Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Abusive practices in spiritual "leadership"

I watched another Pagan community drama unfold the other day when a somewhat well known (and recently spanked for his bad behavior) warlock- his word, not mine- was approached very politely about crediting an author for her work.  He cussed this woman out, an elder, who only wanted her work credited, when asked for him to do the right and responsible thing that he had previously been in trouble for.  Today, he's "murdering" his "haters" "in his head.  Nice, right?  I'm not sure the other side of this argument, other than the elder has taken the moral high ground, but that's another story. The point is, there were several red flags to me about his behavior that make me very nervous.

This shines a light on a topic that all people in all spiritual communities need to think about: Who do we allow to be leaders and what do we do when leaders are abusers?

I'm not sure anything can be done, but I'd love to be proven wrong.  Those who crave power and notoriety will always do so. I don't think anyone can  do anything about that.  I have seen vulnerable, desperate people allow themselves into the shelter of what they thought was a safe spiritual place where they were abused again.  It makes me sad every time I see it or hear about it.What we can do is to watch for danger signs, to try to ensure that the vulnerable are not allowed to be preyed on (we can't "save" everyone and it's not our job to make decisions for others) with impunity.  We can do this through information sharing, understanding how abuse happens, and to be cooperative and respectful when law enforcement or other authority figures need to be brought in to deal with things.  We can offer support to victims of this type of abuse and provide safe spaces for discussion learning and assistance seeking.  We don't have to be vengeful, cruel or petty (and trust me when I say I understand how tempting it is and empowering that can make us feel) because it puts us on the same level as the abusers.

So, here are my tips about staying safe from predators in the spiritual community:

  • Beware of those who are always victims but never the cause of the strife in their lives.  As James A. Baldwin once said, "Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable."  This is also a common personality trait to abusers in all arenas.
  • Be suspicious of those who react with anger rather than reason when asked for reasonable action. It could indicate that person is not a healthy or safe individual to mingle your energies with.
  • Don't purposefully expose yourself to danger.  If something feels off about a situation, get out.
  • If your spiritual leader/adviser/guru/teacher/priest/priestess demands, constantly asks for, insists on or barters for your money, sexual favors, or authority over you for spiritual purpose, the answer should be no.  This is one of those situations where you might also want to contact a professional for help whether that person is law enforcement, a counselor, or another spiritual leader. Don't stay silent, don't stay in an unsafe situation , and don't believe you deserve to be abused.
  • Trust yourself. If you have little voice that has serious doubts, look into the situation. If a spiritual leader's message doesn't resonate with you, keep looking for the right path for you, and if a leader gives you the creeps, don't talk yourself out of leaving.
  • Fund spiritual groups with caution. Nonprofits will have IRS numbers to check and they must file annual taxes to stay in good standings. If you can't tell where your money is going , and if the leader won't tell you, don't give them any.
No one should be abused. No one has the right to abuse you, and I don't think we should tolerate abuse in any spiritual community. We may not be able to stop it completely, but we can certainly try to keep it from flourishing.

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