How Love Bombing Sucked Us in to a Spiritually Abusive Church

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Yesterday, brad/futuristguy left a comment which was so good.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  Brad is so insightful in his understanding of spiritual abuse.  I’ve learned much from him.  His comment prompted excellent questions by reader, Interested Party.

I’ll quote part of Brad’s post which prompted Interested Party’s comment:

In my case, I got involved in what turned out to be a terrible and toxic church with “leaders” who instilled awful doctrines and practices in me. But all disciples have some kind of past to deal with. If not this, then the reality is, “Same root, different fruit.” We’re all susceptible to something, whether it’s abusive leaders/systems, or other kinds of blind spots, deficits, misbeliefs, doctrinal extremes … And so, we choose: get stuck and do nothing, or orbit around the past such that our activity makes it look like we’re going somewhere (but really, it’s just around in circles), or reconcile as best we can with people we victimized — and keep moving forward.

Anyway, I commend you for choosing to go back into the fog, Julie Anne. It’s never easy, letting the Holy Spirit take us into and through a deeper level of seeing the truth, find more healing, reconcile more of the damages done to others while in our state of enthrallment to evil … Thanks for continuing to share your journey with us and letting us learn from the insights you’re gleaning.

Here is Interested Party’s response to Brad’s comment:

Interested Party

JANUARY 30, 2013 @ 1:16 AM [EDIT]

@Brad – I’m struck by line from Star Trek – The Next Generation (paraphrasing): “Isn’t that the problem with believing in a Deity? Trying to figure out what He wants you to do?”

I’m curious – and I haven’t asked this question before: What precisely is so compelling about what these Churches and these Preachers – what is it that they offer that you can get sucked in so easily? It can’t be as easy as desiring salvation – I see nothing in Jesus’ own words or deeds that he desired anyone to be degraded. Sacrificing wealth, violent behavior and self-promotion – yes. Submitting to the will of other MEN – no.

I suspect that there must be something in your respective backgrounds that make shame, fear, subjecting women to degradation or witnessing that degradation, very familiar and “comfortable” for lack of a better description. Am I close? My Mother tried to keep me and make me live in that state. Given my temperament, I fought back hard and rather became a champion of those who were easily bullied.

What do you do to go forward? The first step is to do precisely what this blog does – call these churches out. But how do you get the message out to avoid getting sucked in in the first place? What type of thinking does one need to utterly reject from the get-go in order to recognize what these churches represent?

The questions that Interested Party asks are excellent because they get to the root of how we got into these messes.  As I was thinking through Interested Party’s comment, more came to light on our church experience.

We had left a church which had brought Emergent teachings into the youth program.  It wasn’t handled well and we weren’t convinced that there was a solid understanding of Emergent philosophies or that enough was being done to keep these philosophies out of the church.

Just as we arrived at the new church, the new pastor started a series on Emergent teachers.  This greatly appealed to us:  our former church did not appear to have a strong stance on this subject and here was a pastor who not only had a strong stance, but he was knowledgable on the topic, was preaching on the topic, and was calling out the false teachers by name, sharing how they distorted the gospel.  This was preaching that sucked us in because he was speaking our language.  We connected with his enthusiasm, his drive for pure Gospel message, his boldness.  This was very appealing.

Years ago, I had made the realization that our pastor drew us in because of the Emergent teachings and another idea just dawned on me yesterday after reading Interested Party’s comment  (even nearly 5 years later, like peeling the layers of an onion – I am still putting the pieces together), our former pastor drew us into the church in another way:  evangelism.   He knew we were having difficulties with evangelism at our other church – that we didn’t care for their methods and focus.  This new pastor and his church actively evangelized each week.  Our other church didn’t.  He had a brand new teaching program on evangelism and didn’t endorse “friendship evangelism” as our other church had.  He was on the same page with us.  He had the right methods, he was proactive.  This is what we wanted – a leader who we aligned with, who we could join and evangelize the “right” way.  He lured us in, set the hook, and it set.

Evangelism and Emergent teachings were probably the two key issues we had with our other church – – and he knew that – – and he took advantage of that knowledge when starting the Evangelism classes and the  series on Emergent churches.   He connected with the passions of our heart, got us excited about his vision (which was our vision).  He was smart.  I think our group consisted of six families.  We increased the small church population by at least 30 and brought it up to about 100 people.

Now, I know this tactic to be love bombing.  I believe that the new series on Emergent philosophies and the brand new evangelism teachings that began when we arrived were all a part of love bombing.  How coincidental is it that these two series started up the same weeks we arrived, which happened to be our key interests, and the key issues of why we left our other church?  Let’s also not forget that 30 extra people = extra tithe money.  Hmmmm

lovebomb

“Love Bomb” by 10-yr old Resident Artist

Love bombing is a very popular technique used by pastors/church leaders who spiritually abuse.  Cindy Kunsman of Under Much Grace blog has studied this topic extensively with regard to abusive church systems and how they lure people into their groups:

“Love Bombing” refers to the show of (genuine or feigned) love and affection that a motivated individual or group bestows upon their “mark” in order to endear themselves. The “mark,” (the person that a manipulator “marks” or targets as an object to be exploited) in a very subjective response to the overwhelming, pleasant experience of the great show of affection, becomes highly unlikely to recognize or even consider any negative information about the manipulator. The “mark” does not realize the subtle and very powerful influence that the manipulator has initiated because their experience has been so pleasant. The “mark” does not realize that their reasoning shifts from an objective perspective into a very subjective, emotional and experiential one. The situation exploits deeply personal, very human needs, wants and desires so that the “mark” will likely not notice any hint of manipulation until they are deeply invested, entrenched or dependent upon the manipulator in some way so as to make leaving the relationship very difficult.Were you love bombed?  How did you get sucked in?  (Source)

Were you love bombed?   I’d love to read your stories.

13 comments on “How Love Bombing Sucked Us in to a Spiritually Abusive Church

  1. It is so easy to be a victim to this, because it is nice to receive special attention from someone you admire. I’ve fallen for this too…until I noticed how quickly attention was transfered to the new “mark.” Its easy to spot the pattern in hindsight. Now, whenever I feel pride blossom in the attention I get from someone, I immediately question the situation. “What do they want from me?”” Are they being sincere?” And I always have my guard up, sad to say.

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  2. I know this is a very common tactic in my former church. Given that I was very young and alone at the time, and in a major transition in my life, you could have bowled me over with a feather. Many people who left the church described how special they felt when the church hosted picnics, fellowships, dinners, and other events in their honor when they visited. Everybody wanted to be close to the new folks. However, after they’d made a commitment to join, or been baptized, all the attention vanished. We soon found ourselves little more than a cog in the church’s machinery to push forward their own agenda. It always sounded like you were doing something important. But in the end you’re doing little more than supporting a myriad of ministers living off the sweat of your brow.
    It’s also hard to pin this vulnerability to a particular psyche. We had doctors, nurses, a pharmacist, computer programmers, a lawyer, seminary graduates, teachers, a stock broker, a social worker, and many others from various backgrounds, including those literally saved from the streets. And many of these people will soon be migrating with the church across the country to another state. Is that normal? Most people join a church in the locale they live in, don’t they? How many entire churches move en masse?
    But, my, how the love vanishes when you decide to leave. Nobody hosts any goodbye picnics, fellowships, and dinners to say farewell to those departing. They will run the other way when they see you in the grocery store.
    OK. I’d better stop.

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  3. BTDT – The moving en masse thing is weird. Just weird.

    If you look at the Jonestown Massacre – those people were brilliant minds. To first get these people to move to another country was huge, but then to get them all to drink the Kool-Aid?? Crazy head stuff going n there.

    The reception after leaving a church is a whole other can of worms, isn’t it? So many will get the cold shoulder, unfriended from Facebook, act like you never exist. Some even get sued :::::gasp::::::.

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  4. Julie Anne,
    On PPTs (Pauls Passing Thoughts), I wrote a response to another guy about how I will not go to a church that focuses on one issue (like that is the churches pet issue). I do not care if it is evangelism, feed the poor, whatever…… Here was my response:

    “Well spoken rgh…..

    I have found as well to be VERY careful. I look for whether or not humility is present and love. I have not found many churches speaking on agape love or even the fruits of the Spirit. One sign that I look for is if any group (whether home group or church) stays on one topic and does not preach with balance. That is a warning to me if that church uses that topic as bait and for it to be their message instead taking the whole council of God (Like my past church used the cross and suffering as their “pet” message). This then becomes what is IMPORTANT and must be followed for this church. It is used to entrap.
    A thing to remember too, that even discernment sites have gotten into trouble by focusing too much on what is wrong in the world. They then forget about the resting, joy and peace that Christ gives AND that we will not be able to solve all the worlds ills. I have been on a discernment site where the moderator has now become angry and lashes out on anyone who disagrees- calling them false teachers and prophets.

    That is why balance is important- in our walk as a Christian and in our studying of Scripture.”

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  5. Never knew how to explain the “draw” I had with the spiritually abusive church that I was part of. Love bomb is a great term. I really THOUGHT it was a healthy emerging type church that was focused on love and community. Not the case.

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  6. Never knew how to explain the “draw” I had with the spiritually abusive church that I was part of. Love bomb is a great term.

    I believe the Moonies coined the term (along with “thoughtstopper”) back in their heyday.

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  7. Pingback: How Love Bombing Sucked Us in to a Spiritually Abusive Church « Clearcreek Chapel Watch

  8. Julie Anne, your story is almost exactly like mine! I was never love-bombed, but I was sucked into (neo-)Calvinism primarily because it was the only alternative (seemingly) to the Emergent church. And Emergent was making inroads into the youth group at our Lutheran church (which we have now returned to). The anti-Emergent sites pointed me to people like John Piper, John MacArthur, Ligon Duncan, etc. because they were the ones presenting the “True Gospel” and talking about sin, as opposed to the watered-down Emergent fluff. (And I wasn’t even sucked in that badly compared to many of the other people I have encountered.)

    They always use a grain of truth to hook you. There IS a lot of disturbing, wonky and watered-down stuff in the Emergent church. BUT – the solution to that stuff (which also happens to not be quite as universal as they claim, either) is NOT neo-Calvinism.

    (Interestingly, many of the same discernment sites I read, which lauded John Piper up one side and down the other back around ’08/’09, are now all shocked that he is consorting with the likes of Rick Warren. How’s that for delicious irony?)

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  9. You are right, Hester. And you could say the same regarding Driscoll. MacArthur used to like him, but now calls him out. Interestingly JMac isn’t calling him out on spiritual abuse in his church (we’ve certainly read numerous accounts of that), but his potty mouth.

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  10. Pingback: Svengalis, Love Bombing, Hypnotism, and Narcissists | Nyssa's Hobbit Hole

  11. I was love bombed and manipulated for 25 years by a Buddhist organization called SGI pwhich stands for soka gaki of america.They are an organization started by a man called Disaku Ikeda and the people of the organization are brainwashed into believing that they are going to save the world and that the more people who get on board and believe that if they get a piece of paper and chant in front of it the magic words namyohoregekyo the better.They say that the organization is for world peace.They call it Kosen Rufu. So millions of people are slowly brainwashed into believing that they are doing the best thing for the world by doing this and they hang on every word that Disaku Ikeda says.And treat him like a hero.This man goes all over the world talking to as many “important”people as he can and writing all kinds of encouragement and lphilosophical ideas most of which are just taken from great thinkers of the past.Love bombing is their biggest tactic to get people to join.It is too much to even go into as to thw damage this organization has cause me.I am not even exagerating when I say it destroyed my life. Sometimes I go on websights like this to tell people to stay away.I don’t know if my word is reaching anyone and I am not sure that this is even the proper place to express myself. But I will do it anyway.And my advise that I want to give is something that I learned the very hard way.Trust God lives inside you and do not rely on other people.Go to God with all your suffering concerns and questions and never ever doubt that God is there inside you at all times.God is your only reliable sourse.Thank you for reading this.

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