I have come to cringe when I see an article by some well-meaning (or not well-meaning) person discussing the issue of bitterness. Through the years, I have become convinced that the authority-driven theodudes utilize this word to abuse and demean those in their churches. The first time I heard this word wrongfully used against me was by Dr. David Nelson, formerly Dean of Faculty and well-known professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Without belaboring an old story, Nelson asked some of us involved with questioning the actions of my former Baptist church to meet with a woman who was a child abuse expert. Nelson, along with the attorney, was serving on the internal investigation group looking into accusations that the church leadership did not respond to allegations of behavior from a year previous.
This was when I first found myself mistrusting the actions and intentions of pastors and church leaders. So, I looked up the woman’s name and was shocked. We were asked to speak to, first and foremost, an attorney. I couldn’t believe it and thought a mistake had been made. This was before he resigned from SEBTS and my former church, where he functioned as an elder. I contacted Nelson and asked why he didn’t tell us he wanted us to speak to an attorney. I was concerned because I knew the Catholic church used attorneys to get information from witnesses and victims.
Nelson said, “You are bitter.” I was stunned. First of all, my son was not one of Goodrich’s victims. So, I wasn’t angry about that. I was angry about the number of boys molested (over 13.) I was trying to figure out what was going on along with some others. For the record, I did not meet with her, but my husband did. The meeting resolved nothing. I forgot about being charged with bitterness by a now-defunct Baptist seminary professor until I started this blog.
I started this blog without any idea what was happening in this post-evangelical wilderness. As I began to hear from victims of Sovereign Grace Ministries (Churches), Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll) victims, victims of Calvinista churches, PCA churches, charismatic churches, IFB churches, and so forth, one of the words that sexual abuse victims and their loved ones heard regularly is that they were bitter. Comments came into the blog, claiming that I and the commenters were all bitter. It became so prevalent that I banned the word “bitter” from being used against victims. I even suggested that if it was essential to use such a word, then find a better one from the Thesaurus. I kind of like “mordant.”
Let’s look at two authoritarian uses of the word “bitter.”
First, bitterness due to sexual abuse is a sin-repent!
How do the theodudes view those who are in pain due to abuse?
I found the following post at TGC confusing. The Gospel Coalition posted How to Starve Bitterness.
Bitterness is poison dipped in honey. It tastes sweet going down, then it kills us from the inside out. In this way, bitterness is the poster child for the deceitfulness of sin. Whenever we love something that brings death to us, the devil has us right where he wants us.
If we do not actively starve bitterness, it will bring death to us. So how do we starve it?
So being bitter is the poster child for the deceitfulness of sin? He believes that a bitter person replays the sin repeatedly in his mind. He doesn’t seem to understand that serious trauma which is unresolved can lead to the profound mental anguish that can last for decades. Why do many abuse victims wait for 20, 30, or more years before dealing with their abuse? Yet many churches call such a victim “bitter” and “unforgiving.”
Even more stunning is the author’s contention that repeating this pain to another is “gossip'” another dearly beloved word of the authority set. Does he not see that the person is seeking strength and help from others because they are often left alone and rejected by their church which wants the person to get over it and move on.
He says one is allowed to “lovingly” confront the person who “sinned against us” and discuss his sin with him. It’s also OK to discuss this matter with law enforcement, but not much else.
The Biblical counseling problem: The victim is a sinner and must confess their sin of bitterness to God and their abuser!
I have written extensively about my problems with Biblical counseling. You can see many of my posts linked at Why (ACBC) Biblical Counseling Will Continue to Throw Counselors Under the Bus.
I knew I would find some illuminating material if I searched for the words “sexual abuse” and “bitter.” Bitterness and sexual abuse was written by Mark A. Mayerstein, who admits he is not a psychiatrist but a BIblical counselor.
He starts off well by admitting that the effects of abuse stay with a person for a long time.
He believes that a biblical counselor can add to the intervention of professionals.
In his book, Practical Counseling Principles for Christians,Dr. Jeff Owens outlines tend different reasons why people become bitter and offers some suggestions for counseling them onhow to overcome the devastating impact of these destroyers of the spirit. Of these causes, themost difficult with which to deal is sexual abuse because it, by definition, includes both physical and psychological abuses. Also, it affects us at such a deep, personal level and its effects stay with us for a long time. While I believe that in many cases individuals suffering from this type of abuse will require professional, medical intervention, I also think there is a tremendous benefi twhich can be derived from the caring of a trained “biblical counselor. Addressing the needs of the soul as well as the psyche offers a powerful synergistic treatment, which God makes available to the benefit of the believer. I am a trained biblical counselor, I am not a psychiatrist
Bitterness is a sin, and the person must conquer that sin.
This next section is disturbing. Not only must the “bitter” person confess their sin to God, but they should confess their bitterness to the abuser!
In the book authored by Dr. Owens to which I referred earlier;, he lists four steps bitter people must take in order to properly and effectively begin to heal their bitterness resulting from abuse. The victim must first admit that bitterness is a sin unto itself, and then confess to committing that sin. He/She must realize the importance of dying to self and, once the bitternes is conquered, staying dead to that sin. Finally, the counselor must lead the person to forgiving his/her abuser and then begin the process of rebuilding that person%s life and self esteem.
the bitter person must confess his/her sin to self, to God,and sometimes even to the one toward whom his/her bitterness is being directed while some are readily willing to confess their transgression, some aren’t even to the point of defiance. When this happens the wise counselor will lead the victim to the realization that, in order to heal, a confession also must be made. If the counselor can elicit these confessions, this will help the bitter person make huge progress in his/her questfor peace. At this point, the counselor must make the decision whether or not to press for the victim to confess his/her bitterness to his abuser :James 4:25;. Dr Owens believes that this should only be done if the abuser knows the victim is bitter AND the victim can pursue this enlightening tactic in a positive and nonconfrontational manner. If not, then the eventual attempt at forgiveness will be skewed towards the actions of the abuser and not towards the sin of the victim
Second, bitter means that “Your pain and concern make me feel uncomfortable, and we want you, and it, gone.”
I found this great article at Common Grace: Part 2: The characteristics of spiritual abuse.
Exploit the doctrine of our fallenness to accuse, berate, critique, attack, belittle, condemn or produce guilt in the victim. They may cultivate or take advantage of their victim’s conscientiousness in regards to moral matters in order to make them feel like the real problem is the victim’s inferior spirituality. They may make the victim feel like the only reason things aren’t better is because the victim is immature.
Exploit the doctrine of our fallenness to excuse or minimise the severity of their own behaviour. They may try to convince the victim that since everyone is sinful, their abuse is normal, and they shouldn’t expect anything different.
Exploit the doctrines of forgiveness and reconciliation to demand that a victim forgive the abuse, even if there has been no real repentance. They may pressure the victim to ‘move on’, as though any ongoing hurts are the result of ungodly bitterness or resentments. They may demand that forgiveness equate to the restoration of all the previous conditions of the relationship (including contact, communication and trust).
Julie Anne Smith posted, “Stop Being So Bitter.”
This is the fifth blog post referring to an article by Jonathan Hollingsworth, What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Been Hurt by the Church.
…People who have been hurt by a church have a right to be angry. Not only is anger an appropriate response to injustice, it’s a healthy response if it’s channeled the right ways.
So why do Christians have such a hard time letting each other express negative emotions? Why do we always have to fish for some deeper spiritual problem like a root of bitterness or unforgiveness?
The other day I heard someone put it this way: “Religion will molest you, then accuse you of being bitter about it.” Do you see the double standard? When victims react to being hurt by someone in a church, we treat them as though there’s something’s wrong with them. This is why abusers are so often exonerated. It’s easier to justify letting the abuser off the hook if both parties are “in the wrong.” Source
We are told we need to hurry up and be done with it. If we don’t get over it on “their” timetable, we are labeled bitter. I have difficulty with that. No one can determine another’s heart, the pain someone has gone through, or how long it will take to recover from spiritual abuse.
I felt that this line was vital.
Maybe it makes them uncomfortable because we represent the reality that: church is not always a healthy place; and there is a wake of sadness, anger, disillusionment left in their wake.
In the end, maybe that is what David Nelson was saying to me. I represented the reality that my former church was not always healthy, which is an understatement when you look at the numbers of young teen boys horribly molested by a Baptist seminary student. Nelson was so tired of being committed to everything that he ditched his elder position, church, and SEBTS seminary and got out of Dodge. Yet I was the bitter one.
Have you ever been called “bitter?’ How did it affect you? Do you still think about it? I sure do. The word is part of the deeply embedded spiritual abuse found in many of today’s churches.