Exodus 20:12 NIV: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you."
It has recently been brought to my attention through an email exchange with a reader of my blog that there is a need for me to address the unique issues confronting Christians when dealing with a narcissistic parent.
It is hard enough to deal with the disapproval of societal expectations when you aren't a Christian. There is a lot of pressure in secular society for adult children to excuse any bad behavior in their parents. There is also a strong disapproval by society for anyone to use the label of "evil" to describe certain behaviors. Pop psychology promotes the idea that abusers are victims too. We are told to look sympathetically at abusive people and find "reasons" for their behaviors. This serves as nothing but a preamble to excusing the behavior. This gives the abuser a pass to continue treating you as they want with you having no real power to remove yourself from the situation.
As difficult as it is for a non-Christian to find relief from the evil behaviors of their narcissist parent, you can multiply those difficulties by about a factor of ten for the Christian. The narcissist parent who claims to be a Christian has the huge leverage of a God-given commandment to "honor your father and mother" which they universally interpret to mean, "do everything I tell you to and make me happy). They also have the leverage of a community of people (other believers) who tend to dismiss the idea that another Christian may be covertly evil and abusing their children. So other Christians can often be recruited by a narcissist parent to put the pressure on the adult child to make all efforts to stay reconciled to the abusive parent with the added fear of condemnation from God if they don't knuckle under. This behavior is spiritually abusive. It can not be over-stated how powerful a club this is on adult children of narcissists to keep them, and their own families, under the tyranny of their parent(s). Should a person decide that such a God isn't worth serving if He forces us to stay in an abusive situation with a parent or risk hell, they really can't be blamed. I wouldn't want to serve such a god either.
The good news is that the God of the Bible is just (as in justice) as well as merciful. (Psalm 89:14) His mercy is reserved for those who are humble enough to realize they need it. His justice is dispensed without partiality. (Partiality is presented as being the opposite of "just" in the Bible, therefore God doesn't condone it or engage in it. For example, see Acts 10:34 and James 3:17) Non-repentant abusers are not given a pass by God to continue just because they happened to bring children into the world.
Let's look at the greatest spiritual narcissist's club: the fifth commandment. Is the fifth commandment carte blanche for the abusive parent?
Let me state this very clearly for the record. I am not presenting you with the Biblical arguments I used to justify my decision to cut off my parents. These are the the principles that I used to inform my decision to do so. If my examination of the Bible made it clear that I am supposed to keep evil people in my life if they call themselves "mom" or "dad", then I would have had to comply. It didn't work out that way I'm happy to report.
First, I can categorically state that there is no Biblical example of God honoring evil. We have no Biblical example or statement of God requiring His people to honor evil. We have scores of Biblical exhortations for God's people to rebuke and shun evil (I will deal with this more in an upcoming post). If you are willing to acknowledge as truth these two realities then you will have to conclude that whatever God was telling us to do in the fifth commandment, He was NOT requiring us to honor evil. This is not going to be an exhaustive treatment of the fifth commandment. I am only going to give you some highlights to help you examine what you believe.
Christ divided the commandments into two parts; love for God and love for man. (Matt. 22:36-40) The second part of the ten commandments (love for man) begins at the fifth commandment which tells us to honor our parents. The very foundational authority of society is parental authority. If children are not taught to obey parental authority it leads directly to societal degradation through the disregard of ANY authority that is the inevitable result of a disregard of parental authority. This foundational authority is reinforced by God's Own authority by placing this command in the Big Ten. The intent and purpose of this commandment is to maintain structure and order in society and respect for higher authority at the place where it originates...the family. Ideally, parents are to be loving, protecting and nurturing even as they establish their authority to make the rules in the family. When these principles prevail in a majority of families, society is law-abiding and healthy. We see in our present-day examples of how the breakdown of parental authority has far-reaching effects on society at large. God is protecting all of us with this commandment from the devastating effects of the breakdown of respect for all authority which begins in the family home.
When we grow up and leave the parental home the fifth commandment doesn't apply in the same sense, though it still has force for the adult child. In Biblical times, up until quite recently, children would leave the parental home when they themselves were entering marriage. The Bible is clear that a new dynamic occurs when this happens. Genesis 2:24, where God performed the first marriage we are told this: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." Biblically, when we marry, we are no longer under subjection to parental authority. We are no longer to live as if our parents come first. The Biblical language on this is profound. In God's eyes, married people "are one flesh". No where is the parent/child relationship described this way. In God's estimation, marriage binds two people together more profoundly than even blood relation. What comes first, after we marry, is OUR SPOUSE. We do not live our lives according to parental "laws" except the laws of kindness and respect and making sure our parents are not indigent. This is a crucial point because narcissistic parents are audacious enough to make the claim that they come before your spouse and your own children. This claim can not be supported Scripturally. If you are conceding to this demand you are not honoring your vows before God and your spouse and you are failing your own children. The Biblical instruction for married people is that they are to be in subjection to each other. 1 Cor. 7:3-4. Other, more controversial, verses put the husband in authority over the wife, but this is with the careful caveat that the husband is to love his wife as tenderly as he loves his own body and as Christ loves the church. Since Christ died for the church, this puts the bar very high on the level of sacrifice and other-centered love a husband is to have for his wife. No oppression is being sanctioned in these instructions. But I digress. The point is, Biblically, a husband and wife are a new entity before God and are subject to each other and not their parents. A conscientious married Christian is duty-bound before God to no longer subject themselves to the rules and regulations an unscrupulous parent may demand. The narcissist parent who demands the regard of first place in the lives of their grown children hasn't a Biblical leg to stand on.
In my next post on this subject I will continue to present the principles involved with the fifth commandment.