A Glimpse into the Heart of Spiritual Abuse

 

What can #TakeDownThatPost teach us about the nature of spiritual abuse?  Thoughts from Boz Tchividjian and Patricia Evans.

quote Lewis

 

by Cindy Kunsman

I don’t know what the publishers of the Leadership Journal at Christianity Today hoped to accomplish when they published the article that initiated the #TakeDownThisPost campaign. In the wake of the problems, I hope that it demonstrates that abusers have a whole different psychology than the reasonably normal, reasonably mentally healthy person.

I only read just beyond the first paragraph of the piece, just long enough to confirm what I already knew about abusers. They operate under an entirely different psychology – one that is focused on self-gratification and self-interest. Those traits usually come along with self-aggrandizement, too.

The former youth pastor turned pedophile who was given a platform by Christianity Today showed this to us quite vividly, and the article gave him exactly what he wanted: attention. And sadly, it also manifested his sense of entitlement. All of the people in his world became objects which he could use as he saw fit. He believed that the world owed him whatever he felt he needed at any given time.

In a recent article at Rhymes with Religion which referenced the article, Boz Tchividjian noted how offenders minimize their abusive actions. (Note characteristic #5.) In addition to downplaying the nature of his criminal acts, the pedophile author shifted the focus back on to himself and away from the victim. This is another part of the psychology of an abuser. Here, we see their lack of empathy. What does it matter what happens to a mere object?

What good lessons can we take away from the mistake of giving this abuser a platform? Where do we start? I think that we must first look at how the abuser sees the world.

The Goal of a Relationship

Good people often make the mistake of assuming that others see things from a healthy perspective because they understand relationships to be cooperative and mutually beneficial. Abusers take advantage of this assumption which proves to be false in their case. They see relationships as an opportunity to get what they want, and that makes them a competition where one wins and another loses. Everything revolves around them and their needs, whatever those needs happen to be. They will do whatever it takes to win that competition.

Patricia Evans notes this disparagement about relationship goals in The Verbally Abusive Relationship (pp 37-46):

  Inequality vs Equality
Competition vs Partnership
Manipulation vs Mutuality
Hostility vs Goodwill
Control vs Intimacy
Negation vs Validation

 Until we realize the nature of an abusive person and how they view relationships, we will be vulnerable to their tactics. What a relationship means to us is not what it means to them.  If the relationship is not about mutuality and intimacy, it becomes an adventure in manipulation and control.

But what mental gymnastics allow a manipulator to use people in such a way?

Attitude at the Heart of Spiritual Abuse

A previous post discussed how all people can easily lose perspective when we are habituated into victimhood by an abuser. The target in an abusive relationship starts to see themselves through the eyes of their abuser. They believe that they must – if they want to remain in that relationship. But exactly what does the abuser see?

rhiptoTwo things happen here, and I believe that Jesus recognized them. In Matthew Chapter Nine, we are told that Jesus looked out on the crowds of people as went through the towns and villages, and He felt compassion for them. He recognized that they were helpless to help themselves. He also noted that they were harassed and cast down.

A closer look at the word that describes harassment (“rhipto”), explains the manner in which a person dispenses with trash. One throws it to the ground without any consideration for it. Is this not exactly how an abuser treats the people around them in their quest for self-gratification as they manifest their entitlement with lack of empathy? They are objects that have absolutely no real value that exist to serve their immediate needs.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)

The  former youth pastor in the article treated the people around him as though they were objects that existed for his use.  Their pain and their well-being paled in significance to his appetite for attention and pleasure.  Without remorse for what he did, he rationalizes his actions, never considering why his actions were harmful.  When we see precious people as objects with no worth, we can rationalize doing anything to them.

* * *

Have you ever felt like someone treated you as if you were an object, using you like one? Did they easily discard you?

Do you see this kind of dynamic at work in your church in the form of spiritual abuse? Is this phenomenon noted elsewhere in Scripture?

Can you look back on past experiences with an abusive person to identify in hindsight how they treated others as objects?

Have you treated people as a means to an end?

 

Photo credit: Adapted from 123rf.com.

 

 

28 comments on “A Glimpse into the Heart of Spiritual Abuse

  1. When I learned that abusers are in Reality One (power-over) and the rest of us are in Reality Two (mutuality) a whole lot of my experience made sense for the first time. Lightbulb moment!

    Like

  2. It is a lightbulb moment, isn’t it, Barbara?

    I think that the great error that Christianity Today made involved the presentation of the article as something not all that aberrant. If they had drawn from this child sex offender’s writing and framed it as an example of the “Power-Over/Reality One” that he lived in, it may have been useful. Without that distinction and instruction, it really did inappropriately elevate his status to that of “reasonable person.”

    Like

  3. I thought that article was disgusting; allowing the abuser to have the voice. A true repentant abuser needs to be quiet and give the platform to the abused. A repentant abuser would allow the abused to vocalize his or her disgust, feelings, or whatever they need to do to heal. A repentant abuser would realize that he or she would have to pay the consequences for the abuse and relinquish his or her rights to air out their own version of what happened. That in my mind is a true repentant abuser- they just need to shut up.

    Like

  4. Good article, Cindy! I had to work to find the CT article because it had been taken down. But when I found it several weeks ago, I printed it. I needed it to remind myself yet again that the mindset of an abuser is not the same as those of us who are “normal” or “sane.”

    So many of the rationalizations, denials and minimizations that the felon wrote, I heard from my ex-husband. I wish CT would follow up on this fiasco by doing a cover story about perpetrators and abusers. They need to really describe this phenomenon because it is so subtle that it is easy to miss, unless you are specifically looking for it. And not many in the church pew are looking for the subtle warning signs. It is past time to take our heads out of the sand on this issue.

    Like

  5. Great article, Cindy! We ought not to have to be educating Christianity Today and pastors and churches about how users and abusers think — but we do. It’s pretty shocking to me how anyone could read the weasel words of that youth pastor’s article and not see the narcissism and lack of repentance.

    For many years I evaluated rehabilitation programs in prisons so I have spent a lot of time with offenders and prison staff. I can just imagine how well these words would go over if that man spoke them while applying for early release. Most correctional officers do not have college degrees and yet I can’t think of one I have met who would be fooled by this man.

    It is really unfortunate that so many Christian leaders are opposed to psychology where they could learn about child molestation, domestic violence, sociopathy, and personality disorders. It is also damaging that they are so confused about the appropriate response to crime and repentance.

    Like

  6. The very sad thing, Marsha, is that with abuse cases come really challenging issues like PTSD and if victims are only getting Nouthetic or pastoral counseling, those folks can be doing even more damage and cause them to abandon their faith entirely.

    Like

  7. I only read just beyond the first paragraph of the piece, just long enough to confirm what I already knew about abusers. They operate under an entirely different psychology – one that is focused on self-gratification and self-interest. Those traits usually come along with self-aggrandizement, too.

    Like one strip from the older online comic “Suburban Jungle”; the first two panels are a guy in a bar whose entire word balloon is “ME! ME! ME! MINE! MY! ME! ME! ME!”.

    The third panel is the guy’s feet sticking out of a dumpster in the back alley while the bartender walks away with a satisfied expression on his face. From the dumpster comes more word balloons: “ME! MY! MINE! ME! ME! ME!”

    (And I’ve experienced guys like that for real.)

    The former youth pastor turned pedophile who was given a platform by Christianity Today showed this to us quite vividly, and the article gave him exactly what he wanted: attention. And sadly, it also manifested his sense of entitlement. All of the people in his world became objects which he could use as he saw fit. He believed that the world owed him whatever he felt he needed at any given time.

    Just like the Santa Barbara Shooter’s Manifesto and online Video Selfies.

    Abusers take advantage of this assumption which proves to be false in their case. They see relationships as an opportunity to get what they want, and that makes them a competition where one wins and another loses.

    And in the Zero-Sum Game, the only way for ME to Win is to Make YOU Lose. And the bigger you Lose, the bigger I Win.

    Like

  8. ANNOUNCEMENT for DC area Sovereign Grace Ministry Survivors:

    I’ve arranged for a Spiritual Abuse recovery session on Thursday, July 3rd in the evening at the Sheraton Silver Spring on Georgia Ave. Anyone who wants to come to any part of the conference, please contact me for information on getting a waiver on fees. If people are uncomfortable with the informal discussion, we can just hang out.

    http://bit.ly/1mf9oqJ

    Like

  9. Thank you so much for your kind words about this post. I am really upset over this whole thing and the reluctance to pull the posts — and that CT didn’t understand the implications of it.

    I love you guys!

    Like

  10. Wow, Cindy, I LOVE that CS Lewis quote.

    Let me focus on truth so that we MIGHT find comfort in it:

    I do not give CT or any other group or leader in Christendom a pass for not understanding basic evil. I realize they might be deceived by someone clever but this guy was in PRISON for his crime and this it what they published as what? Teaching? Warning? They missed the whole point.

    I hold them accountable for promoting evil.

    The question is why they did not see that. Can these educated long time believers really plead ignorance? No, They plead cheap grace and totally ignore justice for victims. They end up edifying the evil by allowing it to be crouched in terms that make the perp sound like a “victim” of himself. No he is not. He CHOSE to do his evil.

    I am so thankful for people who are willing to stand up to the big cheeses in Christendom who excuse and promote their vile doctrinal positions of cheap grace for the perp but NO grace for the victims. And make a buck off it.

    Like

  11. The Christmas 2013 meditation of archdruid John Micheal Greer, although he says himself it is satire, pretty well explains what we’re dealing with here:

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-christmas-speculation.html

    He remarks at one point that “Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years—it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way—and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.”

    With these guys, we see that they have in fact collected the whole set.

    Like

  12. @CindyK:

    HUG, you’re a trip.

    Comes from having a massive mental database (kid genius and natural-talent speedreader) with NO search engine except random-association hyperlink cascades from page to page, item to item, fact to fact. I have little conscious control over it.

    Like

  13. @CindyK:

    Thank you so much for your kind words about this post. I am really upset over this whole thing and the reluctance to pull the posts — and that CT didn’t understand the implications of it.

    Maybe they got pinched off into their own little groupthink bubble. You know, overheard at a tony Manhattan or San Francisco cocktail party: “How could Chimpy Dubya get into the White House? NOBODY I KNOW VOTED FOR HIM!”?

    Like

  14. Archdruid or not, the guy’s essay is hilarious. Hilarious in the same way as South Park when its firing on all cylinders: “It’s Funny Because It’s True.”

    He knows his stuff; he writes about Anton LaVey’s and Hal Lindsay’s simultaneous heyday in a way that he must have been there (“He Knows! He Knows!”) When he summarized LaVey’s book, I thought “Sounds like Ayn Rand”, then page down a little and ZANG! Communism begets Objectivism and Rand became the latest Fourth Person of the Trinity. (He even knows about Rand going all Harley Quinn over a child murderer of the time.)

    He remarks at one point that “Only one of the seven deadly sins has gotten by without extravagant praise from so-called Christian conservatives in recent years—it’s hard to glorify an economic system that depends on avarice, gluttony, envy and sloth, and a foreign policy defined by pride and wrath, in any other way—and no doubt they’ll find a way to fit lust in there somewhere one of these days, and finish collecting the whole set.”

    But they have to have ONE of the Seven to get all Morally Superior about and avoid and denounce so they can polish their haloes while swimming in the other Six, and SEXUAL(TM) tends to uncouple the higher brain functions across the board, Left or Right, Dem or Rep, Christian or Heathen(TM).

    Like

  15. @Lydia:

    Yikes Peter. An Arch Druid? The Druids practiced human sacrifice back when it was legal. :o)

    But today’s Druidism has no connection or direct trace to the original wiped out by the Romans. It’s another example of upper-class Victorian “Reconstructed History” with lots of speculative reconstruction. Victorians (especially Victorian intellectuals and upper-crust dilletantes) were like that. Drives today’s historians nuts. Plus the appeal of offbeat religion and Secret Society, also big upper-class Victorian obsessions.

    Like

  16. @Lydia:

    Wow, Cindy, I LOVE that CS Lewis quote.

    It continues a theme I’ve seen before in Lewis. That you can never achieve real happiness or comfort or greatness by aiming directly for it; it comes as a side effect of something else.

    Like

  17. “The question is why they did not see that”

    The non-elite focus on the symptoms ( behavior) instead of the root cause. The elite focus on protecting the institutional church.

    Like

  18. And in the Zero-Sum Game, the only way for ME to Win is to Make YOU Lose. And the bigger you Lose, the bigger I Win.

    This is the abuser in a nutshell.

    Like

  19. Cindy, How is it that the so-called educated and savvy journalists couldn’t see through this pastor’s manipulation? I wrote four different complaints, but they just dug in their heels. I suggested an experienced therapist who has worked with prison populations as a better source for writing about pedephilia. She/he could educate church staff how to spot suspicious behavior. There were so many negative comments posted that the editors were erasing many of them to make the comments look more balanced. Then they tried to edit the article, claiming the perpetrator was taking responsibility for his actions. Even with their changes, the youth pastor still appeared to be a raging narcissist. Finally, the editors apologized and took it down. I still don’t know if they understand how distructive the article was. The only way it could have been done properly would to have had a professional write an article, analyzing and pointing out to the readers the red flags that exposed an unrepentant, sociopath.
    Do you think their egos were so invested in being “right” that it was hard for them to see the legitimacy of the negative responses? Were they embarrassed about being tricked by the pastor? Also, was their need to be right more important than protecting a victim? I wonder if this is the same line of reasoning that elders use when a child/teen accuses a church member or staff of abuse. If so, it is imperative that churches provide more transparency to their membership. Anyone who covers up or abets in protecting a pedephile needs to also face negative consequences. As Christians, we need to stop being so passive around this subject and not make our children’s programs attractive or accessible to pedephiles.

    Like

  20. “The non-elite focus on the symptoms ( behavior) instead of the root cause. The elite focus on protecting the institutional church.”

    Bingo. And the para church organizations, publishing, music, branding, image, etc. It is a tax exempt (for the most part) movement making bank of Jesus.

    Like

  21. Alright everyone. I’m on my way to DC for the ICSA meeting. Anyone in the DC area, please consider coming to next week’s events. There’s info there on my blog.

    I’m without internet until Tuesday night unless I go hang out at McDonalds in the interim. When I get to the conference, I go non-stop until it’s over.

    Say a prayer for me and the people who come to the conference who are in need of ministry, care and understanding — which they will find there in abundance. What an amazing group of people! I’ll have to wait to catch up with the amazing group of SSB people in a few days. 🙂

    Be excellent to each other, and…..PARTY ON, DUDES!

    If you have questions or anything

    Like

  22. I hope you have a great time in DC, Cindy. I’ll be praying for you and please send my regards to SGM survivors you meet. Have a great trip and check in when you can.

    Like

  23. @Ann:

    Do you think their egos were so invested in being “right” that it was hard for them to see the legitimacy of the negative responses? Were they embarrassed about being tricked by the pastor?

    The last word in the above excerpt is the key:
    PASTOR.
    Professional Christian.
    Full-time Ministry(TM).
    CLERGY, not laity.
    “These five Kings said one to another:
    ‘King unto King o’er the world is Brother’…”

    Like

  24. A little bit off topic but have been wanting to say this. When I read that article I was struck about how much he talked about how wonderful he was and how wonderful his youth group was and I was like Really? It had 40 people in it. He truly is a narcissist.

    Like

  25. When I read that article I was struck about how much he talked about how wonderful he was and how wonderful his youth group was and I was like Really? It had 40 people in it. He truly is a narcissist.

    I agree, Summer. So much attention was on him and his accomplishments. It made me sick how he never mentioned the victim except for blaming her for being a part of the “sin.” No, he was an abuser. She should get no blame for this. As a youth leader, you don’t get to pair up with young ladies. It simply is not an option.

    Like

Thanks for participating in the SSB community. Please be sure to leave a name/pseudonym (not "Anonymous"). Thx :)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s