Spiritual Abuse: Who is to Blame? The Pastor or the Congregant?

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Wicked shepherds have been around for a long, long time.  This passage is from the Old Testament:

The word of the Lord came to me:  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?

You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.

The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.  

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.

My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.

Ezekiel 34: 1-6

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There are also plenty of passages in the New Testament on false teachers.  Here’s one:

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Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing

but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  Matt 7:15

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If we have been a Christian for any length of time, we likely know that there are false teachers or wolves in sheep’s clothing whose purpose is to devour innocent sheep.  We are supposed to be on the lookout for them.  The following comment which was posted on the SSB Facebook page seems to say that we are not innocent when we sit in the pews of a spiritually abusive church.   I’ve highlighted a key sentence from the commenter.

It’s very sad but becoming more and more evident of the apathy and cynicism some church attenders feel towards their denomination and especially to those in leadership that allow: Mysticism; New Calvinism; NAR; Federal Vision, etc. to infiltrate their church. However, the fault does not lay so much with the leadership as with the people who blindly follow and allow for abuse to continue without question. We have laws in place in this country to protect and defend the abused, but instead people put their Pastor’s teachings above and beyond anything else, including God’s Word, and the people STILL follow.

This commenter’s words are lining up with scripture, but I still get an uneasy feeling inside. I’m sure we’ve touched on this topic before.  I know we are supposed to be on guard, however, I get upset at the idea that I was blindly allowing a pastor control over me.  Does anyone else get their dander up on ideas like this?  I know it’s partially true, but is the bulk of the responsibility on me?

Is it always so plain and simple?  I followed my husband to BGBC and told him from the first week that I didn’t like it. But I was also stuck in a system of patriarchy where a wife does not have a say. My opinion did not matter.  The leaving-the-church situation eventually resolved when our friend was fired and we along with several other families left the church.

But what do you say about someone like me who was stuck?  I wasn’t sitting there completely blind.

What is interesting is most of us who came to BGBC from the same church can recall when people from our former church were concerned about BGBC.  We distanced ourselves from the former church, but some families had been friends for nearly a decade and kept up with each other. They challenged us.

Probably a handful of people came to me very concerned about our new church, BGBC.  What’s interesting is that I actually defended BGBC.  Now, why would I do that when internally I knew they were right?  Again, it was that battle in my mind of trying to please my husband, yet feeling uneasy about the church.  I knew the importance of husbands and wives being on the same page.  It was important for our family, right?  So, I waffled back and forth.  Part of me was trying to obey and submit to my husband because he’s the spiritual head of our home, the other part of me was screaming, “NO, GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE!”

Being alone with my inner turmoil was tough – especially after Hannah was gone and seeing what she had gone through.  I think I was like a ticking time bomb.  People would drop hints to me about their frustrations and I’d drop a hint back.

It’s interesting  – there is one woman who remains at BGBC to this day was the most vocal person in complaining to me about the problems she saw. I know she was dealing with the same internal battles as me. Her family never left.  But now, after the lawsuit, BGBC had to pay close to $60,000 in legal fees to our attorneys alone for her pastor’s shenanigans, yet she and her family remain. We don’t know how much that very small church had to cough up for the pastor’s attorneys. Did any of the money come from the pastor? That money most likely came from tithes and offerings. How can she justify that kind of expense from such a small church?  She’s in a very tough place. I don’t know what has made her stay despite the truth that she has previously acknowledged and is now probably dismissing. It’s hard to admit you’ve been had.

But isn’t this the same kind of situation with other abuse systems?  Think of a wife who is living with domestic violence.  Many times she is trapped because her husband is controlling her time, money, car, resources.  She may acknowledge the abuse to herself, but then rationalize it’s better to stay because she wouldn’t be able to provide for her children financially if she left.  She’s trapped.

Or what about those people who grew up in abuse and so they are naturally drawn to controlling people.  Are they to blame?

So, my question to you is:  how do you settle this in your mind?  Do you blame yourself for the spiritual abuse you incurred?  Whose fault is it?   We could have walked out the door sooner, why didn’t we?

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60 comments on “Spiritual Abuse: Who is to Blame? The Pastor or the Congregant?

  1. Looking back, I saw little red flags, things that didn’t smell right, but I was hooked by the feel-good hype, the sense of superiority, having all the right answers, belonging, the euphoric worship, that I ran right by the flags and that little voice telling me “this isn’t right.” I came from a dysfunctional family, so I was a prime target for recruiting. I do not fault the member of CLC that led me to Christ–he also left quietly a few years after I did. But I chose denial for a while. I even got told by the Lord once “I’m not going to take you from here now, but you will have to leave…” A year and a half later I had a marriage problem, John Loftness was “counseling” me with his lack of proper training, and the exit nightmare began. But there was awareness on my part that I chose to look past to keep my “good thing” going because I had never had a sense of belonging before in my life. So glad to be responsible and free now.

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  2. ‘Blame’ may be problematic, but looking for one’s own part in what went wrong is healthy. If we don’t look we risk walking away and learning nothing. That doesn’t in any way, however, relieve the leaders of their responsibility. Every leader will have to give an account.

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  3. craigvick – good point. also, the shepherds were rebuked, but the ground opened up and swallowed 10s of thousands of the people (non-leaders); and all of the people died in the desert vs. going into the promised land. So I see that we are all responsible for our own actions; we shall all give an account for our own faith, actions, words, and inactions.

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  4. I would never place blame on a victim of abuse of any kind. Blame assumes wrongdoing. Now, if a victim of spiritual abuse took those teaching being fed to them and in turn abused or wronged somebody else, then they are accountable for those actions. They are not responsibile though for the actions of their pastor. As you mentioned, JA, people in abusive relationships often become trapped. In the case of spiritual abuse, I think that the abuse can be even more difficult to see as it is under the guise of Biblical teaching, and on the surface at least often sounds right.

    Echoing Craig, what is healthy to do is to look at yourself and attempt to discover what characteristics about yourself made you more susceptible to abuse, in order to help you recognize it better later, avoid it, and get out of it if you find yourself in it again. An imperfect parallel would be if you were mugged while walking down a dark alley as a shortcut to get home. The blame for the mugging rests solely with the attacker. You can learn, however, that you are more susceptible to attack when going down a dark alley, so in the future you avoid dark alleys, thereby not putting yourself in a position to be attacked again, or at least reducing the liklihood.

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  5. Great comment, JoeJoe. You and Craig touched on very important aspects of abuse recovery process and that is learning from mistakes. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them.

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  6. I agree, great comments Joe. As far as a new word to replace ‘blame’ I’d probably cheat and change the title. I’d opt for Spiritual Abuse: How can we in the Congregation find Life in the Face of Pastoral Abuse? If we simply say the pastor is to blame we’re right, but we’ve negated our lives through the process. We’ve become, in our own account, doormats. So the challenge is to find our life in the whole mess. I realize that may sound a little radical. Perhaps others can state it more clearly.

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  7. I think why many people remain in such a toxic environment is due to fear — fear of leaving what one perceives to be “right,” “true,” or at least what one has been taught is right or biblically sound. That has happened to me. I was paralyzed by fear of leaving a particular environment because I was then convinced that it was right and biblical, had God’s stamp of approval, and I needed to conform.

    I wouldn’t blame the victims, necessarily, because fear can be paralyzing, to say nothing of damaging emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Some victims, even though they’ve been warned many times by others who love them, cannot find the courage to leave, being crippled by fear.

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  8. There is so much which could be said on this subject and the quote in question. Surely, if people are simply accepting and swallowing everything their pastor says and they never check its validity, and they witness abuse, recognize it as such and do nothing….yes, they are at fault. While I believe this happens, much of the time in unhealthy churches that is not the case.

    The poster who mentioned fear is dead on. In unhealthy churches, fear permeates the teachings. This doesn’t happen overnight. It is normally a slow process, similar to the frog in the kettle story. In addition, some people do come to know God for the first time in an unhealthy church and that makes them more open to being pulled in. Some have never studied or read the Bible before. Some have been raised in an unhealthy church and know nothing else. These have a more difficult time when leaving.

    If you are new to following God, you just want to gobble everything up. You are excited! You want everything God has for you. The abusive pastor can take advantage of this and slowly turns the focus of that person from Jesus to themselves. Their joy slowly subsides and is replaced by a performance oriented thinking. Obeying the pastor & pleasing the pastor becomes the same as obeying and following God in their mind. He watches for my soul, you know…..

    When one doesn’t know how to study the Bible, the unhealthy church will give them Bible studies, besides the regular sermons. They will piece together passages that appear to support the unhealthy teachings. They will read things into the text that are not there. The honest hearted believer “sees” what they are saying and is further pulled into the system. They will tell you they have studied out the matter, when in fact they only learned to do what the unhealthy church taught them.

    Should one start to have questions, they will find that they are either not acceptable to have or they will be told they simply need to pray and read more and accept it by faith until God gives them the revelation. It seems everyone else around them is with the program and so they will start to feel something must be wrong with them.

    Then you learn to rationalize things you see, usually subconsciously, so you can survive while things around you happen that you don’t understand and/or agree with. Your salvation is at stake! By now you are chin deep into the unhealthy church. Outside your group or church, there are all kinds of bad things or people. You have “the truth” or something “special” that the other churches, including sometimes churches in your own group, do not have. You wouldn’t think of leaving, even if there are problems, because you want to be saved. If you leave, you could have all kinds of bad things happen to you, even death, plus no hope of salvation. If you could just do more or follow the rules better or stay on the good side of the pastor, everything would be okay.

    Most people who wind up in an unhealthy church did not go looking for that. They are sincere people. People wanting something, people wanting to know God and have a relationship with him. They were slowly transformed into what the abusive leadership wanted and most do not recognize the changes as they are happening. Then they are caught up in something that is not easy to leave due to all the fear and beliefs they have taken to heart.

    I could write for hours on this subject. It is not as simple/basic as the one writer tried to make it seem. They need some education on what happens in unhealthy churches and why.

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  9. Lois,

    “Most people who wind up in an unhealthy church did not go looking for that. They are sincere people. People wanting something, people wanting to know God and have a relationship with him. They were slowly transformed into what the abusive leadership wanted and most do not recognize the changes as they are happening. Then they are caught up in something that is not easy to leave due to all the fear and beliefs they have taken to heart.”

    Yes, yes, yes! So much good stuff there (in the whole response, really)!

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  10. Responding to William about Fear. It is amazing that these leaders do not go to school to learn all of these control techniques (fear especially) yet they operate in them with such natural proficiency. Reminds me of Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” So, no special training required. The fears that children will be exposed to ungodly influences, or that one will fall into license or lose one’s salvation probably keep a lot of people stuck where they are.

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  11. Lisa,

    Agreed! And we could expound upon the notion of fear to include shame as well — imposing shame for opposing or even thinking of opposing the teaching and authority of such controlling figures. But I’m convinced that such “ministers” are actually being controlled by fear themselves. They seem like a victim of their own fears and insecurities.

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  12. I agree with Lois here-

    sometimes we get blindsided by what we THINK might be true instead of actually studying the Word ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to give you illumination and wisdom. We do not speak enough about the Holy Spirit inside of each and every Christian and that He is the agent of change and sanctification. Yes, they will speak of Him in charismatic circles and even in the ones that abuse too; but the Holy Spirit is always talked about as an OUTSIDE force that does change not one who actually lives and dwells INSIDE of us. I have never received correct teaching of the HS at most of the churches I have attended. Why? well because if they did teach about Him in the right way, they would not be able to control their flocks.

    Also, the Lord Jesus gives us the brain to think logically and critically for a reason- to detect errors. Many just park their brains at the door and the rest is history. In fact, placing blame (unless you KNOW you are doing wrong and deliberately going along and/or deceiving people as well) does no good. We have ALL been in this place. I thought Calvinism was great coming from churches that I felt were getting wishy-washy with New age junk; but I tell you I went into something far worse. I knew there were red flags but the deception was soooo……”biblical sounding”. I thought these men were the cream of the crop with their nice theological seminary degrees. I can tell you now that it does not matter whether you have a doctrinal degree (New Calvinism) or you are fresh out of high school or have been a druggy turned preacher (Calvary Chapel); if you don’t turn to the HS for the truth in His Word and you don’t have a humble, servants heart of love for God’s people—–
    GET OUT of the church!! God does not want you there and nor do we.

    Deception can be very subtle, so I fully understand how people can get sucked up into it- that is why many of the chapters in the New Testament talked about it. This is the reason Paul commended the Bereans for not even taking his word for it.
    I think first and foremost we need to look at ourselves and have a real good talk with the Lord; He will in the most loving way show us where we have faulted and how we can learn from our mistakes. Next we lovingly educate and tell others to be “watchers on the wall” and get back to the Word; start thinking critically.
    Everything I have learned about these people and their deceptions came from God Himself; yes He used others, but it was the HS who did the changing.

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  13. Lois’s comment @ 1:54 is really good. I suspect that most, not all, of us who experienced an abusive church found that we became involved in increments. If we were confronted with the harsh brutality of an abusive church on the first visit, we would turn and run. The indoctrination is much more subtle than that.

    I believe Julie Anne has a post on SSB about “love bombing.” It’s a common tactic in my former church to make a good impression, at the very least, and draw lonely and unsuspecting people in at worst. Most are then treated with kid gloves for a period. Even after the thumbscrews are tightened, you can’t quite figure out what’s going on. Everyone seems so sincere, and you are told that the devil is messing with your head to discourage you.

    Looking back, I realize so much of the behavior of people in my former church was so blatantly un-Christian. I feel conned. The “discernment blogs” have been instrumental in helping to identify and explain what I went through. I hope more people can learn about this before they find themselves faced with a similar situation. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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  14. This is a good discussion on a tough set of questions. Hard to use the term ‘blame’ in the context of victims of spiritual abuse, as we learn and grow, we do have to take a good look at our own actions past and present.

    Not many people think they’re signing up for a cult when they join a church, so they’re not going to be looking for cult tactics being used on them at a church. The people already in the church may not realize the tactics they’re using to draw and hold people in the fold. People going to church for the first time, coming back after an absence, or changing churches are often feeling a need for something greater or seeking healing and comfort in a painful situation. These people are already in a more vulnerable state, so it may not be helpful to them to assess any part of blame to themselves.

    But ultimately, we each are responsible for allowing things like these to happen, especially once we learn the truth of what is happening. It’s our responsibility to watch for the warning signs, and to teach people how to be healthy, whole, aware and independent Christians, so they can better see the signs.

    On a very personal level, we’ll likely have to look at ourselves as far as trust goes after a spiritual abuse experience. Do we completely walk away from church and faith, attend a mega-church and remain on the fringes of the fellowship, or seek out a healthier church and try to learn to trust again? We have to look at forgiveness, too. Forgiveness doesn’t equate to reconciliation, no matter what any preachers might say. Reconciliation isn’t even a part or component of forgiveness. What gets lost in the message of forgiveness in many church settings is that one’s forgiveness isn’t for the benefit of the wrongdoer, it’s for one’s own benefit. If we’re being overly tough in placing blame on ourselves for not noticing, not standing up, not walking out, etc., then we’re going to have a tougher time in forgiving ourselves and in regaining trust in a church setting again.

    There’s no clear-cut, easy answer to these kinds of questions, and that presents us with more difficulty if we’ve come out of a church that has emphasized black-and-white/circular thought to the people. Either we learn a new way of thinking and seeing the world and ourselves, or we’re stuck going to extremes in our placing of blame and responsibility. And then once we quit judging everything with black-and-white thinking backed up with reductionistic and circular logic, we become a bigger target for the fundiegelicals to rail at. We become “apostates”, “backsliders”, “false teachers”, disruptors of “church unity”, and people who ostensibly “hate” the Bible.

    But, at the end of the day, we have to make the choice between staying stuck in the past and trudging around with our blame and shame, or taking out lessons to heart and moving forward to a healthy relationship with Christ and His Church.

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  15. BTDT – Here’s the post on love bombing: http://goo.gl/p3xo2

    Master con artists and spiritual abusers use it. They suck you in emotionally and then have you hooked!

    Lois, thanks for your great comment. Lois has followed my story from the early days. She has been helping people with spiritual abuse for quite some time and she has so much to offer. I always appreciate her good insight.

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  16. I’m with Craig @ 1118, “Blame’ may be problematic” These guys are predators, and predators do not select the strong, mature, fit to attack: they select the weak, sick, young, immature, foolish, etc. One shouldn’t feel guilty for being those things–one should (hopefully) be driven to a deeper dependence on our Lord, and seek to learn from the painful experience.

    At least one of the considerations we should bear in mind is the true, supernaturally empowered abilities of the False Teacher–including the ability to trick even the most astute Bible scholars, in some cases. (Good grief, Jim Jones won a 15 minute interview with Rosalynn Carter in 1976!) To escape from a ministry of a FT is a cause for lifelong rejoicing, gratitude, and learning. We fled the Gulag of our little group 17 years ago, and are still learning from the experience. Few who escape it return to an abusive church, but many don’t return to any church! But the blame-game has never seemed very productive, or authentic, to me!

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  17. Ken, I don’t know how you are able to pack so much stuff into one condensed comment. I think I could do a post on each sentence. (You probably could, too!)

    I hope people really take a close look at what you wrote. There are a whole lot of gold nuggets there.

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  18. Is B4B still in the proverbial dog house? Would like to weigh in on this thread but don’t have the energy to hear more of that rhetoric

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  19. Julie Anne, join the club. There are tons of us out there who look back and say to themselves: what was I thinking? I knew! there were red flags we ignored. but a movement or group is a powerful thing. So powerful we need to be teaching our kids about the dynamics of them and to remain an individual and know their personal values before joining up. Group/movement think comes in all shapes and sizes, too. There are some good teaching tools out there on groupthink that help quite a bit.
    did you know the Challenger disaster came about because of groupthink at Morton Thycol?

    “I’d probably change the word blame to responsible.”

    Exactly. In fact, I did not start to really learn and figure out what happened until I took responsibility. Blaming the victim is the wrong focus. Helping the victim take responsibility is the right focus. This is discussed in The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

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  20. Craig said: “I’d opt for Spiritual Abuse: How can we in the Congregation find Life in the Face of Pastoral Abuse?”

    I like that title, Craig. Do you by chance have a blog article to go along with it? 🙂

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  21. Eric – I can tell I’m in the room with spiritual abuse experts. Your comment was so good and helpful. Love this:

    “But, at the end of the day, we have to make the choice between staying stuck in the past and trudging around with our blame and shame, or taking out lessons to heart and moving forward to a healthy relationship with Christ and His Church.”

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  22. “Blame’ may be problematic” These guys are predators, and predators do not select the strong, mature, fit to attack: they select the weak, sick, young, immature, foolish, etc. One shouldn’t feel guilty for being those things–one should (hopefully) be driven to a deeper dependence on our Lord, and seek to learn from the painful experience.”

    Been reading some George Simon who has been linked to on Jeff Crippens blog. He says they target those who are overly conscientious, fair, do the right thing, give benefit of the doubt, like to serve others, etc. These people are easy to manipulate for a season. These types should not feel guilty either. I often think of the passage be wise as serpents but gentle as doves.

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  23. At the risk of B4B barking from the dog house, I’m going to take my chances and muster the energy to comment. JA, you have such a high threshold for what you will put up with. One thread that turns from heated to flat out bashing, I have to back up and take a break.

    Lois 1:54, you described my experience in SGM to a tee. I have been disillusioned trying to make sense of everything, as the very same denomination where I had a powerful and genuine conversion experience is being brought to light as having swept over horrific sins and has been walking in such darkness for so long.

    Like several have already said, it is certainly not the victim/layperson’s fault in these situations.

    I continue to draw more and more parallels between SGM and abusive marriages and dating relationships. The deeper I delve in the healing process and reflecting on my own part in the process, asking myself difficult questions like those being suggested in this post “How did I miss this?” “Could I have prevented getting wrapped up in this?”, etc., the more uncanny the parallel becomes.

    Thinking back to the various forms the brainwashing took place within SGM, each isolated “off” comment was spoken with sincere conviction. I truly believe that in both abusive husbands/boyfriends and in spiritually abusive pastors, the perpetrators are convinced that their controlling tactics are good and helpful. They are so self-deceived that they rationalized abusive behavior as helpful to those they lord over- the perceived “weak” woman/congregation.

    If one truly believes that has the utmost corner on what is best for another person, he will see his controlling behavior, whether it is through words, actions, or both, as part of a working out of some twisted plan for ultimate “good”.

    The devil sneaks in by masking evil as good and making the two very difficult to distinguish. If the devil’s tactics were more obvious, I’m sure that no one in their right mind would willfully join a cultish church, nor enter into an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

    3:42 Trust4himonly- Amen about learning to listen to the Holy Spirit. This has been revolutionary for me to learn in my healing process!

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  24. Two things that you will find that stick in the craws of abusive, authoritarian preachers: discernment by an individual as led by the Holy Spirit, and the concept of the universal priesthood of believers. Both items diminish the role of the authoritarian as the gatekeeper to God and interpreter of “truth.”

    Discernment: there are some reasonable objections to someone simply claiming the Holy Spirit is leading them to teach x; it must be defensible using the Bible in a holistic way, rather than the reductionism of proof-texting. Yet when many prominent preachers speak of discernment, what they really mean is that proper discernment is agreeing with them. Anyone that questions or defies their “authority” and teachings gets slammed and railed against (sound a bit like Tim Challies, anyone?) They’ll even try to turn the word ‘discernment’ into something murky and dangerous; better to play it safe and just listen to the ‘properly educated’ preachers. This ties into their sense of leadership, and the idea of “leading people to Christ.”

    People aren’t led to Christ by other people, that’s the work of God’s prevenient grace, and afterwards of the Holy Spirit to lead people closer to Christ and His heart. All we can do as humans is to give a witness of what we have learned, point to the path, and take people’s hands and walk beside them. If we lead people to Christ, that would imply that, at some point, we are standing in front of them before Christ. Here’s where the psychology comes into play; either we step out of the way between that person and Christ, or we remain in front as a leader. The authoritarians who wish to remain as leaders don’t want to step out of the way; they’re afraid they may be surpassed in some way. A good parent wants their children to surpass and do better than they did; in the same manner, a good shepherd living a sacrificial life in imitation of Christ will want those whom he teaches to surpass him.

    Discernment, it’s not just for preachers and bloggers anymore! 🙂

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  25. I’ve enjoyed all of the comments.

    I’ve seen a lot of people stay at an unhealthy for a wide variety of reasons:
    • The change in the church was so slow they don’t notice it. When they finally do, they think their influence will fix it.
    • They view the church as “just me and my friends” — they’ve never had a close relationship with any pastor, so he just is not that important.
    • They have other sources of spiritual nourishment so they don’t rely on the church that much.
    • They are passive people who never want to rock the boat. Leaving would be too dramatic and they don’t want to leave their friends.
    • They deliberately stayed out of church leadership and lived on the margins of the congregation.
    • They don’t know where they would go!

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  26. JA: I think that putting up with B4B for a long time and putting him in the dog house now were both great decisions. Initially, he may have been unpleasant to interact with but he was at least making some effort to contribute to the discussion.

    In the end, he was just lobbing insults at people without making a pretense at caring about the thread’s topic. If he just wants attention B4B can go see a therapist rather than bothering people on a great blog, in my opinion.

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  27. But is it not funny — and by funny I mean tragic — that someone like Born4Contention acted in his usual manner in a post regarding spiritual abuse? I mean, the irony is almost too much!

    I liked anonymous’ points, especially this one, which had not occurred to me:
    They have other sources of spiritual nourishment so they don’t rely on the church that much.”

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  28. Anonymous:

    I like all your points but this one resonated the most:

    “• The change in the church was so slow they don’t notice it. When they finally do, they think their influence will fix it.”

    Yes, people cling to the idea that they can rescue a Church organization, that has done so many awful things it’s lost all credibility, in the same way that women often stay with abusive boyfriends or husbands because they believe they can change these guys. I realize that’s a sexist statement but it reflects my experiences regarding how women justify staying in unhealthy relationships.

    At some point, say if the leaders of your Church organization are not denying,much less apologizing for the fact that they’ve mis-handled sexual abuse problems for decades, AND they’re directly and indirectly subjects of a massive class-action lawsuit and criminal convictions/investigations to that effect, you need to stop hoping they’ll change and move on.

    Otherwise at some point you become part of the problem and a big contributor to the spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse problems at hand even if you haven’t technically abused anyone legally speaking.

    In my opinion, people who are still members of SGM Churches, for example, are enabling spiritual abuse at this point by financially supporting an organization doing truly evil things.

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  29. A bunch of thoughts….

    I have known people who have remained in an unhealthy group because it is all they know & they can’t see upsetting family by leaving (family is also in the group).

    I have known people who have remained for a time because the pastor shared with them that change was coming. It didn’t come.

    I have known people who have remained because they honestly believe there is no place for them to go if they leave. They believe all the lies the ministers have told about other area churches and groups.

    Yes, some remain thinking they will change the group. That would rarely happen. There would have to be a lot of people staying in the group for the same reason in order for that thought to have a chance. While it is possible they could help to change an individual church, groups operate in a way that one person cannot overthrow the system.

    As to few people leaving an unhealthy church and going into another unhealthy church, I have seen this happen and believe it happens to more than just a few, at least in the area I deal with. Some people have had it so instilled into them that they HAVE to be attending a church, so that when they leave, they almost immediately start at another church. They haven’t had a chance to sort through any of the issues, look at the doctrines, or even investigate the new church. When people take the time to do these things, they are less likely to get caught up in another unhealthy church. Should they try one out and not realize before going that it is unhealthy, they would be able to pick out the signs and not return.

    As to the types of people who become involved in unhealthy churches…..it can and does happen to all types of people and those from all backgrounds. You can be a high school dropout or hold a master’s degree. You can be the CEO of a prestigious company or flip burgers. You can be rich, poor or in between. You could have a troubled childhood or background or come from a healthy family life.

    And, yes, a number do not return to any church. And some leave Christianity and/or become agnostic or an atheist. Some hold on to their warped view of God, instilled in them by their unhealthy group, and can’t see that this is not how God really is. Some people take advantage of those who left an unhealthy church and feed them with all types of other things that help to pull them away from a relationship with God. I know a PK, who though he can see the errors of the teachings of his former group, he still cannot get rid of the idea that God is harsh, mean, never happy with you and unfair.

    RP Said: “I have been disillusioned trying to make sense of everything, as the very same denomination where I had a powerful and genuine conversion experience is being brought to light as having swept over horrific sins and has been walking in such darkness for so long.”

    Here is what we need to consider. When a person desires to come to God, it doesn’t matter where they are at. God isn’t going to turn them away because it happened while they were at an unhealthy church. And because we came to God in an unhealthy church, it doesn’t mean that God has stamped them with his seal of approval. This is a tough area. God deals with the individual people, not a church or a group or a denomination. This is how a person can come to know God while at an unhealthy church. It happened to me, too, just a different group than yours.

    At first things were great. I was very happy and my life was changing for the better. I had a lot of joy in my new walk with God. But because I also remained at the unhealthy church, not realizing it was that way, I also started changing in other ways that were not good. I did see some things but did not have the knowledge or discernment at the time. Then as time went on, rationalization covered other things. Hindsight is so much better…..

    Eric wrote: “On a very personal level, we’ll likely have to look at ourselves as far as trust goes after a spiritual abuse experience. Do we completely walk away from church and faith, attend a mega-church and remain on the fringes of the fellowship, or seek out a healthier church and try to learn to trust again?”

    Trust is a major issue for most people who leave. It isn’t just about trusting another church or pastor or group, but in trusting themselves, their own judgment. Some people need to remain on the fringes and attend a church where there is little to no accountability at first. They need to be able to not be seen, so to speak, and even rush out the doors as soon as service is over or before. They may try a number of churches/groups before they feel they have one that’s right for them. Some need a quiet church at first, because they came out a a very emotional church with lots of displays. Others need another emotional church at first because they feel others are dead (until they start to learn more about this). Some need to stay away from any church for awhile while they start to sort through all the issues and teachings. What works for one person may not work for another. I wish there was a set of steps we could tell people, that would work for everyone in the same time frame. But there isn’t. There never will be.

    Someone mentioned the book, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen. I don’t care what type of group you were involved with, this book will help you to understand things that happened. I have highly recommended it since I read it in 1994. If you are reading here and have not read it, get a copy. It is in print form & available on Kindle. There are often used copies for sale for around $5. I have given dozens of copies away- that is how helpful I believe this book is. There are others on the subject you can read, some tackling it from various angles, but this one will give you a good basic overall knowledge.

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  30. “The change in the church was so slow they don’t notice it. When they finally do, they think their influence will fix it.”

    This is the one I see the most.

    But I will say this, once they really learn they have no influence (just the opposite)and they have exhausted every avenue which can take years all the while they have been marginalized and treated horribly…..you often meet them on blogs! :o)

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  31. :”But is it not funny — and by funny I mean tragic — that someone like Born4Contention acted in his usual manner in a post regarding spiritual abuse? I mean, the irony is almost too much!”

    I skipped over most of his rants but the ones I saw seemed tedious and repetitive. However, his complaints about being persecuted by people on a blog he voluntarily visited were funny. So were the posts in which he said, in the context of a public blog, “go away, I don’t want to talk to you. Leave me alone. How dare you respond to my comments? What is this, an open forum?”

    🙂

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  32. “The change in the church was so slow they don’t notice it. When they finally do, they think their influence will fix it.”

    This is a biggie. But it also shows that we think we have power. I think it is really God who changes hearts. I think he can work through us as we show love and grace. That was very instrumental in me seeing the contrast at BGBC.

    I thought my logic and good reasoning skills would convince a person to leave who had been telling me all kinds of stuff about the pastor. I encouraged her to go directly to sources and question them. She turned it around and said something like, “Are you telling me that I shouldn’t be trusting our pastor, the person God placed over us?” (Hmm, where did she get that “over me” thing from?)

    I’ve learned that I cannot change pastors by outing them publicly. I’ve learned that my words may not influence anyone into leaving dangerous situations. But what I can do is show love and grace.

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  33. Julie Anne at 10:55am—very well spoken- all of it. It is indeed God who changes hearts and starts to open the eyes. He can use seeds we plant, though. Just dropping “food for thought” tidbits can be used by God to help someone start to see something is wrong.

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  34. Yes, that’s exactly what I meant in my last comment of showing grace and love. My knitting group of lady friends from the church before BGBC were constantly showing me love and grace. The knew me before, and they watched me and our mutual friends change as we were under CON’s leadership. They continued to show grace and love. They allowed me to come to my own conclusions, but modeled true Christianity as I spent time with them. They didn’t have to live legalistically as we were living. They didn’t have to live with judgmental attitudes as we were then living. I missed that. It was what I was longing for. So it may have been little words spoken or probably mostly actions I saw – but it was certainly Christ in them that I saw. Christ changed my heart by working through them.

    And for the record, I have had the wonderful joy of thanking many of them for that, too. Man, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. When you have friends who walk with you when they know you are not in a good way and then rally around you at court hearings as you are being sued – – wow. What incredible love that is.

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  35. Eric, so true about the Holy Spirit and the priesthood of believers, and discernment. It is so freeing to experience the Holy Spirit afresh and to trust that I have all that I need to discern what is good and true.

    Anonymous, your point about staying with hopes of influencing the unhealthy church resonates. I tried this for awhile, until I couldn’t swim upstream any longer.

    Lois, thanks for insightful comments. It’s good to be reminded that coming to faith is completely independent of an institution or a person. That is one of the many things that I know in my head, but am still growing in my understanding in my heart.

    JA, I’m wondering if there is a way to set it up so comments could be grouped together, so one could comment in response directly to a comment above. I’m guessing you’ve already considered this and that it’s not as easy as it sounds to set up- just wondering

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  36. JA, Amen to having incredible friends. I am so very thankful for genuine friends who were patient and loving toward me during my legalistic phase, and haven’t withheld their friendship and support during my process of being a “recovering pharisee”.

    Like

  37. RP -said: “JA, I’m wondering if there is a way to set it up so comments could be grouped together, so one could comment in response directly to a comment above. I’m guessing you’ve already considered this and that it’s not as easy as it sounds to set up- just wondering”

    Ugh, I know. I’ve tried that before and it is one big mess. Have you seen popular bloggers with that format, ie, Rachel Held Evan’s blog? There is no way to see new comments without scrolling through (in her case) hundreds of comments. On her blog, I end up not commenting or participating because of that reason.

    I know this format is also a bit cumbersome because there can be several conversations going on at once. If people can cut and paste a small portion of the comment they are referring to when responding, it helps immensely. The other option is to refer to the time stamp.

    The grouping way you describe works well in blogs with not much traffic. I’ll switch it to that format if about 75% of you leave. 😉

    If there was a way to group comments and then click on a show-new-comments-since-last-visit button, that would make my day!

    Like

  38. I think Lois brought up a good point:

    “Here is what we need to consider. When a person desires to come to God, it doesn’t matter where they are at. God isn’t going to turn them away because it happened while they were at an unhealthy church. And because we came to God in an unhealthy church, it doesn’t mean that God has stamped them with his seal of approval. This is a tough area. God deals with the individual people, not a church or a group or a denomination. This is how a person can come to know God while at an unhealthy church. It happened to me, too, just a different group than yours.”

    I’ve seen this all too often and especially with friends in a SGM church. Their experience of God at the church just enforces their dependence on that church and the idea that it’s a safe place to stay.

    Like

  39. JA wrote – “If there was a way to group comments and then click on a show-new-comments-since-last-visit button, that would make my day!”

    😀

    Like

  40. Yeah, JA, I was actually thinking of Rachel Held Evan’s blog. Interesting that you find it annoying- I actually prefer that format, so I can keep each comment I’ve read separate in my head as I skim through or get caught up in reading each post related to a certain comment. I like that you can click the drop down arrow to see all the posts related to a certain comment.

    I guess the downfall is what you mentioned, which becomes more cumbersome the more traffic the blog gets.

    Totally works for now how you have it, it just makes for more scrolling back and forth to track certain conversations. Another plus side of having it strictly chronological is that it offers more of a group discussion feel, rather than several private one on one or three ish people talking to each other on a particular rabbit trail. It also allows us to see quite clearly when someone with a differing point of view shifts from debating in a healthy way to derailing the conversations with insults.

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  41. Thanks, William. 3 years ago when I first starting reading blogs about spiritual abuse I took the comments of people blustering like B4B personally. Now I have a “been there, done that” mentality toward folks who just want attention but lack the desire or ability to participate in a serious dialogue.

    Like

  42. Rachel Held Evans is using a popular system called Disqus that I don’t particularly care for either because I think it’s hard to read. I think there are other ways of getting enabling people to comment on comments directly, a feature I also like, yet I don’t have a problem with this blog’s format. I agree that a numbering system might make life easier but Idon’t find the lack thereof a barrier to communicating.

    Just my two cents..

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  43. I often correct typos when people send a second message saying “that last sentence should read . . . . .”

    When that happens, I correct the original comment and delete the message and then the numbering system is completely off for that thread if people are referring to a comment’s #. That’s why referring to timestamp is the best way here. (or better yet, cut and paste a portion of the comment you are referring to).

    Like

  44. JA –

    What about no numbering but a “reply” button and/or “quote” button like the TWW site? That makes it easier to reference what comment one is replying to.

    Like

  45. JA wrote: “Eric, does that smiley face mean you have a solution for me? Or is that a dream-on smile?”

    It means there is a solution, but not with the inline comments on the blog. Message board functions let you do those things easily. when a discussion takes a turn or a sub-discussion starts, you can split it off into its own thread.

    Like

  46. The one who perpetrates the abuse, given that it is really abuse and not simply an organizational structure with rules, roles and responsibilities, is guilty of that abuse. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pastor, deacon, elder, or teacher in the church. Hopefully there is a biblically based system of church discipline in place so that it can be taken care of. BTW, if the Bible instructs the church how to exercise proper church discipline when there is ‘sin in the camp’ there also needs to be ‘organization’ to carry it out, doesn’t there?

    Like

  47. That should have read “The one who perpetrates the abuse, given that it is really abuse and not simply an organizational structure with rules, roles and responsibilities that is being opposed. “

    Like

  48. “The one who perpetrates the abuse, given that it is really abuse and not simply an organizational structure with rules, roles and responsibilities, is guilty of that abuse. Doesn’t matter if it’s a pastor, deacon, elder, or teacher in the church. Hopefully there is a biblically based system of church discipline in place so that it can be taken care of. BTW, if the Bible instructs the church how to exercise proper church discipline when there is ‘sin in the camp’ there also needs to be ‘organization’ to carry it out, doesn’t there?”

    It is also possible that the organizational structure itself can lead to abusive situations. Hence the reason this blog exists…

    Like

  49. Inanimate structures cannot and do not abuse anyone. Sinful people do. I was listening to some good teaching from Acts 6 early this morning during my working in which it was proposed that level or organization should keep pace with how the Holy Spirit is growing the church. In other words, whatever organization exists should be no more and no less than what is needed to most effectively serve the body and the spread of the gospel. So I think I see your point.

    Like

  50. B4B,

    There is a different tone I’ve been reading in your last few comments. Yes, you have maintained your differing viewpoint, but you have expressed yourself well without the extras. Thank you! I greatly appreciate it.

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  51. “Inanimate structures cannot and do not abuse anyone. Sinful people do.”

    Here I agree with you. However, some organizational structures are (pardon the repeated word) structured in such a way that abuse can thrive because there is no checks and balances in the structure.

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  52. RMR,

    I would offer that the Holy Spirit of God is the ‘system’ of checks and balances, as those in leadership continue in prayer and keep ‘keep being filled’ with the Holy Spirit. At the same time, church discipline, properly applied also serves that purpose. They are not the same as specific checks and balances in our government and the three branches, but they serve a like purpose.

    Like

  53. True, “Inanimate structures cannot and do not abuse anyone.” However, people put together “organizational structure with rules, roles and responsibilities.” So a system itself CAN be abusive. A system can set the pastor up with no checks and balances and no one to truly answer to.

    “Hopefully there is a biblically based system of church discipline in place so that it can be taken care of.” Here is something I don’t believe you understand and I mean no disrespect to you in saying this. In unhealthy churches and groups, there usually isn’t….and if there is, there are ways around it or it is there in written form, but not often followed.

    For instance, in the UPC, they have a judicial procedure set up ( http://www.spiritualabuse.org/issues/position/judicial.html ). However, people have tried to use it and have gotten nowhere. Most church members have no clue it even exists. Each district superintendent has some freedom in this. In addition, it seems that if a minister mentions a lawyer or possible lawsuit, it appears they back away. Ministers have done wrong and the organizational system of the UPC does little or nothing. In addition, the main headquarters will tell you that each church is autonomous and they don’t interfere with that. In my former district, the DS knew things about my former pastor and how he was but he was allowed to continue unchecked and nothing was done.

    Unhealthy churches and unhealthy organizations don’t follow normal rules and allow all types of wrong and harm to occur. The spiritual abuse is REAL.

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  54. Bridget – I see that I forgot to reply to this comment of yours:

    What about no numbering but a “reply” button and/or “quote” button like the TWW site? That makes it easier to reference what comment one is replying to.

    Sorry about that. I am using WordPress.com and it does not allow me to use plug-ins which I suspect is what Dee (or more like Guy Behind the Scenes) is using to add that feature to TWW. Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I opted to go the safe route where things are all set up on WordPress. Now I’m seeing the disadvantages of taking the easy way out.

    I can easily change the blog over to allow more freedom/options, but it comes with a price and a learning curve. We’ll see when I get either one of those – ha 🙂

    Like

  55. When we have received discernment
    from the Holy Spirit & stay anyway, we are to blame
    for our own lack of spiritual growth. From the
    moment we start getting strong feelings that
    something’s not right or unscriptural, we’re responsible to
    move when the Holy Spirit says move. I understand
    using caution that we’re not simply vagabonds,
    moving every time there’s a word of correction or
    we don’t like the pastors wife, etc….God doesn’t want
    our loyalties to be misplaced however. He’s the final
    authority. If something doesn’t line up with the word of
    God, sometimes we may have misunderstood. If
    it becomes a pattern in every service, it’s time to
    move on, i don’t care how long we’ve been in that church,
    how many friends we have there, or whatever. We must
    trust God to lead us where He wants us to be. The
    reason cults thrive is because people come to depend
    more on the pastor who pretends to speak for God
    to fulfill some sort of sick narcissistic agenda.
    I’ve learned it’s a rare pastor that can be
    respectfully confronted without becoming offended &
    making the one with the legitimate question out to be a
    “rebel” or “troublemaker”. I saw red flags but out of
    a sense of loyalty, I stayed way too long.
    I don’t use the word “blame” loosely. I know the abuser is
    ultimately responsible and will have to answer for that.
    But no one will care as much about your and your loved
    ones spiritual health as you (and God). I now attend a
    small group of believers, some who have come from
    abusive churches. We hold each other accountable.
    We must forgive and move on. But that doesn’t mean we
    can allow ourselves to be abused again.
    God says to study to show ourselves approved
    in the word….if we want to have discernment we MUST know the
    word for ourselves. That is how we guard against
    falsehood. If we don’t know the word for ourselves,we will
    believe anything that comes along.

    Like

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