Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, SBC, #Churchtoo, #ChurchToo, #MeToo
Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:
How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.
Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.
In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading
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.
As I was reading through Ken Garrett’s dissertation, I had to stop and soak up what I had just read. It took time to process and I felt like if I continued reading, I might miss something. It made me want to reflect on how his words matched my spiritually abusive experience. Mind you, Ken and I have spent hours talking/texting about spiritual abuse, how it has affected us and others. So, his words were nothing new to me, but they made me stop and think. We both have a heart to take what we have learned to help others. It dawned on me that Ken’s dissertation might be great for a series here, so I asked him if this was something we could do here at SSB, and he graciously agreed. (I knew he would because that’s the Ken that I know.)
So, my goal is to do a post once a week, using portions of Ken’s dissertation as the jumping off point. It was in reading blogs about spiritual abuse that I realized I was in a spiritually abusive church. Reading personal stories that mirrored my own story made me feel like I was not going crazy, that what I was experiencing was real, and it was harmful. Ken’s dissertation is perfect for this venue. He’s a spiritual abuse survivor, he’s studied spiritual abuse in an academic setting, and he’s also a pastor downtown Portland, Oregon.
If you know of someone who has been harmed in the church, please pass this post along. If you know of church leaders who could benefit from learning about spiritual abuse from someone who has done academic research and is a pastor, this might be good for them as well.
Spiritual abuse like other forms of abuse doesn’t just go away. It becomes part of who we are. Does it mean that we have to abandon our faith? No! But it might look different than it was. And we will discover that that is okay.
The goal of this series is to interact, to learn from each other, to support each other. We’re going to start off with the Prologue from the dissertation. If you want to read ahead, feel free to do so. You can find Ken’s dissertation here.
“Mind control is the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes. It is neither magical nor mystical, but a process that involves a set of basic social psychological principles. Conformity, compliance, persuasion, dissonance, reactance, guilt and fear arousal, modeling and identification are some of the staple social influence ingredients well studied in psychological experiments and field studies. In some combinations, they create a powerful crucible of extreme mental and behavioral manipulation when synthesized with several other real-world factors, such as charismatic, authoritarian leaders, dominant ideologies, social isolation, physical debilitation, induced phobias, and extreme threats or promised rewards that are typically deceptively orchestrated, over an extended time period in settings where they are applied intensively.”
― Steven Hassan,
I’ve heard it said that losing a child to death can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Now imagine having lost your adult child and their family, not to death, but to a high-controlling church or cult. Imagine not being able to celebrate birthdays or major holidays together. Imagine having only limited contact with your adult child and their family. How could your loved one entirely dismiss you, act like you are a stranger or enemy when you did nothing to them? Continue reading
Every account like this makes a difference for those of us who’ve survived spiritually abusive situations.
And hopefully, in the long run, courageous people like yourself and others who choose to do something will help turn the tide.
Stroll back with me to one year ago. A year ago, my life was about to turn upside down. Having been silenced through abuse during my childhood, I was not about to be silenced again by a man who was no longer my pastor and had managed to get Google to remove my Google reviews. And so a blog was started: BGBC Survivors.
It’s interesting to go back and read those initial posts and comments from readers. This morning I noticed that all of the initial commenters used “Anonymous” as their pseudonym when posting. Why was that? Because these people knew the power of that pastor – that Pastor Chuck O’Neal would create all sorts of trouble for them if they dared to comment using their real name.
In the current era and going forward, I believe it would be a far wiser policy/procedure to automatically and immediately report the abuse to the police when there is an accusation of child sexual abuse (and also of child abuse/neglect, domestic violence, and any other such criminal activity activity) and then call your legal counsel.
I have been inundated with requests to set up a Legal Defense fund. That blesses my socks off. Thank you for your support in this practical way.
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I’ve got a Twitter account now: Follow @DefendTheSheep
I’ll probably need some hand holding. If anyone can refer me to quick and easy tutorial, I’d appreciate it. Twitter definitely helped to publicize this story.
Now this is funny. I laughed and laughed some more. This came in my mail (and I have permission to share it). It comes from Pastor Ken Garrett from Portland:
We found out about your situation when our church (Grace Bible Church, Portland) began receiving tons of hits on our website–accidental visits from people who were actually looking for your old church. Also, we’ve received a nasty phone call, and a couple of nasty/scolding emails that were intended for Beaverton GBC! Strange world! Actually got my attention, since on a very heavy traffic day, our church website gets about 8 hits! No worries, it was fun to think for a few nanoseconds that our site was going to go viral! 🙂
So people, please be careful not to send dear Pastor Ken Garrett nasty notes or phone calls. He’s on our side. In fact, he along with his family has suffered spiritual abuse. He tells me there are others in his church who are also on the road to healing. Pastor Ken wrote about false teachers in his article The Fingerprints of a False Teacher. It’s good and it’s from Jude. Love that book.
This is the really good part of his e-mail right here – from a pastor who gets it:
The main reason I’ve written is to share with you that my wife and I were involved in an abusive “bible-based” church for 12 years. We did the whole thing: “discipleship training,” high-pressure evangelism, spiritual elitism, criticism and disdain for other “backslidden” local churches, etc. What dark hole! What a painful exit it was for us, and our poor daughters! It was here in Portland, is still in existence, although they’ve changed their name.Now, we’re at Grace Bible Church in downtown Portland, where I’m the pastor. The main reason I wanted to write to you is to tell you that you are certainly not alone, the phenomena of abusive bible-based churches is not only real, it is largely unrecognized, and unappreciated by the church at large (just my opinion, here!). Of course, we are still, as a family, processing and healing from the whole experience, although we’ve been free for over 15 years now. I think the healing goes on until we finally see our tender-hearted Lord face to face! But, I just wanted to reach out and encourage you to hang in there, keep praying, and trusting in God.
Don’t you feel the compassion? And look how long this takes – it’s a process. People who have walked our path understand it can be such a wonderful resource for us. Now Ken is using his pain for God’s glory by helping others.
A strange thing I’ve noticed along the way of healing is that once people leave spiritually abusive churches they (most of the time) will never again subject themselves to another one (assuming that they left because of the abuse). The problem is, many of them simply will never step into another church again, either!
Julie Anne’s comment: Yes, this is so true! Go to the msnbc.com or katu.com articles (referenced in my sidebar at the top right) and scroll through the thousands of commenters who say this is why they left the church and won’t go back. Many have left comments on my blog to that effect as well.
An abusive church rarely grows (numerically) beyond the size that the narcissistic pastor is able to control. Ours never grew beyond 50 adults, and that’s about as many as our guy could effectively control and bully. More than that, and he felt out of control, and would find a way to drive the “fringe” people away. As these leaders get older, their ministries often begin to shrink, because of their diminished abilities to control effectively…. Fun, huh?
Ouch!! nailed it.
Now, Ken, I don’t know if you saw this, but when I told Hannah about your sweet e-mail to me, she was multi-tasking on her computer and looked up your church’s Google reviews and look what she found:
How funny is that! At least no one mistakenly left you a negative one!
So anyway, friends, there really are some decent pastors around – ones who understand what we have gone through, will guide us, and not lord over us.
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And last, but not least, here’s a public shout-out to Rachel, my massage therapist – – – – I got my first complete night of sleep in some time. Thanks, sweet thang! Woohoo! zzzzzzzzzz
- Is your pastor fully accountable to a board of elders, presbyters, etc.?
- Is loyalty to Jesus and to one’s own calling placed before loyalty to pastor and church?
- Does your pastor encourage questions and suggestions? Is he approachable?
- Does your pastor readily admit his errors?
- Is your pastor truly humble?
- Is power shared in your church (rather than preempted by a hierarchy)?
- Does your church see itself as just one organ of the Body of Christ, and not the main one?
- Are church members encouraged and loved even when they leave?
- Are relationships with former members encouraged or allowed?
- Do the pastor and congregation avoid attacking and using as object lessons, former members or those who disagree?
- Are you happy to bring unsaved friends to your church?
- Are people encouraged to hear from God for themselves?
- Is the joy of the Lord present in your church?
- Do you think more about God and Jesus than you do about your pastor and church?
- Does your pastor include himself in any calls for repentance and forgiveness?
- Are you clear that the pastors and elders never exaggerate or lie to make themselves look good?
It’s interesting how some abusive pastors are so keen on their Almighty Image and do everything possible to avoid the appearance of having imperfections. Little do they know that weakness, humility, imperfections only draw people closer to them when they are vulnerable – showing that they, too, are human, and on the journey of love and grace which cover a multitude of sins.