I once attended a church where they taught that the sign of God’s spirit being in someone was that they spoke in tongues. One rule, applied to every single person on earth. At the time, I bought in. And so did someone else I knew who pretended to speak in tongues because he was ashamed that the fact that he didn’t, naturally, meant that God’s spirit wasn’t in him. At the time it bothered me, because I felt that the Bible showed God touching people in a lot of different ways than just speaking in tongues.
But some of the people in this church, they tenaciously held on to the belief that God could be defined in rules and patterns, that his ways could be traced out to a single set form, that life could be made to be predictable. The other side of this homogenizing of God’s ways was the homogenizing of God’s people. And the other side of this homogenizing of God’s people was fear.
Because as we all know, people often don’t fit within the strictures of our expectations, especially when the expectation is that God will manifest himself in someone according to a formula. So there was this constant fear and questioning. If Mary Sue was “blessed” and didn’t speak in tongues or start laughing with the “joy of the spirit”, people questioned why. Maybe she was feeling God’s grief over some kind of sin, or… maybe she was being oppressed by a demon.
It wasn’t every single person in that church who thought that way, but there was a group. A group my father described as having to cast demons out of their teacups before drinking. There was a period of time where this sort of heightened spirituality was rampant, and there was a few times where good, decent, not demon-possessed people found themselves as the victims of exorcisms when people failed to come up with a good enough excuse for not abiding by the formula.
A good friend of mine was “exorcised” by a similar church when she had the bad luck of wearing a black t-shirt with a band logo that looked demonic.
Romans 8:14-15 says (paraphrasing) that those who belong to God are not given a spirit of fear but of belonging, and 1st John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.
God doesn’t MEAN for us to be afraid. And I think if we ARE afraid, it’s because something is amiss. That something is amiss not in the world, but in our hearts.
The fear that the people of my old church experienced came out of a lack of understanding and discernment. They truly believed that God operated by a formula- so anything outside of their guidelines meant one of two things: something was wrong, or they were wrong. Either way, they were terrified. And the church that tried to cast a demon out of my friend- they saw something they didn’t understand, something in her that they could not define, and it terrified them.
The same fear drives Biblically defended homophobia, isolates people in cultural minorities, and starts wars.
But that fear? it is NOT God’s intention, and it is NOT okay.