Apparently I was involved in ritual child abuse. It was kinda shocking to learn this.
Disclaimer: I was not personally abused in this ritual, nor did I abuse anyone else. This is a case of good intentions gone bad, or people caring more about stupid 2 thousand year old dogma more than real live children. One of the two.
While reading the book Breaking Their Wills, I skimmed through the section on ritual child abuse. Adults talked about their experiences of exorcisms. They ranged from embarrassing to life-threatening. Feeling sick, I jumped ahead to the next bit and was surprised to find experiences that I used to go through several times a year.
One man shared the terror he felt as all the children and teens were called up in his church to be prayed over to receive the gift of tongues. He described panicking as groups of men closed in around him, touched him, pushed his forehead, yelled unintelligible sayings and would not release him until he too could babble like they did.
I remember those. I went up voluntarily the first time. I was 8. I wanted this special connection to the Holy Spirit. I was promised that if I could get enough of it, I would be perfect and God could do all sorts of miracles through me. Sounded good to me. My daddy came with me and kept me from feeling scared. I was disappointed that it did not work. A few years later I went up when all the teens and tweeners were called up to the front of the tabernacle, which happened regularly.
I remember being completely surrounded by dark suits and cut off from my other tween friends. Two of the men I knew but not very well. They surrounded me, grabbed hold of my arms and forehead and began praying, yelling, calling out to God loudly. I became shaky. My prayers went from coherent “Please Jesus, come Holy Spirit” to trembly “ple, ja, ra”. At that point, the men cheered, hugged me, and surrounded the child next closest.
I was elated! While I was disappointed that my babbles did not sound Hebrew like some of the leaders, full of shaloms and shaddais, and really it did not sound like any language I’d heard, I consoled myself that it was a tongue of angels. I did not want to stop. My body was shaky for the next few hours and I kept babbling stuff under my breath, terrified that I would lose it if I stopped and stay a wretched sinner unable to stop sinning. I was dreaming of walking into hospitals and healing everyone with the Holy Spirit. I would not experience that feeling again until I ran a race around town in gym class. I won, but I threw up immediately afterwards. The feeling of pushing myself until I had nothing left (literally) and winning was exhilarating.
Of course, I wanted this intense experience. I knew that others did not. The man in the book said that he would mumble the alphabet or a nursery rhyme just to get the men to let him go back to his seat. I knew some of my friends did the same. We were called up regularly for this at larger church gatherings. All teens were expected to go up, even if they had already proved able to speak in tongues. I did not mind. I would huddle off to the side with some friends as the overpowering group emotions bombarded us. This was one of the few times I could let myself cry and I found it really cathartic.
What I did dread was when all the teens, and sometimes even young children, were called up to the front to prophesy. Only after we prophesied into the microphone in front of hundreds of people were we allowed to sit back down. If we couldn’t produce a prophesy right away, we were surrounded by the same group of men who would grab our arms, push our foreheads, and wail unto the Lord for us. No one was allowed to leave before prophesying. And if a young girl did not have her head covered, one of the men would put his hand on her head in lieu of one. They usually put hands on heads anyways, but it was seen as further proof of the necessity for females to cover their heads since it tended to speed things up. I doubt they admitted it sped things up for the males too.
I never could prophesy. I was all too aware that the words in my head were my own and controlled by myself. I could think of lots of things to say that fit with the theme of everything else, but it was too dishonest for me to pass of these thoughts as being only of God. It never occurred to me that the other people just said what they were thinking anyways. When I knew these things were coming, I would try and hide in the bathroom or ask thedeaf kitchen workers if I could help them.
On occasion, I got caught and ended up at the front. I spent the time anxious and worried. No bolt from God ever came. Only my own thoughts. Humiliated, feeling like a failure, but mostly dreading misleading anyone by saying something I thought and passing it off as God, I would be one of the last ones left. At that point, I would whisper my favourite verse about not being afraid because God is always with us and slink back into the crowd.
It never occurred to me that these practices could be called ritual child abuse. I guess I was lucky in some ways that I sincerely wanted to prophesy and speak in tongues. The kids who were skeptical, uninterested, or terrified of public speaking must have had the worst time.
Thank god my kids won’t have to go through this. I’m free to mess them up in other ways :p