How Safe is Your Church?

 

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Have you met Boz Tchividjian of GRACE – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment? This would be a good video to post on Facebook or send to church leaders. Until churches have safe policies in place and survivors feel safe to share their trauma to others in the church, the church is not whole. We need to be proactive in minimizing the opportunity for sex abuse to occur and also to help those who have been harmed by sexual abuse.

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Would your church be able to help someone in the midst of a crisis? How equipped are they?

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Before we get into today’s article, we’ve passed an important milestone here. Today, I noticed in my Facebook’s “On This Day” feature, that it is the 4th year anniversary date of the judge’s decision on the defamation lawsuit brought on by my former pastor, Chuck O’Neal of Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) vs. me and 4 others. Our attorney filed an anti-SLAPP counter suit which meant that O’Neal and BGBC had to prove that our case met the legal definition of defamation. It did not. Not even one phrase that I used (or anyone else used) met even the first tier of the defamation definition (that we had intentionally lied). In order Chuck O’Neal to have won, he had to prove that we knowingly lied about him, AND, we lied with the intent to harm. Judge Fun dismissed the entire case.

When I think back on four years, the amount of information I have learned is remarkable. So much of that has been because of you. Thank you. God has restored what the locust has eaten. Through my pain and now the information I’ve learned along the way, SSB has been a safe and a growing place for me and for others. Yea God.

Here’s the note that appeared on my timeline 4 years ago by a friend:

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Chuck O'Neal, Beaverton Grace Bible Church, spiritual abuse, defamation lawsuit, spiritual bullies

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Would your church be able to help someone in the midst of a crisis? How equipped are they?

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The Fallout of Spiritual Abuse on Our Children

Children Harmed by Spiritual Abuse

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Loss of Perspective: The Cost of Enduring Abuse

Do individuals suffer harm when they remain in verbally or emotionally abusive relationships?  Cindy Kunsman illustrates the effects through an account of spiritual abuse.

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Crumbling Foundation: How Do We Move on after Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, our Spiritual Leaders, Have Failed Us?

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How do we move on spiritually when we have based our lives around the teachings of spiritual leaders like Doug Phillips or Bill Gothard who have fallen?

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Spiritual Abuse: Interview with Doug Bursch

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Spiritual Abuse, interview, podcast, Doug Bursch, Julie Anne, Spiritual Sounding Board Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 7.56.42 AM

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Yesterday I did an interview with Doug Bursch from Seattle’s KGNW radio station.  Doug describes himself in his bio as “a speaker, writer, pastor, teacher and evangelist.”  We spoke about spiritual abuse, healthy and unhealthy churches.  I’ve done quite a few interviews since the lawsuit, but this one is my new favorite.  If you know of someone who might have gone through spiritual abuse or wants to understand what it means, what it looks like, this would be a good interview to listen to because Doug really gets it.

Here’s a little excerpt I transcribed because I wanted you to get a glimpse into this guy’s heart.  His compassion made me tear up.  This is the kind of heart we want to see from a pastor:

Julie Anne, not to be sentimental, but I want to apologize, as a pastor.  I know that it doesn’t necessarily help with the harm that has been done to you or the people you’ve had to walk through with  tears and weeping as they’ve dealt with hurts, but at least I’d like say that I apologize for any pastor or person who has misused their power to harm you or harm your family.  My prayer is that we can facilitate a dialogue where there is healing and there’s love.  I think there’ll be more leaders rising up and there’ll be more safe places and I think that’s the ultimate goal.

I encourage you to listen beyond the interview as Doug discusses how not only did Jesus die for sinners, but He identifies with those who were sinned against.  He knew what it was like to be unjustly treated.  He understands our pain.

During the first few minutes, Doug introduces the program by talking about what’s coming up in the show and tells the story about someone who experienced spiritual abuse. The actual interview is right around the 42:25 mark.  You can listen to the interview here.

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Learn to Discern: Church Membership Accountability and Discipline of Children

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Learn to discern church websites, church discipline procedures, membership rules and accountability, attendance, and tithe requirements before joining a new church.  A lot of information can be found on church websites.

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Finding Refuge from Religion: Forever

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Many people who have been hurt by religion want to escape from it.   We’ll take a look at an organization that is offering a refuge from religion, Recovering from Religion.    Is this the answer?

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Spiritual Edification: What has worked for you?

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In our spiritual journey, many of us have had mountain-top experiences and maybe some valleys, too.  Mountain-top experiences are pretty exciting and can fuel us for a while, but I’m not convinced that our spiritual journey should be based on one great experience.   But in those times in which you have grown the most spiritually, how did that happen to you?  Was it a personal Bible study?  Was it some sort of accountability?  Was it through a small group?  Was it listening to a pastor’s sermon series?  Was it because of a traumatic event where you had to daily seek God?  Was it the discipline of daily devotion?

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What Does Non-Institutionalized Church Look Like?

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We’ve spent the last several days discussing a variety of issues stemmed from Brenda’s very important topic of institutional churches failing to meet the real needs of their people who are suffering abuse.  Quite a bit of the conversation shifted to the subject that church as an institution is the root problem as boatrocker suggests here:

For me, what I believe about the ekklesia is not based upon how the traditional church paradigm is run, but whether it should exist at all. I’m not one who was hurt by “bricks and mortar”, though I attended for 47 years, very regularly and with much involvement, as had my family for generations.

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Why Do People Get Involved in Unhealthy Churches or Cults?

Stephen Smith from Liberty for Captives blog quoted comments from some of you and added more of his own insight. It’s excellent. Let’s keep talking! This is good stuff!!

~ja

Liberty for Captives

Cults are bad even when they lead you to Jesus.

I came to know God in a church which turned out to be a Bible cult.

I was raised in this church and I stayed until I was thirty years old. Early on, I had no other experience of what church could or should be like. By the time I visited other churches in college, my worldview was steeped in the teachings of this particular group. In this unhealthy church I had a genuine conversion experience and was taught the Bible. In this church, the pastor sometimes acted with apparent patience, kindness, and love. He rose early and stayed up late in order to conduct the affairs of the church. He forsook vacations and seemed to eschew worldly praise. He gave money to congregants who were down and out. His words sounded spiritual—they seemed to float in calm, sanctimonious sunbeams…

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Ken Ham, Young Earth Creationism, Young People AbandoningTheir Faith: My Daughter’s Story

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This next story pains me. It’s a personal one. Parenting is very challenging. Homeschooling children has also been a challenge. When we began homeschooling our children, we chose to do so for a number of reasons. We wanted to have better oversight over the curricula our children were taught because we wanted to give them a solid Christian foundation.

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Commenter Asks: Is Church Safe Anymore?

A few admin notes first:

When I first was served the subpoena, I reached out to people on the internet who had dealt with spiritual abuse for help.  One person was Barb Orlowski who reads and comments here.  Barb put me in contact with a group of people, some who have gone through tragic stories of abuse themselves, and others who have become experts in the field of spiritual abuse and are writing books, counseling, maintaining spiritual websites offering resources, etc.   I am so grateful that these people have reached out to me in my darkest days.   Lois found me when someone posted our story on her Facebook wall and then contacted me.  It’s great to be a part of this wonderful caring and supportive network of friends who are trying to help people recover from the insanity that is going on in some churches.

I’ve read a lot of personal e-mails – some only a paragraph or two, others pages long.  I feel so honored that some of you have trusted me with your story – perhaps the story that you may not have told anyone before.  That is so powerful.  I make it my top priority to respond to each e-mail, but because of time constraints, I may not be the best support person for you.

Please utilize this site in the comments section as well.  This really can be a virtual support group.  When you see someone reaching out and posting their painful story, be sure to respond and give encouragement.  Others will do the same for you.  I’ve said it before and now have witnessed it in my e-mail box – the most powerful thing someone who has gone through spiritual abuse is to tell their story.  It’s interesting how someone will send me their story, intending it to be only a couple paragraphs, but then apologize at the end of the e-mail by saying they didn’t mean for it to be so long and they haven’t ever told anyone this before.  That’s powerful – all of those emotions and stories had been penned up and now they are free.  Beautiful!  Keep talking, friends.

Oh, that brings me to another thing.  So many of you are using the Anonymous option when commenting.  That’s fine.  I want you to feel completely safe without having to disclose your identity here.  But I want to let you know of another option.  You can remain anonymous in your comments by creating a pseudonym.   This way, we can attribute your story to you without you giving away your true identity, but you and your story won’t be lost in the pool of “Anonymous” posters.  I’d greatly appreciate it if you could do this.  I don’t care what you call yourself:  Fred Flinstone works 🙂  Here is what the comment screen looks like.  Just click on Name/URL.

After you click on Name/URL, you will see this screen:

Just type your new name:  ie, “Fred Flinstone” and then leave the URL field blank.  Ta-da!  You now have an identity.  I have no way of knowing who you are.  Blogger does not disclose ISP or any kind of personal identifiers to me.

Ok, this is what I really want to discuss.  I read this comment from RB earlier this week and it’s a comment that tugged at my heart:

Julie Anne: I have meditated on this post and the responses, as well as studying the Book of James as sets forth many benchmarks in this area.

The retaliatory actions by Beaverton Grace Bible Church against you and your family, and to significant numbers of members of other Christian churches who have been arbitrarily and harshly “disfellowshipped”, “excommunicated”, “shunned”, sued for alleged defamation, and mentally abused by totalitarian-focused church leaders, have deeply troubled me.

I will not deny that your story, compounded by dozens of other stories of church abuse that I have begun learning about, has left me very worried about the possibility that my own church – which at this time seems to have a relatively “sane” approach to member relations – could at an unknown point in the future be “taken over” by devotees of ecclesiastical totalitarianism (which would be my polite characterization of the governance practiced at BGBC).

I have actually started losing sleep at night lately worrying about the proliferation of extremely radical, dogmatic, in-your-face theology in American churches that underscores the notion that the decisions and teachings of a pastor and church elders cannot under any circumstances be questioned or challenged.

Frankly, the whole topic of “abusive churches” is starting to raise some painfully difficult questions for myself, as to whether any Christian faith community is a “safe place” for learning and practicing basic discipleship skills as taught in the Bible.

Maybe I’m over-reacting, but just had to get this off of my chest. -RB

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

RB, I think you are raising valid questions and thank you for sharing what you’ve been thinking about and losing sleep over.  I get it and I know my friend Michelle does as well.  We’ve been talking a lot behind the scenes with others and we are wondering the same thing.    How can people find a good church?  It used to be that we primarily focused on doctrinal statement (true story, I did not read the doctrinal statement of my former church, but left that to my husband).  Having been a military wife with a lot of moves, we know that time is precious and always tried to settle in a new church quickly, so there were things I would look for.  Now, thinking back on that list, they were superficial issues – my I’ve learned much along the way.  I think we can all agree that there are no perfect churches.  But . . .

Are there any safe churches?  How can we find them?

What do we look for when trying to find a good church?

How can you determine if the pastor is a godly shepherd?

How do we know if our pastors are even aware of the problem of spiritual abuse?

Are they concerned about it?

Is there something we can do to help our current church be aware of this growing problem?

Are their safeguards in place to keep pastors/elders accountable?

Are you feeling the same way as RB?  How are you working this out in your life?

If you have more questions to add, please post a comment and I’ll keep adding to this list of questions, but most importantly, let’s talk.

For the record, I currently have a church home.  My pastor is keenly aware of spiritual abuse (and told me some of his background and connections with a legalistic church) and my case.  I’m sure I will have more discussions with him.  I was dropping my kids off for their standardized testing this week and he came up to me and asked how things were going.   I’m liking him more each time we meet.  He has jokingly said that he is going to keep an eye on his church’s Google reviews and I jokingly asked him if he had a hidden recording device in his plant on the bookshelf.  I didn’t see any 🙂

* * * * *Last-Minute Update!!!!

It looks like my former church has done more changes on the church website – this time on the press release.   I didn’t notice this change, but another blogger did.  Read about it at the FBC Jax Watchdog site.  Good detective work, Watchdog!