Loyalty to Church and Family

The Godfather

The Godfather

In any hardline church, gang, corporation, military group or cult, there is an emphasis on loyalty. The command to be loyal seems to trump all other commands. For instance imitating the early church in the New Testament was held up as the primary goal of the church I grew up in. But when I started pointing out inconsistencies in the way that principle was interpreted, I was deemed a danger, not a helpful person, as true followers of the main principal would have deemed me. No, a danger. So what was the principle that was bigger than following the New Testament? Loyalty (because the church holds our faith and salvation).

Jesus specifically pointed out that when we join his journey to seek out truth, we have to forsake our father, mother, sister and brother. But the opposite commandment holds sway in the church I grew up in. To be respected in the church meant to ignore obvious inconsistencies and to toe the line. You can’t land a job at a big church, or be invited to preach a gospel meeting or deliver one of the lectures if you question the status quo. Of course you could be innovative by using a new fangled medium to snazz up your sermon; powerpoint, color illustrations, a movie clip, a new book on Hebrews or marriage. But don’t question the doctrines that hold our faith together.


Normal training of recruits

Any organization that uses shame and humiliation as a regular part of their training is going to have this same attitude: the military, police academies, youth gangs, football teams, churches that mock other faiths, any place that keeps members in line by mocking and humiliating is going to have this same attitude of loyalty. And the organization will have lots of watchdogs to hold people in line. This loyalty is not a thought out policy, it is something that grips us at the heart and grounds us  with paralysis.


Paul Cultrera, age 13, Boston

I watched a documentary of a Boston man who had been molested as a child by a priest who had been moved from parish to parish by the bishop instead of protecting the children. They went to interview the current bishop and he refused to speak to them, so they just filmed the diocese headquarters grounds until a priest came out and mocked them: “You are a sad little man…” Later they found out the mocking priest was the current Catholic bishop of Boston. Unable to see how mocking will make him look, and unable to see how disrespectful he is, he shows that he believes it is appropriate to mock people investigating problems in their church. And he shows how he was raised: mock the ones in the family or community who are disloyal; it is an automatic response.

Where do we learn to be Loyal?

We learn to be loyal in our families at the earliest age. In order to survive we have to have food and love. We bond with our caretakers, to form our identities and to survive. Fairbairn said that when our caretakers are cruel or neglecting we use the Moral Defense: I must be bad in order for my caretakers to be cruel or neglecting. I cannot permit my caretakers, whom I identify with, to be judged as evil, or I have no hope of getting the love I need to survive.


Kohlberg, Moral Development

At age 12 healthy pre-teens begin to let go of their caretakers, and question the way we were raised. Those of us who are stunted and too damaged to question things remain unquestioningly loyal. In fact Kohlberg found that a majority of the population is stuck at a conventional level of morality, unable to question the status quo.


James Fowler, author of Stages of Faith

Almost everyone who has been raised in a nurturing, respectful environment has been able to question and examine the values they grew up with, and to find their own identity. These people are not loyal to organizations, they are loyal to principles. Fowler teaches that our principles of faith go through the same transformation, at the same time.


Erik Erikson, Psychosocial Developmental Stages

But no person raised in a mocking, humiliating, threatening church or family environment is able to find their own identity easily. Most choose to foreclose or postpone finding their identities (Erikson). They vote the same way as their parents. They go to the same church, which assures them they are going to heaven and not to hell. They go home for Christmas and Thanksgiving every year and don’t rock the boat.

The only converts to these hardline churches are those that are vulnerable to mocking and threats from their own childhoods. Those who have been raised in strict Catholic households, or children of sarcastic alcoholics are the most likely to be converted to a hard line fundamentalist church.

How to Heal

If you are wanting to heal from the trauma of growing up in a mocking, threatening church (and family), it is important to surround yourself with respectful people. This is the true nature of church: respectful support to grow into a respectful, loving person. In other words, stop spending time with disrespectful sarcastic people. At first it will be hard to find respectful, mature people to spend time with. They have different scary opinions that threaten our equilibrium.

Secondly, stop talking to yourself in disrespectful ways. Stop calling yourself names. Stop berating yourself. If you make a mistake, especially a mistake that hurts someone else, say, “I regret that. I don’t want to do that again. I need to make a plan.” Then envision yourself not making that mistake again, see yourself being successful in your quest to be kind to others.

Thirdly, accept forgiveness. Whenever someone came to Jesus broken in spirit, they received forgiveness, because Jesus believed that forgiveness empowered broken people to move forward and be successful. That forgiveness is still freely available. Live your life accepting God’s constant forgiveness, and extending that constant forgiveness to those around you.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
This entry was posted in Dishonesty, Evangelism, Manipulation, military, Psychology, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Loyalty to Church and Family

  1. garycummings says:

    This was a very interesting article. As a child I was mocked and bullied because I stuttered. Through Jr.High and High School, I was bullied. It only stopped when they crossed a physical line
    and I fought back and they wound up on the ground. I detested fighting.

    This even went on after I got saved at a Baptist Church. Some of the people there, including the pastor bullied me. Then I went looking for “the True Church”. A year later I wound up in the Churches of Christ. There I was accepted, as I was zealous about keeping the party line, as I thought it was absolute truth. I questioned nothing till 1968, when King and Bobby were assassinated. I started questioning the COC, and they turned upon me for daring to question the True Church.

    So, did I set myself up for all of this? When I finally left the COC, it cost me everything and the mocking and cruelty I received from them were off the board. That was 43 years ago.
    Now I am pretty much removed from that. I do not tolerate that kind of behavior. My attitude to all these COC persecutors is “Go screw yourself.”

    Thanks, Gary

  2. k.e. birch says:

    These churches vary by congregation. Some of us left this church after having been raised in coc but I never experienced anything like is being described on these blogs. I find the church of Christ academic approach and control of emotion not to my liking, but I never felt anything but love from the church members.

    • Mark says:

      Hi K.E., It may be that you were in one of the 80% of Churches of Christ that is no longer hard line. Or it may be that you never spoke up enough and contradicted them enough in a Bible class to find out how hard line they were.

      • k.e. birch says:

        I.m old- was in the church in the 50’s. All denominations were stricter back then. I have visited my mother’s church in the Dallas area in recent years and it in no way looks like the church I was raised in. One shouldn’t make negative statements all inclusive.

      • Mark says:

        You’re right. Many denominations were stricter in the 1950s and 1960s. 80% of Churches of Christ are more mainstream evangelical now, not at all hard line. This support group is for those who have experienced the 20% hard line fire and brimstone congregations.

  3. I personally do not believe that 80% of the COC are moderate and 20% are hardline. I think it is the other way around. 80% hardline, and 20% moderate.

  4. Mark says:

    Today you have some of everything. Some are still hard line and some have IM and women are in some pulpits. The spectrum is covered. Now, has the preaching improved? In some it might have and in others, it has not.

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