By Katherine Yaremko
Associations of sexual abuse with the Catholic Church have been burned into the minds of many over the years. While still capable of producing reactions of anger and outrage, these stories might be viewed by some as no longer surprising, due to the relative frequency with which they have occurred.
There exists, however, a group of churches across America that not only participate in, but also condone sexual abuse, and which remain relatively unknown to many individuals. Called Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches, they have been called cults by people who no longer attend their services.
Members of their congregation have often suffered privately and alone, at times for years, with the effects of sexual and psychological abuse. Much of their silence is attributed to the severely manipulative, controlling attitudes of a number of religious authority figures within the IFB. Victims have been dissuaded from reporting their harassment to the police.
According to an investigative piece conducted by Elizabeth Vargas, on more than one occasion girls raped by members attending IFB churches were forced to recount the horrifying incident in front of the other congregation members. The girls were imbued with an enormous sense of guilt and made to believe that they were somehow responsible. Often, the rapists were present when the confessions took place.
The reasons behind the IFB's toleration of such awful events stem in part from the decision to literally interpret the Bible. Such interpretations lead members to believe in punishing their children by beating them physically. It also means that women are told to carry out roles of submission and obedience around their husbands.
Undeniably horrific, these incidents are not the only ones to occur among religious groups who adhere to a strict belief system. Yet this is not the only danger of literally interpreting one's scripture of choice. Many religious books contain gruesome stories of child slavery, incest, and archaic forms of punishment, in addition to stories concerning love, compassion, and other esteemed values.
It is impossible to reconcile such disparate messages. Religious texts would be best read and analyzed with the thought in mind that they were written within a particular social, cultural, and historical period, regardless of whether one believes them to be divinely inspired or not. The extremist idea that one must accept all of what a book offers prevents individuals from weeding out those concepts which are not conducive for a high-functioning society, least of all a healthy spiritual life. In the worst cases, atrocious crimes are covered up and criminals are permitted to continue their lives free of either incarceration or rehabilitation.