Abusive faith leaders are often quick to try and change the narrative from one of abuse to something less offensive and more acceptable to the watching public. This is often accomplished by re-defining the abuse with terms such as “mistake”, “misjudgment”, or “inappropriate”. Boz Tchividjian
In March, I reported an update about the accreditation probation status at The Master’s University and Seminary (John MacArthur’s The Master’s University and Seminary: Still on Academic Probation, and Reported Layoffs), but now I would like to focus on a specific part of WSCUC’s first review from June 2018 (scroll down to Filename and click on link that says “June 2018 action):
In addition, the AVT, through the visit’s confidential email, and WSCUC staff, through the formal grievance process, received numerous reports of a campus culture that had led to a climate of fear, intimidation, bullying, and uncertainty among many of faculty and staff
This particular quote is important because it represents the feedback from many who have been harmed at The Master’s University (TMU) and The Master’s Seminary (TMS) and who have never had their voices heard publicly. I am in a private online group of former alumni and others connected with TMU or TMS. They have expressed similar concerns.
In the months since the first report came out in June of 2018, leaders at TMU/TMS should have had enough time to make positive changes. One would expect that any institution would want to have the probationary status removed as quickly as possible, but wouldn’t you think a Christian organization would want to remove any appearance of evil?
When the WASCUC team came back to TMU/TMS for a special visit for a couple of days in November, there was not much improvement:
The Commission found that The Master’s University and Seminary is not in compliance with WSCUC Standards 1 and 3 and acted to continue the sanction of Probation.
John MacArthur posted a public response to the new report, and response, the Board of Directors of The Master’s University and Seminary posted An Inside Perspective on Accreditation.
It’s important to note that neither the Board of Directors, nor John MacArthur made any mention of “a climate of fear, intimidation, bullying, and uncertainty among many of faculty and staff ” in their public statements.
Read how John MacArthur spins it:
WASC Update: A Statement From the President
March 14, 2019
The Master’s University and Seminary has been subject to a long process to continue the multi-year accreditation it has had since 1975.
The current probation status for TMUS remains in place while we work to demonstrate our intention to complete all compliance issues fully.
The process is still ongoing, as WSCUC has required us to address one primary issue — to demonstrate that the TMUS Board is operating independently by maintaining an orderly transition to inaugurate a new President by May, 2020.
That is the Board’s plan which I support.
It has been an incomparable blessing for me to have the joy of 33 years serving the University and Seminary.
In October I wrote a letter to announce this transition and my willingness to serve in the future as Chancellor.
WSCUC, in their latest report, identified no deficiencies with academics or finances.
The primary issue they desire to see is the progress on the transition. We are on schedule and will be working with the folks at WSCUC to provide evidence of that progress.
I will continue to serve as President as long as the board desires.
Both the University and Seminary are in a strong position for the future because the Board, the staff, administration and faculty are exceptional — and our students and alumni love their school.
The Lord is with us to bless us and to honor His Name.
John MacArthur, President
I don’t see any mention of the climate of fear, intimidation and bullying, do you? Perhaps in his/their mind(s) if he doesn’t mention it, it must not be there. He mentions other issues, but again, NOTHING is said about these serious issues. I believe he is intentionally attempting to alter the reality that so many students/staff faced. That is what psychologists call gaslighting.
Psychologists use the term “gaslighting” to refer to a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions. And it’s always a serious problem, according to psychologists. Source
After reading MacArthur’s statement, it made me wonder how he addressed the issue with The Master’s Seminary students initially after the first report came out at the beginning of the 2018/19 school year, so I spent time listening carefully and transcribing important quotes that were quite revealing. I did not transcribe everything – only some of the first part (the second part seemed to change directions about the topic of social justice). The recording is posted at The Wartburg Watch blog in two parts (thanks, Dee!).
Audio Sumary and Notes of John MacArthur Speaking to The Master’s Seminary Students
In the beginning of the audio, MacArthur greets people, and welcomes the students who are new this year. (applause)
John MacArthur tells the new students they have “come to the seminary at the most appropriate and opportune time ever. These are the best of times for us, and we know that because the Enemy is working so hard.” Okay, now the conflict is on the table. But who does MacArthur claim is at fault? The Enemy. Not John MacArthur, not staff, but the Enemy.
Now he spends time focusing on the positives of TMU/TMS. Remember, he’s speaking to men who are seminary students. Although he doesn’t say it outright, it is apparent that he is trying to reassure the new students that it’s no big deal about the accreditation probation, after all, they’ve had decades of good rapport with the WASCUC.
John MacArthur continues, “The Lord continues to bless us. I’ve never been more thrilled and more excited and more confident in the work that is being done here by our faithful people than I am right now. I also know that the world is catapulting into a deeper darkness all the time, so this particular training is critical, always critical, but maybe seems to be more critical now than ever.”
Here, MacArthur is doing a couple of things. He is making an object lesson out of the “trial.” These men will be future pastors, and he considers this good training for them. Secondly, he is flattering them for choosing his seminary and makes them feel like they have come to the seminary at the very best time. I find his comment far-fetched. Really – he’s never been more thrilled and excited than this moment when the seminary and university are on accreditation probation? Hmm
“And as many other schools are floundering, trying to find some kind of meaningful, cohesive direction, we know exactly where we are going, and we have the leadership and the people to get it done as we have for these many years.” John MacArthur is using ingratiation. I have observed this behavior in many spiritual abusers, but didn’t know there was an official name for the behavior until I listened to Wade Mullen talking about spiritual abuse on Almost Heretical. (It was a great podcast and I highly recommend it. You will definitely understand how this term is used to manipulate and influence.)
Ingratiation is a psychological technique in which an individual attempts to influence another person by becoming more likeable to their target. … Complimentary Other-Enhancement: the act of using compliments or flattery to improve the esteem of another individual. Wikipedia
When MacArthur says that his schools have “meaningful, cohesive direction,” he is attempting to build confidence in the students that their school is better than the others who don’t have direction. When he extols the leadership at TMU/TMS, this is also ingratiating. Of course the students want to hear that their school is doing well and their leaders are great. John MacArthur is certainly giving them what their itching ears want to hear. But it’s important to understand that MacArthur’s words are intentional, and it’s contributing to reputation management, which is another form of ingratiation:
Many people are incredibly concerned with the impression that they make on others and are keen to make a positive first impression with strangers. Such reputation management is yet another ingratiation strategy: by placing emphasis on our positive attributes rather than our weaknesses, people try to present their most amiable qualities to others, in order to gain their favor. Ingratiation as a Persuasive Strategy
So, if you are in charge of two institutions, both of which are in accreditation probation, is this the appropriate time to put down other schools? What happened to self-reflection and fixing your own school’s problems?
John MacArthur doesn’t want to self reflect because that would mean he would have to admit there is a problem. Instead, he builds TMS/TMU up by saying all of the other schools are floundering. John MacArthur does not sound very gracious.
John MacArthur then mentions “a lot of questions floating around,” but doesn’t specify what questions. But it’s interesting (and predictable) to see what he does next: he justifies these questions by saying this is not new in his life, and shouldn’t be in the life of others.
He blames the Enemy for the accreditation conflict with WASCUC
John MacArthur continues to blame the Enemy for the accreditation conflict with WASCUC. He refers to those “questions floating around” as an “apostolic experience for me,” referring to the Apostle Paul’s writing in Corinthians, “sometimes I think my entire labor has been in vain because of what I see in your attitude and conduct.” Is he really equating himself with Paul? That doesn’t seem too humble! He again makes an object lesson by warning the students that this is what the Christian life is like and will be like for them as they do the work of the kingdom. He’s bringing them into his inner circle of Pastoral Church Issues 101.
He mentions more verses that refer to adversaries who come against people doing the work of Christ, ending with, “we’re going through some interesting times,” and encourages the students once again that they are at the right place at the right time being at TMS. Yea, he does need to say that because in reality, finances are tight. In the previous article, I mentioned the layoffs. Now would not be a good time financially to lose any students, so spinning it to a pastoral object lesson works in his favor.
By the way, John MacArthur isn’t the only one who blames the devil. Remember Flip Wilson as Geraldine?
What an amazing spin. A good leader would come before the students humbly and confess where the leaders had gone wrong; instead, it’s all the Enemy’s fault, and it’s a good thing the students are there to witness how the Enemy will cause conflicts because this will happen to them in the future when they are pastors. Praise God and praise John MacArthur who just modeled to the student body of future pastors how to avoid personal sin and blame the Enemy!
He then gives the student a short history of the seminary. While doing so, he publicly disses two nearby seminaries that do not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.” Once again, he is elevating his own institution as the only correct institution. He’s just modeled to the students that it’s appropriate to call out nearby organizations if they do not measure up to your standards.
In reality, one cannot have the perfect seminary/university PLUS have a scathing WASC report at the same time. It doesn’t add up, so the only way to remedy this is by maintaining an image of perfection and shift the blame elsewhere: the Enemy, etc.
In the audio, it’s amazing how much time he pushes the idea that it’s the Enemy’s fault for the accreditation probation. He said after they sent in the paperwork to WASCUS, everything looked good – no worries. But then after the team came for a few days and the review was done, at the exit meeting, the chairman of the committee said to John MacArthur in MacArthur’s office, “You are under attack!” and even prayed for John MacArthur. All of this was presented in a way to really underscore what the chairman said, AND that he prayed for MacArthur and this “attack.” I want to know if the chairman goes to GCC, because it certainly seems odd that someone connected with WASCUS would use language like that and volunteer to pray for MacArthur.
I just visited the WASC site to see what their job is:
The WASC Senior College and University Commission is committed to serving the public and its institutions. Our chief goals are to:
Promote institutional engagement in issues of educational effectiveness and student learning
Develop a culture of evidence that informs decision making
Foster active interchange among public and independent institutionshttps://www.wscuc.org/commission
Just as I suspected. There is nothing there that mentions about providing spiritual insight and prayer to the institution’s president. When speaking about the WASC visit, MacArthur said: “What had happened in the three days is a rather orchestrated attack, if not by any human source, certainly by Satan himself. There was an attack directly on me, and it came in all kinds of forms.”
At this point, he finally mentions the reported climate of bullying, intimidation, and fear and concludes that this was directed at him. He says,
“That was a new experience for me [laughed] and I was puzzled by it. . . . I want to be gracious and patient, so apparently, what had happened was an undercurrent of, for whatever reasons, hostility towards me. It had nothing to do with the seminary..nothing to do with the seminary. It had to do with the university situation . . .”
The way he worded this was odd. I got the sense that the seminary is his special group of men, while the university is not. Finally, we get to the real reason why this is happening in MacArthur’s eyes, it’s because there are “a lot of people employed there [TMU] that I don’t have any influence over.” He says influence. I think he meant control.
He talks about the staff at TMU. Get this, he says he cannot have “influence” over staff if they go to other churches, or if he “has no connection in their personal lives.” He sure likes to be able to control his minions! How dare any staff member go to a different church than Grace Community Church! How dare staff not have personal connections with their boss! Again, remember he is talking to seminary students who want to be just like their hero, John MacArthur, the best pastor in many of their eyes. (And is it any wonder why I have a file that I’ve kept since 2012 of stories from people who have been spiritually abused by pastors/graduates of TMS?)
Anonymous Emails: People Can Say Anything They Want
Okay, now he discusses the confidential e-mail account which was opened by WASCUC for people to send in comments or concerns regarding The Master’s University and Seminary. I don’t think John MacArthur liked that because he emphasized that “people could say anything they wanted anonymously.”
Reputable school leaders want open and honest communication. The only leadership I can imagine who wouldn’t want to get honest feedback are leaders who know there are problems and are trying to protect their image. With the email system set up by WASCUC, this became an avenue for people to share without fear of their names being disclosed to Master’s leaders. In high-controlling environments, leaders must know who says what. When leadership finds out that someone has said something criticizing or contrary to the leader/institution, they can apply pressure to that person to keep the information quiet (or remove the person entirely). I get the feeling that John MacArthur is used to being in control because the anonymous emails seemed to upset him.
He explains why he sees himself as being attacked, “People who haven’t like me for a long time, or don’t agree with theology outside the institution – and sometimes even inside the institution – somehow they found out about this and they started to pile on.”
After this, he patters off a few phrases and verses about conflict: “wisdom from above is pure and peaceable;” “there are things that God hates: ones who stir up strife;’ “keep your mouth shut – don’t stir up strife, you don’t know the whole story.”
The verses about conflict were quoted intentionally. He uses verses as a weapon to control those who question authority as stirring up strife and not being peaceable. You see, bullying and intimidation and fear are not peaceable. Those issues should not have been brought up.
He mentions that people asked why they only found out about the accreditation probation on Facebook (rather than by an official notification from TMU/TMS). His response is very revealing. It shows what a power-hungry leader he truly is:
“I’m going to be real honest with you. You didn’t have any right to find out about anything. That’s not your responsibility.”
When I first heard that statement, it reminded me of what an abusive authoritarian parent might say to a child. Whenever a leader has to puff themselves up, belittle, and intentionally withhold information, it shows personal weakness, not strength.
I found MacArthur’s response inappropriate for a number of reasons. Earlier in the talk, he said that part of the reason why WASC exists is so that parents or students could be assured that they are getting the kind of education that the school is advertising or promoting. So now he is saying the students didn’t have a right to find out about anything? Of course they do. They are paying tuition money and have every right to know. He’s talking out of both sides of his mouth. Secondly, the WASC report is public information. To intentionally avoid the information only proves some of the review team’s conclusions about the climate at the schools.
MacArthur related this current probation “attack” with an example from earlier in his ministry when two elders led 250 people from the church. John MacArthur labeled this as an attack on himself, and of course the reasons were not valid, just as the anonymous emails were not valid. To him, in both situations, they were disgruntled people who were out to get him. He said when you are going through an attack or conspiracy, it’s important to ask the question, “who has the most to gain?” He claimed that someone attacking is someone who has the most to gain, and it may be someone going after your position!
He ended this part of the talk on the accreditation probation by quoting more verses on whispers, wicked people, strife, tale bearers, the tongue which plots destruction, words that devour, and deceitful tongue. It’s an attack, people. He concluded, “This is an attack. It could be worse, people could be shooting at us,” referring to recent school shootings.
His institutions are on accreditation for real fixable issues, and he’s comparing the “Enemy’s attack” with school shootings – where real students and staff members died? John MacArthur is heartless and that was a cruel comparison. His pride has made him blind to the fact that the attacks are NOT from the Enemy – but his own personal sin, and for creating a climate of fear, intimidation and bullying by leaders.