Spiritual Abuse, Pastor Ken Garrett, Spiritual Abuse in the church: A Guide to Recognition and Recovery
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.
Free Thinker, Atheist, Christian Blogger, Thought Reform, Patriarchy, Spiritual Abuse, Cults
Last Sunday, I had the privilege of speaking at a Free Thinkers group. Privilege, some might ask? You bet. I will take any opportunity afforded to share the truth, set the record straight, and especially let people know that I, as a Christian, am displeased by the state of the Body of Christ when it comes to abuse and our response to abuse.
I feel I have a connection with many atheists. You see, when my defamation lawsuit went viral, I received over 500 emails of support. Many of those emails were sent by people who were harmed in the church, and then became atheist. This was originally a surprise to me, and it saddened me. So many of these folks get spiritual abuse. They see the dysfunction and hypocrisy of celebrity pastors and leaders. Many of them are upset by what they see, and rightly so. If only those within the Body of Christ would get worked up about it!
It all started when I was in my Environmental Science class at school. Continue reading
Phil Johnson, Grace Community Church, Sex Abuse, Domestic Violence, Twitter
Blog reader, Christina, left an important comment on yesterday’s post regarding an insensitive and callous tweet Pastor Phil Johnson sent out regarding domestic violence. His tweet created quite an uproar on Twitter. Because Christina’s comment is addressed to Phil Johnson, I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle. It is excellent. Thank you, Christina for sharing. ~Julie Anne
Response to Phil Johnson
Dear Phil. I guess you are a teacher, not a pastor, maybe that accounts for your lack of compassion. Perhaps we expect too much of you since you work and speak for John MacArthur, and so many people hold you in high esteem I used to be one of those, even though I am not a Calvinist, I always respected your teaching. Lately however, I can’t bring myself to listen to you. Continue reading
Domestic Violence, Phil Johnson, Grace Community Church, John MacArthur
Christianity, Presidential Election, Evangelical Leaders Influence
How has this election affected you as a Christian? This has been the most difficult election I’ve ever seen in my life. As a Christian, I found it difficult to support either Republican or Democratic candidate for a variety of reasons. There were certain issues that greatly concerned me about both candidates, yet I felt compelled to do my civic duty and vote for the person whom I believed could best do the job of President — but even then, I still was not 100% settled with my vote.
My best friend and I were at odds. We got in many heated debates by phone, text, messaging, but neither one convinced the other to vote for the other side. Thankfully, this friend and I go back many years and we disagree on a lot of topics, but our love and respect for each other allows us to remain close friends.
But on Facebook, I have seen people lose friendships because of this kind of heated debating. It’s very sad. Continue reading
I’ve been out of commission a bit this week, having out-of-town visitors, and a quick trip to Portland for a wedding.
I had to drive down Walker Road a few minutes ago to pick up my son, and drove by my old church, Beaverton Grace Bible Church. As I drove by the church, I noticed something that seemed odd. I couldn’t find the sign that shows the name of the church. I also did not see any sign listing the time for church services. Continue reading
JD Hall and his Bully Behavior on Twitter
Natalie Rose Greenfield, Pastor Doug Wilson, Christ Church, Pedophile Jamin Wight Sex Abuse Case*
Tullian Tchividjian has a new pastor, Kevin Labby at Willow Creek Church, and a new job there as Director of Ministry Development only weeks after stripped of minister credentials
Tullian Tchividjian has a new job at Willow Creek Church. While some are applauding this new development, many are not. Here is his new job listing at Willow Creek website:
Director of Ministry Development
We’re so delighted to welcome Tullian Tchividjian to the staff of Willow Creek Church. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is a best-selling author, having written seven books on the gospel of Jesus Christ and its liberating implications. Most recently, Tullian served as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and founded Liberate, a ministry devoted to connecting God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. He’s also a huge fan of both the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Heat. (Source)
My observation is that people are having great difficulties with Tullian Tchividjian for a few reasons:
- he has not stepped away from a public platform for a season of reflection and repentance since he was confronted about his adultery
- he snubbed his former elders’ accountability and restoration process by seeking refuge with a friend and his church
- he is now in a ministry position too soon after being confronted about his adulterous affair while serving as senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church
Kevin Labby is the senior pastor at Willow Creek, a Presbyterian church, in Winter Springs, Florida. Here is part of his bio where you can see Pastor Labby’s favorite people (I bolded key names):
Some influential voices in Kevin’s life include Martin Luther, John Calvin, Tim Keller, Steve Brown, Tullian Tchividjian, Nancy Pearcey, Steve Childers, R.C. Sproul, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Jerry Bridges, Francis Schaeffer, Robert Farrar Capon, Brennan Manning, Abraham Kuyper, Paul Tripp, and others. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys spending time with his family, reading, plunking around on his guitar, finding a reason to have lunch at Four Rivers Smokehouse, or cheering for the Buffalo Bills and the Orlando City Lions. (Source)
For the first time, Tchividjian publicly announces Kevin Labby as his pastor:
Friends who Give Close Friends Grace
Doesn’t it make sense why Tullian Tchividjian would find shelter at Willow Creek with a pastor who has been his friend? I know of another celebrity pastor who took shelter at his friend’s church when he was going through his own personal sin. It must be okay for celebrity pastors to do this, but common folk aren’t afforded that kind of “grace.” They stay at their church during the restoration process.
Let’s look at more important connections: Paul Tripp, who is Tchividjian’s close friend and personal counselor during his marital crisis, is scheduled to speak at Willow Creek in February 2016 (Source). It’s like one big happy family at Willow Creek.
It’s clear that Tullian Tchividjian is also well-loved by the folks at Key Life ministry. In fact, the founder, Steve Brown had a lot to say about Tullian and their relationship in an article describing his thoughts since the scandal went public:
You see, I love Tullian…I love him a lot. I’ve known him since he was six years old and have prayed for him daily for most of his life. He is a former seminary student of mine, and I have known and loved his family (both on the Tchividjian and Graham side) for much of my adult life. Tullian’s late father, who I miss very much, was a close friend.
At the Steve Brown’s ministry website, KeyLife.org, all three men, Tchividjian, Paul Tripp, and his new pastor, Kevin Labby, have articles published or participate in interviews. These three men minister in the same circles. Key Life organization and Steve Brown also participate with Tchivijian’s Liberate conferences, the most recent called Key Life Pastors Pre-Conference at Liberate 2015.
One interesting note, Tullian Tchividjian is listed under the Guest Author category at the Key Life website. I stopped counting at 15 articles/interviews for Tullian Tchividjian. But Paul Tripp is listed as a Key Author, and he has only one article listed. I searched the Wayback Machine and found a screenshot from March of 2015 which lists Tchividjian under the heading of “Authors,” so obviously they have since revised their website to differentiate between “Key Authors” and “Guest Authors.” But what’s interesting is Tchividjian’s name is now under the less prominent “Guest Author” heading even though he is one of the most prolific contributors at the site. Also, since the March 2015, they have added Paul Tripp to the new Key Author lineup (he was not listed at all previously).
Why are these connections a noteworthy? Because these folks are good friends with Tchividjian. There’s nothing wrong with having good friends, but there is something wrong when the same friends are also in
business ministry with Tchividjian. And it is a problem when they can use their celebrity platforms to speak out publicly and defend Tchividjian and his image (Steve Brown: here, Paul Tripp: here), but do not give an ear and a public platform to Tullian’s wife, Kim Tchividjian. Emergent leader/pastor Tony Jones also did this with his ex-wife. He was able to get his prominent Emergent leader friends to publicly vouch for him, while his ex-wife, Julie, was publicly scorned.
Pastoral Vows and Presbytery Church Order
Yesterday, after news was broken about Tchividjian’s new job at Willow Creek, T.L. Arsenal wrote An Open Letter to the South Florida Presbytery:
It appears as though Tullian has not only joined another PCA church in the area, but is now listed as a staff member at Willow Creek Church.
I cannot fathom a circumstance where the Presbytery that was “committed to continuing to offer him pastoral care” has advised or sanctioned him being on staff in a church two weeks to the day of having deposed him.
In an article by Carl Trueman, Trueman reminds us of vows Presbyterian pastors take:
Tchividjian is, or at least was, a Presbyterian pastor. That binds him by solemn vow not simply to teach certain doctrines and to live in a certain way but also to act relative to his sin according to certain principles and processes. When he finds himself delinquent in doctrine or life, he should report himself to his Presbytery and place himself under its discipline and pastoral care.
There are safety checks for pastors within PCA. These processes are designed to help come along side those who have fallen in sin and need to come to restoration:
The elders at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, where Tullian Tchividjian previously served as senior pastor, released a public statement in which they clearly said they are going to be coming alongside Mr. Tchividjian:
Several days ago, Pastor Tullian admitted to moral failure, acknowledging his actions disqualify him from continuing to serve as senior pastor or preach from the pulpit, and resigned – effective immediately.
We are saddened by this news, but are working with and assisting Pastor Tullian and his family to help them through this difficult time, and asking people to join us in praying that God will bring restoration through this process and healing to all involved.
Tullian Tchividjian, when he made a vow to become a pastor, knew the guidelines, yet it appears he has abandoned those whom he had previously submitted, and has left Coral Ridge entirely and moved to Willow Creek, his friend, Kevin Labby’s church.
Do you suppose Kevin Labby has contacted the elders at Coral Ridge to discuss this important church discipline issue?
Do you suppose Kevin Labby has contacted Tullian’s wife, Kim to talk with her to hear her side?
Spiritual Response vs Business Response
When we look at this case in a spiritual sense of a church and its elders at Coral Ridge making efforts to bring restoration to a fallen leader, we see that Mr. Tchividjian has completely prevented that from happening. He has interfered and usurped the Biblical process of accountability by elders, a process by which he took a vow when he became a pastor, and sought shelter from a friend.
However, when we look at this case in a business sense, it makes perfect sense. Do you see how many followers Tullian Tchividjian has on Twitter?
Many people will freely give grace and disregard a Biblical restoration process in order to see and hear from their favorite celebrity pastor. (Since Tchividjian is no longer a pastor, he might want to change his Twitter handle: @pastortullian.) But regardless, whether Mr. Tchividjian was stripped of his credentials or not, people have already forgiven him and still see him as pastor without making sure he has fully repented and properly restored.
Willow Creek, by the way, made a video announcing Tchividjian’s new job and Warren Throckmorton has posted an update on his article that they have since removed it:
Willow Creek shows poor discretion in how they have handled this. If they wanted to give Tullian Tchividjian a job in a non-ministerial position, fine. They could have done it without any fanfare. But by promoting Tullian publicly, now his fan base knows where to find him: at Willow Creek church. There are benefits to hiring Mr. Tchividjian with his fan base, but I’m not sure those benefits are spiritual – – at least right now, so soon after his fall.
Here’s a bit of related satire I found on Twitter. Click on the image to enlarge:
Narcissistic attention whore finds a pimp to prop him back up and they turn the house of God into a spiritual brothel. Jesus wept. ~Michael Newnham (after hearing about TT’s new job at Willow Creek)
Update: Sept 2, 2015 – Warren Throckmorton updated his link to say that the video at Willow Creek was removed because it was someone’s family account.
Related articles (must read!): Anatomy of an Evangelical Scandal, by Janet Mefferd
Update 3/24/16: For some reason, I found this blog post in draft mode when it had previously released. Because of the ongoing case with Tullian Tchividjian, I thought it was important to release it again in case people are searching for more info on this story. Sorry for any confusion. ~ja
Pastor Chuck O’Neal claims Portland-area police officer is threatening his First Amendment Rights. This is the same pastor who sued 4 former church members $500,000 for speaking out publicly against him.
Pastor David McGee of The Bridge Church publicly excommunicated or disfellowshipped four members via his Facebook page.
On Thursday, Pastor David McGee of The Bridge Fellowship in Kernersville, North Carolina, posted a comment on his Facebook account publicly naming and “disfollowshipping” four church members. I repeat – this was done PUBLICLY on Facebook, not in the context of a church meeting among church members.
David continued with his comment by quoting about 30 – thirty, not 3, verses justifying his actions. Some of the verses were quoted in different translations and guess which verse was included? Of course Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”), but take a look at the last verse quoted. Why do you supposed he ended with this verse?
Remember your leaders who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and trust the Lord as they do. NLT
You can read more about this story, including video here: Couple says they were banned from Kernersville church by pastor on social media
I like to dig a little bit when I read words. Do you see the contradiction in the following two comments by Pastor McGee? Take special note of the tithing references. The 2nd comment was posted 16 hours after the first comment.
There were other comments claiming this was not really about tithing, but if it wasn’t about tithing, then why is it mentioned at all?
Here you can see some pushback and then a member defends her pastor. I noticed the word “covenant” in this comment, but did not see a membership covenant at the church website.
When people publicly speak out against a pastor, they are frequently labeled as the enemy.The pastor is on the right side and anyone who questions him, is labeled as divisive, disobedient to God and His Word:
I found another contradiction. Here McGee says he won’t defend himself publicly:
But wait . . .now he is going to the media to share:
This little note is revealing. And 31 people liked it! Yea, it’s really important that your pastor has lots and lots of friends . . because that makes him right and reputable and all Christiany.
Of course we do not know all of the details of this case and can only make conclusions based on what we see publicly. But what I see publicly is troubling.
I have heard of stories where church members have been abusive to pastors. We often talk only about abusive leaders, but that is not always the case. Even if members are abusive, we need to ask how does a shepherd appropriately handle members who are divisive? If Pastor McGee is correct in saying that these folks have been divisive, how should a pastor respond? Do you see godly fruit in the behavior?
Mental Health, prayer, Bible, professional counseling, harmful advice
A friend found this quote and was very disturbed by it. When I saw it, I was equally disturbed…no, make that horrified, because it brought me back to a very difficult time in my life when it was said to me by well-meaning Christians:
The reason I was horrified is that I was told this when I was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Let me tell you my personal story.
In 1990, I had a 4-month old infant and a 3-1/2-yr old daughter. I was away from my husband and living with my parents because he was in the military and was sent to Persian Gulf working in Operation Desert Shield (right before Operation Desert Storm). You see, within a 6-wk period of time, the following events occurred:
- We were stationed in the Philippines and there was a major earthquake nearby (reports vary on the magnitude, 7.7 to 7.9).
- My daughter, Hannah, fell off a 25-ft cliff, landing on concrete at the beach at Wallace Air Station, a remote base we were visiting, attempting to recuperate after the trauma of experiencing a major earthquake (we experienced a 6.0 aftershock while we were there). Daughter was miraculously fine.
Here are a couple of pictures I took on our way to Wallace Air Station to stay at the Voice of America R&R facility. We passed through Dagupan, close to the epicenter which saw extensive destruction. Some buildings sank into the ground by one meter.
Aside from the earthquake event, there were also these stressors:
- On base, local Filipinos tried to break into my home when I was alone with our children. I saw their eyes peering into my bedroom as I was nursing my baby in the middle of the night (thankfully, they were apprehended).
- There were bomb threats on base. We were often forced to take detours. Sometimes I just wanted to get a gallon of milk or cash a check and these detours were annoying. And yes, sometimes they found bombs.
- We lived in a constant level of threat conditions due to New People’s Army Communist Rebels (we did get hazard duty pay, however). Based on the threat condition, either we were confined to base, had curfews, and/or had strict traveling restrictions.
Yea, it was a little stressful.
The ground continued to move for months after the earthquake. Aftershocks were sometimes 6.0 or above…..yes, aftershocks. When your world is shaking around you, you have a sense of being out of control. That describes my response and the response of many who were living under these conditions at that time. So, I left the Philippines with my two children for a temporary break, to get on solid ground that wasn’t moving.
What is wrong with me?
I went “home” to my parents’ and told my close Christian friends about my emotional state. People told me to pray . . . to read my Bible more . . that perfect love casts out fear. There was a lot of spiritual advice given by those who meant to help, but actually made things worse. When I prayed and read my Bible more, nothing changed. I continued to feel the ground moving and have flashbacks even though I was now on sturdy ground with my parents in Oregon.
I sought help from Biblical counselors who talked to me about my sin. I searched my heart for any unconfessed sin and repented. The earthquakes continued. What was WRONG with me?
I did everything they told me, but the symptoms would not go away. Why was God not hearing my prayers? Did He not care for me? If He loved me, why wasn’t He protecting me from the nonstop tormenting that was in my mind?
I stayed very busy. I jammed praise music loudly all day. I focused on my children and prayer and recited verses to myself to keep my focus heavenward.
As I drove to every church meeting I could attend, I had to cross bridges. Many of the approaches to the bridges were wiped out during the earthquake in the Philippines, so now it was now very difficult to cross any bridge. I kept seeing the Philippine bridges in my mind. I pushed the accelerator to get across the bridge faster as my heart raced.
I also had to go through a tunnel to get to my familiar church. It was very difficult to go through the tunnel without panicking and thinking that the mountain might cave on me – just like I had seen the mountain and buildings destroyed in my favorite R&R in the Philippines, Baguio/Camp John Hay. (Click on this link to see the destruction. After the earthquake, I was glued to the local Philippine TV as they covered stories, deaths, rescues. Why was I alive when so many died? Survivors guilt!)
If I went to any store or building (now in the States), I scouted out all of the emergency exits first thing. I was going to be the one prepared and would get out alive by having this information.
Where was God in all of this?
My life was in survival mode and I expended much energy surviving imaginary earthquakes. As hard as I tried, I was unable to stop the direction of my thinking patterns. I truly believe that the only thing that kept me alive was recounting Hannah’s story of falling off the 25-ft cliff. I was there when she fell and knew that she was either going to be completely paralyzed or with major injuries, or she would be dead. There was no other option in my mind, knowing that she had landed on concrete and it was a straight drop. When all other advice failed, Hannah’s story was the hope I clung to – – that if God could save her, He could save me.
One night at dinner with my parents, I felt an earthquake and asked my Mom if she felt it. She didn’t. I told her to look at the chandelier moving. She said it wasn’t moving. That’s when she said that I needed to get help – professional help.
You see, I was going on a downward spiral. I was very sleep deprived having a child who was missing her daddy and wetting her bed each night. She cried herself to sleep and wet the bed every night. I had to take care of her, plus be awakened the four times my infant was nursing each night. My parents both worked, so no one could help me get extra sleep that I desperately needed. I was physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted.
I found a Christian psychologist to go to and went reluctantly because I thought that I should have been able to get my problems solved by prayer and Bible reading. Wasn’t my God big enough?
When I first went, I started sharing my earthquake experience. But David started asking me questions about my childhood. I got angry at him for asking those questions. What did my childhood have to do with the earthquake? Eventually, he realized that this redhead had a story to tell about the earthquake and since I was paying for his services, he ought to listen to me.
He listened. And listened. And when I could speak no more about the earthquake, he asked again, “so what about the earthquake was like your childhood.” Very reluctantly, I spent time discussing my childhood.
I was in a situation in which I could not control.
Eventually, it hit me . . . and hit me hard. When I was in the earthquake, I was in a situation in which I could not control. When I was a child, from the time I was 3 until I was 19, I also lived in a home where I had no control.
In my childhood, I was living with a rage-aholic – a man who raged in anger with little-to-no provocation. Just a simple look on my face, or a chore not done could send him off into a rage. Through the years, I’ve met other professional counselors and all of them have told me that his behavior was just like that of an alcoholic, but minus the alcohol.
What the earthquake did was mimic that out-of-control feeling I had. When the ground was shaking back and forth, it mimicked my dad grabbing me by my shoulders and banging me against the wall, sometimes with my head hitting the cupboard handles and ending up with knots on my head. That shaking . . oh, that shaking . . .it was horrifying. Being smacked and kicked, tossed and shaken about as a child is something I could not stop – just like I could not stop the ground from moving in the Philippines after the earthquake.
You see, this psychologist showed me how to connect with the feelings of abandonment, the anger and pain of knowing a parent had violated my body and my personhood that I had long buried. I had forgiven my dad, I had moved on, but there was obviously, I had unfinished business.
This man heard my cries, the cries that so many adults had dismissed and ignored when I shared my story with them as a child. When my dad beat me, I refused to let him see me cry. Only when he was done would I go into the corner of my room, curl myself into a ball and cry . . . by myself. No one heard my cries. But David did . . now, some 10-20 years later.
He validated the abuse and called it by name, telling me I was not crazy. He walked in the trenches with me as I relived that horrible abuse. I fought going back to those memories, but facing it was what I needed to do to recover. It was very difficult work and left me physically and emotionally exhausted.
The counseling that I received occurred nearly 25 years ago. I was in counseling for probably 2 years or so. During that time, I thought that scoping out exit signs, speeding across bridges, feeling the ground moving would be my new normal for the rest of my life. When the earthquake anniversary date came around for 2 years, I had setbacks. On the 3rd anniversary, I missed it entirely. I didn’t even think about the earthquake. I finally knew I was no longer held captive by the war within my brain. I was free and still am free, even when I hear of major earthquakes now. This is amazing, considering what I had gone through.
Pat answers don’t always work
But the quote about prayer being the answer to mental illness is not always true. Of course prayer helps, but it is not always the quick cure, and to portray it as such could be deadly for those who are in a crisis. This quote could be a death sentence for some who fear that even God has abandoned them since they can’t see/feel His healing. The logical progression is: life is not worth living if even God has abandoned me and hasn’t helped me.
We must be careful with our words about mental illness and giving pat answers. Lives are at stake. I thank God for mental health professionals who have the skills and tools to bring truth and hope into a hurting individual’s life. I am probably alive because of David, my therapist. Thank you, God, for using David in my life when I was at the end of my rope and about to let go.
Horrific story of spiritual abuse, mishandling of sex abuse, church membership, Matt Chandler, The Village Church, Jordan Root, pedophile, child pornography
Chuck O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church to host Jeremiah Cry Ministries “The Soul Winner” conference. O’Neal will be speaking as well as Open Air Preacher Tony Miano.