Paul's Passing Thoughts

Blight in the Vineyard, and Clergy Sex Abuse: Some Initial Thoughts Provoked by John Immel’s Book

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on March 27, 2012

I am presently reading, “Blight in the Vineyard” by John Immel. One should probably read this book a couple of times before they review it (this isn’t the formal review), but my present understanding of the book has provoked some thoughts that are perhaps worth writing about. That’s because the book is very thought provoking. The subtitle is, “Exposing the Roots, Myths, and Emotional Torment of Spiritual Tyranny.”

Let’s face it: spiritual abuse; clergy sexual abuse; clergy manipulation; clergy intimidation; clergy control mania, and everyday spiritual tyranny is rampant in today’s church. Without hardly any effort at all I compiled the blogroll under “Abuse” in this website’s sidebar.

What’s going on? Obviously, something is. And John Immel offers a thesis concerning the root cause in his book. That’s important—endless discussions concerning symptoms will leave us all dressed up with nowhere to go. Immel outlines the historic philosophies that have led to the present spiritual tyranny of our day. And spiritual tyranny often comes with the unspoken clergy perk of selected concubines. Willing and unwilling. That’s my angle here; one of the symptoms of spiritual tyranny.

Immel, in the book, also mentions his own unfortunate collision with the descendants of spiritual despots; such collisions drive some to relentlessly pursue the reasons that this tyranny takes place. Immel was helped in this endeavor by his vast education in church history. My story is the same. What is behind the outrageous behavior of a whole generation of spiritual leaders? And how can their mode of operation be so similar? I also had to know. I even went back to college to get the tools that I needed for the mission. Others who have approached this problem from different angles are finding uncanny agreement with each other on common points.

More of Immel’s book must be absorbed, but for the purpose of this post, I will present a really rough sketch. It all starts with a  predominate ancient philosophy that propagated the supposed inability of man to know reality. Therefore, mankind is in need of those who are spiritually enlightened to guide us. This philosophy eventually entered the church under the auspices of total depravity. In fact, man is so totally depraved, that the church enlisted the help of government to keep the totally depraved in line. The governing authorities are often all too happy to cooperate as a way to control the masses with a central belief system. This meant making the Scriptures property of the state with the clergy wing being the only ones who could supposedly interpret them. Daring to interpret the Scriptures for yourself could get you burned at the stake—if you were lucky:

I do further promise and declare that I will, when opportunity presents, making and wage relentless war, secretly or openly, against all heretics, Protestants and liberals, as I am directed to do and to extirpate and exterminate them from the face of the whole earth; and that I will spare neither sex, age or condition; and that  I will hang, waste, boil, flay, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics; rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women and crush their infants’ heads against the wall, in order to annihilate forever their execrable race.

~Pope Paul III, 1576

The Reformation was probably just as much about freedom of thought as it was anything moral or theological. When Papal authority was brought down, a vast verity of religious thought transpired.  When the Reformers attempted to bring some theological order back to the masses, they employed the same kind of philosophy and heavy handed control as the popes had. In fact, Calvin also coveted with the government of Geneva and had his share of heretics burned and beheaded. Meanwhile, throughout history, the Catholic Church has continued to treat parishioners as little more than cattle to be herded about and feasted on. As recent as 1948, horrific atrocities by the Catholic Church have been recorded in books such as, “House of Death and Gate of Hell.”

In his book, Immel seems to think that this authoritative control of knowledge (which both the Catholic Church and the Reformers were/are guilty of) ends up being the decrees of men instead of absolute truth. Creeds, accords, confessions, catechisms, and counsels become the authority, and the nomenclature is “orthodoxy.” That’s a word I use often myself.

Think what you will of Immel’s thesis (as well as I have stated it here), but frankly, I see the reality of it everywhere in today’s Christian landscape. Clergy does what it damn well pleases, while the laity is kept in line. And especially in Reformed circles, creeds and confessions are the authority. This has always baffled me, but apparently, this is a mentality that has been present throughout the history of the church.

This expendable laity verses the too big to fail spiritually enlightened mentality is pervasive in today’s church. If you are excommunicated by a church, the church that excommunicated you will write a letter to any church you try to join—letting them know that you are damaged goods. But if you are a spiritually enlightened rapist, the church will write a letter to the judge asking for leniency ( ). I was recently confronted by some pastors for writing a negative article about a particular “man of God,” and thereby “dragging the name of Christ through the mud.” Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that their denomination covered for a known spiritually enlightened pedophile for several years. A layman criticizing one of the pathfinders of our day is “dragging the name of Christ through the mud,” but pedophilia isn’t. And so it goes.

Except in the Bible.  Again, one of Immel’s minor theses’ in the book is the idea that orthodoxy and absolute truth are two separate things—orthodoxy is most often the decrees of men used for ill purpose. And hark; we see that plainly in our day. The Bible calls for pastors that sin to be rebuked before all so that the others will fear (1Timothy 5:20). That’s absolute truth, and in other expressions, especially contemporary ones, would be a data base to warn other churches about spiritually enlightened pedophiles (which to date no denomination has agreed to do). Instead, orthodoxy in most of these situations has yielded tragic results by using biblical facts to distort absolute truth.

I’m just sayin’ seems like Immel is on to something.


8 Responses

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  1. Verity said, on March 29, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    According to an article in Christianity Today September 2009 issue, the Geneva City Council voted to execute Michael Servetus. John Calvin was hired and at one time fired by the city council. He did not have the power of life or death over inhabitants. As a matter of fact it is now known that Calvin’s supporters on the council did not vote to execute; his opponents voted it. Nonetheless, Calvin did not protest too much according to what we know. Calvin did try to get the method of execution changed from burning to beheading which was considered more humane. He failed. He was a spiritual leader; he did not run the city. I recall reading a biography of Calvin some years ago which said that he wrote to Servetus telling him not to come there; he would never get out of there alive.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on March 29, 2012 at 8:34 PM

      Do you refute the following by a church historian?:

      As the Institutes of the Christian Religion greatly influenced the theology of the Reformation, Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Ordinances greatly affected the structure of many Reformed churches and their relation to the community. One major element of the Ecclesiastical Ordinances was the Consistory, the central church governing apparatus, composed of ministers and elders. Its purpose was to maintain ecclesiastical discipline and theological orthodoxy, but when the social community of the city is identical to the church community, the result is that ecclesiastical discipline and religious heterodoxy have social implications. Very quickly church offenses become civil offenses or at least offenses with civil consequences, as the medieval Church came to see.

      The Consistory oversaw the conduct of the believers-citizens of Geneva down to the minutest detail, intervening with disciplinary measures such as public rebuke and excommunication. But because the civil and the ecclesiastical authority were so closely intertwined, condemnation by the Consistory could lead to civil punishments such as public fines and even exile and execution. People were brought before the Consistory for every sort of offense, including petty ones such as singing jingles critical of Calvin, card playing, dancing, and laughing during a sermon. The Consistory also sent out members to each parish to look for transgressors, who, if discovered, were tried by the Consistory. Every household was visited annually, before Easter, to ascertain the status of prospective communicants. If Geneva was the “Rome of the Reformation,” the Consistory was its Inquisition and Calvin its Pope.

      Geneva under Calvin’s influence controlled its citizens’ lives, including their private lives, well beyond what the medieval Church did. The individual Christian in the Church of Geneva was “free” to interpret the Bible for himself, provided he interpreted it exactly as Calvin did.

      Was Calvin a “dictator”? Surely not in the conventional sense. He held no elected office, nor did he exercise direct political power in Geneva. He was mainly a pastor, not a politician. And yet we mustn’t go as far as some of Calvin’s supporters, who say he was “simply” a pastor. He possessed tremendous influence in the political community, well beyond that of a mere civic leader. And that influence translated directly into civil law strictures and punishments. Geneva was not an absolute State, in the modern sense, but neither was it a free state, except perhaps for those who already accepted its rigid norms of conduct.

      A prime example of Calvin’s influence in Geneva is the case of Pierre Ameaux, a member of the city council, who had criticized Calvin as a preacher of false doctrine. The council told Ameaux to retract his statement, but Calvin wanted a harsher punishment. Ameaux was forced to go through town dressed only in a shirt, with a torch in hand.

      Ameaux’ fate was a mere embarrassment; the embryonic freethinker Jacques Gruet was executed for criticizing Calvin, for blasphemy and for protesting the stringent demands of Calvin’s Geneva. He was tortured and beheaded. Calvin also got Jerome Bolsec banished for the Frenchman’s disagreement with Calvin regarding predestination, thus proving that, while Geneva was a haven for Protestants throughout Europe who agreed with Calvin, it could be oppressive for those who did not.

      But the most celebrated case is that of Michael Sevetus, who didn’t get off as lightly as Bolsec. The Spanish physician-writer took it upon himself to reformulate the doctrine of the Trinity in what were essentially Gnostic categories. But Sevetus made the mistake of sending Calvin an advance copy, which led, by a rather Byzantine route, to Calvin tipping off the Catholic magistrates in Vienna that the heretical Sevetus was practicing medicine in their city. That brought the apparatus of the Inquisition down on him. Sevetus managed to escape and wound up, in all places, Geneva, en route to Naples. Calvin had him arrested, tried and sentenced to death. As an act of mercy, Calvin requested that Sevetus be beheaded, instead of burned, but in this case Calvin’s request was not honored.


  2. Anonymous said, on March 30, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    Pope Paul III died on November 10, 1549. and had been dead 27 years by 1576, the year when the quotation drawn rom Immel’s book was alledly made by Pope Paul III in 1576.



    • paulspassingthoughts said, on March 30, 2012 at 7:20 PM

      Thanks for the input, but I won’t be taking that to the bank until I do some research on my own. Are you saying that PP3 didn’t say it at all?


  3. pattij553 said, on March 31, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    ‘probably just a typo mixup with Pope Paul lll’s portrait artist’s death.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on March 31, 2012 at 7:28 PM

      I figured something along those lines.


  4. Ron said, on June 11, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    I think we miss something deeply primordially when we try to pin abuse in any single tradition. It’s in every tradition, in so far as that tradition attempts to institutional power and control through creeds, councils, inquisitions, and ‘religious-rulers’ of every sort. The mother of James and John demonstrate this hornet’s nest around power that incited the protests of 10 others, and a stern rebuke from Jesus, when she tried to get special status for her boys, one on the right, one on the left, in the Kingdom. “It (lording it over others) shall not be so among you…” Jesus said. The primordial nature of our quest for power, calls for “surrender” to the Way of Jesus, not simply trying to pin the tail on the donkey of this villain or that. When it comes to power, we all tend to be donkey like!!!..but not inevitably!!!

    Looking forward to hearing more about Immel’s book, Paul!


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