I was talking to a guy I’ve known for about 10 years. I haven’t known him as a friend but more as a colleague in a work-like situation.
Occasionally we grab a coffee and chew the fat. Sometimes he talks about his past. To describe his experiences as ‘colourful’ is a vast understatement, starting with his time at a ‘brother’s school’, moving on to a stint in the seminary and then onto the army and some very grim stories from his experience in Vietnam.
What held my attention this time was the way he spoke about the brothers.
Keep in mind that this guy would not think for one moment that he was abused or that he had some sort of legal claim against the brothers, but the way he describes that time is all the more compelling because of that.
He’s nearly 10 years older than me so his schooling would have been in the early 50s and 60s. I can relate to his experiences because I also went to a brother’s school (different order) and saw — and, on more than one occasion, experienced) — plenty of examples of brutality.
My experience of that time was that the way to get through was either to be very good at something the school valued, like sport or academia, or just keep your head down. I was able to employ the latter strategy most of the time.
My friend couldn’t do that though because he was rebellious, dyslexic and poor — fatal combinations for a brutal teaching staff.
It’s only now, nearly half a century later, that he sees how his spirit was broken and how that broken spirit lead him on a destructive path that would last for years.
Of course there are usual disclaimers about that being part of the culture then and that’s true. My friend experienced that brutality at home and other places too. It’s also important to recognise that many kids did well in those times and remember many good teachers and many wonderful experiences.
But how did the church … the church … come to this? How was it that so many church institutions were not only part of the brutal society around them, but excelled at it?
How many men, like my friend, are coming to a point in their lives where those dark times are coming back to, at worst, haunt their dreams or, at best, allow them to liberate themselves from spirits broken?
Is it any wonder that this was the generation that left the church in droves? Is it any wonder that this sort of culture produced the abuse that is bursting through now?