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.

I don’t know about you, but I can identify with 100% of this paragraph. There were so many things that resonated with me when reading it. Let me share my personal experience jumping off of these following two sentences from Ken’s dissertation:

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.
IMG_20161214_161906665

The doors of Grace Bible Church, the church where Ken pastors. It is the 2nd oldest church in Portland, Oregon .

Julie Anne’s experience: My ex-pastor came across as if he had the correct and only true Gospel message. He had us all convinced that there were no other churches that taught the true Gospel message in all of the Portland and surrounding area. He prided himself that there were a couple of regular attenders who drove from 45 minutes away because there was “nothing else out there.” Not only did we hear that the Gospel message was the most correct from the pulpit, the congregants echoed these sentiments.

Everybody was convinced that we were at the best church and any other church would be inferior. So, ultimately, this meant that if you left for any other reason besides a distant job transfer, to take care of your ailing parents in another locale, etc, you were being rebellious and not allowing “God” to work in your life. Whoa! So, imagine the pressure we felt to remain there. 

I remember various families leaving after being there for a few months and asking Pastor Chuck why they left. Every single case (except the move for a job), someone left because there was something wrong with their faith, or they were in rebellion, according to Chuck’s response. It was never any fault of Chuck’s, or anything wrong at BGBC. The blame was on “them.” And “they” were talked about negatively, you know, the “let’s pray for them because they are being led astray,” prayers.

I often wondered why Chuck didn’t not seem to be friendly with other local pastors. In fact, he criticized pastors (except John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, and a few others who weren’t local). Having been in the military and moving a lot, we experienced many churches and I never heard of a pastor who put down other local pastors/churches like Chuck O’Neal did.

This might be confusing, but I need to say up front that I never liked going to BGBC. I tried to like it because my husband liked it so much. But . . . . I did get sucked in to some degree – not as much as others, but I truly drank the Kool-Aid so much that I felt sorry for other people in Portland area who were not getting this good teaching and were missing out. I even had some thoughts that perhaps some of my “Christian” friends may not have been truly Christian because they were not getting the full message that we were getting. I prayed for their souls. (Little did I know, some of my friends were praying for my soul and for us to get out!)

There was truly a sense of elitism and pride among the congregants, and at times I went along with it, thankful that we were finally getting the truth and we were so privileged. Interestingly, when I see this kind of elitism and arrogance from others trying to claim that theirs is the only correct doctrine, Gospel, belief, etc, I am repulsed. Blech! I want none of that arrogance.


How about you? Does the excerpt resonate with you and your church experience?

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.

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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.

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part One

Detailing Events and Discerning the Times: Part One
© Brad Sargent (brad/futuristguy), November 2012


After I wrote my analysis piece on Sovereign Grace Ministries in the previous post, I was asked two questions and invited to share more detail on:
  1. Why evaluating a Members Meeting that happened at Covenant Life Church (CLC) over a year ago holds any importance now, and 
  2. How a case study of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) fits into the larger scheme of what seems to be happening with exposing “malignant ministers,” toxic organizations, and spiritually abusive systems or cultures.
So, I worked on describing how I go about doing these tasks and why they’re important. Because “externalizing” one’s thought processes takes a lot of space, the original version of this post got longer than expected. So I split it into two parts. The first talks about techniques I use from my points of view as a cultural interpreter and a organizational developer to detail events and analyze changes over time. The second picks up with linguistics and futurist/strategic foresight techniques I use to detect patterns and discern cultural trends that drive long-term change. 
 
These are the kinds of intuitive and intentional critical thinking tools that might go with being a modern-day “son of Issachar” (1 Chronicles 12:32) who seeks to understand our times, and discern what the churches should do. Hope you find this different perspective worth the read, despite it delving into some technical skills. I suspect we all have a lot of detailing and discerning to do in the near future because of continuing revelations on the horizon about spiritual abuse in the Church. Perhaps the descriptions and illustrations of these research techniques will help understand some of the content in the forthcoming SGM trial and the larger cultural context in which this is occurring.
 
1. Pictures and Profiles: Systems “Snapshots”
 
I thought it would be helpful to start with some background on why I would bother to do this kind of analysis piece in the first place. As my blogger friend Julie Anne Smith mentioned in her first comment on my post at her blog, [November 11, 2012, 6:45 PM], I seem to have landed in a role of drawing people’s attention from detailed analysis up toward the big-picture patterns, and considering what such trends might mean in light of the larger context of culture and change.
 
This is what I wrote in the final point near the end of the article:
 
(4) The only way to refute an allegation of a malignant pattern of mishandling situations or avoiding responsibility is with documentation. 
 
Only the principle people involved can provide “primary documentation” through their emails, notes, daytimer schedules, phone records, etc., at the time of the events and interviews or depositions later on. Those items and observations help establish facts and timelines and participants, etc. 
 
But a “secondary” layer of resources share other people’s analysis and interpretation of the facts. They look at such things as gaps in the evidence, interconnections among people, patterns that appear at a given time or over time, and how various patterns compare with some internal standard (such as the organization’s constitution and by-laws) or external standards (such as legal mandates or “biblical” commands). 
 
Here are some of the techniques I use to create those kinds of secondary resources.
 
As a cultural interpreter, I personally observe and/or I research events. I gather evidence that seems relevant and much that may turn out to be irrelevant – but I can’t always know that in advance. I analyze the set of evidence, and interpret it as best I can as offering us a “snapshot” of where that subject (an individual or organization or culture) was situated at the time of those events. Think of this snapshot as sort of like pinpointing the subject’s coordinates in a “cultural Global Positioning System” at that moment of time. If I’ve done my role well, my “take” on the subject’s GPS is close to matching the profile of facts about the subject and its surrounding system, mostly supplied by primary source people.
 
2. Goals and Trajectories: Shifting from Snapshots to “Video” Mode
 
Then, as a theologically-based practitioner of organizational development, I plot a set of GPS snapshots taken over time against what I understand to be the ideal ministry. This ideal represents the goal we should be moving toward. This profile of the ideal includes how ministry strategies, infrastructures, and leadership should function for their system to be considered TRULY “safe,” “healthy,” and “growing” – from a biblical standpoint, despite what leadership and organizations are supposed to look like from a business standpoint. (And I am working a set of specific indicators for exactly how I define and describe and measure all three of those terms: safe, healthy, growing.) 
 
If the GPS for that ideal profile represents the goal point of ministry function, then we can figure out what kind of “trajectory” that church or organization is on. And we do that by looking at the change in the profile positions of their snapshots over time, relative to the goal. In other words, we shift from snapshots to “video,” and measure which way the subject of study is moving. (Or, if you are familiar with the media known as “flip books,” movement is captured by slight shifts between successive drawings or photos. The shifts become more noticeable as you flip through the series. This became the basis for animation.)
 
There are four basic possibilities of how a church body relates with the goal of being/becoming a “safe house for God’s people.”
 
  • Move forward toward the goal.
  • Move backward away from that goal.
  • Remain static and move nowhere (which we usually associate with a body that is unconscious, in a coma, or is actually a corpse).
  • Orbit around some other person(s) than Jesus Christ or some other goal, in which case there may be a lot of activity but it ultimately revolves around whatever keeps it pinned to the ground and prevents it from moving along a pathway.
 
After figuring out the overall pattern, there are still a lot of nuances in a trajectory: Is the path smooth or erratic, start-stop, relatively slow or fast, etc.? We simply don’t know which trajectory type is happening, or what qualities of movement it demonstrates, unless we take periodic organizational snapshots to see what is or isn’t happening over time. We need a series of snapshots to figure that out.
 
 
3. From Single-Person Profiles to Multi-Person Trajectories
The process of helping individuals figure out how they’re doing in terms of Christlike transformation uses similar tools to those for organizations. It likewise involves:
  1. Identifying their starting point in relationship to the ideal profile of mature Christian character and spiritual formation practices.
  2. Then profiling their status at different points over time.
  3. Then tracking all of those to evaluate the type of trajectory they are on, and what specific gap they have that need to be filled in, and what excesses they have that need to be filed down.
Such interpretation of an individual’s spiritual profile snapshots and video is valuable for the ministries they are part of also, because, as organizational specialist Price Pritchett wisely suggests in The Ethics of Excellence, “The organization can never be something the people are not.” And running this kind of spiritual profiling for leaders is especially valuable because to paraphrase something Jesus said, “Protégés become like their mentors.” More specifically (still paraphrasing), “If the blind lead the blind, they both fall in a ditch” (Matthew 15:14) and “When a pupil is fully trained, he will be like his master” (Luke 6:40).
 
All of this together means that what individuals do singly adds up to what teams and ministry groups and churches and networks and denominations do corporately. If there are too many toxic leaders and blind followers in a system, it hinders the system from bearing good fruit now and better fruit in the future. 
 
And foresight into the future – that’s where we shift from tools of the cultural interpreter and organizational developer to evaluate a trajectory, to those of the linguistic to identify patterns and the futurist to evaluate culture-shifting trends. Those are the subjects in Part Two, which is forthcoming. But first, here are some preliminary conclusions, based on extensive reading over the past few months about the Sovereign Grace Ministries system and the class action lawsuit filed against it and specific current and former leaders.
 
4. Thoughts on Sovereign Grace Ministries and Trajectories
 
Here is a comment I wrote on a post at The Wartburg Watch after reviewing the extensive SGM Crisis Timeline, produced by Jenn Grover. It gives not only some of my conclusions, but reflects on the process I used. I have edited it slightly to clarify a few points, and added boldface to the key statements about the equivalent of snapshots and videos, as well as trajectories and orbits.
 
First, whoever you are, Jenn Grover, thanks for your work in putting that together. It was immensely helpful as a “Grand Tour” to get an overview. 
Second, I don’t know if I will, but I might go back another time to read/view the documentation materials at each link supplied in the many Dipity information frames. More detail may change my interpretations or fine-tune them, but I still thought it would be beneficial to offer some first-take impressions on what I read, as that might be similar to what a jury member would have to consider upon a first exposure to this information.
 
Third, I think I “get it” about organizational development and church conflict. Since shifting to evangelical and theologically conservative churches almost 40 years ago, I’ve been in the middle of, or observer to: church systems that failed, others that split, one church that was literally taken over (i.e., commandeered/stolen) by an insider group, others that were held captive to/by malignant leaders or “kidnapped” by outsiders who infiltrated in, some that had toxic doctrine that created toxic internal cultures, and a few had multiples of these factors all rolled into one spiritually suffocating combination. 
 
So — with all that 35+ years of framework in my own background — after reading this timeline, I come away with one overwhelming impression, based on the assumption that this timeline seems documented well enough to give a significantly accurate and sufficient base of observations from which to develop opinions. And here it is, the big-picture impression: 
 
It seems to me that there really has not been much recent “forward trajectory” at SGM based on “fixing eyes on Jesus” as a guide-wire for going into the future. Instead, for at least two decades, the SGM systems (leaders, laypeople, churches, trainings, associations, boards) all have been tethered to the polarizing agency of C.J. Mahaney. If you map out the various interrelationships of *dramatis personae* since about 1997, it appears that ALL the lines of friendship, and dominant theological stances, and who’s in authority, and relational conflicts, and individual and church departures, eventually all connect somehow with Mr. Mahaney.
 
Thus, as in tetherball, SGM insiders get hit clockwise then counterclockwise, reverse and repeat, to a dizzying degree, based on the metaphorical hits Mr. Mahaney takes or makes. There is a lot of action, but basically the whole thing has gone nowhere for at least the last 15 years but ’round and around on the integrating pole of Mr. Mahaney and the same plotline chain of dramatic controversies.
 
And if one man has that much direct and indirect preeminence in such a huge amount of activity, I wonder if it’s fair to say then, that there has been an idolatrous amount of attention paid to him. If so, that enormous expenditure of energy on adoration or revulsion, protection or correction — at the leadership level of SGM especially, and with outside celebrity leaders and non-profit organizations — might make sense as system-wide set-ups for many things remaining overlooked or ignored instead of properly overseen, being done in a dysfunctional way, swept under the carpet, slipping between the cracks, etc. Hence, here they find themselves in this lawsuit –- the SGM organization and several of its most prominent individuals.
 
After my own series of difficult experiences in churches, I’m used to such mega-drama, though I still get emotionally churned up over it (anger, sadness, numbness). However, this contentious history put me on the verge of exasperation. I just wonder how a civil lawsuit jury will respond to what seems to be an organizational context of extreme distraction due to uber-leader-level drama during the exact same time period of the alleged cases of mishandling instances of sexual abuse plus questioned practices of pastoral care or cover-up …
 
On now, to Part Two …




Sovereign Grace Ministries: Analysis of CLC Members Meeting

Analysis of CLC Members Meeting of August 17, 2011


INTRODUCTION

The following analysis was produced by Brad Sargent. He is more known by his online handle of “brad/futuristguy,” and he often writes about recovery from spiritual abuse and how to prevent toxic organizations. 

For this article, Brad used a transcript of the Covenant Life Church (CLC) members’ meeting of August 17, 2011. This meeting dealt with pastoral responses to survivor blog reports about cases of harmful “pastoral care” involving victims of child sexual abuse. He applied his perspectives as an organizational developer, cultural analyst, and futurist (strategic foresight practitioner) and wrote the following on October 13, 2012 – approximately three weeks after a class action lawsuit was filed against Sovereign Grace Ministries (an association of churches of which CLC was once the main member) and some of SGM’s and CLC’s former leaders. This was also about three weeks before it became public that CLC was already in a process to consider dissociating from SGM. 

While all that was happening, Brad – who is an outsider to SGM – was doing research to understand the background of the lawsuit. Reviewing this document was part of his process in coming to grips with the organizational systems of both SGM and CLC, how they related to the lawsuit, and what all churches and ministries could learn from the situation. Since Brad’s perspective is one of an informed outsider, it may be helpful in raising questions and points of interest that others might not yet see. It is presented here with his permission as part of continuing to consider SGM and the lawsuit, especially in light of how to analyze toxic theologies and practices involved in spiritual abuse. For other posts on topics related to SGM, see the category labeled Sovereign Grace Ministries Abuse.

There is one additional note about this meeting. It was held in August 2011 (not 2012), so please keep in mind that who the three speakers were a year ago is not necessarily who they are now. From very recent events, it does seem that the CLC leaders appear to be making some “detoxifying” progress on addressing their past, present, and future – even while they are still being called out online to push themselves further, as with a recent post by Brent Detwiler encouraging them to be more transparent and specific on their reasons for considering a departure from the SGM network.

Finally, progress in personal and organizational change for those enmeshed in SGM’s and CLC’s leadership is just as difficult as recovery is for those of us who are survivors of spiritual abuse.  This process is step by step, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, sometimes half-and-half in a way that sends us into a twist.  It is sometimes stop, sometimes go, not always the pace we want, sometimes faster than we think we can handle.  But the goal of becoming more Christlike is still the goal, no matter the exact route or speed of the journey, and progress is still progress. 

We’d do well to have similar grace for the change process of people who’ve been the perpetrators of spiritual abuse or their henchmen or their excusers as we have for one another as survivors of that abuse, despite how hard that may be. We can and should acknowledge forward movement when it does happen, just as we should not fear to keep pointing out if there is reversion, or no movement, or simply just orbiting around the same tetherball pole of image and reputation. We are, after all, all in this together, manifesting the Kingdom of Christ to a watching world.



BRAD/FUTURISTGUY’S ANALYSIS OF
THE CLC MEMBERS MEETING OF AUGUST 17, 2011

I took the Covenant Life Church (CLC) Members Meeting recording and transcript document pretty much on their own status, without investigating all the details surrounding the issues in question (though I did consider some relevant commentaries and blog posts). I am considering the big-picture issues involved – the overall cultural context and trends, and what needs to be learned in order to go forward with greater clarity, discernment, and wisdom. I did also look at it as a reporter or legal advocate might, with legitimate skepticism in order to consider what is there, what may be missing, and raise questions about the past, present, and future in the specific situation. 

The recording was of a Members Meeting held on August 17, 2011, at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Three men spoke: 

  • Senior Pastor Joshua Harris
  • Greg Somerville, Family Life Pastor
  • Corby Megorden, Church Administrator


The main issue in this section of the meeting concerned SGM survivor blog reports of child sexual abuse at CLC, and issues raised about reporting of the abuse to the police, how pastoral care was/wasn’t conducted, etc. According to Senior Pastor Josh Harris, in the two incidents of sexual abuse that were reported on a blog, one occurred in the 1980s and one in the 1990s. Both of them happened in homes of parishioners, not on church property. 


I listened to the recording while reviewing the transcript. From the topics addressed and the range of speakers who addressed them, it seems to me that assumed (but perhaps unstated) purposes of the presentation included at least the following:

  • Express grief and contrition for errors in judgment that resulted in questions about the professionalism of two pastors involved in the past cases of sexual abuse. 
  • Emphasize that there are two sides to a story and that misperceptions cause damage.
  • Suggest that the church and its pastors did “due diligence” pastorally, ethically, and legally regarding the cases – and that abuse situations are complex and there is no formula for pastoral care but there is a process in place to guide in wise care.
  • Reinforce the church’s commitment to safety for children in the church’s services, and educate the congregation about the basic policies, procedures, and protections implemented to promote an environment that is highly safe from child abuse.



The overall cultural context to consider is that child sexual abuse, and child abuse/neglect have become increasingly more prominent social and legal concerns over the past 10 years or so. They have gained more prominence with the exposure of the Jerry Sandusky pedophile scandal, the administrative cover-up by Penn State officials, and the inadequate responses of what could be characterized as a relatively passive board of trustees. So, while there are severe inconsistencies across the U.S. for mandatory reporting by church staff of known or suspected child sexual abuse, certainly that will see significant clarification over the next decade. 


As an example of the inconsistencies on requirements to report, consider this: In current Maryland law, clergy are not specifically enumerated as mandated reporters for cases of child abuse or neglect. They would be exempt from reporting for disclosures made in “pastoral communications.” However, they may be included with the “any person” designation, i.e., anyone who knows/suspects a case of abuse must report it. So, in my understanding, if a Maryland pastor failed to report a known case or allegation of child sexual abuse occurring within his/her parish – regardless of whether it occurred on church property or not – he/she might still be legally liable for failure to report. If that same situation happened in Oklahoma, where there is no “pastoral communications” exemption, if a pastor refused to report a suspected case of child abuse/neglect, he/she could be considered having some degree of legal responsibility and consequences. For more details, see Mandatory Reporting Laws for Clergy: Loopholes for Abuse (October 10, 2012) and the links there.


While all that gets sorted out in the legislative realm, here are concerns that I have, based on the recording I heard and transcript I read. These are issues that I believe apply to all churches and ministries.


1. There is a difference between a sin and a crime, in terms of what to do about them. The speakers emphasize that CLC is a “redemptive community” for repentant sinners of all kinds, and suggested that child abuse situations are complex, so they have a “pastoral process” with recommendations on how to serve all parties – alleged perpetrators and victims. They also have significant in-church protections and policies in place that are apparently followed. They refer to child sexual abuse as “sin.” However, none of this deals with clarity on legal issues of crime and reporting. A huge red flag was raised for me when Church Administrator Corby Megorden talked about reporting:

“We want to ensure we follow the legal requirements of the, of the State and we want to make sure we honor the Lord. [pause] Whenever a report comes, it comes as a report of potential abuse, because we need to confirm that. It can be either confessed by an individual. It can be reported by someone else, or it can be discovered and seen by someone else. In any case, here’s what we’ll, what we’ll try to do: We’ll first try to determine the validity of the report. Has there actually been abuse? The next thing we do is we contact our legal counsel to get their assessment.”


As best I can understand from this limited set of evidence only, there is a fundamental flaw here – one that definitely has been played out elsewhere: CLC did not have clear boundaries between servants in the church and citizens in society. It is not their job as pastors to “determine the validity of the report.” This is an alleged CRIME, not merely an alleged sin. Yes, work with all parties involved pastorally. However, if you intercept the legal/criminal process, are you not automatically putting yourself in an unauthorized position over the duly constituted legal authorities? Are you potentially setting yourself up as an accomplice to a crime? It is the responsibility of the civil authorities to sort out the details, not church authorities. 

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.  

Otherwise, you put too much emphasis on pastoral care when a legal intervention is called for, too much emphasis potentially on confidentiality instead of due diligence. Confusion here will prove the set-up for later accusationsand justifiably so – of cover-ups, of minimizing victims and showing preference to perpetrators, of taking the law into your own hands.



2. Given that their “pastoral process” has a confused policy/procedure for reporting, there is also evidence that this process was likely more passive than active when it came to dealing with known perpetrators. Greg Somerville said:


“Two incidents were reported on the blog. The first one involved a member of the church and his step-daughter; described a pattern of abuse that occurred over a three-year period in the mid-80s. It was eventually reported in 1987. When the pastors learned of the incident, they urged this individual to turn himself in to the police, which he promptly did. He served a two-year sentence and was released on parole at that point.”


“They urged this individual to turn himself in to the police, which he promptly did.” First, this confuses legal and pastoral. If someone is known to have committed an unreported crime, do you “urge” them to turn themselves in? Or do you require them to go and you’ll go with them as their pastor – but if they refuse, you report them anyway – and quickly – because they may otherwise revictimize the same victim(s) or find additional victims? Second, someone with more knowledge of the specifics commented that in this particular case, the self-reporting of this man to the police was not quite “prompt.” In fact, it was approximately a month later. Was that just a bad choice of words on Pastor Somerville’s part, or an indication of a bad process underneath?

I appreciate that CLC had restrictions in place for behaviors of sex offenders who participate in the church (i.e., about staying away from children and children’s ministry areas). But I was also very uneasy with what seems a vague and “squishy” process of sex offenders “making known their status as they develop relationships within the church.”



“Um, the gospel covers all sin and the blood of Christ cleanses all sin. However, we, we do want to be wise and caring, so a sexual offender who attends, or is a member must do the following: They meet with a pastor and it’s been Mark Mitchell, and review a three-page set of guidelines as to how they are to behave. Those guidelines include: They are not allowed with children, at all, on church property, unless an adult is present. They’re not allowed in Discovery Land [children’s ministry area]. They have a commitment to make known their status as they develop relationships within the church. And, uh, and let Care Group members and others, who are in their lives and have children, know this is their background, and this is their history. [pause] The men that we have in the church, that have been guilty of these sins, have been faithful to do that and are committed to doing that. You know, we can always do it better, but they’ve been doing it well.”



Between “urging” an offender to turn himself in and letting sexual offenders “have a commitment to make known their status …” – that is not exactly reassuring that the pastoral staff was actively pursuing pastoral care of those with life-dominating problems. It sounds more like passively responding to those with this life-dominating problem. Is it wise to depend on a good-will commitment of criminal offenders to self-report and share their status, especially when their sin patterns typically involve years of practice in manipulation, shading the truth, and outright lying? All of this, again, raises understandable accusations of minimizing the damage done to victims and potentially setting the stage for more victimization. 


3. In the digital era, sincerity will never be enough in responding to conflict and challenges; you must be ready to back up your words with documentation and with deeds. The concern for showing pastoral care was very prominent in the meeting. The term “reach out” was used in some form 8 times. The word “care” was used in some form or phrase 28 times, and all three speakers used it multiple times. 

But was “care” truly shown in “reaching out” to the survivors of victimization that happened in homes of those attending CLC, as reported on the blog? Some of those critiquing the situations of “care” and the “outreach” have suggested that the supposed acknowledgements of mishandling sexual abuse cases, and apologies, actually had less to do with support for the victims than with protection of the church’s systems and pastors. This raises legitimate questions that relate to whether these ministries are “toxic” or not, whether they are “safe” or unhealthy.


  • What “care” was actually shown in these situations of abuse, and how was that term defined? 
  • How did CLC staff actively “reach out” to survivors? 
  • Is there an actual apology or only a pseudo-apology provided by church staff at CLC? How do actions and follow-through over time demonstrate the difference between actual or pseudo?
  • Has the related system of Sovereign Grace Ministries shown a long-term pattern of mishandling sexual abuse cases, and how did that pattern impact what happened through CLC? 
  • Do leaders in CLC/SGM override the legal responsibilities of civil authorities in the name of their own “pastoral care”?
  • In light of this situation, what has been done to upgrade the training and policies at CLC?


The mere presence of policies, procedures, and processes is not enough to discern the answer to such questions. Also, my points here are not merely that all church leaders should become more sensitized to the damage done to those who survive abuse – important as such empathy is. They are that:

(1) Pastors don’t always get to define what constitutes “care/concern” and “reaching out” – that is, in part, defined by how the intended audience receives it.

(2) If church leaders come at issues of conflict and communications from a position of power and defense, they’ve already lost trust. And without a bond of trust, based in love that does not seek its own way, then all they say is just clanging cymbals. 

(3) We must consider as uneraseable any reports or responses posted online to challenges about a church or ministry. Rarely can anything be “scrubbed” clean and fully removed once it has been posted. So, any digital documents posted need to be thought of as public and permanent. Given that it is all “on the record,” we need to take more care to respond with as much precision and empathy as possible. And we should be ready to document whatever it is we are saying online. 

(4) The only way to refute an allegation of a malignant pattern of mishandling situations or avoiding responsibility is with documentation. Sincerity, niceness, expressing sadness for victims will not do – while it may be appropriate, it does not demonstrate/prove “due diligence.” So, if critiques are suggesting pastoral malfeasance/negligence, we’d better have evidence to show otherwise – and not in efforts to defend our honor, but to document accurately the truth.

For more source documents and critiques about the SGM lawsuit, see these blog posts and the links there:


In conclusion, there are many dimensions to child sexual abuse in this era – legal and ethical, doctrinal and digital, procedural and pastoral. But they are not so complex or cloudy as to avoid our clear-enough responsibilities to report, to set protective boundaries for offenders, to provide empathic ministry for survivors and their relational networks. There are lessons from unfortunate past mishandling of sexual abuse situations at CLC. Hopefully they help us all pave wiser ways for the future, and ensure that pastors and parishioners alike are aware of requirements for participating in ministry.






Julie Anne’s Musings

Countdown:  4 more days until court hearing, drawn by 9-yr old Resident Artist

 

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.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I’ve got a Twitter account now:  

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.

And he offers more insight in today’s e-mail to me:

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

 

List of Cultic Tendencies

Charles Lester wrote a list of cultic tendencies (originally posted Oct. 1991 in Spiritual Counterfeits Project newsletter) which can be viewed in full online at the Battered Sheep website.  The entire list can be found here.  Below are the items that hit a nerve with me. 
  • 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.