Fri | Aug 12, 2022

Fr Sean Major-Campbell | People should be protected from religious abuse

Published:Sunday | June 26, 2022 | 12:08 AM
Sean Major-Campbell
Sean Major-Campbell

I recently stumbled upon a local television programme while channel surfing. It held me not because of entertainment value, but because of what was happening to an obviously sick woman.

I was in no doubt that those committing the emotional, spiritual, and religious abuse were actually not intending to do harm. The lady presented with what in psychology may be referred to as a fractured personality.

A fractured or split personality is one in which a mental pathology presents with different personalities, usually two or more. Dissociative identity disorder has been especially seen among individuals who have experienced trauma. This appears to be rather significant with those who have been victims of adverse childhood experiences.

Adults may also have these dissociative identity experiences after various types of trauma. It is, however, problematic when a pastor and other church leaders, with the best of intentions, exacerbate the pathology with shouting, condemnation, and declarations of demon possession. The individual actually requires at this time, a calm, informed, qualified voice to facilitate therapy which employs a course of “treatment” under the guidance of a qualified therapist. Being slapped in the head, face, or stomach is not advisable.

That said, please note that there is a place for the resource of faith. This may include one’s scriptural texts, spiritual guide, and whatever has been a source of peace for the individual. However, one must beware of the temptation to use outdated approaches to substitute for best practices now realised with advances made in the fields of clinical work to include pastoral psychology and counselling.

It must be cause for concern when agents of the Church get a free pass in the name of ‘freedom of religion’ to cause further harm while posting a bank account number for contributions, which are likely after a ‘netfix’ of videos. In a context of high illiteracy, low critical thinking, and suspicion of scholarship, our people are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse and further trauma in addition to existing pathology. It is worthy of note that these same agents have also been numbered among those who most oppose the obligations under the Disaster Risk Management Act.

Has the time come for us to determine a standard of sorts for those who would set up offices or be appointed in such offices of influence over others? Should the norm continue where someone wanting to be a bishop or pastor, simply calls self by that name, and proceed to post signage, order a stamp, and dress the part? Is there a duty of care on the part of the state to protect citizens from religious trauma?

I still remember an eventful Monday morning when a student came to me in tears. At the time, I was the school chaplain who also served in the guidance and counselling department. This girl was still in shock from her ordeal over the weekend. She had been raped by the music minister at her church.

I learnt from her that the pastor of the church was not aware of the incident. With her permission, I called the pastor and facilitated her sharing with him the plight of her being violated and raped! No sane mind could possibly guess what the pastor’s response was! I only believe it happened because I witnessed when he asked the sobbing child, “Have you asked the Lord’s forgiveness?”

I now had in front of me a victim of rape and a dangerous man who was free to continue in his influential office with a lack of empathy or any sense of duty to child care and protection.

These are not politically safe matters for politicians to address. The stakes are too high. There are votes to secure. And, oh yes, there is freedom of religion.

When are we going to wake up, though? Who is going to recognise that in a world where there is a lot of poverty, hopelessness, and pain, people are even more vulnerable to influential power-hungry individuals who have free rein over unsuspecting members of the public?

A post-pandemic world is full of uncertainties. It is a different world with old ways of being. It presents people with existential crises. Even people who once seemed certain about meaning and purpose in life are rethinking without rethinking. The vulnerability is palpable!

We the people should call for a more accountable approach on the part of those who influence the lives of others. Matters of such deep concern should demand much more than a pastor’s personal assumptions and experiments. When we appreciate intellect, reason, and wisdom as gifts from God or a reality of a more evolved way of being, then we cannot settle for what may destroy fellow human beings. May we be inspired with a psalmist’s view of God. “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

- Fr Sean Major-Campbell, is an Anglican priest and advocate for human rights.