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!
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 →
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 →
Tony Miano, author of Should She Preach?, attended John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference at Grace Community Church, along with Pastor Chuck O’Neal (suing pastor who had minister’s license revoked and currently in discipline), Phil Johnson, Dr. Steve Lawson, all of whom contributed to Miano’s book.
Today, Willamette Week, a Portland news outlet, published their third recent article on Pastor Chuck O’Neal, my former pastor who sued me and four others for $500,000. The first article dealt with his protesting at a local abortion clinic and how civic leaders were looking into whether any civil codes were being violated. This particular situation got additional coverage beyond Willamette Week’s reports: KATU.com and Oregonlive.com.
Personal disclaimer: I was alerted to two local news articles this morning and struggled with whether or not I should share them with you because of the personal connections as you will soon see. After conferring with others and checking my heart, I am going to share them. If I did not know the individuals involved, I would have done a post on this topic anyway, as this is something that has been touching my heart lately with regard to what is going on in “churchianity” or religiosity vs Christianity.
Hey folks, we took a trip for a few days and have been chill-axin’ a bit after a 10-hour-drive in adverse road conditions yesterday, but this needs to be addressed. During my time away, I became aware that Ken Silva of Apprising Ministries wrote an article announcing that my former pastor, Chuck O’Neal, had his minister’s license revoked. I’m not sure when this took place, but you can read about it in the link below. Most of the article is old news to most of my regular readers, the new info is at the bottom of the article.
A pastor in the group affiliated with BGBC contacted me in early in June. He became aware of the lawsuit when someone heard about it from the media and asked him about it. After reading the blog, he then contacted me via the blog e-mail address to find out if Chuck O’Neal had given any notice or indication of dropping the lawsuit. I told him that as far as I knew, O’Neal had no plans of dropping the lawsuit. He was was genuinely sorry to hear about the lawsuit and said he was praying for me and all involved.
Now, some six months later, I found out that Chuck O’Neal’s minister’s license was in fact revoked. I do not have any information specifically why O’Neal’s license was revoked.
I began this blog in Feb. 2012 after noticing that the Google reviews I had posted of my former church were being removed. Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by abusive pastors who use bully tactics; we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced.
On May 21, 2012, we had our first court hearing. Two of the original 4 defendants were voluntarily dismissed from the lawsuit, leaving Hannah and me. Later, Meaghan was added to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claiming her comments on my blog were defamatory.
I believe the lawsuit is an extension of the spiritual abuse we incurred. A key part of spiritual abuse is control and especially controlling what people can and cannot say, in this case, months and years after leaving a church. When Chuck O’Neal and BGBC decided to sue us in the legal court system, they challenged the rights of free speech for everyone who shares their stories and opinions online. This story should be of grave concern to all in the United States, especially bloggers, opinion and review sites, political sites, etc. July 13, 2012 is the court hearing at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro, Oregon. The time is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. The judge’s decision could have a profound effect on those who use the internet to express their thoughts and opinions.
UPDATE: On July 28, 2012, Judge Fun dismissed the entire case. We won! Chuck O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church had to pay all court costs and attorney fees for the prevailing defendants – approximately $60,000.
A few people have asked for a condensed version of “my story”. My story is not written out like that, but in bits and pieces as posts for the blog. So, in the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to have one post which includes links to the key posts to my story so readers do not have to wade through all of them. ~ja
How Dare You Leave Our Church!– – – In this article, I describe the atmosphere presented at the church – that our pastor proclaimed our church to be the best. This was an unhealthy elitism. I also describe a pattern that I noticed of families staying for 4-6 months and then vanishing without ever mentioning them again. This was one of the first clear signs of something amiss.
False Teachers Who Mark and Avoid Church Members – Pastors who twist scripture are doing so for their own personal gain. This shocking article is about how some pastors twist scripture and Mark and Avoid church members/former members by the very painful and destructive practice of shunning. This method is used by cults.
You Won’t Find a Better Church – This article discusses more of the elitism we were taught. No church could ever measure up to our church. What are the implications of that kind of thinking?
The Lawsuit – – These are my thoughts after I received the subpoena (Mar. 2012)
Disobedient Children and Meetings with the Pastor – -The pattern we observed was that all children/teens would be brought to the pastor’s office for discipline issues at one time or another. These intense meetings represented the underlying tone we experienced.
Children’s Church – In the 2 yrs 2 mos we attended the church, the children only covered Ephesians 1:1-17. Weeks and weeks were spent on one verse at a time. How much of the Bible would have been covered by the time they became an adult at this rate?
Youth Groups? Not at Our Church! – In the pastor’s attempt to have an elite church, he expressed great disdain for modern youth groups. While our former church had no official youth group, the youth most certainly did meet and the “fruit” of the “unofficial youth groups” was far worse than I’ve seen in conventional supervised youth groups.
The Bully Pulpit We found the pastor frequently used the “bully pulpit” to preach to the congregation when someone was caught in sin. It’s not a pleasant environment when you have been caught in sin and the pastor uses the teaching time to address your sin from the pulpit. You know he is talking about you the whole time. This sometimes happened for several weeks in a row – and many times was on the topic of sexual immorality.
Just Who is Acting Like Korah Around Here? Part 1… – We discovered a pattern of scriptures used in reference to people who he felt was being divisive and labeling them as “Korah”. This is an example of hyper-authoritarian behavior which created a very uncomfortable church atmosphere.
Baptism: Was It Genuine or for Show? – We saw evidence of baptism being more of a show, rather than a genuine act of obedience in faith. This was very disturbing. Some were not even convinced of their salvation after being baptised – they did it because of feeling pressure.
Evangelize When it Looks Good – There was a strong emphasis on evangelism at this church, but why was there no willingness to go after my “wayward” daughter or other “tough cases”? Evangelizing only when it’s easy or looks good? Maybe.
Damage Control – How Do I Look? After the lawsuit, we saw the church go into “damage control” mode on their church website, making it a softer, gentler, family friendly site. Again, it’s all about the image.
Lawsuit Update: New Information!! – Meaghan V. was added to the lawsuit after posting a comment using her real name (most other members feel the need to post anonymously because they don’t want to be sued). I reference 3 of the pastor’s sermons on submitting to State authority.
Legalism: Do Not Expose Your Thighs! – What is it like living in a church with legalistic rules about where the hem of shorts should land on your legs and you have a son who is 6’8”?
In Honor of Hannah – This post is the most popular post on the blog. So much of we experienced is difficult to describe in clear facts. This describes the emotional part of what I dealt with in a very real way – when our adult daughter abruptly moved out of the home because of the intense emotional/physical pressures she was facing by the demands of the church in addition to her busy life as a student/nanny. This was very difficult to write.
Walk the Talk! This post discusses the hypocrisy (and once again image) I saw at the Steps for Life walk in Portland year after year (a pro-life walkathon). Publicly showing/walking/praying that you respect life, even the life of the unborn, yet failing to get in the trenches with people in real need at your own church seems hypocritical.
Hyper-Modesty in the Church, Part 1This is the beginning of a 3-part series on hyper-modesty which I believe led to a preoccupation with body parts and sexualizing. Sexual immorality was a big problem here, much more in any other church I attended and I would attribute it to the legalistic/high authoritarian teachings.
It’s the Same Message No Matter How you Mix it! This is a 3-part series on repetitive sermons. I started timing the sermons after comparing my notes and realizing that the pastor was using the basically the same sermons and mixing the order up with only 10-15 minutes of new material (in a 60-min. sermon). In our 2-years there, he covered only Romans 12 to Romans 13:7. In this series you will get to “experience” what it felt like for many of us 🙂 Be sure to read all three parts. You may go crazy. I did when writing it 🙂
This mom’s comment breaks my heart. I can relate with it so well. We as moms try to make sure our children are safe, are raised in a loving and nurturing environment. Having to acknowledge that we failed when we were doing our best is a tough pill to swallow.
How do we deal with the guilt? How do we deal with the issue that we made bad choices for our children? How can we help them when we have been affected deeply by the spiritual abuse? Some people may not even want to go to church again after this experience. I was certainly leery of pastors when we first started to find a new church.
When studying about abusive environments, you will find a common rule that is used: the no-talk rule. You can do a quick Google search for “no-talk rule” and see what I mean. Sometimes in an alcoholic family, people will be quick to “fix” the problems caused by the alcoholic: cleaning up vomit messes, making excuses for missed appointments, missed responsibilities. There is a cover-up and the whole family is a part of this, but the main issue of alcoholism is the big elephant in the middle of the room and many times never discussed. They are unconsciously following the no-talk rule.
In abusive churches, legitimate concerns can get labeled as gossip. Questioning a pastor may get turned around back to the person asking the question: “why are you not trusting the men God has placed in authority over you?” Essentially these responses create the unspoken “no-talk” rule. We don’t talk about the no-talk rule, it is an understood rule and in an abusive system, most people comply – it keeps that abusive system functioning well.
It’s time to break out of that well-functioning abusive system by breaking the unspoken no-talk rule. That is the first thing that needs to be broken. In this blog, we have the talk, talk, talk rule. If you have something to say, say it. If you want to remain anonymous, fine. If you want to ask a question, ask it. The no-talk rule needs to be broken in our homes, too. We need to discuss what we went through with our children and adult children. We need to make it very comfortable to talk – even about uncomfortable issues. People won’t want to talk initially because we’ve been conditioned that it’s gossip or wrong. By casually mentioning things and setting the example, you will be showing that it is a safe place in your home to talk about what we went through.
For those who have left and especially those who have recently left, creating an atmosphere where talking is permissible and encouraged is going to be the beginning of getting back on the right path. We need to share our stories, talk about how it affected us. Talking this openly may be uncomfortable at first. It is not gossip to talk about how church leaders treated you.
Our former pastor called out many “wolves” from the pulpit and it is recorded on sermons, posted on his blog and easily available on the internet. It is not a sin for me to say I believe our former pastor as one who abused his authority. Our children need to know the truth. It is not gossip to talk about how people in the church treated you and inappropriately shunned you. It is not gossip to talk about how you have felt and discuss how going to an abusive church has affected you. Once the no-talk rule is put to rest, you will be well on your way to recovery and healing.