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.
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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?

After The Gospel Coalition Staunchly Defended CJ Mahaney in Sovereign Grace Ministries Sex Abuse Scandal, They Now Promote the Movie Spotlight (Sex Abuse Coverup)

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Whose Rights are Protected in The Gospel Coalition’s Article on Churches and Current Legal Culture?

 Church Membership is being pushed in The Gospel Coalition’s recent article. Whose rights are protected?


Christina Holcomb, litigation counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition (TGC), 5 Actions Churches Should Take in a Changing Legal Culture, which was published today.

I can’t help but perk up and take notice when I read about churches and legal counsel after having been sued by my former pastor, Chuck O’Neal, and the church, Beaverton Grace Bible Church. Please note that both my former pastor and the church were plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Here are a couple of screenshots from this lovely document that altered the course of my life:

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Back page:

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Ms. Holcomb summarizes the new threats she sees in our current culture as it relates to religious rights and freedoms:

These new political, cultural, and legal realities directly affect the church’s freedom to live out its faith. While most church decisions about internal governance or doctrine currently enjoy constitutional protection, churches cannot assume that these protections will stand indefinitely. Maintaining a gospel-centered witness in today’s culture requires not only standing firm on the truths of Scripture, but also taking affirmative steps to protect the church’s freedom to continue peacefully teach and live out its faith.

She gave a brief paragraph for the following points:

1. Adopt a written statement of faith about marriage.

2. Establish religious employment criteria.

3. Create a facility use policy.

4. Establish a written marriage policy.

It is the last point, “Adopt a written membership policy,” where I would like to focus.  Here is what she wrote:

5. Adopt a written membership policy.

Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them. As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline. Churches are encouraged to adopt a written membership policy that explains the procedure for becoming a church member, procedures for member discipline, and procedures for rescinding church membership.

Of course, this recommendation does not mean that a church should adopt a form of church government to which it does not subscribe. Churches can still have designated members who affirm they are committed to and part of a church body, even if there is no voting or say in church practices.

Okie-dokie, I have a couple of thoughts:

Notice in the first sentence:  Only those persons who “unite” with the church have consented to the church’s authority over them

When you become a member, you are agreeing/consenting to the church’s authority over you.

Ok, now take a look at the second sentence:  As a result, churches with formal members have greater legal protection when it becomes necessary to exercise church discipline.

Look again closely. Who has the protection?  The member or the church?

Also please note that she’s encouraging all churches to adopt a written membership policy. 


Christiana Holcomb lays it out for us pretty clearly. She says the church must protect themselves first.

But when abusive church leadership has the law on their side and they don’t agree with you, a covenant-signed church member, you could be hosed.


I was sued without being a church member (despite the fabrications you read elsewhere by Chuck O’Neal). We never signed any documentation, never went before the church body to say we were formally agreeing to be members. I have a copy of the bylaws and know what membership entails and we were not official members, but my daughter and I were still sued.

Imagine, however, being in an abusive church in which your church membership is hung over your head and you are reminded that you signed the dotted line. You may have forfeited some of your legal rights. Please think very carefully about church membership. It is not a biblical mandate. It is a modern cultural trend.

Edited to add:  It looks like Dee at The Wartburg Watch blog also had a strong reaction to this article and wrote a blog post. There are some real practical helps here: http://thewartburgwatch.com/2015/04/09/further-proof-you-are-signing-a-legal-contract-not-a-membership-covenant-courtesy-of-the-gospel-coalition/

Mark Dever’s New Book and Pastors Who Use Language to Control Their Members to Not Connect with Others Outside of Church-Approved Groups

Mark Dever, 9Marks, and other pastors using language to control and coerce members to not engage in outside activities without church endorsement

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Some Christian Leaders are Hijacking the Ebola Crisis to Promote their Theology or Agenda

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Christian Leaders Respond to the Ebola Crisis promoting their agendas or theologies. Others respond in humility with real help to those in need.

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Who is @Rhology? What are #pulpiteers? How Do They Function?

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Alan Maricle aka @Rhology defends and imitates J.D. Hall’s (aka @pulpitandpen) bad behavior on Twitter.

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