Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery
Ok, here we go, plowing through Pastor Ken Garret’s dissertation about spiritual abuse. I used the word plowing intentionally. For some of us, it will be work. It is not enjoyable to be reminded about difficult experiences. However, some push that pain under the rug and haven’t been able to process it in a safe environment. If you feel ready to do that, come along and join us. Even if you don’t feel ready, you can still read. And for those who have never experienced spiritual abuse, I’m grateful that you are reading, too. Having compassion and understanding is so important in helping someone who has gone through spiritual abuse.
Just an FYI, Ken has removed his dissertation from his blog because he plans to publish it into a book. Ken has graciously allowed us to continue using his original dissertation for this series. (Thanks, Ken!!!)
Well, let’s dig in. Here is the very meaty paragraph we will start with this week:
Abusive churches, past and present, are primarily characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes.
Other, more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members’ lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. People who do not follow the rules or who threaten exposure are often dealt with harshly.
Excommunication is common. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult, with seemingly few who understand the phenomena of spiritual abuse.
I don’t know about you, but I can identify with 100% of this paragraph. There were so many things that resonated with me when reading it. Let me share my personal experience jumping off of these following two sentences from Ken’s dissertation:
Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other, more traditional evangelical churches are put down.
Julie Anne’s experience: My ex-pastor came across as if he had the correct and only true Gospel message. He had us all convinced that there were no other churches that taught the true Gospel message in all of the Portland and surrounding area. He prided himself that there were a couple of regular attenders who drove from 45 minutes away because there was “nothing else out there.” Not only did we hear that the Gospel message was the most correct from the pulpit, the congregants echoed these sentiments.
Everybody was convinced that we were at the best church and any other church would be inferior. So, ultimately, this meant that if you left for any other reason besides a distant job transfer, to take care of your ailing parents in another locale, etc, you were being rebellious and not allowing “God” to work in your life. Whoa! So, imagine the pressure we felt to remain there.
I remember various families leaving after being there for a few months and asking Pastor Chuck why they left. Every single case (except the move for a job), someone left because there was something wrong with their faith, or they were in rebellion, according to Chuck’s response. It was never any fault of Chuck’s, or anything wrong at BGBC. The blame was on “them.” And “they” were talked about negatively, you know, the “let’s pray for them because they are being led astray,” prayers.
I often wondered why Chuck didn’t not seem to be friendly with other local pastors. In fact, he criticized pastors (except John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, and a few others who weren’t local). Having been in the military and moving a lot, we experienced many churches and I never heard of a pastor who put down other local pastors/churches like Chuck O’Neal did.
This might be confusing, but I need to say up front that I never liked going to BGBC. I tried to like it because my husband liked it so much. But . . . . I did get sucked in to some degree – not as much as others, but I truly drank the Kool-Aid so much that I felt sorry for other people in Portland area who were not getting this good teaching and were missing out. I even had some thoughts that perhaps some of my “Christian” friends may not have been truly Christian because they were not getting the full message that we were getting. I prayed for their souls. (Little did I know, some of my friends were praying for my soul and for us to get out!)
There was truly a sense of elitism and pride among the congregants, and at times I went along with it, thankful that we were finally getting the truth and we were so privileged. Interestingly, when I see this kind of elitism and arrogance from others trying to claim that theirs is the only correct doctrine, Gospel, belief, etc, I am repulsed. Blech! I want none of that arrogance.