ABUSE & VIOLENCE IN THE CHURCH, Clergy Misconduct, Clergy Sex Abuse, Failure to Report Crimes, Sexual Abuse/Assault and Churches, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Authority, Spiritual Bullies

Spiritual Abuse: What Are Nonbelievers Going to Think?

Spiritual Abuse, Reputation
Jonathan Hollingsworth

Spiritual Abuse, Jonathan Hollingsworth, Gossip

This is the fourth blog post referring to an article by Jonathan Hollingsworth, What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Been Hurt by the Church. The article resonated with a lot of people, so I thought it might be a good idea to discuss these unhelpful statements one by one here, and give people the opportunity to share their experiences.

I am working through all six of Hollingsworth’s statements/questions of what not to say to someone who has been hurt by spiritual abuse. The first post, we covered when people say, “No Church is Perfect.” The second post, we discussed was Spiritual Abuse: When People Ask You, “Are You Working Toward Reconciliation?” The third post dealt with gossip, Spiritual Abuse: It’s Not Gossip to Talk about Abuse.

Here is the fourth question on what not to say to someone harmed by spiritual abuse, followed by Jonathan Hollingsworth explaining why it is not helpful:

“What Are Nonbelievers Going to Think?”


Have you ever read a headline about a Christian going public against a church or ministry and thought to yourself, “Is this providing a good witness?” If you’re more concerned about the church’s reputation than you are about the abuse itself, you might have your priorities mixed up.


As Christians, we can get so preoccupied with how outsiders view the church that we put appearances before the truth. When we try to control the narrative, we substitute the reality of the church for our own ideal of the church. All we’re showing the world is that we prefer a false witness over a bad one.

Oh boy, can I relate with this one! I’ve lost Facebook friends after someone asked me this question and I wouldn’t budge. There have been a couple of times where I have posted about a church abuse case. In both situations, they private messaged me, reprimanding me for not being a good witness by posting so much negativity. They actually get pretty upset when they can sense that I won’t relent.

I don’t waste my time arguing anymore. I just thank them for their concern. 

Here is the reality: everyone knows there are problems in churches. Christians would get more respect by being honest and identifying problems instead of covering them up. 

Have you, too, experienced this kind of response? 

21 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse: What Are Nonbelievers Going to Think?”

  1. No. I don’t wonder about a Christian going public against a church or ministry, but I’ve often thought to myself why did this pastor or ministry cover it up? A coverup is always seen by the public as worse than the incident or, God forbid if a crime were committed and the pastor, deacons or elders tried to silence victims. The pastor or ministry is fully responsible for all the “bad press” it receives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “What are the nonbelievers going to think?”

    As one of those nonbelievers, I don’t usually comment much here, but this sounds like a good time to put a word in. And from this nonbeliever’s perspective, covering up abuse is far, far worse than facing it.

    There’s an idea that I got from Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve of a broken system. This is when an organization becomes more dedicated to preserving it’s own existence and it’s own power than it is to the purpose for which it was formed. The only concern for the members in an organization like this is to keep them from leaving, keep the money flowing in, and keep them quiet about problems. Otherwise they don’t matter, it’s all about the men on top (and it’s almost always men). The organization will protect and promote the power of their leadership, at the expense of everyone else.

    The Catholic and right-wing Evangelical churches show the strongest signs of being broken systems. And when they claim that they have something special, or “God’s grace” or the “Holy Spirit” working through them, their power-grabs and scandals and cover-ups demonstrate that this is certainly not the case.

    Since the individual members in a broken system really have no power to effect change, the only fix is to leave it. If a church is behaving like this, stop giving them your energy, stop giving them your loyalty, and especially stop giving them your money. Walk out the door and find something that works better for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. “What are non-believers going to think?”

    This question is deeper. Translation = “I believe Christians are morally superior and are better people than everyone else. You are destroying my tribe’s respectability.”

    God never covered up Israel’s sins. The Old Testament points out the sins and wickedness of biblical leaders: Saul, David, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Judah…

    And in the New Testament, Jesus and Paul said to watch out for leaders who come up from our ranks and try to hide evil. In other words, they are insiders who came up through the church, and are destroying the church by their own agenda.

    They cover up their lies, financial scams, sexual abuse. They spin stories to make their deeds appear acceptable. They hide criminal behavior and want their followers to be loyal and turn a blind eye.

    The Book of Acts says: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:30-31

    Jesus is tough on leaders who don’t produce good fruit–
    Matt 7:18-20: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    We Christians are commanded to cut down and remove bad leaders, not to cover up their bad deeds.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A coverup is always seen by the public as worse than the incident

    That’s definitely how I see it, in these cases.

    And covering it up leads to more of it happening. Caring about the ‘reputation of the church’ over the molestation of children makes the church look SO MUCH WORSE. It is mindblowing that people can’t see that.

    Like

  5. What I always find interesting with many (not all) churches is that they don’t have any issues with throwing stones at congregations they believe are in doctrinal error, or too “showy” or whatever. However, don’t talk about my congregation!

    It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. Lori Alexander comes to mind-she and her kind are untouchable, but they reserve the right to criticize, rather harshly, everyone else.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. @Anonymous2:

    God never covered up Israel’s sins. The Old Testament points out the sins and wickedness of biblical leaders: Saul, David, Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Judah…

    And the Bible is unique among ancient texts for speaking extensively of the Dark Side of its founders, kings, and heroes.

    Like

  7. I think a lot of Christians want to believe that the people, and particularly leaders, in their church could never do such things because they say they are Christians. It’s definitely a willful ignorance, as if believing there are evil people among us would completely dismantle the existence of God. So they willingly believe the lies those evil people tell them, that confronting such evil would cause the downfall of the church.

    I’ve seen some really masterful manipulators. Sometimes they aren’t even hiding that they are manipulating others, but for some reason, they get people to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “what are people going to think” is why my mental illness roulette went WILDLY untreated throughout my teenage years until I had the good sense (after several years of hell) to self-harm during a church event. Turns out what people think, as I’ve gotten out into the wider world and surrounded myself with actual human beings, is that my mother shouldn’t have sacrificed her children (all of us but mostly me as the oldest and most defiant) in the name of her reputation.

    If you’re gonna be a terrible person, at least own it.

    Like

  9. Lori made Buzzfeed?

    Her chart, as usual, is bananas. Did Lori even homeschool her children? Most of this ‘stay at home with kids all day’ stuff doesn’t apply when they start going to school at 4 or 5 so…

    Like

  10. I 1000% agree with your perspective Ubi Dubium. This is one reason I am weary of these membership “covenants” and church membership in general.

    I am a Christian, and was a member of a church for a long time. Some crazy stuff happened that involved me, but in no way was caused by me. Instead of the church handling it in a godly, even decent manner they tried to sweep everything under the rug. I learned pretty quickly that when you won’t bury your head in the sand, smile and keep paying your tithes, the “love” evaporates with lightening speed, and you really DON’T matter. Especially if the incident involved church leadership.

    After I left, one would have thought that would be the end of it, but no they went around the city contacting the various churches regarding their “lost sheep.” It would be funny, if it wasn’t so incredibly sad. There are soooooo many unhealthy churches out here that are masterful at covering it up. As I begin to ponder my own situation, it suddenly made sense to me why some members (long-term and very involved) would suddenly disappear never to be seen or heard from again. The cover up approach was very much apart of that churches fabric, but you would never know it until something happened that involved you.

    A good number of churches ARE only interested in preserving their existence and maintaining their reputation, especially if they have been around for a long time. People are used as a means for the Pastor to attain his vision, whatever that happens to be.

    One of the questions I had to ask myself was when did I get lulled to sleep? When did I stop paying attention? What happened that after 8 years that person would just up and leave? AND nobody wants to talk about what happened AT ALL. I didn’t come in that way, but somehow I allow myself to get mutated along the way. I had to take responsibility for that.

    I still attend church, but I am a lot more discerning and pay attention to patterns, spoken and otherwise.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thinking Christian – your comment for some reason made me think of Tozer:

    “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”

    There are rather a lot of such football teams about, aren’t there. In Europe such churches would be theologically liberal, but in the States it seems to me plenty of evangelical churches fit the bill as well.

    Like

  12. After I left, one would have thought that would be the end of it, but no they went around the city contacting the various churches regarding their “lost sheep.” It would be funny, if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

    Like schoolkids tattling.
    “I’M GONNA GET YOU IN TROUBLE! I’M GONNA GET YOU IN TROUBLE!”

    Like

  13. @UbiDubium:

    I’ve seen some really masterful manipulators. Sometimes they aren’t even hiding that they are manipulating others, but for some reason, they get people to follow.

    In D&D terms, they have Mass Charm Person as a spell-like special ability.

    Like

  14. Mrs. Paul Owczarek
    DECEMBER 13, 2018 @ 1:55 AM
    Anyone want to count how many of the No, No’s Father Knight hit when telling Ms. Henneberger why not to leave the Church?

    https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/memo-henneberger-logical-thing-hang-there

    When I logged into my Daisy Word Press account, my notification area told me that was a reply to me.

    I skimmed the page. It talks about people leaving, quitting the Roman Catholic Church due to its poor handling of child abuse and due to other problems.

    I’m not sure why your reply and/or the link is directed at me? Did you mean to address that link to me specifically?

    I’m having a hard time understanding the relevance of this to me personally, unless you just meant that reply for anyone/ everyone reading this thread?

    There is no amount of reasoned debate, intellectual discourse, OR a delicate handling of my emotions that will ever get me to return to the unrealistic, hyper G-rated, Tone Policing form of Christianity I used to belong to, and to which posters such as “KAS” are still members of.

    Like

  15. As a former Fundy, the whole guilt trip thing is a really sore spot for me. In my 13 years in Fundy land, I can’t tell you how many times I heard how I needed to be a good example and have a good testimony and not be a stumbling block to the weaker brother and the unbelievers. Sorry not sorry but that’s a huge responsibility to place on someone. No one should be afraid to speak up or just live their lives because they are afraid that someone’s eternal damnation will be their fault. I remember a few years ago when I was starting to question things, I posted an article about Jack Schaap and the sexual abuse scandal. I got a private message from a young lady at my former church asking me to take it down because it was “hurtful” to some members of our church because they were Hyles Anderson graduates and Jack Schaap was a “loved one “. At the time, I was still so brainwashed and didn’t want to rock the boat, so I took it down. Now I don’t care. If people are offended or hurt because one of their idols is getting punished for what they did, they need to reevaluate their priorities. That’s Fundy world for you though, putting a man above God.

    Like

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