Classical Conversations #7: Business or a Non-Profit; Cult or a Christian Homeschool Group?

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NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

 


Note from Julie Anne:  Here is another personal account that came in as a comment, but I felt it needed to be a post by itself. In this account, there is discussion about Classical Conversations functions in cult-like ways. Classical Conversations is so big that there are probably many groups that do not function as a cult, but it’s important to note the characteristics of controlling behavior which is the bedrock in cults.

Off the top of my head, here are some of the typical behaviors we see in high-controlling or cult-like groups:

  • The group is the best and only acceptable group. All others are inferior.
  • No other group measures up (educationally, Christian, etc).
  • Members lose a sense of identity as they give more and more of their time to the group.
  • No negative talk about the group is allowed. 
  • There are repercussions on anyone who challenges, criticizes, or talks negatively about the group.
  • Those who leave the group are shunned.
  • Those who leave are labeled as sinners, evil, anything negative.
  • Image is very important to the group. Defend the image at all costs.
  • Lack of clear rules and boundaries. 
  • Group leaders change rules frequently, which leads to confusion.

 


 

"Classical Conversations" "spiritual sounding board"

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by Adele Jane

I have been a CC parent for many years. It initially blessed us because as a parent, I could say “no” to things that weren’t working for us. I was aware of the constant edicts and rule changes from Corporate because the tutors were always having to jump through ridiculous hoops. The company is notoriously anti-technology, as evidenced by their own disorganized and unreliable web site. Also, many moms felt like money was a primary motivator. They charged money for everything: expensive tuition and fees, made all their own texts mandatory and expensive, and then charged a monthly fee to look at resources created and donated by other moms!

But our local community was pleasant and close knit, so we tolerated it, like proverbial frogs in the pot, we were growing dependent on the materials. They constantly said we were the teachers, but went out of their way to make us believe we needed CC to do it, to “trust the system,” to follow the plan the way they said. We had no local say, not even what ages our kids could stop and start various levels! They made the rules.

Everything began to change for us as I stepped up to tutor and later Direct, mainly to offset the cost. The corporate overreach was insane. They literally took over my life and every aspect of my classroom. They dominated my free time with mandatory trainings and other requirements.

All questioning was labelled as sinful or rebellious, and I was made to feel that theirs is the only way. Students who cant keep up are inadequate, all the while spouting this “knowing God and making Him known” motto that does NOT play out on the corporate level. They are all about Jesus when its convenient.

Anyone who asks about these things on their forum or social media is deleted or blocked. Sometimes they use it as grounds for termination. No free speech, even on your own time.

They place multiple layers of “management” between local and corporate, puppets who have lied to us, made us sign contracts that are filled with overreach (thankfully my lawyer was clear about all the items that were so outside labor standards, that they were not only unenforceable, but likely voided the contract), and were cruel to us when we stood our ground.

They have terminated numerous directors in my area for bogus reasons not in the contract. They dictate exactly what you can say, when and how you can say it, but continue to call us independent contractors, and they run their profit-making enterprise from churches who assume they are a non-profit homeschool co-op.

I admit it wasn’t until they pressed me to do “fund raising” for a local training that I even realized they weren’t non-profit. Of course the businesses we approached laughed in our face. “Donate” money to another business just because they present themselves as homeschoolers and Christians? It was laughable I guess.

I feel this organization uses Christian families for gain, and hides behind Christ while they line their pockets. I also feel they run in a cult-like manner, slowly brainwashing families into seeing what isn’t there. My local group is great, but not really worth giving up my freedom that we homeschoolers are so blessed to have.

Tedd Tripp and Tom Chantry: Shepherding a Child’s Heart … or Not

Tedd Tripp, Tom Chantry, Failure to Report, Mandatory Reporter, Spanking, Shepherding a Child’s Heart


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tedd tripp, failure to report, mandatory reporter, spanking, Tom Chantry

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In the late 1990s, I attended a parenting seminar by Tedd Tripp. It may or may not be significant to note that the seminar was held at a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Chesapeake, Virginia. Continue reading

Classical Conversations #6: Rigid Rules and Legal Tax Concerns

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NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

 


Note from Julie Anne:  Here is a personal account that was sent to me. In this account, we read rigidity coming from the Corporate level of Classical Conversations (CC). Also, there is confusion about tax issues. This is an important issue, and if you have to file taxes involving Classical Conversations, I would make sure you are using someone familiar with tax law who can make sure you are staying legal.  

Continue reading

Bill Hybels, the Willow Creek “System,” and Why the Women Needed to Speak Publicly

Bill Hybels, Clergy Sexual Misconduct, Willow Creek Church


Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, Clergy Sexual Misconduct

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Continue reading

Classical Conversations #3: Leaders Delete Comments and Block Commenters Who Don’t Toe the Line

Classical Conversations, High-Controlling Groups, Deleted Comments, Blocked Commenters, Noble Gibbens


shutterstock_574057807

wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

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NOTE: This is part of a series that began with these earlier posts:

Please take a seat and join the conversation, even if you aren’t a homeschool parent. I think you might find it interesting. Continue reading

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Paige Patterson Terminated, Effective Immediately: No Title, No Housing, No Ongoing Compensation

Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, SBC, #Churchtoo, #ChurchToo, #MeToo

 

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A new statement was just released at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: Continue reading

A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence

To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable.

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Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

Key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

Guest post by Brad Sargent, with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted at futuristguy.

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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

Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett, Wk 2

Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery


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Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Pastor Ken Garrett

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.

Continue reading

New Blog Series: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery by Pastor Ken Garrett

Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery


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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.)

Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse, Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery

Pastor Ken Garrett – Somewhere in Italy on vacation recently after submitting his dissertation: Spiritual Abuse in the Church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery, and earning his DMin.

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.

~Julie Anne


PROLOGUE: A HOUSE OF MIRRORS

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Help! My Family Member or Close Friend is Trapped in a High-Controlling Church or Cult. How Can I Encourage Them to Leave?

How to help a family member or friend leave a high-controlling church group or cult: spiritual abuse, trapped, thought reform, mind control, freedom


 

“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, Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-Selling Guide to Protection, Rescue and Recovery from Destructive Cults

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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

Four Primary Conditions that Result in People Leaving Abusive Churches and Cults

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A Spotlight on Abuse and Death of VCY America Founder Vic Eliason

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Attorney David Gibbs III Discusses the IBLP Lawsuit and Answers Important Questions

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Victim of Bill Gothard’s Teachings Speaks out about Josh Duggar Scandal, Mike Huckabee: Bill Gothard’s Dangerous Agenda and Influence in Political Arena and Society at Large

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Bill Gothard, Mike Huckabee, Sex Abuse Coverup, Political and Social Influence, and an Agenda

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Elephants and SGA’s Everywhere! Coming to Terms with Homeschooling’s Pitfalls

The need of parents to both deal with the pitfalls and understand their Second Generation Adults of homeschooling (those who suffered in a high demand Christian homeschooling culture).

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BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive: How to Document Spiritual Abuse in Your Church

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.  

~Brad Sargent

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.

Continue reading

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part Two

 
Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part Two
© Brad Sargent (brad/futuristguy), November 2012
 
 
5. Individual and Crowd-Sourced Snapshots for a Viable Video
 
In Part One, I explained why I felt it was worth spending a day analyzing a Covenant Life Church (CLC) Members Meeting, despite my being an outsider to the Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) network that CLC has been part of. The analysis I did provides just one cultural GPS snapshot for discerning the direction and trajectory of CLC. I happened to pick a “milestone moment” for this church. The meeting was in August of 2011, after some very significant events occurred in relation to CLC leadership contacting SGM survivor blogs. This occurred after accounts appeared on SGMSurvivors, detailing alleged gross failure of pastoral care and interference with reporting sexual abuse to the police.
 
Meanwhile, other profile snapshots of CLC and SGM over the years have been in development through crowd-sourcing of observations/details, analysis, and interpretation. This has been accomplished mostly by SGM-insiders – spiritual abuse survivors – apparently done in real life through conversation and digitally through emails, internet research, and survivor blog posts and comments. Granted, we need to be careful to resist ungrounded speculation, but a set of first-hand evidences by a group of principal participants has the definite possibility of arriving at a better “human MRI” composite than the recollections and insights of any one person alone.
 
The forthcoming class action civil lawsuit against SGM and specific leaders will provide interested parties with additional series of snapshots of how SGM as a system functioned, at least from 1987 when the first incident of alleged damaging pastoral care and cover-up occurred. The amount of evidence is likely to be substantial, and a lack of gaps from first-hand reporters will most likely give it the weight of validity. So, when those snapshots are all lined up in chronological order, like many have already been done on the SGM Crisis Timeline developed by Jenn Grover, they’ll give a reasoned and documented “video” to show the direction and dynamics of the SGM organizational trajectory. 
 
Also, in a civil lawsuit, the outcome is based on a “preponderance of evidence,” not on it being “beyond reasonable doubt,” which is the standard in criminal cases. So the work that many are doing to document the snapshots that create the “documentary video” will probably have an impressive impact on the futures of SGM and the leaders named as defendants.
 
Okay … so, suppose we create a viable video that shows the long-term pathway of SGM as individual leaders, as an organization, and as a cultural system. What does one such “video” do for anyone looking at the global/big-picture issue of spiritual abuse in the North American Church? 
 
6. From Single-System Trajectories to Mega-System Trends
One documentary video alone isn’t enough to do reasoned analysis of larger patterns and trends within the Body of Christ in this region. But when we start looking at all of 2012, we find quite a list of what seem to be significant situations of abuse of power in individual churches and associations. Similar issues of image-protective leadership in organizations have been surfacing in the secular community as well, and there are also historical trends that will likely prove relevant. Let’s take a look at these three realms – churches, cultures, and history – and some techniques we can use for trend-tracking.
 
IN CHURCHES/NETWORKS 
 
Church- and ministry-based evidence about spiritual bullying has been mounting over the last few years especially. And it does seem in 2012 that the documentation has literally exploded. Men and women with first-hand knowledge of alleged abuse by various Christian organizations have increasingly been posting their accounts and their assessments online, including related evidence: documents, timelines, current website links, and Wayback Machine internet archive links. What bullies want to keep hidden in the darkness is coming into the light anyway.
 
Consider the following list of individual organizations and larger networks or denominations just at the theologically conservative and evangelical end of the spectrum. In 2012, most of these are ongoing subjects of current “citizen journalist” investigations and, for some, even civil cases. Links behind the ministry name go to survivor blogs where that entity is a primary focus. The world of survivor blogs has become so extensive that I doubt I’ve gotten all the relevant links available – and these don’t even include Facebook pages or other kinds of closed forums where people seek healing through processing their experiences. (Note: Linking here does not imply my automatic agreement with the perspectives presented there.)
 
 
For general resources on spiritual abuse and recovery, and focus on multiple situations and movements, including many of the above, see Apprising Ministries, FBC Jax Watchdogs, and The Wartburg Watch.
 
IN SURROUNDING CULTURES 
 
Meanwhile, a number of high-profile secular cases of various kinds of abuse have emerged in recent months. These have ballooned in importance to where organizational complicity/cover-up has become as crucial as the original offenses. 
 
 
Perhaps the media attention and public outcry are evidences that the social tide is turning against bullies, those who actively protect them, and those who passively excuse by their silence. Or perhaps it represents the reasons why these cases are getting so much publicity. Figuring out WHAT is going on doesn’t always tell us WHY it’s happening now. Back to the issue in a moment … but first, in terms of larger trends, I suspect we’ll find that each different system spotlighted adds pixels to an even bigger picture, just as each individual piece of stone or glass in a mosaic adds dimension to a design. 
But how do we figure that out what each contributes, or how clusters of similar elements found across different situations contribute to a “trend”? 
 
 
7. Discerning Relevant Patterns
 
Part of what I do to answer that question turns me toward content analysis techniques that I learned in my linguistics training. Our homework included making critical features charts – grids of elements that define words and how they are used. If a word does have a certain feature, you mark the grid with a “+” or with a “–” if it does not. Then you find word sets that show only one difference. These are called a “minimal pair.” For instance, the words this and that form a minimal pair; both can refer to a concrete object or to an abstract concept, but this is close to the speaker and that is farther away. The only critical difference is distance. Another minimal pair is this and these; both relate to something close by the writer or speaker, and the critical difference is these is “+ plural” and this is “– plural.” 
 
This kind of pairing can be especially helpful when things look similar on the surface, but they turn out to be different enough underneath that they are not actually related. For instance, many Christian theologies and world religions use the term grace, but do not mean at all the same thing by it. Or, take the current buzz word, gospel. For some theologies it holds a very specific, limited meaning; for others, it is applied to so many things that it holds little meaning at all.
 
Critical features grids and minimal pairs help us analyze sets for commonalities as well as differences. They show in chart form the overlaps between items. (Or, if we wanted to go with more of a picture route, we could use Venn diagrams with their overlapping circles to show what the common and different features are.) 
 
But what elements do we use in our critical features grid list? Some of that depends on the kind of thing we’re analyzing, some of it just depends on practice. It helps to have some stock frameworks. When I’m analyzing words, my framework includes parts of speech, time, and distance. When I’m analyzing a complex organization and the dynamics in it, I use a version of my paradigm layers and elements list:
 
  1. Deepest layer – thinking: information processing styles, values, and beliefs (theological, philosophical, religious). These govern everything else that we say and do.
  2. Middle layer – organizing: operational systems, strategies, and organizational infrastructures, leadership. These govern how we relate in institutions that we are part of.
  3. Surface layer – relating: cultures, lifestyles, and forms of collaboration. These govern how we and our institutions relate within the larger community and global societies.
 
If we detail out the paradigm elements in all of the institutions under scrutiny in the above list, I think we’ll find some common points that appear in a large percentage of these case studies. For instance, here is a series of elements that seem to align from deepest to surface layers in their organization’s paradigm system. (I’ll use the church here, but a similar version could be shown for secular organizations.) 
 
  • Deepest/Thinking. Many hold to black-or-white thinking that leads to doctrines that encourage separation. This results in isolation or insulation of the church from the world, of refusing “worldly methods” (such as psychology and counseling), of handling problems inside the church instead of going to civil authorities.
  • Middle/Organizing. Most stress unquestioning submission to the authority of male leaders in church and home, many to the extreme end of the spectrum of authoritarian leadership and patriarchy.
  • Surface/Relating. Their members submit to the leaders, even when leaders imply or outright demand actions that go against civic requirements. Thus, many of these organizations are riddled with allegations of allowing, not reporting, and/or passively supporting such crimes as the infliction of child sexual abuse, child abuse/neglect, and domestic violence.
 
Here is another line-up common to these Christian organizations:
 
  • Deepest/Thinking. Many hold to black-or-white thinking that leads to doctrines of perfectionism. These create a closed system of insiders versus outsiders, righteous versus sinful, and the inside is full of legalism and authoritarianism.
  • Middle/Organizing. Many face allegations of lack of sufficient accountability for leaders. Is it because they are considered “celebrities” as “God’s anointed” and automatically “righteous”?
  • Surface/Relating. If you did a “relationship map” of what leaders and organizations work together in larger networks or cosponsor events, you’d find a lot of connection lines in this larger “in group.”
 
That helps us with some pictures of WHAT is happening. But WHY is such a major push-back happening now? And WHERE could it be headed?
 
8. From Causation to Transformation
 
The fact that something exists doesn’t automatically explain how it was caused or why we’re noticing it now. Causation of a phenomenon or trend is complex, as is its transformation. Causation may come from combinations of reasons – including a group’s (or its leaders’) beliefs, organizational systems, cultures – and transformation will likely come through change in some of those same causal reasons. That makes sense to me, because causation is about what shaped past history and transformation is about shaping future possibilities. For instance, if we don’t address underlying causes of organizational toxicity, how can the future of that group be anything but toxic?
 
Transformation is another large part of what being a futurist is about. Specifically, Christian futurists work to bring people hope, to spark their imagination about possible ways their future could turn out, and to help them discern and decide between what is possible and what they want to pursue as preferable. If you’re interested, I’ve posted a tutorial on some key futurist foresight tools: trend-tracking, non-linear extrapolation, and scenario writing.
 
A few final thoughts on the question of why the push-back on bullying seems to be happening now. With spiritual abuse and churches, maybe sheep have just gotten fed up with shepherds who beat them, and they are bleating back to warn other sheep who may be unwary about wolves in their midst. Maybe because these ongoing controversies and conflicts, such as at Sovereign Grace Ministries, have corroded their corporation to the point of implosion and there is no way to keep it from the public eye. Maybe it’s because of civil cases won by abuse survivors, such as Tom Rich’s case at the FBC Jax Watchdogs blog and Julie Anne Smith’s case at the BGBC Survivors blog. Whatever the source or sources, the impact seems to be that malignancy in ministry is going unchallenged less frequently. Authority figures no longer get an automatic “pass” on questionable activities and attitudes, or on ones that cause outright damage.
 
But what then?  Once an organization is saturated with spiritual toxicity – as it appears Sovereign Grace Ministries is – can it ever be changed? It would be hard, but I believe there is still hope. It must involve individual change – real repentance – because, as Price Pritchett wisely suggests in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” It seems to me a related idea – for better or for worse – is that the organization will be what the leaders are. Jesus Himself said that when a pupil has been fully trained, he’ll be like his master. He also said that if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch, and that you know a tree by its fruit. (Luke 6: 39-45).
 
Anyway, I do have a very small measure of hope for the larger SGM system to be able to change enough and soon enough to stop inflicting the damages of legalistic theology and authoritarian leaders on others. But it does seem that the larger the system, the more difficult it is to shift course away from destruction. Think about a rowboat avoiding an iceberg versus the Titanic avoiding it. 
 
And there is some precedent for this substantial of a paradigm shift. The only large-scale organizational transformation I’m aware of, going from a “cult” (both doctrinally and structurally) to a sound system, occurred with the Grace Communion International – formerly known as the Worldwide Church of God, run by Herbert W. Armstrong. I haven’t been able to do a full-scale case study on how this change came about. But from what I’ve absorbed so far, it seems like the spark for organizational change came from several key leaders who had a personal change of heart and theology, and who saw the damage that their doctrine and organization had done. I don’t know exactly the order of what happened, but those do seem to be some of the elements involved. These change-agents led the way for altering the system, and to do that required them to stand against both the old doctrine and the old order. I’m looking forward to looking into this far more deeply, to reinforce or correct those initial impressions and especially to explore the specifics that sparked change. I think it will prove a very relevant situation for fueling reasoned speculation about the future of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
 
In short, change happens when there is repentance – REAL repentance – not some kind of quickee “acknowledgement” of wrongdoing in order to satisfy the demands of authoritarian leaders, or to avoid unpleasant legal or social consequences of one’s actions. The word repentance in Greek literally means a “change of mind.” I think of it as a sort of “spiritual U-turn.” 
 
I think we’re glimpsing signs of this kind of discernment and change in some of the smaller units that have been within the larger SGM system. For instance, changes have been underway at SGM Church of Daytona and at Covenant Life Church (the SGM “flagship” church). They/their leaders have undertaken a change of course, standing against some of the old ways, moving in new ways. (In their cases, this has mean leaving SGM for the Daytona church and CLC considering leaving.) Certainly, it’s not all that survivors of SGM spiritual abuse would want, but it does seem to be progress at least. The larger structure of the SGM network may not be salvageable, but surely the smaller ones seem to be showing they likely are. So, there are continued reasons for hope and for praying that those within the SGM system who can effect changes find the conscience, will, and grace to do so.
 
Actually, I consider acts of repentance and the resulting transformation as a sort of cosmic surprise that indicate God’s Spirit has been at work. Repentance doesn’t happen without a shift in conscience. And the Scriptures talk about a dulled or seared conscience and a hardened heart as signs of resistance against God. Plus, psychology tells us that lack of conscience is a key feature of sociopaths; they show no true empathy for others, and no remorse about using/abusing others when it gets them what they desire. So, for change to occur for the right reasons, and for evil systems to be dismantled, I’ll watch for signs in SGM of U-turns in how people are valued, how conflict is handled, and how differences are seen as signs of strength. Those kinds of things would be SGM-specific indicators of genuine repentance, and transformation underway.