Quick note: Last weekend, I went to the Oregon Coast to a ladies retreat. Knitting is my constant companion at retreats – – especially in case the speaker disappoints. However, I did not get one stitch of knitting done. The message was very good, convicting, refreshing, and motivating. And you cannot put a price tag on getting together with long-time friends, sharing heart-to-heart conversation, laughing and crying together. What a precious time.
This is where we were . . . . . .
. . . but I would be lying if I said I saw this during the retreat. The weather was stormy with strong winds and horizontal rain keeping me inside the entire time. After driving away, upon realizing I not seen the ocean once during the weekend, I pulled over to get a shot. Here’s the shot I took – the only time during the weekend that wasn’t raining/storming – – – from my iPhone, with no photo editing. The Oregon coast is gorgeous. It is free for all to enjoy, and worth a visit. This was taken in Cannon Beach.
Now this is kind of funny. I took a picture of a tsunami evacuation sign, but had not looked at the fine print until getting home. 🙂
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What is our responsibility when we are spiritually abused? Were we part of the problem?
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Reader “ThinkingChristian” has been processing her spiritually abusive experience and sent me an e-mail I thought would be important to discuss. When someone is stuck in the recovery process, I want to make sure they are given top priority to process here and also have others chime in.
Important note: at any time you feel stuck spiritually, you have an open invitation to “invade” the current topic and ask for help. It doesn’t bother me in the least to have two conversations going on. Yes, you and your recovery are that important and I think my readers would agree with me.
We’ve touched on this topic before, but it’s good to revisit it again as there are always new survivors visiting the site.
Thanks, ThinkingChristian, for allowing me to post your comment publicly:
I wanted to ask a question, and figured you would be a good person to bounce this off of, considering you have probably heard it all in the spiritual abuse realm. I am still pretty new to all of this, and the shock and hurt of it all has not worn off yet. I still have friends in my former church and I realize that a common phrase keep recurring in our conversation regarding me “taking responsibility.” I also remember before I left that my pastor would say something along those lines as well. I think the general idea is that I should take responsibility for being hurt, anger, etc by the actions or words of the persons involved, because if my identity and hope were totally in Christ, I would be able to better allow it to roll off my back.
Now I do take responsibility for the fact that I had unknowingly set up my church and some leaders as an idol in my heart, and I had a lot of pride regarding my church and all the “good” things about it. I can also say that because I desired to be accepted and liked, and worry about what others thought (pride) it also made me susceptible to be a bit more bothered by things. However, it seems wrong to tell someone to talk responsibility for being hurt/anger by the fact that instead of being helped in a time of need I was verbally assaulted, shunned, generally just treated extremely poorly by most. To me it would seem that you would darn near have to be in your glorified body for this type of treatment to NOT have any effect on you. It also seems very callous on the part of some of the leadership to KNOW that they have sinned against someone, and instead of owning it, repenting and trying to bring about true restoration, they would say to “take responsibility.”
Have you heard of this before? I always want to have the right understanding about things, and not just throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.
In a follow-up e-mail, ThinkingChristian adds more:
I have also been told that God is trying to teach me humility through these experiences. I think I have heard that word more than all the others. Again if you have been publicly humiliated and shamed, called a fake Christian with fake fruit, and just in general treated very poorly by a body of believers, how does that teach humility? More so how does they get to declare how God is using their sin?? It seems very convenient to me, and again callous.
58 thoughts on “When we are spiritually abused, are we partly responsible?”
Thank you for these insightful words: “Now I do take responsibility for the fact that I had unknowingly set up my church and some leaders as an idol in my heart, and I had a lot of pride regarding my church and all the “good” things about it.” You express beautifully the situation I was in at my former church. I’ve never been able to say it as clearly as you have
In the early stages of healing from religious abuse, I found it most helpful to name & claim my anger and my sense of betrayal. Years later, I’m able to look at my own role in those events. But it took years to get to the point where I could do that without descending into harmful self-blame. Since your experience is still recent, be assured that feelings of anger are normal and healthy. Churchmates who tell you to “take responsibility” and “learn humility” are only trying to get themselves off the hook. If you can, ignore their self-serving advice. They are trying to speak for God, and they don’t have that authority.
Great point, Catherine. When looking at abuse, it’s important to keep the focus where it belongs – – on the abuser.
I accept some responsibility for being spiritually abused.
If I had been just a little more literate in scriptures and payed attention and ask direct questions about my former Pastor’s Stealth and Covert behavior in hiding his Hyper Doctrine I wouldn’t have been deceived. I would’ve walked away sooner while disclosing to the elders his doctrine which would’ve ended his tenure much sooner..
Even though he purposely avoided disclosing his doctrine doesn’t excuse my laziness of not staying more engaged in scriptures and not focusing what he was hiding..
We have been miss-taught about the use and meaning of pride and humility. They are used as tools by others to inappropriately transfer guilt and responsibility. Were you really prideful?
“Adj. prideful – having or showing arrogant superiority to and disdain of those one views as unworthy”
Somehow I don’t pick that up from your correspondence. I actually am seeing that definition reflected more in the behavior of the people who are trying to dump it all upon you. I perceive that what you are calling pride was merely being excited about being a part of something that you thought was good and you believed it would be helpful for others.
Now let’s take a look at the term humility:
Humility (adjectival form: humble) is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering one self in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context. In a religious context this can mean a recognition of self in relation to a deity or deities, acceptance of one’s defects, and submission to divine grace or as a member of an organized, hierarchical religion. Absent a religious context humility can still take on a moral and/or ethical dimension.
Humility, in various interpretations, is widely seen as a virtue in many religious and philosophical traditions, often in contrast to narcissism, hubris and other forms of pride.
The act of imposing humility upon another person is called “humiliation”.
Humility is something you clearly already have because you wouldn’t be self-evaluating and seeking answers if it were lacking. If this definition is correct and narcissism and hubris is what exists when humility is lacking….then you can ask yourself, “Am I being narcissistic or acting with hubris?” If not, then I doubt you lack humility. Need a few more definitions to sort this out:?
narcissistic personality disorder- characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have a sense of entitlement and demonstrate grandiosity in their beliefs and behavior. They have a strong need for admiration, but lack feelings of empathy.
Symptoms of this disorder, as defined by the DSM-IV-TR include:
Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments
Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others
Envies others and believes others envy him/her
Is preoccupied with thoughts and fantasies of great success, enormous attractiveness, power, intelligence
Lacks the ability to empathize with the feelings or desires of others
Is arrogant in attitudes and behavior
Has expectations of special treatment that are unrealistic
Hubris (/ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις), means extreme pride or self-confidence. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.
Honestly, does that sound like you?
Now I would like to go back to the final sentence in the definition of Humility:
“The act of imposing humility upon another person is called “humiliation”.
My only question is, Who is imposing humility upon whom in your situation?
It is good to self-evaluate and you do need to do that. But trust who you know you are in your heart and trust what you see in others. The environment you are leaving is created to cause you to self-doubt and self-examine so that you have no energy, confidence or time to examine others. A classic foundation technique of mind-control is to cause an individual to doubt their own perceptions and motives and reality. It becomes easier to introduce your own agenda into an insecure individual without resistance…especially those individuals who tend to have a strong sense of personal responsibility which is essentially a positive trait.
Right now it is more important for you to judge the situation and the actions of others around you. Yes, you can judge their fruit. The Bible TELLS you to do this and calls it wisdom. Jesus wants you to be able to have discernment and He gives you the Holy Spirit so that you can function in that gift. Ultimately, after hearing the input of others, you must not rely upon others to dictate to you the heart of God. You are able to hear His voice and follow Him. As Catherine has suggested, you can self-evaluate later when you are removed from any unhealthy situation and are comforted in His love so that you are more emotionally able to honestly evaluate the condition of your own heart.
I hope that this was helpful, dear one. I will keep you in my prayers. It does get better….and you are not alone in this journey.
Dear ThinkingChristian, I’m so sorry for all you’ve experienced and gone through. Abuse of any kind is never the fault of the abused. Responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser. Taking responsibility for abuse by the abuser is a heavy weight we were never meant to carry. Can we learn things from our experiences? Absolutely. But the responsibility needs to be on the abuser.
Just my two cents…
Ultimately I lay the responsibility on the abuser. In the experiences that we have had with church, the abuse started out very subtle and then before we knew it, we were in a bad situation wondering how we had allowed ourselves to participate.
The main responsibility that I take for our experiences is that I did not stand up and say something about the blatant abuse of power that a pastor tried to have over us. I always go through the would have, should have, could have scenarios in my mind. I only hope that the experiences that I have had have made me a stronger person so that if I found myself in the situation again, I would be strong enough to say something and leave sooner.
It depends. I go back and forth on this one in many cases because I can just not determine the level of maturity of the abused. I’ve been following all of these stories coming out about Bill Gothard, and when I hear of a 20 something year old young woman who allows herself to be sent to a retreat center when she knows there is an authority figure there who is going to make advances toward her, I can’t help but think, “That one was your fault. You must have known better, and you even legally consented to the immorality. Now you just feel duped and angry, and want someone to blame.”
But often when we are abused, we are just the products of a vicious cycle. Sometimes we put ourselves in situations because we don’t know where else to go or what else to do. Often times, we were brought up in the environment and know nothing else. And far too often, there is some controlling cult leader who does a fantastic job at manipulating the Bible, who is there ready to prey on those who are weak willed.
A perfect example of where I believe some blame goes towards the alleged abused comes in the case of ATI parents who sent their kids to IBLP HQ. Many of them were suckered by a charismatic leader, and then continued the abuse with their own kids. So is the leader solely to blame, or do we eventually come to a point where we have to take responsibility. Most people who abuse, were abused, and if we shift the blame to the abuser, then we can always find someone who abused us and this caused us to abuse others. At some point, we have to take responsibility and refuse to allow our families to be abused in the same ways.
Where are you reading this, Mark L? I’ve not read one story in which a young lady knew in advance of Gothard’s sexual grooming behavior.
Ok, I have to ask the same thing here. Where are you reading this? No parent would knowingly send their kids to get abused. What am I missing here?
Julie Anne, he is talking about Ruth’s story. She was abused by Gothard, had a breakdown, and was sent to another facility where she was seduced by his brother. She did not want to go, begged him not to send her, but didn’t understand that she could just go home.
Mark, Gothard and his brother took advantage of this young woman. Gothard isolated her and used her and then turned her over to his brother when he was tired of her. Whatever responsibility she had to resist them pales in comparison to the power Gothard had in the situation. Her story made me cry.
In my experience, the abuser refuses to even listen to the abused. It’s always presented as some kind of lack of submission to the authority of the pastor or the church which is thrown back into the face of the abused. It’s abuse of power, plain and simple. Real leaders don’t abuse. The blame is the abuser’s. As a mother, I had to learn this, often the hard way. My children had real issues with some of what I did as a mother. To deny how my words or actions hurt them only made it worse. When I came down off of my high horse and really listened, then I was able to shoulder the blame and real healing took place. The abuser must be confronted, no matter how painful. If an abuser will not listen, then leave.
Dear Thinking Christian,
Most of what those who are still at the ‘church’ are speaking from their experience. I found when I left and was immediately shunned, I cried out to God and spoke with some folks who I respected had left earlier. One very wise loving woman suggested I cry out to God to heal these wounds, and I did. God gave me healing and compassion for friends still there and a better understanding of what had just happened.
I was so confused for about a year after we left, but as I read the Word on wolves, it all became very clear. I prayed for those who were/are still there, that God would be glorified in opening eyes, and yes lead whom He would out. He has given me many gifts from walking through that experience. More faith, more hope and more love for the lost…wouldn’t want it any other way. I find the most painful lessons learned are where I get the most spiritual growth.
Pray unceasingly, love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind~He will bless those who keep their eye on the prize, Christ Jesus.
One of the most painful things I have walked through, but truly one of my biggest blessings.
And NO those who are spiritually abused are NOT responsible for the abuse, EVER! We, who have been abused are responsible for repenting of any sin (idol worship-IF that happened, bitterness) and turn to Christ. He restores HIS BRIDE!
Untangling your emotions and the reasons behind your decisions at such a time is an extremely difficult thing to do.
In a conversation with an ‘enabler who was well aware of my ex-pastor’s weaknesses, I was told that if I was ‘strong enough in the Word’ and praying as I should, then I would be able to handle the difficult nature of what was coming from him. This lady did not justify his behaviour (on this occasion) but made it clear that ‘running away’ was the response of a weak and ill-disciplined christian.
That added guilt to abuse.
It took me a while to understand that her perspective was simply an expression of her own dependency. The cost of separation from the pastor was in her case too great and indeed, unthinkable!
I have sometimes revisited that thought: if I was stronger I would have stayed.
But in my better moments I know that I did the strongest thing possible: leave!
Am I to blame for the relationship dynamics of our church family, in which one ‘Moses’ figure presided over the rest of us? Yes, and not only me. We all should have addressed the problem sooner. If we had seen it. Many still don’t.
But the far greater responsibility lies with the person who made himself ‘responsible’ for the whole sorry affair and put himself in that position of dominance over us in the first place.
Is it wrong to leave a church?
This teaching promoted by Colin Urquhart in the UK (with whom my pastor had strong connections) certainly gives that impression.
An interesting exercise would be to spot the twists and distortions of the Truth it contains, in the name of confronting twists and distortions!
Thinking Christian, You sound like you are light years ahead of where I was working through all this stuff soon after. You are asking the right questions. There is a chapter in “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” that discusses our responsibility for what happened.
” I still have friends in my former church and I realize that a common phrase keep recurring in our conversation regarding me “taking responsibility.” I also remember before I left that my pastor would say something along those lines as well. I think the general idea is that I should take responsibility for being hurt, anger, etc by the actions or words of the persons involved, because if my identity and hope were totally in Christ, I would be able to better allow it to roll off my back. ”
Sounds like Job’s “friends”. :o) This was nothing but a backhanded suggestion YOU are the real sinner. It is just another variation of “blame the victim” that sounds pious to them—- which should tell us all something. It is spin.
I have a good one for you that follows that line of thinking: I was told by those in the power chain (that I still had some contact with) that what happened was “good” for me because it helped me become closer to Jesus.
I am glad I was quick witted enough to suggest they advertise this “spiritual abuse is good for you” concept of Christianity and see how long they stay a mega. :o)
No matter what you say or do, you will be in the wrong around those types. Which is a good reason to question whether they are really “friends” at all. Or worth your precious time as you move on to spend time with the REAL Jesus Christ. I put them in the pearl/swine category.
Dear ThinkingChristian: Everyone desires to be accepted/liked. That’s a normal part of friendship and intimacy, so when relationships break down, one inevitably will feel hurt. Something important has been torn up!
Also, I don’t know what you meant by “pride”, which can be wrong, but when we love our group, we will be proud of it in the sense that we are glad about it and we honor the people and the work they do.
I do think it’s important to re-think ideas of authority because they are awry in the church and likely part of the reason you received such hurt. But that is an imperative for all Christians, not just you. A healthy response from your church friends would gone something like this, “How awful that you were hurt! We are beginning to see that it’s partly because of our hierarchical structures. We will look at why we keep such a structure in the face of what Jesus said/did, and we will change it so as to minimize this happening to future members. If you feel up to it, we’d be grateful to have your voice along with ours.”
I don’t know what they meant by “taking responsibility” but it sounds like passive-aggressive blaming. Of course you take responsibility for your healing—who doesn’t want wounds healed? When humans are hurt, they will become angry and depressed (back/forth). It’s how we let ourselves know that something is wrong. Shutting down emotions doesn’t change a thing because it only turns off the signals. Our job is to understand why those emotions are there, and to take steps to protect the self so that we can heal.
See next comment for rest.
Continued from above:
In healing, the nutrients as well as the cleanser are love for self. It is your wound and you are who needs healing. Going to God for that love helps a great deal because S/He loves you more than anyone in the world. Check here: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2014/02/17/be-in-awe-of-jesus-and-love-yourself/
Healing usually takes longer than we expect because we tend not to recognize the gravity of spiritual/mental wounds.
People can say, “Well you were a little bit wrong this/that way, or mostly wrong because of this/that”, but they are the ones who are wrong. They are kicking a horse when it’s down, to use a cliché. You are correct that they’re acting callous and unrepentant. They’re also acting dumb, cruel and plain ole unchristian.
Last, humiliation is a hallmark spiritual abuse. To mistake humiliation for humility and to bring it up as a “thing to learn” is so spiritually tone-deaf, so ignorant of what damage is inside humans…well, I’ve heard that little idiocy many times and it enrages me every single time. A wise person once told me that being humble means knowing exactly who you are, nothing more, nothing less.
Last, God never ever calls pain on us to make us learn. We learn what we can from damaging experiences because God is with us, but it is not sent to make us better people. Never. Ever. God is love and God is good. There is no shadow in Him/Her.
One more thing. Forgiveness is something that happens last in the long healing process. It is under consideration when the wounds are mostly healed. Forgiveness is, in the end, a choice to let go the desire for revenge, and to leave it to God to decide how the persons themselves will be “made straight”. Which doesn’t mean that one doesn’t do her best to present the wrong or to try for justice.
From one survivor to another, I wish you all love and a return to joy. Take your time, sit next to God, and don’t listen to the sillies.
Sorry for all those “lasts”. Kept remembering something else that I had to learn the hard way lol
What to say back to those who say you should take responsibility:
“Yes, I take responsibility for not seeing through your lies and false doctrine, your abuse, and your sin of pride and trying to take the place of God in my life. I do not take responsibility for you, for your sin, for your lies, for your false doctrine, or for your attempt to take the place of God in my life. I only take responsibility for ever listening to a word you have said.”
LydiaSOP wrote: “I am glad I was quick witted enough to suggest they advertise this “spiritual abuse is good for you” concept of Christianity and see how long they stay a mega. :o) ”
Hah, excellent. I’d like to use that sometime, if you don’t mind.
Hypocrisy is the appropriate word for those who would attempt to shift their own responsibility (actually, maybe, their own unrecognized sense of personal inferiority) onto their victims.
People like Mark L, who says of victims, “That one was your fault,” are not to be listened to. Such sentiments are themselves abusive.
“Hah, excellent. I’d like to use that sometime, if you don’t mind.”
Absolutely. We are “fellows in the same ship” :o)
I hope folks understand it took years of a grueling crawling back to life before I could even begin to say something like that— in the moment.
But it often strikes me now how illogical their overall thinking can be in order to prop up the system.
As to the one used on Thinking Christian. I see variations of that one used all the time on certain pastor boy type blogs: You are too thin skinned. You need to be more humble so you can understand. You volunteered to be there. No one was forcing you.
The hardness of their hearts shines through. I know a YRR grad of SBTS who was
The egos and material well-bing of false pastors/shepherds are invested in persuading congregants to stay, pay and obey. They will engage in no end of abusive (read: satanic) strategies to coerce compliance from their victim congregants. They cause desolation, and their actions are abominable.
Jesus admonished the disciples to flee when the say the abomination that causes desolation standing in the holy place. There is debate whether Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem toward the end of the first century, the end times, or both. However, surely the principle applies throughout time. Whenever we see abominations that cause desolation we are to flee. We are not to hang around in hopes that something will change, nor are we to hang around for any other reason.
If we stay in the face of abuse, we become the pearls that are trampled under foot by swine. There is wisdom, not failure, in fleeing these wolves, pigs, vipers, whitewashed tombs, these hidden reefs and “shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:12-13, ESV)
“Yes, I take responsibility for not seeing through your lies and false doctrine, your abuse, and your sin of pride and trying to take the place of God in my life. I do not take responsibility for you, for your sin, for your lies, for your false doctrine, or for your attempt to take the place of God in my life. I only take responsibility for ever listening to a word you have said.”
This is great. I think one should memorize it and save it for the day it is needed.
Well, of course – – she’s been in a system that taught her complete dependence on Gothard. She had no independence and that’s why I was so puzzled at Mark L.’s comments. I do not see in her story in any way that she or her parents were responsible for anything.
Here is Ruth’s story, btw: http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/ruths-story/
The article claims that she likely died prematurely from cancer at age 37 due to the enormous stress she endured for the many years working for Gothard. It is a difficult read.
You’ve already received so many good replies here that I can’t think of much else to add. To suggest that you are responsible for the abuse directed at you is a classic sign of narcissistic blame-shifting. Don’t buy it. As you read more about other’s experiences with abusive religious systems, you will see that pattern repeated over and over again.
I’m sorry you’re going through this. It really hurts. My advice would be to continue reading about spiritual abuse. Educate yourself on the dynamics. Comment here and on other blogs or forums. Ask questions. I’m so thankful that there are resources and information available on the Internet now. That’s a luxury that wasn’t available 15-20 years ago. Though there are differences in each person’s particular experience, you will begin to see the patterns common to all of them. That is how I choose to take responsibility.
A few years ago, I was in an unhealthy romantic relationship. As I was processing my tangled emotions in the aftermath, I learned important things about myself and the series of events that lead me to overlook or minimize the huge red flags all around me. You sound like you are doing the same kind of work now. You are seeing the events – both internal and external- that lead you to stay in a bad situation.
Does making problematic choices make you responsible for the abuse? No. The responsibility for the abuse lies solely on the abuser.
Why would someone try to implicate you in the abusive situation? People who imply that you are responsible in any way for the abuser’s actions are either trying to pull you back into the unhealthy situation or are engaging in a dangerous form of denial of the situation. They are also often unconsciously trying to distance the reality of the damage that could have happened to them. (Wow, Suzie seems really hurt. I could never be hurt like that by anyone because I’m more alive in Christ.)
The important part – for your mental health and the health of others – is to make healthier choices if and when you are in similar situations in the future. Making healthy choices will help you fight back or leave much faster in the future.
For me, looking at why I stayed with a depressed, untreated alcoholic man who was lying to me was really painful at first. I realized that I was willing to put up with way too much in order to not be alone. Because of that realization, though, I started creating a much more satisfying single life. When I was ready to start dating again, I knew I could be happy alone and so was more than willing to leave shaky/poor relationships rather than throwing more time and energy at a questionable relationship. I found dating much more enjoyable with my new-found self-confidence and am deeply grateful that I met a wonderful man who makes me feel alive, happy and loved. (He was too good to let get away. We’ve been married about 20 months now.) I hope that someday you are able to find a healthy church where you are fully appreciated and cared for.
I think the hardest part of leaving church was leaving friends and believing that my friends would remain my friends even though I was not attending their church. It has been almost 6 years since we left a church that we served at for 8 years. I had very strong friendships there and believed that I could lean on any of them at any time. They were just a phone call away.
Today, none of those people are my friends. I have not heard from them for years. And, it’s not for my lack of trying to maintain a friendship. That is what saddens me the most. I guess that not being around them really shows their true character to me. I am a person that strongly values friendship, so to lose so many great friends was very hurtful.
The other hard part is that at unexpected times memories will pop into my head. Nothing triggers it, but it just comes. While I think I have moved past events that have happened, I have found that the brain never really lets us forget where we’ve been.
While I have experienced anger, sadness, bitterness, and hopelessness, I have also experienced relief and freedom. I would much rather live my life in freedom than oppression. I hope that you can find that as well.
Kathi: I think there is a grieving process that we must go through in our recovery. It’s like any other loss.
Lydiasellerofpurple: “Absolutely. We are “fellows in the same ship” :o) ”
Yes, we are. Plus I enjoy agreeing/disagreeing with you.
Thanks everyone! It’s been so refreshing and helpful reading all of your responses. I am so thankful to have your prayers and support.
I had always thought something was off with the whole “take responsibility” phrase, especially when used in my situation. So do we as Christians get to say/do whatever we want, and then tell the other person to take responsibility if they decide to call us on it? I want to thank the poster who stated that humility = humiliation, and also gave further definitions and comparisions on the word. I would say that I was prideful because I did have a bit of a smug attitude regarding my church. I have now come to realize that there is a spirit of elitism at that church, and it is very subtle. It wasn’t until I found myself in this situation with my idols knocked off the altar, that I was able to see this spirit in myself and others. For this I am very grateful, because it is something to be on the lookout for in the future, and it has allowed me to keep things in the right perspective.
This entire situation is still very shocking to me. I had not had any issues with the church up until that point. I find it amazing how in a twinkling of an eye I could go from being a member in very good standing, to being almost the devil himself. I could not find healing there because I was expected to heal immediately. No one would sit down and have a candid conversation, but everyone knew my spiriitual condition all of a sudden. I was full of anger, bitterness and needing humility, when in reality I was very hurt and confused by the entire situation. Yes, I did have some anger, but not in the proportions that have made it out to be I had to come to the sad realization that image trumps people depending on the situation, and there is a huge “can’t talk” rule in place.
It has been a eye-opening experience without question. I can’t even begin to tell you about all the hyprocrisy, manipulation, lies, and just general mean-spiritedness I’ve encountered. Not everyone has responded like this, but far, far too many.
AnonbyChoice: ” I only take responsibility for ever listening to a word you have said.”
Thinking Christian wrote: ” I can’t even begin to tell you about all the hyprocrisy, manipulation, lies, and just general mean-spiritedness I’ve encountered. Not everyone has responded like this, but far, far too many.”
Yah. Ach! It’s when we go through a deeply distressful time that we can see whether the belief systems we set up inside of ourselves are sturdy enough to weather it. It’s apparent that theirs aren’t. It’s also apparent that yours are, even though it’s shaken you to the core of your being.
The difference, ISTM, is in how much life inside is of the Spirit of God who is Love. Anything can collapse but the Spirit will remain, and it is why you are more than a Thinking Christian but also a Loving Christian.
You will eventually find some reliable tools for evaluating people and it won’t be difficult to discern the true&sturdy from the law-bound&brittle. You will be ok. I am sure of it.
Julie Anne – Yes on the grieving part. Honestly, that threw me off. I wasn’t expecting to go through that.
Gary W. You are misinterpreting my comment. I realize that some people are so entrenched in a cult that they do not know how to say “no.”. I believe I previously acknowledged I cannot judge a person’s maturity to be able to pull themselves out. I, however, can not relate, and therefore I’m just being honest by saying I can not fathom how a grown adult can allow themselves to be continually be abused when they are fully aware that they are in an spiritually abusive situation. And I cannot excuse a parent, no matter how brainwashed they are, for allowing their children to be abused as well.
For example, David Koresh is the only one responsible for burning the Waco compound, but the people that knowingly allowed their families to be manipulated and the parents who allowed their own children to be abused and ultimately murdered are also responsible for their own separate sin.
But that is just it, Mark, they are not at all aware that they are in a spiritually abusive situation. They are young sheltered girls who think that if there is any fault it must reside in themselves and that they must be misinterpreting innocent fatherly behavior.
Thinking Christian, Thank you for this topic! My husband and I walked away from a church we had been a part of for 18 years. I had been angry for a while, but it took a while for my husband to catch up. In our situation the pastor was slowly manipulating himself into totally taking over. What I saw happen is people were pulled in by great programming and preaching. Over time they would recognize the behind the scenes manipulation and leave. But new people would be drawn in to replace the old. As time went on, I often found many of the associate pastors and staff being made promises one week by the pastor,then fired the next month! God would “tell” the pastor that a new ministry had to be implemented ASAP, people would start to invest time and money, then three months later he would drop it leaving those who supported the program tossed aside like trash. You were very smart in recognizing the abuse in your particular situation and got out. That is very brave and that is what is important to focus on. And of course you are grieving the loss-that is natural. You did take responsibly by leaving. Often people become stuck in abusive situations because change is hard. You were willing to leave something familiar in order to reach for something better. I believe it is a process, not just a single action. I am still struggling myself with church in general and still get angry. I hope one day I will arrive, though it probably won’t happen until I get to “the other side”. I wish you peace! Ann
Mark L. – -You haven’t answered my earlier question. Show me what you’ve read that the parents KNEW they were turning over their daughters to an abusive leader? Where did you find this?
This article about Spiritual Abuse Survivors is pretty inclusive, and all of it won’t apply to every survivor. I think, though, that most survivors will see something that relates to them.
This is good, too. The last paragraph explains the grieving one goes through after such an experience.
“There is a grieving process to pass through. Whereas most people understand that a person must grieve after a death etc, they find it difficult to understand the same applies in this situation. There is no instant cure for the grief, confusion and pain. Like all grieving periods, time is the healer. Some feel guilty, or wrong about this grief. They shouldn’t — It IS normal. It is NOT wrong to feel confused, uncertain, disillusioned, guilty, angry, untrusting – these are all part of the process. In time the negative feelings will be replaced with clear thinking, joy, peace, and trust.”
“I believe I previously acknowledged I cannot judge a person’s maturity to be able to pull themselves out. I, however, can not relate, and therefore I’m just being honest by saying I can not fathom how a grown adult can allow themselves to be continually be abused when they are fully aware that they are in an spiritually abusive situation.”
Mark, It is astonishing to learn how many upper middle class, very educated folks were in SGM for many years. You don’t really understand cults and how they operate. Do some homework. CindyK’s website, undermuchgrace.com is a good start.
Check out this chart showing the behaviors/methods Gothard used to control/manipulate women. This is very revealing – very similar to techniques used by cult leaders. http://www.recoveringgrace.org/2014/02/gothards-process/
I’m sorry. To answer your question, Julie, there was at least one recent testimony on RG of a girl who called her parents and told them that He was giving them the creeps. Forgive me for not going through all of the stories to quote the exact line right now. Another’s father allegedly acknowledged he thought Gothard might be “courting” his daughter. I think these particular parents should have done something earlier in the process.
Aside from that , I personally believe almost every parent who sends their kid to be an indentured servant at a “ministry” HQ, is knowingly sending them to an abusive situation, and I lay their influence on their children to do that at their feet as much or more than I do the cult leader. If they don’t know that their kids are abused sexually, they at least know they are violating several labor laws.
Lydia, thank you for the site. I will check it out. But for a frame of reference, I would also like to say that I am indeed familiar with how many similar cults work because I’ve been there. I’m thankful that I was soon able to recognize the signs and then immediately refuse to go along with the status quo.
From a father’s and husband’s perspective, I do recognize the tactics. These ministries prey on a family’s desire to have godly children who behave well. Although they claim to emphasize patriarchy, from my own experience, I feel they actually prey upon the wives first who often pressure the husband to become a quiverfull patriarch.
And in my case, I struggled because the theology is like jello and can be hard to argue with, if you aren’t the type who can quickly quote Scripture. Many of the “principles” sound good but then when I took the time to pull back the layers, I saw it for what it really was.
For me, I’m glad I recognized it quickly, and I sincerely hope you see from my comments that I’m not blaming victims. I’m just acknowledging that from my frame of reference, it can be hard for me to understand why other people wouldn’t discern what I did as quickly as I did. Thus why I acknowledge that different people have different levels of maturity.
I am thankful not to be there now, but if I continued any further, I personally don’t think I could have blamed anyone but myself.
That chart is right on!
I think your case is unusual.
In many cases the abusive nature of system is unlikely to be recognized until it is too late.
In my own case I was part of a church for 27 years. The church did a huge amount of good. As an insecure young man I found comfort and strength in the community and in the pastoral support provided by a man who appeared to have every good intention, an astonishing ‘people’ wisdom and an ability to make risky, exciting decisions that would bless the surrounding community.
It was only little by little that distance was created between him and the congregation. And if you were in any way ‘dependant’ you didn’t notice that happening. You minimized it in comparison to the extraordinary gifts evident in the man and the clear help that was being given to many.
And it was only when the teaching became more legalistic and abusive that I raised concerns. That was the real eye-opener. That was when the real manipulation, deceit and viciousness of the man became evident. And we knew straight away we would have to leave.
But it was too late.
The emotional cost of departure and the resultant shunning was shattering. If I had been aware of the nature of this wolf in sheep’s clothing I would have left years ago.
But that’s the point.
Wolves do not present as wolves.
They present as sheep.
Church should be a sanctuary-a safe place. But in far too many cases the people in the church-the Pastor, elders, etc. abuse those that at vulnerable stages in life and if you dare to question the abusers-you are labeled a troublemaker. And yes the scars from this abuse last a lifetime.
A bit off topic, but on 2/17, an article about a rape at Patrick Henry College (God’s Harvard) was posted:
Chris – Your comment was excellent and also was similar to my experience. Cult leaders are also masterful. If they showed their true colors all at once, it would be obvious to all. There were a lot of things that happened while we were at the church that were questionable, but most of the time I dismissed them or minimized them because I didn’t hear anyone else take note of the same issue. Well, the reason no one else took note is there was an unspoken rule of “never talk badly about the pastor or never question the pastor’s authority.”
What’s interesting is that all of us who left had a laundry list of bad behavior/bad theology, but it wasn’t until we got together after leaving that the lightbulb went off as we shared with each other. One memory would trigger another memory. We all had pieces of the puzzle, but didn’t know it.
Another odd thing about our experience is that Chuck O’Neal really showed his true colors after we left. His behavior was relatively controlled while we were there, but after we left the church is when: he and the elders came to our home unannounced with hidden recording device, demanded information, told us we were excommunicated, shunned us, told people he would go Old Testament on them, etc. If that behavior had been present when we were there, we would have left much sooner. We had never seen him practice shunning until after we left.
It is so sad that none of us really know what others in the churches we attend will do after we leave. As long as you are one of them you are ‘safe.”
I add my thanks for your story. The discussion you’ve started here is extremely valuable, and hopefully will help others going through similar hardships. Others have said it already, but just so you remember: The abuser is responsible for the abuse. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Slightly off topic:
I shouldn’t be listening to Kevin Swanson just before bed. JA, what he said about your site, and what you’re trying to do, is seriously raising my blood pressure.
I was initially amused when he said we should be courageous and stand up for things (“I am against child molestation!”), knowing he would later be telling us to be oh-so-careful when hearing accusations against a Great Man-o-God like Gothard.
But after the vile, disgusting things he accused this blog (and Patheos) of promoting… He either just bears a grudge and assumes the worst (without ever reading SSB), or he’s a liar in the first degree.
And then he calls on listeners to “test all things”. Well, I’ve weighed Swanson, and found him seriously wanting.
Serving: Yea, after I was alerted to Swanson’s new podcast that my blog was part of his angst, I decided to listen to it. He’s so full of it. The crazy thing is that I have never done a blog article on the recent Gothard hoopla and yet he is accusing me of doing so. I hope to get the thing transcribed so you all can see. Really, he only went after me because Patheos is a site with a whole bunch of blogs. He never identified the Patheos blogger 🙂
JA – dancing on graves – haha
Thinking Christian, I echo what a lot of people have already said: the responsibility for spiritual abuse and the damage it causes is entirely on the leaders who engage in it, enable it and sometimes downright endorse it.
P.S. Even those who say they are there to help the suffering person are sometimes complicit, and it can rise to the level of heresy and blasphemy sad to say.
However, it seems wrong to tell someone to talk responsibility for being hurt/anger by the fact that instead of being helped in a time of need I was verbally assaulted, shunned, generally just treated extremely poorly by most.
I agree with you. It sounds like they are speaking out of whatever place it is the folks in that church operate from. I’m going to affirm your instincts here. And if you want to know, I’m sure our glorified Lord is not exactly pleased with the sort of treatment you have received either. I personally do not think the anger you have is something to repent of as though it were wrong. We are supposed to be angry at unrighteousness and verbally assaulting, shunning, and generally treating someone extremely poorly especially in time of need is certainly unrighteous.
The cycle abuse creates an abuser out of the abused. So no, I am not responsible for being abused, but I am fully responsible for abusing others even though I was doing exactly what I was taught to do in the name of accountability.
There are many damaged relationships in which I was the abuser. Even though it has been almost two decades since some relationships were damaged and sacrificed, I hope by the grace of God to have opportunity to make amends with the ones I have hurt. My abusers are responsible for abusing me, for not for my part in abusing others.
David C wrote: “So no, I am not responsible for being abused, but I am fully responsible for abusing others even though I was doing exactly what I was taught to do….”
I will say, though, that most abused do not become abusers. It is true that if they are not able to come to terms with their abuse by the time they have intimate relationships, it will influence them, but more of them end up entering adult relationships where they are again abused.
It is our obligation to heal from our abuse as soon as we can. It is an awful process but we can’t get out of it. If you damaged others before you faced it, it is your responsibility to reach out to each of them and give full confession. I hope you’ve done that.
I didn’t abuse my daughter but for years I was unavailable to give her the love she needed because I was in the middle of flashbacks and despair in full-fledged PTSD while married to a cold hard man. I gave her the sense that the world is a dangerous and chaotic place and that she is alone in it.
I have told her several times, with tears, that she deserved a good-enough Mom but I didn’t give that to her and I am very sorry. I am hugely grateful that she hasn’t fled from me but keeps returning so that I can prove to her what a wonderful young woman she is, and that I love her and stand with her as much as she allows as she comes to terms with her childhood.
This is part of the awfulness of healing, to stop the pain from descending through the generations. It is also fundamental to the Kingdom of God. And over time, it is the best thing that we can do for both others and ourselves.
JA, I listened to that Swanson podcast. He said so many completely false things about you that I “chortled”. Oh noes!
I see two possibilities. Perhaps he has not read your site, having gotten his opinion from certain others, in which case he is truly gossiping. (Repent! Repent!) Or maybe he’s projecting his own unacknowledged desires onto you and then calling them foul. There’s a lot of condemning of freedom in his criticisms, so my bet is on the latter.
FWIW, he did another podcast yesterday with Martin Selbrede, who handled himself fairly well and was firm about the huge problems of abuse in the church, using his own article in which he scarfed research/practice from the “the godless world” on the ways we need to handle abuse.
“Another odd thing about our experience is that Chuck O’Neal really showed his true colors after we left. His behavior was relatively controlled while we were there, but after we left the church is when:”
And this is precisely the reason those within the church think we have over-reacted, are unjustifiably critical, harbour a ‘Leviathan Spirit’ that twists the truth and ought to repent, having separated ourselves from the flock!
Those who are left, the yes-men, suffer no abuse (they think) so they see no reason for complaint. The pastor remains a hero of faith.
Good post, Patrice.
Gotta love Oregon, i.e. the small print on the evacuation sign.