I received an e-mail from a missionary today who was involved in a church whose pastor used similar tactics with church members as my former pastor. He sent me a link to look at and I realized I could easily replace his pastor’s name with my former pastor’s name; he said the same thing to me after reading some of my blog. We need to be able to see these characteristics and get our creepo-meters engaged so we won’t get caught in the trap again.
And then imagine, out of the blue, you are told you are no longer to have any contact or relationship with this person, in an instant, just like that. Zilch. NO RELATIONSHIP. You may not call, you may not connect via Facebook (in fact, you have to “unfriend on FB), no e-mails, etc. All relational ties are severed immediately. You do not even get a chance to say good-bye, it is OVER. BAM! DONE! FINISHED! This is happening all over the world in creepy abusive churches and it is done in my former church. It is disgusting. It is an abuse of power over church members, controlling their personal relationships and destroying them in an INSTANT.
Ok, sorry, my brain can’t stop at this severing-relationship thing yet. People who have been involved in your life in intimate ways for years and years have become part of your primary support system. They know you inside and out. They can read you like a book, tell when you are up or down with just one look. They challenge you. They are there for you when you are sick or when your car is broken down and you are stranded. They are the first ones you call when tragedy strikes or when news of happiness comes your way: a new job, new house, a new pregnancy, your child’s new faith in Christ, etc. God created these relationships and gives them to us for our pleasure. He is the author of relationships. Who has this right to sever relationships in such a way?
I’ve said it before, but after these several crazy lawsuit-filled months, I would be in the nuthouse if I did not have friends. I’ve mentioned Michelle. I have relied on her a lot because we went through this experience together. Her husband was on staff and was fired. They have been through much and understand what I’m going through. When you read the pastor’s “review” where he talks about Julie Anne and “those with her”, Michelle is one of “those”. She has put up with my ranting, my tears, my yelling, my questioning, my crazy forgetfulness. She has challenged me spiritually, questioned my heart motives, rebuked me in love and been a true friend to me. I cannot fathom what my life would be like right now if someone had decided that this relationship must be severed. Oh no. . . . I can’t let my brain go there . . . . that’s a scary place.
Yet look at what some CSAS graduates are doing. They isolate people from their primary places of support, comfort, love, and friendship. They twist Bible verses to aid in their abuse of authority and control over their congregations.
This was not in effect when we were there (at least to my knowledge). I have heard from several people that it did indeed take place even a decade ago, but for some reason, we never saw it, heard of it. It may have been taking place behind the scenes, we just did not know about it.
Let me explain it. Evidently “it” can be called a number of things, but one of the common phrases I heard was, “Mark and Avoid”. Evidently, people who are divisive, in church discipline, or causing conflict in the church or with the pastor are put on the Mark and Avoid list. The Mark and Avoid list is based on Romans 16:17. I will post the NKJV – my former pastor’s favorite version so that we can all be on the same page, his page, just in case there are current members reading this. The King James Version uses the actual words “mark” and “avoid”.. All of the next shots are from Romans 16:17 biblegateway.com and easily accessible in mere seconds. Check for yourself.
Ok, here we go. In reading this verse, one can easily see how CSAS graduates might think this verse would be a great one to apply to people in his congregation or :::::cough, cough ::::::: former members like me who are waging war with God, with His Church, with mothers and their children. Or perhaps it could be used with people currently in the church who might have questions that the pastor feels are threatening or divisive. Regardless, this is a powerful verse. What does it say we are to do with divisive people? Yes, avoid them. Ouch! Many pastors are saying we need to be marking and avoiding divisive people.
But digging a little deeper and looking at references for this verse, we can see the following topics are discussed. Take special note of “8749 false teachers” and “8750 false teachings”:
I don’t see anything about church members there, do you? And here we read more about false teachers/teachings:
False teachers? Or divisive congregants? It seems pretty clear from the above that this verse is about false teachers.
Commentary and more commentary shows once again that this verse is not about divisive church members, but divisive false teachers.
I have been told by multiple sources that my former pastor used this particular verse to justify shunning people. Not only that, he had a Mark and Avoid list. Because I think it is one of the most destructive aspects of an abusive church, it is important to discuss here.
A quick side note, if you do a quick Google search on “Mark and Avoid”, you can see the top entries have to do with the group some say is a cult, The Way International, because they use the Mark and Avoid practice. The Poisoning of Families article was one of the top entries on my search and discusses how The Way International marked and avoided people:
* * *
“MARK AND AVOID”
The Way’s current practice of “purge, mark and avoid” (which are Way terms) is another means The Way uses to put wedges between children and a parent who is no longer in The Way. The Way has taken great pains in the last 10 years to “purge” its ranks of those who do not give Way leadership their complete allegiance and obedience. Confrontation of followers considered to be weak or in error often includes verbal abuse. This aggressive confrontation has been strongly promoted in leader training, Sunday services and The Way Magazine, which is distributed to all of its followers.
However, when followers do not immediately obey leaders and respond to every one of their demands, leaders “mark and avoid” them. In other words, leaders tell them to stay away from all Way activities, and tell all “faithful” followers to have nothing to do with them — not even to speak to them. Therefore, the ex-spouse avoids the non-Way parent as much as possible and teaches the children to do the same. The Way pressures children to choose obedience to Way leadership (which to them is obeying God Himself) rather than (not in addition to) developing a relationship with the non-Way parent. “M & A” is often a factor causing divorce between spouses, and becomes a factor in children “divorcing” the non-Way parent.
* * *
* * *
The Smith, Miller, and Varela families have been on this Mark and Avoid list for a long time. We didn’t know we were on the list, but were told by those who left the church after us. None of us has ever been in any kind of church discipline process (we’ve read the church by-laws on church discipline – that process was never executed). We’ve only heard by word of mouth or publicly on Google reviews that we are in church discipline. Isn’t it interesting that we were in church discipline weeks after we left the church without being notified by the pastor or elders?
When do you suppose this Mark and Avoid list is read to church members? Multiple sources have confirmed that this list has been read at Communion services. The list was read as a reminder for everyone to remember exactly who was on the M&A list and to avoid them. Can you imagine this list being read at Communion – at a time where we reflect on Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection for us? What is this insanity?
The M&A list is a list of people in “church discipline” or who left the church unfavorably (which is pretty much everybody unless your job moved you out of the area). What it means is that you (congregant) must never associate, communicate with anyone on the M&A list. You must “unfriend” from Facebook anyone who is on the M&A list, never telephone, e-mail, or make any contact whatsoever. Guess what happens if you are caught communicating with someone on the M&A list? Yup – your name will be added. Guess what happens if you talk to the person who was just added to the M&A list? You got it!
Now here is where the rubber meets the road. Let’s say you have a wayward adult child. Let’s say your wayward adult child does not repent of his/her ways. This adult child is added to the M&A list after being confronted with sins. If you are the parent of this adult child, you are not allowed to communicate with your adult child after being placed on the M&A list. The siblings are not allowed to associate with this child. Not only that, members of family outside the church are also told to not associate with them as well.
So basically, the wayward adult child is abandoned, thrown to the outside world, never allowed to have any relationship with parents/siblings who love and adore them, who could encourage, guide, and show unconditional love. This adult child now has no contact with anyone in the church and very few relationships outside the church (remember this church keeps you so busy that there is very little time for any outside relationships). Is that love? How can love be demonstrated to this person when relationships are cut off?
Surely God is not happy with using His Holy Word in such a manipulative fashion to destroy precious lives and relationships. This only serves the pastor who is in control. There is no love here. There is a place where people are shunned and the stories I describe do not cut it. I have waited a long time to post this story and I am fired up about it. This is wrong. This is not only happening in our former church, but all over the world as my e-mails attest.
I would like to address this part to people who are currently in a church as I have described – where a pastor is twisting scripture and tearing relationships from you. Please read the verse again. The first time, we looked through the eyes of a controlling pastor who is assuming that those who cause divisions are people from within the church or perhaps outside the church. This time, let’s look at the verse in the context of false teachers, not divisive church members or former members.