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


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.

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A Father Shares the Fallout His Family is Facing after Being in a High-Controlling Church

Spiritual abuse, children, mental health, high-controlling church, NAR, New Apostolic Reformation


Special note:  I am in Chicago until 11/5 and would love to get together with survivors or those interested in helping survivors. If you would like to meet up, please contact me and let’s see if we can arrange a gathering.   ~Julie Anne



Today, we are going to read a brief personal story from Andrew. Andrew shares with us the harm his family faced and is still facing after being in a high-controlling, abusive church for 15 years.

There are a number of thoughts that struck me when reading his words.

  • First, Andrew seems to have a good understanding of what he and his family endured, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes this process can take years.
  • Secondly, he is not minimizing or trying to move past the current emotional and mental state of his family. It appears that he is appropriately addressing each conflict or bump in the road right now. Many times when people are in a spiritually abusive church, they want to move on so quickly (understandably), that they forget to take care of themselves and get their wounds healed.
  • Thirdly, Andrew is aware that this healing process is a journey. He’s taking a realistic look at where he’s been, what is happening now, and the work ahead, and knows there is no quick fix.

I believe there is a recovery process to get to wholeness after spiritual abuse. Process is the key word. It doesn’t work well to close the door to spiritual abuse and act like it never existed. It did exist and it did have an impact on lives. If we are quick to put it behind us without doing the necessary recovery work, we are likely to fall into similar traps.  When we go through recovery, we gain knowledge, understanding, have a new fresh perspective on who God is and how He relates with us, and we learn to forgive ourselves.  ~ja Continue reading

How our Pastor’s Biblical Interpretation Can Affect Our Understanding of Scripture and God


This is a very insightful statement from C.J. Mahaney.


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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


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

The Fallout of Spiritual Abuse on Our Children

Children Harmed by Spiritual Abuse

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Spiritual Abuse: What Was the Last Straw That Caused You to Leave Your Abusive Church?

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Important Blog Articles Related to Doug Wilson, Christ Church, and Convicted Pedophiles: Steven Sitler and Jamin Wight


Doug Wilson, Christ Church, Moscow, Pedophile, Steven Sitler, Jamin Wight, Sex Abuse


Note:  This article is a community work in progress.  I’d greatly appreciate your help.

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After Mark Driscoll’s Resignation, Can Mars Hill Be Saved?


Pastor Mark Driscoll recently resigned from the church he founded, Mars Hill.  Can Mars Hill be saved?

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Learn to Discern: Can Women Read Scripture Aloud to Men?


Open Air Preacher Street Evangelist Tony Miano Gives Rules and Guidelines for Women Open Air Preaching and Reading Scripture to Men

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Evangelical Church is Weak and Womanly

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Pulpit Highlights – Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

In an earlier discussion on street evangelists (Is it Love or Not? Street Evangelists Defend Their Method), reader David  posted the above video in the comments section.  It’s just over two minutes long.  Phil is a great speaker and entertaining to this large group of men.  Here is David’s comment as it pertained to the street evangelist article:

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Survival Strategies for Hyper-Authoritarian and Repetitive Sermons

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I’m a little bit surprised if you are still reading my blog.   The last three posts were rigged to make a point and I took you on a ride without your permission so you could understand first-hand what it felt like.  I tricked you and purposefully kept the majority of the post the same, but altered bits and pieces to make you think I was giving you a brand new post.  The last post, I again interspersed the same message, but this time with growing feelings of exasperation and anger.   I’m still trying to wrap my head around the thought that a pastor knowingly did this week after week after week after week . . . okay, I’ll stop 🙂

I know how I felt with those repetitious sermons.  I felt like they were wasting my time, that he wanted to pound his message into my head, that it was a form of indoctrination.  They were loud, felt strong, and sounded like hyper-authoritative lectures.    I hope you were able to sense my rising emotions as I continued each post.

For the record, I normally only use the word “suck” as in,  “my little boy likes to suck his thumb”, not the way in which I used it on the previous title, “All Smoothies are Good, Sermons Suck.”  In fact, every time I see the title, I cringe because that is not how I speak normally.   But it was used because it expresses how one may respond when dealing with something like this.  Anger rose up from within me screaming:  STOP THIS INSANITY!  It’s interesting as I type these blog posts, I often emotionally connect to those times from years ago and the feelings come flooding back.

 I know many congregants were annoyed with the repetitious sermons, while others sat and endured it quietly.  We all react differently.  Some people zoned out and their minds drifted.  Others used the time to get some business done.  Here are some ways people zoned or preoccupied their mind so they didn’t have to listen to the repetitious sermons.  It was easy for me to see what was going on when walking out of the sanctuary to check on my little one in the nursery or to use the restroom.

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Some people worked on their checkbooks.
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Quite a few kids drew pictures.  I remember seeing some fantastic sailing ships with men and their weapons  (hmm, the thought that the drawings related to war so often never dawned on me before typing this).
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Grocery lists:  this was a popular way to bide the time
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Another popular response as I briefly alluded to above was to leave the sanctuary and go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, check the nursery to see how the kids were doing, go outside the check the weather, etc.

It occurred to me that I may have just “outed” these “mental escape” methods to the pastor because I know he and his “spies” read this blog.  Perhaps there will be a meeting soon to recruit spies to report this activity to the pastor – or install hidden cameras, or who knows what else.  When you are dealing with someone who secretly records conversations without permission, goes to houses unannounced demanding information, keeps detailed files of “sins”, even sins repented of and long forgiven, this would not be out of the realm of possibilities, sadly.

I ran across another N. Korea story on CNN this weekend in the midst of this series – how timely.  CNN covered a story of someone who defected from N. Korea and left his wife and 2 daughters behind.  This part especially struck me:

Oh, a native of South Korea, moved his family to Pyongyang in 1985 despite his wife’s reservations on the promise of a good job and free medical treatment for his wife’s hepatitis, but when they arrived he realized he had been tricked.


He says there was not a job nor medical help for his wife, just three months of what he calls, “lectures from day to night on North Korea ideology, history and brainwashing.” He was then forced to work in a radio station broadcasting propaganda.

There’s that brainwashing thing again.  That’s what it felt like for me.

My 25-yr old daughter, Hannah, who is also being sued for defamation along with Meaghan and me, discusses this in her Google review.  I’d have to look up which words/phrases are actually part of the defamation lawsuit, but here is her reaction to the repetitious sermons that she posted on the original Google review and might very well be in the lawsuit:

The entire time I was there, we never got off of Romans 12 (over a year).  I now think Chuck thought we were too stupid to grasp his “deep” concepts and so felt he had to hammer it in repeatedly week after week, and/or he likes to hear himself talk.  

And here is also Hannah’s response to my recent blog posts:

HannahJune 11, 2012 8:02 PM

So the last three posts pretty typical of his sermons from what I remember from personal experience, except that you would need to have at least 50 minutes of verbal oration and add only maybe 10 minutes of new material, which is in essence only delving into literally the three next words in the same sentence of the half a verse we’ve been “exploring” for the last 8 weeks.

Hannah remembers it as I do.  She was at the church for a little over a year and moved out of our home and 45 minutes away because she couldn’t handle this church and didn’t want to get sucked into it again.  We stayed a little over 2 years and by the time we left, we had only progressed to Romans 13:6-7.   So for the 2 years and 2 months we were there, we covered Romans 12 through Romans 13:7.

As I took good notes and checked the sermons noting key phrases were reused but in different order for the first 45-50 minutes of the sermon and then we’d hear fresh material for the remaining 10-15 minutes.  Hannah’s assessment above is correct.  My time would have been better served by reading the Bible on my own in the parking lot and then coming into the sanctuary 10 minutes before the end of the service to hear the new mini-sermon.

I brought these issues up to the pastor during our final meetings because the sheep were obviously disgruntled and crying out for food.  They did the best they could do to communicate this, but it fell on deaf ears.  Why did the crying sheep not matter?  Why did this relentless, authoritarian, repetitious loud preaching continue despite the cries of the people?   What kind of pastor ignores pleas from his congregants and plows ahead with his own agenda?  What purpose did this serve?  Who was this benefiting?

I look back on the wasted time, think of what it did to me spiritually.  I kind of wish I would have had the guts to do this during Sunday sermons:

Julie Anne’s knitting
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I always have a pile of UFO (unfinished objects) knitting projects that need to be worked on.  I imagine they all would have been done if I used my time more productively.  What a shame, because not much positive came out of that time.

I leave you with this comment from David Johnson that came through just as I posted this.  It ties in beautifully because repetitious sermons as we endured can cause one to be spiritually weak and their growth to be stunted.

David JohnsonJune 12, 2012 9:48 AM

What is to give light must endure burning. – Viktor Frankl

As I’ve been mulling over Mark 9:42, and how these words of Jesus may actually relate to Pastor Chuck, I’m reminded of what was said elsewhere concerning Mr O’Neal, How Chuck had better hope the Judge don’t get all Biblical on his butt, ’cause the Judgement, just might include a Millstone and a Boat Trip!

“And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, to fall into sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”

These ‘little ones’ refers to both children and those who are weak in the faith. On reading some of the comments on this situation at (where I, personally, found out about this madness a month ago) I read the words of many who appear either weak in the faith or possessing no faith at all being adversely affected by Chucks actions in ways that either cause them to stumble, or, more often, embolden them even deeper in their rebellion against the God who Chuck professes to be an Ambassador of.

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The Bully Pulpit

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“Pulpit”, from the eyes of my 9-yr old son

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According to, a bully pulpit is:  “An older term within the U.S. Government, a bully pulpit is a public office or other position of authority of sufficiently high rank that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter. The bully pulpit can bring issues to the forefront that were not initially in debate, due to the office’s stature and publicity.”

The correct definition of bully pulpit does not refer to a pastor abusing authority from the pulpit; however, using the literal meanings of “bully” and “pulpit” seemed appropriate to me when we were there.   Interestingly, I have been in contact with others who also used the bully pulpit expression in the same sense.

The Bully Pulpit

You commit a sin.  You either get caught, or realize the error of your sin. You initiate a meeting with your pastor to discuss said sin, or perhaps if you are caught, you are called into a meeting with the pastor to discuss the situation.

Let’s say everything is worked out in the meeting:  confession, contrition, repentance, and forgiveness between all parties, and with God.

You think everything is fine.  You’re forgiven. The slate is clean and it’s time to move on.  God’s grace is sufficient. Or perhaps it is not? This thought is so important: is God’s grace sufficient or is it not? Tuck that thought away. It is an important theme in this article.

Your heart is now clean and you look forward to attending the Wednesday night teaching. You get to start fresh and want to walk in the light. This is good.  Yea!

With your Bible in your lap, your hand ready to take notes, you ready yourself to hear the teaching. The pastor starts preaching. After the first few sentences a dark cloud descends on you. The teaching is regarding the same sin issue that brought you to the pastor’s office. Your heart starts racing.

He’s talking about you, and you know it. He doesn’t name your name, but you recognize certain details. You feel hurt, ashamed, and betrayed. This was supposed to be a fresh start. You have difficulty looking up at the pastor as he is teaching. You do not want your eyes to connect and give the perception to others that this was your sin issue.

You wonder if anyone else knows of your sin. You keep your head forward because you don’t want to see the eyes of others looking at you. You feel guilty all over again. You want to leave and weigh the options of leaving versus staying. You decide to stay, but quickly leave when people are dismissed so as not to mingle with anyone who might know your story. You especially don’t want to run into the pastor. This Wednesday service is not what you had hoped it to be. What purpose did that earlier meeting have?

A week goes by. You convince yourself to go back – that the pastor is going to move on to a different topic. You need to move on. The following Wednesday, you find that the message this week is Part 2, a continuation of last week’s teaching.  The wound has been scraped once again.  It bleeds. The same emotions from last week are overwhelming.

What should be healing, has not healed. It is like a scab that has been scraped off or picked.   It may get infected. Where there should have been a layer of new skin is now an open wound. God’s grace doesn’t feel sufficient. Does He really offer any grace at all?  It doesn’t feel like it.

What thoughts and emotions are going through my mind now?  How does it feel knowing the possibility that my sin has been exposed to others?  Will they still accept me, love me?  Will this open up old wounds in relationships?

On the flip side, if you are a congregant and hear a sermon like this, it makes you wonder who the pastor is talking about. You know how this works. You may have experienced it, too. You might look around and try to guess who was caught in this sin. What does this do to the unity of the congregation?  How does this make you feel toward the “sinner?” Does it draw you closer, or further away?  How does this make you feel about meeting with the pastor, knowing your sins very likely will be addressed publicly from the pulpit?  In a church this size, no names need to be mentioned and the sinner will usually be exposed in the form of holy gossip: we need to pray for sinner “Joe” as he’s really struggling.

This environment is hurtful for both the sinner and the congregants who see this played out before them. There is confusion. Sometimes this creates an environment where congregants begin to be on the lookout for the sins of others.

These informants feed the pastor news about members in sin.  These informants unknowingly create an unhealthy alliance with the pastor. They perpetuate this destructive cycle of “sin sniffing:”  sinner is confronted, meetings with the pastor occur, The Bully Pulpit lesson is taught regarding the sin. Informants are given pseudo grace by the pastor and their own sins may be overlooked because they have won his favor by sharing sin secrets with him.

The emphasis of the church seems to be heavily on sin and repentance, but not grace.


This is a travesty to the meaning of grace, the meaning of church, the meaning of a shepherd.

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