Horrific story of spiritual abuse, mishandling of sex abuse, church membership, Matt Chandler, The Village Church, Jordan Root, pedophile, child pornography
Commenters share about high-controlling pastors who leave a path of mental health destruction, even suicide, because they cannot get appropriate help.
What is the responsibility of pastors for those they deem have “gone astray?” Do pastoral confidentiality rules apply even when someone resigns their church membership?
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Questioning authority or raising concerns can be the litmus test to see if your pastor is spiritually abusive or not.
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Yesterday, I shared the a comment that I had posted on SharperIron.org forum. From my limited times there, I gather there are quite a few pastors. We were discussing 9Marks practices. Chip asked me to elaborate after reading my comment:
I’ve read some of the 9Marks writings and some of these ideas are troublesome to me. I am concerned that while the basic principles may seem to work as a guideline for good and decent shepherds, they also may give license to those pastors who are heavy-handed in authority and ruling over their congregants. We need to be wise in turning to core values in the Bible, not core values of Dever and 9Marks – just sayin’.
I explained one bothersome aspect in yesterday’s article, 9Marks: Church Authority over Church Members.
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This comment came in on an earlier thread and there are so many answers. Because I spoke out against my former church, one of the most common questions in e-mails I get is: “should I speak out about our abuse to current members?” Here it is again:
Our family left an unhealthy church about 7 months ago. We were a part of the church for over 20 years. When we first joined, we were in our early 20′s. We were young, immature and unaware that unhealthy churches existed. I noticed something was wrong about 10 years ago. The pastor was authoritarian and a micro-manager.
We started visiting other churches but we didn’t find one we both liked. I feel we went back because of denial and fear. We were in denial of the spiritual abuse because it was so subtle. Continue reading
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Have you seen this video? I liked it enough that I posted it on my blog’s Facebook page. The person who recommended it, Denny Burk, is one who has publicly given his support to C.J. Mahaney. Just a bit ago, a reader sent me a link to Kevin DeYoung’s blog which features the same video. DeYoung also issued a public statement of support for C.J. Mahaney. Hmmmm
When I originally saw the video, I was focusing on the typical husband/wife relationship in which the wife complains of a problem and the husband tries to “fix” it. It’s a great video to illustrate this common communication challenge in marital relationships.
But let’s take it a step further. I watched the video again in light of the fact that this video is being spread among The Gospel Coalition folks and this time it struck me differently, as it did reader who sent me the link. When watching it, think of the SGM story. Think of the SGM Survivors who have been saying time and again, “Yo, there’s a problem here!!!”
What was the response from SGM church leaders when confronted with issues of abuse in their churches? It was their sin problem. Oh no, not the leaders’s sin, but the sin of ones trying to say there is a problem. The victims have the problem of sin because there is no problem at SGM. Aren’t TGC and T4G folks essentially doing the same thing with regard to their support of C.J. Mahaney? Aren’t they saying, “there’s no problem?” And instead they blame divisive people, women bloggers, etc.
Sharing this particular video within the ranks of TGC gives one the impression that these guys are all about having good communication in marriages. By sharing it, they seem to be publicly saying they really want to be good husbands by being sensitive and sympathetic with their wives. That’s fine and dandy. While it’s nice that the people sharing it are acknowledging a common communication problem within marriages, it’s too bad the ones who are spreading it are unable to see that it’s not about the nail with the SGM survivors.
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There are a lot of sad church stories that come my way. Many times we discuss really difficult situations and happy endings cannot be found. Although this next story is not over, it is headed in a completely different direction than it was earlier. My friend and fellow blogger, Alex Grenier of Calvary Chapel Abuse blog posted a wonderful story today and has given me permission to copy it in its entirety to share with you. I think you’ll understand why I wanted to share it. I have to give kudos to Alex. He is truly the real deal. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him on a few projects behind the scenes and let me just say that I feel privileged to have him as a friend. His heart is in the right place. He is honest, vulnerable, a bit rough around the edges, sometimes snarky, a load of laughs (which we definitely need in this business), but what an amazing champion for victims! He, like me, comes from an abusive family and is currently in the midst of a defamation lawsuit brought on by his step-father, Bob Grenier, who also is the pastor at Calvary Chapel Visalia.
This article starts by discussing the abuse of gaining members’ funds through unlawful methods in “Financial Empowerment Seminars.” The rest of the article discusses spiritual abuse, including a list of questions that might help one to determine if they are in a spiritually abusive church. This might be a good article to send to someone who wants to learn the basics of spiritual abuse.
Here is the list of questions from the article:
If you are trying to determine whether or not a particular group may be spiritually abusive, consider the following questions:
___ Do they exalt someone as an irrefutable authority in the group?
___ Do they demand your absolute allegiance?
___ Do they discourage your questions?
___ Do they shame people publicly?
___ Do they insist on making major decisions in your life?
___ Do they have a long list of rules related to dress, hairstyle, diet or activities?
___ Do they judge those who do not keep their list of rules?
___ Do they consider themselves the “only true church”?
___ Do they consider those who leave their group “apostates,” “backsliders” or “doomed”?
___ Do they teach that godly people should give more financially so that they will receive more?
Over the weekend, I met with some people who had been a part of a cult for over a decade and we shared stories. As soon as they left their cult, they were free and clear to start their new lives. The difference with our story is that when we left, we were not free and clear.
I’ve mentioned how the pastor and elders came to our house unannounced a few weeks after we left with an undisclosed recording device demanding information = creepy.
Pastors who are doing God’s work, tending the sheep, preaching the Word do not have a paranoid personality. They know there will be disgruntled people, but that is par for the course. They continue the race set before them, walking in obedience, trying to do God’s work. They are not preoccupied with their reputation, their image. Their focus is not on themselves, but on others, helping them along their paths.
In our case, the two defendants (who were eventually dismissed) were accused of posting anonymous comments on the Suspicious Berean website. The date of the post is May 3, 2010. This was approximately 1-1/2 yrs after the defendants had left the church. These first two anonymous posts were part of the original defamation lawsuit:
Anonymous17 May, 2010 2:16 PM
You should be suspicious of him because Chuck O’Neal is a wolf. He rails again things such as Psychology yet if you look at his education you’ll find that he himself has a degree in Psychology?! Plus he runs “his” church like a cult controlling the flock with legalistic rules. He also heavily plagiarizes the messages of others or books in his “sermons” yet never gives credit where it is due. He controls his flock with an iron fist and if someone leaves the congregation for any reason he tells the flock not to speak to or associate with those who leave the congregation. He is a wolf and misleading the people of this congregation and please be warned! There’s more to be said but again, please be warned that Chuck is a wolf and if you look a little more thoroughly into his practices as a self proclaimed “pastor” you’ll see he’s a wolf.
Anonymous19 May, 2010 2:50 PM
Yes, He’s definitely a wolf.
(Side note: I just noticed something. The part about “plagiarism” was never listed in the lawsuit. I wonder why not?)
Why our former pastor decided to sue those particular people, I will never know – the former defendants do not remember posting the comments and say the wording doesn’t sound like them. But anyway, how would the pastor have found those comments on a random blog unless he or someone was doing internet searches? And why would any pastor even be searching for himself on the internet? For what purpose?
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Rom. 12:3
Notice the next two comments, people come to the pastor’s defense telling the previous commenters to “repent” and are threatened with God’s wrath.
Anonymous13 July, 2010 12:47 PM
Jeremiah urged Israel to submit to the coming invaders and was thrown into a well and called all kinds of names. Jeremiah was a faithful prophet. Pastor Chuck faithfully teaches God’s holy Word and is a Godly man. Shame on those who attack the Lord’s servants. Please repent and be of one mind, striving together for the Gospel of peace!
Anonymous6 February, 2012 12:02 PM
Book of Romans Ch. 13 is a good guideline for what to do with government – obey or rail against. It’s good to listen to God. Pastor Chuck ONeal is a Godly man and fine teacher. Please repent before God’s wrath is kindled against you (Psalm 2:12) when slandering God’s people (Proverbs 6:16-19
It makes me wonder how the above commenters found the blog to begin with. Did they hear about the comments from the pastor, or were they, too, searching the pastor’s name. Are they part of the “inside circle”? Keep reading. More creepy behavior here. I just don’t get this business about doing internet searches on pastors unless there is a problem . . . whoa . . . that’s it . . . . unless there’s a problem. They are trying to hide a problem. What problem? Hmm, perhaps the ones that I have been exposing?
In spiritually abusive churches, there is a preoccupation with the image of the leader and the church. The leader will go to great lengths to protect his image and also those close in his inner circle will be on guard to protect that image, too. It is likely that one of the inner circle found the Suspicious Berean link and then forwarded it to the pastor. The people in the inner circle feed the pastor’s ego and will go to great lengths to defend and protect him. They have a strong bond and most likely get preferential treatment or some kind of emotional reward for feeding the ego. The pattern is they will report any kind of suspicious activity to the leader, any dissension in the group, anyone who may not be fully on board.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Note that it doesn’t say, I’m the good shepherd and I consume my time with my reputation, my name on the world wide web, and stalking former church members.
I’ll mention a personal example of the workings of the inner circle. I played the piano and sang with the praise and worship team. We had a meeting with the elders earlier in the week and left on a positive note. On Thursday night at practice, someone mentioned that they had heard we might be leaving. Discussion ensued and I acknowledged we were having difficulties at the church, had been meeting with pastors/elders, but we hadn’t officially made up our minds. There was heated discussion. Someone urged me to have another meeting and I said I would be willing to do that (even though we had already met over 11 hours with pastor/elders). That is how the Praise and Worship meeting ended. However, two days later, on Saturday night, we got the call from an elder that we were not welcome to come to church there anymore. Someone from the Praise and Worship team was most likely in that inner circle and reported our conversation to the pastor and perhaps felt that the Smith family’s presence was a threat to the pastor’s reputation and not worth the risk. Better to have us gone than remain.
We were fine with that decision, ultimately. I especially was thrilled as I had wanted to leave much earlier. My husband hadn’t seen the things that I had seen, but now the answer was made for us. I thought we were free. We were not free, however.
I have had reports that this blog is being stalked (::::waving hi to creepy stalkers::::). Obviously, the Google reviews were stalked as my reviews were being removed time and again. It would be very likely that my Google reviews were discussed either on Wednesday night meetings or between Sunday school and the church service. I remember him discussing people who challenged him on his blog. This would be normal behavior for him.
The blog is obviously stalked or else Meaghan wouldn’t be on the lawsuit. We have many more reports of stalking behavior of which I am unable to disclose here, but let’s just say it’s all CREEPY behavior. BTW, “Creepy” was one of the words I was being sued for – it was plastered all over the media (and it made me laugh). It was dismissed from the lawsuit, so now I have the freedom to say it: creepy, creepy, CREEPY. Yes, this behavior is completely creepy.
As a musician, I feel we must break for a creepy music segue. This music really gives me the creeps, not in in the scary sense, but the creepy sense. See what I mean:
People say if you notice problems in a church or feel the pastor is abusive, just leave. In our case, leaving does not make the problems go away – sometimes it makes them worse.
In our case, I believe he uses fear to threaten. That is why we don’t see many people using their real names on my blog. I was threatened legal action before my blog went online = control tactic. After the blog was online, when Meaghan commented here and used her real name, she was sued = control tactic. The threat is: if you post any negative message on Julie Anne’s blog, you, too, will be sued = control tactic. That’s creepy and scary and a control tactic. Who wants to have to fork over big $$, secure a lawyer, give up hours of time, energy, defending yourself? It’s a bit taxing on sleep, emotions as well, I might add.
There is much more creepiness going on behind the scenes, I can assure you, but this kind of stalking behavior is one aspect of spiritually abusive churches that cause a lot of pain and even fear for former members.
Great verses to meditate on when dealing with creepers: Psalm 118
Oh let those who fear the LORD say,
“His lovingkindness is everlasting.”
From my distress I called upon the LORD;
The LORD answered me and set me in a large place.
The LORD is for me; I will not fear;
What can man do to me?
The LORD is for me among those who help me;
Therefore I will look with satisfaction on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
Than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
Than to trust in princes.
All nations surrounded me;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
They surrounded me like bees;
They were extinguished as a fire of thorns;
In the name of the LORD I will surely cut them off.
You pushed me violently so that I was falling,
But the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
The sound of joyful shouting and salvation is in the tents of the righteous;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
The right hand of the LORD is exalted;
The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
I will not die, but live,
And tell of the works of the LORD.
I’ll get to the subject of the former church member sued in just a moment, but want to make sure this point is told: I believe that suing former church members is just an extension of the spiritual abuse. How can that be? Let me explain.This is old news – the no-talk rule in spiritually abusive environment. We are going to discuss it once again. Please read this definition to make sure you understand the powerful effect it has on continuing the cycle of spiritual abuse. This is so important. Breaking this particular rule will often be the first step in getting out of the trap of spiritual abuse:
In abusive spiritual systems, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken. Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches or families but are not said out loud. Because they are not said out loud, you don’t find out that they’re there until you break them.
The most powerful of all unspoken rules in the abusive system is what we have already termed the “can’t talk” rule. The “can’t talk” [rule] has this thinking behind it: “The real problem cannot be exposed because then it would have to be dealt with and things would have to change; so it must be protected behind walls of silence (neglect) or by assault (legalistic attack). If you speak about the problem, you are the problem. (The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse By David Johnson and Jeff Vanvonderen (Bethany House, 1991, 2005))
One of the most common characteristics of someone who is a spiritual abuser is they try to control their congregants and even former congregants. Sometimes they try to control aspects of their personal life – as in what they can and cannot say. In the church, if you talk about the problem, you are told that you are not obeying the authority God has placed before you, or you need to check the sin in your own heart, that you are being divisive, gossiping, etc.When you voice the problem outside the church after leaving, you may be told that you are a Jezebel, have the sin of Korah, you are waging war with God and His church, slanderers, divisive, etc. We, former congregants, have become the big “problem” in the no-talk rule.
For those new to this blog, my former pastor did not like me posting negative Google reviews about my experiences and had them removed. This is an example of the no-talk rule. I got tired of my reviews being removed and began this blog. Within a few days of beginning this blog, I received my subpoena. He did not want me to have this blog and to post my story because he knew it meant that the “problem” was going to be discussed. In an unhealthy church, outside appearances are paramount and it ruins that perfect image by saying there are problems. He was unable to get my blog removed as he had done with Google reviews. Instead, he resorted to civil/legal measures to continue that spiritual abuse (no-talk rule) and used the lawsuit in order to force me and others into not talking.
The original lawsuit included four defendants: a mother and adult son, my adult daughter (Hannah), and me. The adult son was recently dropped from the lawsuit before our May 21 court date, so that left 3 defendants remaining. We had heard that they were going to subpoena another former church, Meaghan, and received documents to that effect, but nothing happened, even though her name was written on court documents.While normal people were enjoying this Memorial Weekend, Meaghan was finally served and got the formal notification that her former pastor was in fact taking her to court for saying her mind and for standing up against someone who seems to be trying to keep people from talking.
Meaghan was the first former congregant to leave her real name on a comment on this blog. He apparently didn’t like Meaghan commenting and soon after that first comment, my attorney was notified that Meaghan would be subpoenaed. Doesn’t it make sense that by suing the first person who left her name, he is sending the very strong message that if you dare to post on Julie Anne’s blog, you, too, could be sued? Are you getting the pattern?
How the No-Talk Rule was Enforced by the Pastor
I posted negative Google reviews —–> pastor removed them
I began blog ——> pastor sued me
Meaghan leaves comment on my blog ——> pastor sued Meaghan
I blogged ——-> pastor amended lawsuit & added add’l “defamatory” phrases
I remember the first time I saw Meaghan’s comment with her name. My heart skipped a beat as I realized what a strong woman she was, willing to stand strong in what she believes to be the truth. Meaghan, I know there are so many who are reading this who are applauding you and your bold stance.
Note to my blog readers: you’ve seen the pattern. If you leave your name on a comment in my blog, you very well could be sued. If you leave a negative review on a review site, you could be sued. I want you to be free to voice your comments and I am absolutely fine with people using pseudonyms in comments – make up a name – no need to add an URL. There is no way for me to track ISPs or personal information from people who leave comments here. I don’t want that fear to control you and keep you from talking if you want to share something here.
This method of bullying people into not talking by using lawsuits to keep quiet will only go so far. There are over 970 reviews on the Google site now, approximately 940 are negative. It costs $505 for the court filing fee. There are also most likely attorney fees.Soon the congregants will most likely tire of seeing their church’s name and pastor in the limelight for doing something they and most Christians know is forbidden in scripture. Maybe it will eventually sink in that the church leaders they have respected for years (John MacArthur, Phil Johnson) absolutely disagree with lawsuits against Christians and they may not want to align themselves with a pastor who seems to be doing his own thing by disregarding the wisdom of so many.
Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!
7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8 No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
A number of pastors have privately e-mailed me and told me they have sent Chuck e-mails encouraging him to withdraw the lawsuit. It appears he continues to disagree with their wise scriptural counsel, in lieu of protecting image/reputation. This is a principle that is completely against scripture. God is not so concerned about personal reputation and image, but the heart.
My former pastor doesn’t know me too well. He may have thought that I would back down in fear after being subpoenaed. Chuck, I know you read this blog. I saw the pile of papers in front of you as you sat next to me during the court hearing. (How could I miss my son’s large drawing from the blog page you printed out? ) I do not fear men, I fear God. I will continue to tell my story. Now, more than ever, I am compelled to stand up – not only for those who were bullied at my former church, but for all spiritual abuse victims who have contacted me in the comment section and via private e-mail – some who are living in fear, afraid to step one foot in church because of the similar spiritual bullies they have encountered.This is much bigger than BGBC. It’s about all of those who use their spiritual authority to bully others. Thanks, Chuck, for suing me so that I have a platform to speak out against this atrocity in churches. If you keep suing others, it will be clear to all Christians and atheists alike what is going on. Those who spiritually bully people do NOT represent Christ.
There is righteous anger burning inside of me. These precious souls should not be living in fear, afraid of pastors, unable to trust even decent and true Shepherds. They need to be able to be free from that fear, to be able to be in a place with love and grace and truth.
Meaghan – the world is watching as our former pastor sues 4 women: 3 moms and 1 young lady. I love you, friend, and we stand together. God is in control.
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Today, I’d like to honor someone very special to me – my eldest daughter, Hannah.
When Hannah told me she was leaving home so abruptly that very sad day, she told me that she couldn’t set one more foot in that church. It was killing her. She knew that if she remained at home, we would have made her go to church with us because that is what we do as a family and that’s what was expected in this type of environment. She knew that. She didn’t want to cause an uproar in the home, she just wanted to be free from having to go to that particular church.
We wrongly assumed it was because of a bad influence in her life and all of the focus shifted to her bad behavior, who she was associating with, her disobedience to her parents, to her God.
Her mind was made up. She knew we wouldn’t change our minds. She had her plans already set. She would move out with someone she met on Craigslist – a stranger – a single LDS woman. She would be living 45 minutes away from home. She had no job in that area. She had no driver’s license, no vehicle. There was much to sacrifice, many unknowns and uncertainties.
She was not to take her bed, her bedding, and if I remember correctly, even her pillow. We told her that if she left anything in the house, it would be thrown out. Ouch!
This was our precious daughter. She was leaving because she could not take the emotional and spiritual abuse she was experiencing at the church. By telling us she couldn’t take it anymore, she was crying out for help saying, “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG THERE” and we missed the clues. She left about 4-1/2 years ago and the pain of seeing what happened in hindsight is so deep.
My daughter willingly gave up many things to protect her sanity and leave the place that was emotionally killing her. She gave up her precious relationship with her only sister, her sweet brothers. She gave up wonderful home-cooked meals that she loved, the security, the warmth from family.
What we all lost was beautiful music at the piano, playing the recorder, fun in the kitchen doing dishes with her brother while jamming and playing my “kitchen dance music” playlist. My daughter and I were robbed of precious time from each other. I no longer had the ability to touch her, hug her, be a part of her daily life, be influential to her, say the special things moms say to their children. I was robbed of our special knitting times at coffee shops. I was robbed of relationship with my daughter.
Her little brother, just a toddler, would never know what it is like to grow up with his older sister. He probably has no memory of life with her in his home.
When she left her family, she also left most of the friends she grew up with. Only a select few remained in contact with her over these past 5 yrs. That’s quite a sacrifice.
The first months were very hard. I determined to remain in contact. We had rules – she was not allowed to be alone with siblings. She could come to the house, but none of her siblings could go to her house because we had no way of knowing what she was involved with at that time. My husband was very distraught. We were convinced that she was in deep rebellion and sin. He didn’t call her for 6 months. That was nearly unbearable to me.
I cried every single day. E.v.e.r.y s.i.n.g.l.e. day. It was like a death to me. I never knew a mom could have so many tears. My precious daughter was gone from my home, my life as I knew it. All the dreams I had for her were shattered.
Her life changed. She no longer had any desire for church and relationship with God. She got into other relationships. She didn’t go to church. And I can’t say that I blame her.
But this young lady remained focused. She had dreams and goals. Her roommate situation changed over time. She got her driver’s license and bought a car. The car was paid off as quickly as possible. She worked full-time and took college classes at night.
Today marks a special day – her graduation from college. She did it completely on her own.
Now, looking back, I understand see why she left. She was the first person I know to clearly articulate: there is something wrong at that church. She needed to move on. She needed to be free from that control. Having that freedom enabled her to reach her personal goals.
Hannah is brave. She is sensitive. She has great insight. She is driven, independent, and extremely focused. At work, she see’s the full picture and finds ways of improving procedures so many are benefited. She is a team player and selective with those she calls friends. In doing so, her relationships are deep and meaningful. She is very talented, a great cook, musician, and can do pretty much anything that she sets her mind to doing. She is also very forgiving of what we as parents put her through. She adores her family, respects her parents. She treasures close relationships with her family. I am so proud to call her my daughter.
Hannah, on this graduation day, your mama will be a big mess of tears sitting amongst the spectators. What you accomplished speaks volumes of your character. Your grace and forgiving spirit to us as parents has been remarkable. Many would have written their parents off, but you loved us through the process and allowed us to finally “get it”. You showed us unconditional love.
I always have taught my children to “trust their gut” and even though your whole family was not getting that message, you followed through with that very powerful advice. When you left, it caused me to re-question everything. Your bravery was the first domino to fall amongst the winding path of dominoes. It set the path in motion for many questions, lots of dialogue, and encouraged me to trust my gut.
You have handled this lawsuit especially well. From one simple review of sharing your experience on Google, you have been placed beside me and three others to defend something we never dreamed of doing – defend our First Amendment rights and to stand for the truth.
This sequence of events may have far reaching effects. It shows the value of standing for what is true. For speaking out when we know people are in harms way. Many will say to just leave it be and move along, but you have chosen the narrow path of standing up for truth despite the risks involved. I have always taught my children to defend the weak and help those in need. You are doing that right now!
I cannot wait to see what lies ahead for you. You rock my world, daughter. I love you and am so proud of you. When you walk on that stage accepting your diploma, look out into the stands and find your mama. You’ll see me standing, waving my white hanky.
I’ve been thinking about the topic of counseling after reading the following comments:
Just curious, does anyone know of any Bible passages that were used to establish the “evil” of getting counseling? Or was this another extra-Biblical add on
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A couple of the earliest posts on this blog discussed how difficult it is to leave the church well. Meaning, it is nearly impossible to leave the church and remain in the local area without repercussions (church discipline, shunning, etc). Here are the links to those early posts: Leaving a Church and How Dare You Leave Our Church!
What is this insanity? You go to go to a church, decide to leave only to discover later that your former pastor has held you emotionally and spiritually captive by threats, shunning, excommunication, and/or church discipline? And you can come back in good graces only if you come back to the church, tail between your legs (okay, that was an exaggeration) recanting and repenting of your ways? Really????
Below is a heart-wrenching personal account of a family who tried to leave the church and move on with their lives. This account was left in the comment section by Anonymous and I took the liberty to break it up here for easier reading.
If you take blood pressure meds and have not taken your daily dose, please take your meds now. Reading this could cause medical problems.
Reading through all the comments on various blogs one thing has jumped out at me. I know some people were told to leave for various and often almost unbelievable reasons and then told they were under church discipline and or shunned.
But I left on my own volition after many months of prayer. I was terrified and had no one to ask counsel of if I was doing the right thing. I was concerned about certain things that were going on, especially scared for my children. But I had been attending BGBC for several years so I had already succumbed to the order to eliminate non-members from my life. I was so afraid to make the decision to leave. But I was not under church discipline.
MONTHS after I left, Chuck discovered that several members were still friends with me. At that point he called a church meeting (I was of course not invited) at which time he informed the church body that I was not saved and [was] a danger to anyone talking to me because I had subversive ideas (leaving the church).
I was a member at another church at this time and heavily involved in Sunday school classes, three separate bible studies, and teaching three-year-olds. He informed the members that I was in open rebellion against him and God and that I was trying to get other members to leave. At this point, I was so terrified of Chuck that I had never said anything to anyone else about leaving. However, he forbade anyone from having any contact with me at all. He actually told them I was a danger because I was an unrepentant goat!
Fortunately, a few brave saints kept contact with me because they admitted they could see fruit in my life and were confused as to what my unrepentant sin was. So was I!
No one had ever contacted me to confront me regarding this “sin.” One member actually asked if I was excommunicated or officially under church discipline. Since I wasn’t, Chuck said no, but the threat I posed was real, and they needed to follow his counsel. Praise God that a few people chose not to!
One actually told Chuck that they were leaving our relationship in God’s hands unless Chuck could actually specify my sin.
So I guess my point is, my shunning didn’t result from an open confrontation with Chuck or some sin I refused to repent of, my shunning was a direct result of leaving the church.
There have been a few people who have likewise commented that they are unaware of what their sin was. I can tell you, you didn’t give Chuck the inappropriate authority over your life that he demands. I still grieve for the friends I lost for no reason other than Chuck’s ego, and for the ensuing years that I have spent triple guessing everything from books, to “truths” I learned under Chuck that I have had to unlearn.
Ok, folks – how much of the above sounds like a normal, healthy, church? Why has this madness been allowed to continue for over a decade? How many more families and children will have to endure this kind of treatment? Who will stand up against this insanity?
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|“Pulpit”, from the eyes of my 9-yr old son|
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According to Wikipedia.org, 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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I have no greater joy than to hear that my children
are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4
On our very first Sunday at the church, I recall being in the nursery with my baby. A sweet teenager was helping with childcare and she told me in a matter-of-fact way that she was going to be having a meeting with the pastor. She was going to be baptized soon. I remember smiling and thinking how sweet that was until she volunteered that all kids have meetings with the pastor at one time or another. I asked her why all kids usually have meetings with the pastor and she told me that kids who get into trouble are brought in to the pastor’s office. She mentioned that this was her 4th meeting with the pastor, but at least this time it was for a good reason and she seemed excited about that.
The meeting regarding baptism seemed perfectly normal to me, but as I looked at this sweet young lady, I couldn’t help but wonder why she had met with the pastor three times before. She did not seem at all like someone who was difficult to deal with. She was thoughtful and respectful to me and had a bubbly personality. It didn’t make sense. And it also puzzled me that she volunteered this little bit of information on our first Sunday.
I had to ponder this thought: would my kids ever do something to that level to necessitate a meeting with the pastor? Probably not. Our kids weren’t perfect, but had never caused any sort of trouble that would need to be dealt with by a pastor. To be honest, it made me wonder if this church was a good environment in which to raise our children if so many teens were having discipline issues requiring meetings with a pastor.
That little meeting on our first Sunday faded into my memory for quite some time until I heard about other incidents in which teens were brought in to meet with the pastor.
Unfortunately, it turned out our family was not exempt from these meetings. I recall my nearly 21-yr old daughter having a meeting with the pastor after she had been associating with an “unsavory” male whom she met at college. We had told him about their relationship. The meeting lasted for hours. Scripture was read over and over showing how she had sinned. There were tears, there was anger, it was not a pleasant experience. I left the meeting emotionally beaten down and can only imagine how my daughter felt. But because the pastor was involved and we trusted him, we convinced ourselves that we were doing the right thing.
There was also the other meeting that I previously blogged about (a technical problem erased the blog post, but you can read my daughter’s Google review here). This same adult daughter was forced into a meeting with the pastor, church leader, close friend, and parents. She didn’t want to be there. We all sat in a circle and I imagine she felt physically trapped. We were advised to remove her cell phone, have her quit college, quit work, not allow internet use, so that she could use the “free” time to turn her life around. This was not grace. This was a berating. Scriptures were read repeatedly to show how she was in sin. And once again, it was a long meeting.
In talking with others, the meetings our daughter endured were normal. Typically a parent was present and meetings lasted for literally hours. Scriptures were always used. Strong emotion was present, sometimes with the pastor pounding his hands on the table for emphasis. Voices were loud and intimidating.
Just as the young lady warned me about this on our first Sunday, I’ve been told that other congregants actually warned new attenders about this practice. It was an accepted practice and parents went along with it because it seemed the right thing to do. If a pastor, man of God, is encouraging this, how can it be wrong?
Looking back, it is my opinion that allowing the pastor to speak with our children in those meetings with that kind of emotional and spiritual intensity for that length of time was not the best thing to do. In fact, in our family’s situation, I believe it was the wrong thing to do. I feel guilty that two of my adult children endured those meetings.
God has given parents the responsibility to raise our children, not pastors. Pastors are to be shepherds, not authoritarians. It is completely appropriate for pastors to give guidance and suggestions to parents on how to deal with discipline issues, but not to berate, spend literally hours, raising voices, pound hands on table, read scripture after scripture showing our kids they are in sin. That feels abusive. It does not take hours to tell someone that their behavior was wrong.
I found it very helpful to discuss this situation with my daughter even years later. I apologized to her and she was so gracious to say that she understood that we were only doing what we thought was best.
Our children are a blessing from the Lord. We don’t need this kind of thing from the past to pull us apart and unfortunately, because we felt sucked into this environment, we may have made wrong parenting choices. Some of us may have unfinished business (and I may not be done yet). Let’s deal with that. Let’s love on our adult kids – even ones who may not be going down a path that we would have chosen for them. Some may have chosen the paths they are taking because of the unhealthy church environment. I can’t think of a better time to extend love and grace to them, certainly not shun them or exclude them from our lives.