supplying ear plugs and people are complaining, it’s not a matter of personal preference or people being curmudgeonly. It’s. Too. Fucking. Loud!

But that’s not the point of this post. As the title suggests, I believe the open letter to be spiritual abuse. Here’s why.

1) It’s cowardly
When someone comes to you and says that you’re hurting them, it can be a natural reaction to get defensive. But a pastor’s role is to serve their congregation, not to hole up in their office and lob open letter grenades at them. If only a few congregants have complained, it’s cowardly not to speak to them directly. If so many congregants have complained that you feel the need to respond open letter style, it may be time to reevaluate, lower your defenses, and make some changes.

2) It’s silencing
To take to the internet and tell people why they’re wrong in a very public way is not meant to foster understanding. It’s meant to shut people up. While at first glance it may seem like Pastor Dustin is giving information about decibel levels, here’s what he’s really saying: he’s saying that your concerns and discomfort are not legitimate. But then he goes beyond that. He uses proof texts to support his position of wanting to be loud. Anyone who’s been in the Evangelical community long enough knows that proof texts are not meant to foster respectful discussion. They are meant to shut your opponent, (yes, that word is often used in apologetics) down and shut them up. The bumper sticker, The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it. comes to mind. The letter might as well have said, End of discussion! at the end.

3) It’s shaming
One way women are taught to recognize abuse from their partners is that they make the woman feel or tell them they’re crazy for feeling a certain way, or they make the woman believe it’s her fault. This happens several times in the letter.

“If this is so, then why do people still complain? For one, some people have more sensitive hearing than others…”

Right there he removes any responsibility from himself and blames the listeners. If the music is bothering you, then it’s probably your fault.

“The idea that worship music should only be quiet and contemplative is simply not biblical.”

“And because, as Christians, we have much to celebrate, most Sundays at Mars Hill will be more like wedding receptions than funerals.”

These false “either/or” arguments serve one purpose: to make anyone who doesn’t want to endure music so loud they can’t hear themselves think feel bad. At no time does Pastor Dustin accept any responsibility for his part in the loud worship. All blame is shifted to others, be they the volunteers or people complaining. (Blaming the instruments was inspired; a call for increased giving if ever there was one.) If you prefer something more quiet and contemplative, there’s something wrong with you. You’re unfaithful or just sad.

All of this amounts to spiritual abuse because Pastor Dustin is using his position of power and the Bible for his own purposes, so he may do as he pleases and you will shut up about it. And for good measure, he’ll make you feel stupid and unfaithful so it never happens again.

A friend of mine, who enjoys Mark Driscoll, (senior pastor) and the teachings of his church, rightfully pointed out that I had a bee in my bonnet about this because I hate Mars Hill. Well, partially right anyway. Hate isn’t the right word. They make me angry and disgusted. Open letters like this one are just another public example of why I am angry and disgusted. That anger is not delegitimized simply because I am consistently disgusted and appalled by the misogynistic, homophobic, mental illness stigmatizing, sex obsessed (and here) garbage that’s frequently dumped on the church.

And some of you may ask, Is this open letter really that big of a deal? It doesn’t seem that bad. Of course it doesn’t. That’s how it always starts.