Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery
Okay, we’re back to our ongoing series on spiritual abuse using excerpts from Ken Garrett’s dissertation on spiritual abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery. We will use excerpts from Ken’s dissertation as a springboard for discussion.
In the Introduction, Ken offers helpful definitions. Here is Ken’s definition for cult:
Cult – While most of the terms and ideas that I introduce are simple and easy to grasp, it is apparent in the project that I struggle greatly with the term cult in describing a Christian church. I will better explain and seek resolution to the struggle in subsequent chapters. But for a basic, consistent definition of the word, cult denotes a small, religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.
While ideology and doctrine always have a role in the health or dysfunction of any religious group, increasingly a group’s status as a cult is derived solely from its actual treatment of its members, and not from its creeds, beliefs, and theology.
I agree with Ken’s definition and note that the treatment of members is key. When I looked at my church, the stories I read about Sovereign Grace Ministries, Doug Phillip’s church (Boerne Christian Assembly), Doug Wilson’s Christ Church, this is the pattern that has been explained to me. The people adopt a culture created by the cult leader, aka pastor. Not only do they adopt this culture, but they cultivate it, endorse it, enforce it, even to the extent that sometimes the pastor/cult leader doesn’t have to do all of the talking. He has raised his faithful devotees to model his expectations. Since all members are “on board” with this culture, any new person who comes to the group and questions it will be the odd man out.
It does not feel good to swim against the tide, so there is pressure to join the group in their way of doing things. Next thing you know, that new person has become one of them and will also spread this culture and group think to additional new members, forgetting that at one time, they, too, had once questioned aspects of it.
The following excerpt comes from the first paragraph of Chapter 1:
What is a cult? What is an abusive church? Are they the same, or are there distinctions between the two that are important to bear in mind as the reader interacts with the issue of spiritual abuse in churches today? To introduce the word cult into a discussion regarding abusive, Christian churches often ends any meaningful discussion with survivors of such churches, as many Christians feel that the words cult and Christian are mutually exclusive. More than one survivor of a spiritually abusive church has told me, “I know I was not in a cult, because my church believed in the Bible, and the full deity of Jesus Christ.”
Through the years, I have come to wonder why it is that survivors of spiritual abuse in Christian churches draw solace from the notion that their church could not have been a cult, as if that assignation makes the abuse they suffered in their (allegedly non-cultic) church in some way less worse than what they actually suffered there.
When I first started blogging about my abusive pastor and experience, I did not call the church a cult, but rather, cult-like. Later, after much studying on the topic, I changed my wording to cult. Interestingly, I don’t remember Ken calling his abusive “church” a cult when we first met. Slowly, over time, he too, changed his wording to cult instead of church.
I remember when Ken asked me about the wording, and he shared with me how he had begun to use the word, “cult.” It seemed we both had had come to the same conclusion about the word and our experience on our respective personal journeys. (And this process also validated for me that even though we both have been away from our cults for years, the process of understanding what we went through continues. It was cool to be able to share those insights with each other.
It felt weird to use the word, cult, at first. In my mind, the cult word was reserved for Jonestown or David Koresh or The Moonies, you know, those weird groups. But in looking at the definition of the word cult, the behavior of the cult leaders and its members, there is no doubt that what we experienced was thought reform – the same kind of thought reform that people in cults experience. That was a tough pill to swallow.
Let’s talk. Here are some ideas for discussion:
Have you come to the conclusion that your spiritually abusive church was a cult or cult-like? What about the pastor? Do you think the pastor behaved like a cult leader?
If you use the word cult or cult leader, did you find it strange to do so? How has your response been when you tell people that you were in a cult or abusive church?
Do you notice that your thoughts about your abusive church/cult have changed as time has gone by?