Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Results of a leadership vacuum

I’m involved in several online groups and forums. Some are moderated and some aren’t. Because of recent events on a couple of these groups, I’ve begun to think about leadership and the need for it.

I know that for many of us who are no longer involved in a local church, the thought of leadership brings back some very unpleasant memories. So, before I start sharing my thoughts, let me say that I do NOT agree with the pastoral form of leadership that is used in most institutional churches today. I don’t believe this was the biblical form used by the early church nor was it set in place by the first apostles. Rather than strengthening the church, I believe this form of leadership actually hinders its growth and maturing.

That being said, I think leadership is necessary but should be fluid. The style used will vary and change with the circumstances and I believe the day will come when members of the church will have grown to the point that they will be able to lead themselves. However, if anyone has recently been involved in any online groups, I’m sure you’re aware that many who participate have not developed in self-control and their behavior can become destructive to themselves and to others. For that reason, leadership is still necessary.

However, let me say that I believe the micro-manager style of leadership is NEVER acceptable. A good leader in my opinion should maintain a loose grip over the group and may at times almost seem to disappear into the background. Yet, he will emerge if necessary to deal with issues and to encourage. Then, he will return into the background.

On unmoderated forums, the leader is so far in the background that he almost never emerges and has little influence over how the group functions. That works just fine if the members have matured and are led by love. This style of leadership becomes a problem, however, when the members of the group are not living free and are being controlled by impure motives. In these groups where there is a vacuum in leadership, leadership will ALWAYS emerge. People who are gifted as leaders will naturally begin to move forward and I believe that’s a God ordained flow.

In all of the online groups I’m involved with, I’ve seen this happen. I get excited when I see natural leaders begin to come forward to love and encourage the others. In these healthy groups, it’s not just one person but leadership may move and flow from one person to another to another until the entire group is involved in encouraging and moving the group forward. This is very similar to the V-formation in which geese fly. The geese continually rotate so that each goose take a turn flying in the lead position.

In online groups, the problem usually arises when the group has grown large. Over time, in unmoderated groups, there will eventually arise someone whose natural gift of leadership is tainted by impure motives. They will begin to draw around them an alliance of weaker individuals who will protect and support them. If, at that point the person who has actual authority over the group doesn’t step forward and re-instate order, the group is headed for a takeover. Then, when the takeover is complete, the new leader will rule with an arm of steel to silence anyone who attempts to question them.

We tend to think that spiritual abuse can only take place in an institutional church. However, we need to be aware that spiritual abuse exists outside of the institutional church. It exists whenever a leader forces his own agenda on the group at the expense of the other members. Abusive leaders can infiltrate a home group as well as an online group.

Although the primary purpose of this blog is to share about the life of grace, a secondary purpose is to inform and to encourage those who have been victimized by spiritual abuse. If you believe you’ve been a victim of spiritual abuse, please refer to the resources on my sidebar and don’t be ashamed. There is help and there is freedom available.

Performance Based Acceptance - my story

Although I’d been a believer for a number of years, I knew my life didn’t measure up to what I believed it should as a christian and, to be honest, I didn’t see that anyone else around me was doing any better. Toward the end of 1997, my desire to know God more intimately increased and I began praying what I’ve since come to realize is a dangerous prayer. I told him daily, several times a day, that I wanted to know him. Well, he took me at my word but, if I had known what was ahead, I don’t know that I would have prayed that prayer.

A few months later, he led me to a church that later became abusive. I stayed there over three years and those were the most difficult three years of my life but it was there that God began the process of setting me free from the need for people's approval.

As with all spiritually abusive leaders, the pastor of that church preferred new and inexperienced believers. Since I had been a believer for over 20 years, it was obvious that I was being pushed aside in preference to the younger believers. I even once told him that I felt like I wasn’t wanted there. Of course, he denied it but I knew it was true. The young and inexperienced were definitely preferred over those of us who were more mature and seasoned in our faith.

I struggled to gain this pastor’s approval and I remember thinking that there was nothing I could do to please him. For someone who thrived on the approval of others, that was tortuous. I hated it there and decided to leave several times but each time, God made it very clear that he wanted me to stay. It was only years later that I understood why it was important for me to stay. He wasn’t punishing me as I thought at the time but he was setting me free in ways that I couldn’t even imagine at the time.

After I left, I found Wayne Jacobsen’s Lifestream website and later Darin Hufford’s Free Believers Network. I devoured their teachings and, as a result, I finally understood the bondage I had been in and how God had been setting me free through what he allowed me to experience.

I also learned that I have a Father who loves me too much to let me stay in bondage. My freedom began with a lot of pain as I struggled to make sense of why he put me in an abusive church. Now, I look back on those days and think that knowing what I know now, if I had to do it over again, I would. I sure wouldn’t enjoy the suffering I went through but sometimes to effect a cure, a surgeon has to cut out the sick parts and that’s always painful. However, when the healing is complete, the results are worth it.

For me, this was the start of a very exciting journey and it has been a journey. I haven’t arrived yet and, at times, I still find myself reveling in the praise of man and looking for it. I still struggle at times when family members give me patronizing looks that seem to say that they’re being patient with me but I’ve also learned to laugh at myself when I act like my elevator doesn’t go up all the way.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be me. God created me and gave me my unique personality and he’s pleased with me just the way I am. If there’s any changing to be done, he’ll do it in his own time and in his own way. I’m not supposed to get stressed about it and spend a lot of effort trying to change what I view as faults. I just need to spend my time getting to know him and, through that relationship, he will change what needs to be changed in me.

"Not of My Making" Virtual Book Tour blog

Haunted by the Ghosts of Spiritual Abuse

First I want to thank Aida for allowing me to visit and post to her blog. I pray that I am worthy and will not disappoint her and her readers.

I think it is fitting that this tour should start the day after Easter. Seven years ago I was forced out of my church during the latter part of Lent. Full recovery from my wounds took six years. It was a long, painful struggle and now, the day after Easter, this post is a kind of resurrection or rebirth for me. I have found my voice.

Still, there are small things that trigger sadness, grief and fear. Writing this post has been one of those small things. Last week I read through some of Aida’s more recent posts but what caught my eye was the quote from Isaiah 43: 18 -19. “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past.” My stomach churned. Was I dwelling on the past refusing to move on? I have been accused of that by my former church mates and a couple of reviewers. But then I turn to my favorite quote from Elie Wiesel’s Night:

And yet, there has been a change in our behavior. First of all, we express ourselves. I force myself to share the secret that consumes me. I try to make the ghosts within me speak. Does that mean that the wound has healed over? It still burns. I cannot speak of it. But I can speak – that’s the change …

By telling my story I am moving on. I also know from psychological research into memory, that I cannot will myself to forget without it having negative consequences for my mental health. For years I repressed the memory of the sexual assault by my Uncle Frank who I adored. Not able to bear the pain of his betrayal and being too young to understand what had happened to me, I repressed the memory. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even write about it in my journal. In the end I paid a price for keeping this secret. I became depressed, anxious and suicidal.

I was fortunate to get competent professional help and overcame my depression. I married, had children and earn my doctorate. Part of my recovery involved returning to church. I chose Unitarian Universalism because I believed members to be more tolerant than in other denominations. Things went well for a number of years until in 1993 I shared my qualms about calling a lesbian as our minister. I was shunned and blacklisted making it difficult for me to become a full participating member of other congregations near my home. This struggle eventually culminated in my being forced out of a Lutheran Church when they condemned my husband and me for ending the placement of our 16 year old Sudanese foster son. Members of my church refused to believe he had stolen a camera and was physically threatening. They encouraged and even condoned our foster son’s leaving our house when he was grounded. For the full story I encourage you to read, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.

I am certain that God does not expect or want us to forget abuse and other evil things. Instead we are to speak out against them and seek ways to prevent further abuse. So what are the former things Isaiah is referring to? I asked my priest, Fr. Lance at All Saints Anglican. He told me that this passage refers to the covenant between God and the Jews and is also a Messianic prophecy about John the Baptist and Jesus and the New Covenant. God makes all things new and the past is “forgotten” as we accept God.

So this passage isn’t commanding me and others like me to forget the abuse and not speak of it. God wants us to stop worshipping idols and follow his commandments. For a period of my life I wasn’t doing that. I left Christianity and replaced faith with science, rational thought and humanism. I denied man’s sinfulness and need for God’s saving grace. My move back to Christianity was slow and gradual and is one of the reasons I was forced out of a Unitarian Universalist church. Now I think God was trying to speak to me but I was slow to get it.

At first I thought the problem was a specific congregation, next I thought it was a denomination, finally I realized the problem is in all faiths, all congregations. People sin. Part of that is a tendency to bully and ostracized people who don’t agree with us or who we perceive are not like us. If we believe that since we are true Christians we are above all, we leave ourselves open to sin. Just as democracy requires eternal vigilance, so must we be mindful of our tendency to vie for status and power at the expense of others. I hope you will read Not of My Making and after having done so will consider what you can do to discourage bullying in your schools, churches and workplaces. The book is available at: http://www.pluckpress.com/ or Amazon.com.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post. I am available today, April 13th, to take your comments and questions. May God’s peace be with you.

Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D.

A well kept secret

I was talking to a friend at work today and somehow the conversation turned to the subject of spiritual abuse. As we spoke, I shared information with her and told her about my posts regarding spiritual abuse as well as my personal experiences in an abusive church.

She was shocked! Totally ignorant regarding this subject, she asked questions hoping to gain understanding. Her reaction confirmed what I’ve known for some time.

Spiritual abuse is a well kept secret that the church has swept under the rug. Rarely, if ever, is it addressed by the leadership. Yet, thousands of believers are being victimized today. People are still being held in captivity and new captives are being taken. Although these captives are brothers and sisters, there is no cry of outrage. For the most part, the institution ignores the problem.

Spiritual abuse is founded on the traditions that are the lifeblood of the institutional church. The primary tradition that enables spiritual abuse to continue is the clergy/laity distinction which places one person above the others. Although abusive churches carry this tradition to an extreme, if it were to be exposed for the lie that it is, it would have a ripple effect that would have serious consequences for all institutional forms of religion.

The primary goal of all institutions is the furtherance and growth of the institution. The mindset is that the institution is to be protected at all costs. The result is that people are left unprotected and are sacrificed in order to make sure that the institution continues to thrive and gain strength.

One of the lies that has kept people silent has been the teaching that it’s a sin to get angry. The truth is that Jesus was angry enough to use a whip in the temple when he saw the innocent being victimized by a heartless system. I believe as children of God with the nature of God, we also need to get angry when we see the innocent being victimized by spiritual abuse or any other man made tradition.

As I search the web, I’m excited to see that the silence is being broken and that people are speaking out. There’s a cry of outrage that is being raised up. Blogs and websites have been started to inform and encourage those who have been victimized. Many who have been silent about the hurt and abuse they’ve experienced are finding out that they’re not alone. It’s not hopeless. Others have been abused and moved past it to a place of freedom.

In an attempt to provide information to help those who have been victimized, I have a list of resources regarding spiritual in my sidebar. Also, for easier reference, I will be adding a special section giving links to my posts on spiritual abuse. My hope is that this will be a helpful tool for all who need this information.

After I wrote the first draft of this post, I read Darin Hufford’s latest post regarding "Anger Management." As usual, Darin has great insight which I believe the church needs to hear. After reading what he had to say, I added to my post a few additional thoughts regarding anger that his comments inspired. I think you’ll be encouraged by what Darin has to say. To read his post, follow this link.

"All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke

Leadership in abusive churches

In my previous post, I discussed the danger of the clergy/laity distinction as promoted by the religious system. As I thought about it later, I realized that this tradition is the foundation of abusive systems. Expose and destroy this lie and the abusive system has nothing on which to stand and it will crumble.

Although all institutional churches have a clergy group that is separate and distinct from other believers, in an abusive system, this distinction is carried to an extreme. The leader takes on godlike proportions and is to be followed with unquestioned obedience.

Submission is a favorite topic in these groups. This was true in the abusive church I was involved in. The pastor’s insecurities weren’t noticeable at first but later, as they became more obvious, he began to speak more and more about submission. He taught that we were supposed to give him unquestioned obedience. If it turned out he was wrong, God would deal with him about it but our responsibility was to obey without question.

This gave us an easy way out since we didn’t have to think or take responsibility for our actions. This hindered us, however, because it prevented us from developing our own relationship with God. After all, why should we? We had the man of God to tell us what to think and what to do. We didn’t need to have our own relationship with God. That would only cause us confusion since we might hear God tell us something different than what the pastor said. Since the pastor was always right, of course, we had to have heard wrong.

In abusive systems, pastors love to be called “the man (or sometimes, the woman) of God.” This title separates him or her from the rest of the people because it’s assumed that he has a special relationship with God that’s unavailable to others.

Scriptures are mis-quoted and taken out of context. I remember the pastor standing up front as he quoted “King of kings and Lord of lords.” As he said, “King” and “Lord”, he would point to himself. Then, when he said, “kings” and “lords”, he would point to us to emphasize that he was king and lord over us.

When there is any indication that someone might have a differing opinion, those leaders are quick to remind their followers of the danger of touching God’s anointed. We were told that leadership had a special anointing and that God would punish anyone who spoke against them or criticized what they did. Because of this anointing, they were answerable to no one but God and could not be held accountable for their behavior.

The basis of this teaching is found in the Old Testament verse, Psalm 105:15 which says, “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.”

Notice that “anointed ones” is plural. When we put aside our traditions and look at this verse in context, it’s obvious that the anointed ones being spoken about are ALL of God’s people and not a select few. It’s obvious that the warning was given to the enemies of his people and not to his people.

The truth is there in NO special anointing on leadership. Insecure leaders maintain control and protect their position by twisting scriptures for their own personal benefit and this is only one of the many scriptures that they twist.

God doesn’t require unquestioned obedience even in our relationship with him. We’re free to ask questions and seek clarification when we don’t understand or agree.

God has invited us into a relationship with himself in which he treats us with respect and as adults. Although we’re his children, he doesn’t treat us as children. He allows us the freedom to make our own decisions. We’re responsible for the decisions we make and for our actions and we shouldn’t turn this responsibility over to anyone else.

The good news is that Jesus has removed the barrier between God and man and he has become the only mediator we need. In abusive systems, this beautiful loving relationship with God is replaced by total submission to a man and, in essence, he replaces Jesus as our mediator. By submitting unquestioningly to man’s authority, the barrier is put back up. Total freedom will come only as believers understand that the clergy/laity distinction is a man made tradition. As we learn to accept the love and grace that God so freely offers, we will live in that freedom that Jesus came to give us.

Exposing the lies

I just started reading “Judgment in St. Peter’s” by Aaron Nathan Rotsstein.

The story revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a Jesuit priest. The major part of the story is set in Rome and centers around the actions of high ranking members of the Jesuit order.

I’m enjoying the book but I find myself growing angry at the religious system whose main motivation is the acquiring of wealth and power. Although the characters in the book are Roman Catholic, Protestants have also developed their own religious traditions. Theirs tend to be more subtle so, in my opinion, they are actually more dangerous since they are more difficult to notice.
The hierarchical system of religion is clearly portrayed in this book and, as I read it, I got angrier and angrier. I’m amazed at how gullible we’ve been to accept the lie that some believers are worthy of greater power and prestige than others. Humility has been re-defined to mean total, unquestioning obedience even to your own hurt. Yet, the scriptures are clear in saying that no believer is to lord it over another.

In one scene, the priest is asking advice from his superior. Although the situation is a personal matter that should only require a personal decision, as a priest, he’s not free to make his own decision. His superior gives his decision and he doesn’t agree. However, when he attempts to voice his opinion, he’s quickly silenced and forced to acquiesce. It amazed me that even though he obviously knew what he wanted to do, he couldn’t make the decision on his own but instead, had to ask his superior. Since it was purely a personal matter, in a non-religious environment, he would have been free to do what he thought best.

Religion has robbed us of the freedom to make decisions on many matters that are purely personal. For example, what to do with our money. We’re told the first 10 % goes to the system and some of the rest to various projects promoted by the group. We’ve been robbed of the freedom to decide where to give and how much.

Fear and distrust are controlling factors in the religious system. Members are afraid they might anger God so it seems safer to put a man in between us and God. The system promotes this fear to its advantage by encouraging its members to believe they’re dumb sheep who are easily led astray and need a human shepherd to lead them.

Reading this book has stirred up a lot of anger and passion in me. I’m tired of seeing people beaten down by a system that puts itself above the people. People essentially become pawns to be used to promote the system. While I understand some groups may not be as extreme as others, this is still true to some extent throughout the religious system.

We’re all equal before God so we need to rise above the man made hierarchical clergy/laity distinction. At the new birth, we were given a new heart which contains the life of God. In our heart has been placed all wisdom and understanding and we need to trust ourselves to make good decisions. Of course, there may be times when we misunderstand and make the wrong decision but we need to then trust that God loves us and will use it for our good.

Since it replaces a relationship with God with obedience to a man, I believe the clergy/laity distinction is a tradition that has held the church back perhaps more than any other tradition. As this tradition is exposed for the dangerous lie that it is, I believe we’ll see more and more believers experiencing more of God’s love and grace.

Darin Hufford has written a powerful post that clearly exposes many deceptions that have held the church in bondage. To read about the freedom we have in Christ, follow this link. To read more about our new heart, you might want to check out Jim Robbins' excellent book, "Recover Your Good Heart."

As we become free, we won’t just stop there. We’ll have a growing desire to see others set free too and we’ll look for opportunities to rescue those who have been left wounded and dying by religion. I believe the following video provides a picture of our calling to rescue the wounded and dying.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Healthy and unhealthy churches

Each year, there is a Sunday set aside to pray for the persecuted church. I believe this is important. I believe we need to remember and pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering because they know Christ.

However, I believe we also need to remember that many of our brothers and sisters are being held captive in abusive churches. Some of us have personally experienced spiritual abuse or we know someone who has. This is a major problem that is swept under the rug since the institutional church just doesn’t talk about it. However, Father knows and he cares and he’s stirring many to begin speaking out for those who can’t speak for themselves. I’m thankful for the many blogs and websites that are committed to sharing resources that are helpful for those who have been victimized by spiritual abuse.

What Really Matters is one of these sites. It’s an excellent resource for those wanting more information regarding this subject and I highly recommend it. I also recommend reading the post contrasting the characteristics of a healthy and an unhealthy church.

Growing in the hard places

Several weeks ago, we had a lengthy string of comments posted regarding one of Free Spirit's posts. It began when I made the comment that Father had sent me to an abusive church. Free Spirit questioned whether that was really him sending me since she didn't believe that matched his character. I was going to add another comment but, when I started writing, it got longer and longer so I decided to post my own blog about it instead.

I don't know if this will answer her question, but I hope maybe it'll shed some light on the subject of suffering. Ouch!! That's a painful topic and I don't even like to think about it but, unfortunately, it's a fact of life. We will have times of suffering - sometimes because of our own poor decisions and sometimes because of circumstances beyond our control.

As I've shared before, I spent three and a half years in what later became an abusive church. Because of a number of circumstances that preceded my going there, I'm convinced that Father sent me there. I won't go into details now although I may at a future date. For now, I want to go in a different direction.

Although my time at that church was painful, it was actually one of the best times of my life. Before going any further, I know that some of you who read this post won't be able to relate to the positive aspects that I'll be sharing. Please don't read any condemnation into it. What I'll be sharing is only my experience. I know the horror of yours may far outweigh any positive benefits or you may feel that there weren't any positive benefits. Either way, I hope what I share will be an encouragement to anyone who reads it.

I've begun to think of my time there as the boot camp of my Christian life because it was there that I began to grow up as a believer. The pastor of that group taught me many things on which Father continues to build my life and what I believe today.

That pastor was the person who taught me how to think outside of the box. He taught me to question what I was told and this has resulted in a major change in how I view what I was taught in the system. Because of his teachings, I've been able to recognize the religious mindsets that had become part of my life. His out of the box thinking encouraged me to examine new thoughts and ideas rather than immediately shutting them out when they didn't fit my preconceived framework of beliefs.

My natural personality is fearful and hesitant. I don't go into new situations easily and, up until that time, I would always take the easier less stressful route. I don't like to make waves and I'll gladly go along to avoid a conflict. I'm not one to leave the safety of the boat to walk on water - with or without Jesus. All that has changed because of my time in that group. I'm now a totally different person who is much more willing to take risks rather than stay in the safety of the boat. I'm learning to enjoy the adventure rather than wanting only safety.

Staying at that church was totally out of character for me. I knew the pastor wasn't accepted by the larger Christian community and neither was the group. In the natural, I tend to be a people pleaser but I see Father setting me free from the bondage of the desire to please people. I'm now learning to live in the freedom of who I am even if people get angry and offended. Despite my natural tendencies to bail out when things got rough, I stayed in that group.

My time there was really the turning point in my journey. Prior to that, I had been deeply immersed in religion and pretty much accepted what I was told. I was satisfied with the system and it was the center of my life. However, in that group, the seeds of change had been planted that would later sprout and grow. Today, the changes that I'm seeing have surprised even me. I remember Wayne Jacobsen saying that he had now become the person he would not have allowed in his office a number of years ago. I can really relate to that statement.

As I look at where I am today, I'm excited about the person I've become and am becoming. Knowing what I now know about that group, if I had to do it again, I'd do it. I've come to the place where I no longer despise my time there since it was part of my journey to the freedom that I'm experiencing today. This freedom as well as the joy and peace of knowing who I am has made the hardship of those days well worth the pain. As I think about my experience, I'm reminded of Paul's declaration.

"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A study of spiritual abuse - "The Crucible"

I’m reading “The Crucible” for the first time. This play written by Arthur Miller in the early 1950’s is today considered a classic. Set in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, it describes the events that occurred which later became known as the Salem witch trials.

This was an era of insecurity. Fear of the unknown was rampant and, as a result, over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned as witches. Nineteen of these were convicted and hung as witches and, at least, five more died in prison. All of this was done in the name of purifying and protecting the church from satanic influences. Although this was extreme behavior, it had the same characteristics of all other forms of spiritual abuse with fear being a major tactic. Since those in spiritually abusive systems don’t understand the nature and grace of God, they are subject to delusions and superstition which results in fear.

During the witch hunts, fear was widespread. Being ignorant of God’s nature and not understanding the scriptures, there was excessive fear of the devil and the supernatural. The people didn’t understand that Jesus had already defeated the devil so that they no longer needed to fear him. They didn’t understand that Jesus’ victory was complete in every way.

As families increased, the need for land also increased. As a result, there was much fighting over land and lawsuits were common. When the trials began, greedy farmers used this opportunity to accuse other villagers so that they could take their property.

Internal jealousies is another characteristic of spiritually abusive groups. The members compete for favors and the system of rewards and punishment used by the leadership encourages competition.

Colonial Salem was a highly religious community organized as a theocracy. The church was involved in every aspect of life and could administer capital punishment in spiritual matters. The minister was considered equal to God and was not to be questioned in spiritual matters.

The minister of Salem was a man named Samuel Parrish. His sermons had a strong emphasis on hell and he used his pulpit to push his own agenda. As a result, he was disliked by the villagers and there was constant friction between him and them.

When his daughter became ill with an unknown illness, he grew anxious and began to seek out the cause. At first, he was opposed to the idea of witchcraft causing her illness but he soon wholeheartedly accepted this as the answer. Because of his insecurities, his desire to protect himself and his ministry became obsessive. Not wanting his reputation tarnished, he allowed the witch trials to continue and made no attempt to calm the people. As the trials continued, he did everything possible to prevent the truth from coming out. He and other leaders were more concerned about protecting their own interests than they were in seeing that justice was done or that the people were protected.

This is common with leaders of spiritually abusive groups. These groups are all led by insecure leaders. Protecting themselves is their primary concern and the people under their care become something to use and then discard when they are no longer useful. Instead of being an avenue for teaching and encouragement, sermons become a tool to push their agenda and to keep the people under tight control.

Behavior in Salem was tightly controlled. Dancing was forbidden so when the girls were discovered dancing in the woods, the witch hunts began as they sought to protect themselves. People were expected to be in church every Sunday and to be able to recite by heart The Ten Commandments. Those who failed in doing this were considered suspect.

In spiritually abusive groups, conformity is expected. The people are expected to follow without question the rules dictated by the leadership. Individuality and creativity are considered forms of rebellion and all free thinking is to be suppressed.

“The Crucible” is a powerful and haunting portrayal of the pain caused by spiritual abuse. Although the events that occurred in Salem are extreme, all forms of spiritual abuse are harmful and destructive. People are victimized and families are torn apart.

A lack of understanding of Father’s nature causes people to allow themselves to be abused. That’s why I believe it’s critical for these hurting people to hear the message of grace and love. I’m excited about the increasing amount of resources available to assist and encourage those who have been victimized. Healing is possible so I want to encourage anyone who has been victimized to check out the resources listed in my sidebar and begin a journey to freedom.

Discerning religious addiction

I want to link back to a post I wrote in July 2008. I believe the information that I've shared will be helpful in discerning if you or someone you love has developed a religious addiction. Please take the time to read it and, if you feel like it applies to you, please check out the resources presented. Help is available.

A Safe Place to Heal

A friend of mine wrote an excellent blog post about the need for a safe haven in every part of the church. When I read what she wrote, some thoughts came to mind that I'd like to share here.

We all know people who are struggling and hurting. They may have been victimized by someone else as in the case of spiritual abuse or their struggles may have been caused by their own poor decisions. Whatever the cause, they may need a safe place where they can heal.

The track record of the institution has not always been good. One of my friends has told me how she shared her struggles in a home group and, as she put it, they looked at her as if lobsters were crawling out of her ears. After experiences like that, we learn pretty quick that it's best not to share too openly so instead, we share the safe "sins" like, "I don't read my Bible enough" or we might even get bold and share that we got angry when we had to wait too long at a traffic light.

The issues that are hurting us and causing us to lose sleep are never brought up for discussion. Instead, they are continually pushed down where given the right set of circumstances, they can erupt spewing hurt and leaving devastation all around us. I believe that institutions are really not the best place for individuals to experience healing. I believe healing is best accomplished in a relationship where the hurting person is befriended and can experience the comfort of travelling with someone who will support and encourage them in their journey to wholeness.

The hurting need a shelter where they can feel loved and sheltered while being healed. I know there are many of us who want to be a safe place for the hurting so it's important that we understand what are the characteristics of a safe haven.

I believe a listening heart is one of the most important characteristics. While it's good to provide a listening ear, I think it's critical that we develop listening hearts. When we listen with our hearts, we hear the words that are not even spoken; we hear the cry that is not even uttered. Some who are hurting will try to hide their hurt and emotions from the world. When we listen with our hearts, however, we look beyond the smile and see the hurting heart.

Others may act out of anger or bitterness. During the time of my healing, I expressed uncharacteristic anger. I'm normally not an angry person but that emotion came out strong. Emotions that had been repressed began to come out and, when they did, they came out in a flood.

In the natural, before a wound can heal, the infection has to come out. The discharge may be unpleasant to see and unpleasant to deal with but, unless it comes out, the wound will not properly heal. Wounds of the heart are similar to physical wounds. Anger and bitterness may be discharged and we have to allow the wounded to freely express their hurt. It may be unpleasant but this is a vital step in their healing.

Healing is a process and it's never a short, quick process. In the case of a physical wound, it may look terrible and yet the healing process has already begun below the skin surface where it can't be seen. The same is true with a wounded heart. Things may look messy and nasty for a while but that's part of the healing process and shouldn't be rushed. The ugliness that we're seeing is not the real person. It's the infection that has built up around the wounded heart. During this time, the heart must be gently massaged with the love of God since this is the only medicine that will heal it.

I believe as we become more firmly established in Father's love that he will bring more of his hurting children to us. That's why I started blogging and that's why I added an email address to my profile. I want to be available to encourage and, if necessary, walk with someone as they journey toward wholeness.

My desire is to share the life and freedom that Father has given me so that others can be set free. I'm excited to see all of the other blogs and websites that are proclaiming this message of freedom in Christ. My hope is that they would multiply. The hurting and wounded need to hear that Father's love is not based on what they do but it's based solely on what he has already done.

When you can't leave (Spiritual abuse: part 2)

It's been a while since I posted part 1 but here at last is part 2. I'll still be using "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" as my source. Following the pattern set up by the authors, in part 1, I focused on "the unhealthy dynamics that dictate how people function within spiritually abusive systems." In this post, I'll discuss "the dynamics that create walls around abusive systems."

"Certain characteristics of spiritually abusive systems make it immensely difficult for people caught up in them to leave. Because of the focus on religious performance, things look good to those on the outside. The system acts like a "spiritual magnet" pulling in people from the outside. Inside, however, the system acts like a black hole with spiritual gravity so strong it is very hard for people to get out."

Following are listed those characteristics that create an inward pull that keep people trapped in abusive systems. These are taken from chapter 6.

"The following characteristics are what make these abusive spiritual systems so difficult to escape:

5. Paranoia. In a place where authority is grasped and legislated, not simply demonstrated, persecution sensitivity builds a case for keeping everything within the system. Why? Because of the evil, dangerous, or unspiritual people outside of the system who are trying to weaken or destroy "us." This mentality builds a strong wall or bunker around the abusive system, isolates the abusers from scrutiny and accountability, and makes it more difficult for people to leave - because they will then be outsiders too.

6. Misplaced Loyalty. A misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We're not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader.

Once again, because authority is assumed or legislated (and therefore not real) following must be legislated as well. A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God.

There are three factors that come into play here. First, leadership projects a "we alone are right" mentality which permeates the system. The second factor is the use of scare tactics. The third method is the threat of humiliation.This is done by public shaming, exposing, or threatening to remove people from the group.

7. Secretive. When you see people in a religious system being secretive - watch out. People don't hide what is appropriate; they hide what is inappropriate.

Conclusion. When these characteristics exist in a church or Christian family system, the result will be spiritual abuse. It will be a closed system, with rigid boundaries that prevent people from leaving."

In my blogs on spiritual abuse, I've only touched on the highlights. I really recommend studying this topic further by reading this book or studying any of the other resources available some of which are posted on my sidebar.

I don't know that I'll be adding any more to this series but then originally I wasn't planning on writing a series on this topic. What I've discovered is that this is a broad topic that has affected and is still affecting a multitude of people. It's heartbreaking that the gospel that was meant to be bring freedom and joy has instead been used to enslave and devastate.

Spiritual abuse can thrive only in the darkness of lies and deceit. My hope is that as the shame is removed and people begin to discuss this type of abuse, those that are still bound will be set free and healed of the negative affects and begin to enjoy the freedom that is available in Christ.

How to recognize spiritual abuse: part 1

In a previous post, I discussed the hurt and devastation that is the result of spiritual abuse. Nicki, in her comments, asked what are the symptoms of spiritual abuse. I wasn't planning on writing a second blog about it but I realized this is a very important topic that needs to be discussed. Describing the indicators would be too long for a comment so I decided to post another blog. Also, I think believers need to be aware of the signs for their own sakes as well as for the sake of family and friends.

I'll be quoting from "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen. This is one of the books that Father used to bring healing to me after my experience with spiritual abuse so I highly recommend it.

The authors have taken two chapters to describe these unhealthy dynamics. As they explained:

"There are certain characteristics that can be observed in all spiritually abusive systems. This chapter will focus on the unhealthy dynamics that dictate how people will function within spiritually abusive systems. In the following chapter, we will talk about the dynamics that create walls around abusive systems, making it difficult for people to get out."

In order to avoid making this blog too long, I've decided to divide it into two posts following the chapter division that the authors have set up. The following is taken from chapter 5, the first of the two chapters.

"Relationships between people in spiritually abusive systems are dictated by the following dynamics:

1. Power-Posturing. Power-posturing simply means that leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well. This is necessary because their spiritual authority isn't real - based on genuine godly character - it is postured.

2. Performance Preoccupation. In abusive spiritual systems, power is postured and authority is legislated. Therefore, these systems are preoccupied with the performance of their members. Obedience and submission are two important words often used.

3. Unspoken Rules. 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" 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 the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated."

4. Lack of Balance. The fourth characteristic of a spiritually abusive system is an unbalanced approach to living out the truth of the Christian life. This shows itself in two extremes:

Extreme Objectivism. The first extreme is an empirical approach to life, which elevates objective truth to the exclusion of valid subjective experience. This is seen in religious systems where even though the Holy Spirit's work might be acknowledged theologically, on a practical level it would be suspect, or denied.

Extreme Subjectivism. The other manifestation of lack of balance is seen in an extremely subjective approach to the Christian life . . . In this system, people can't know or understand truths (even if they really do understand or know them) until the leaders "receive them by spiritual revelation from the Lord" and "impart" them to the people."

As I'm sure you can tell, a spiritually abusive system is characterized by control. The people lose their freedom to think and act and all power is centered in one person or group of people who wield this power without regard for the well being of the people.

In part 2, I'll continue with a description of the characteristics of spiritually abusive systems that make it difficult for people to leave.

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse is an experience which has brought hurt to many believers. Since I've been a victim of spiritual abuse, I can speak from personal experience about how devastating this experience is as well as how difficult the healing process is. Unfortunately, there are many who are still wounded and struggling years after their experience.

This is a topic that needs to be discussed openly and boldly. For those who would be interested in a more in depth discussion of the topic, check out A Voice in the Desert. I haven't read this blog but it looks like it might be helpful for those needing to connect with someone who shares deeply from her own personal experience.

For those who have been victimized by this cruel experience, I want to encourage you that there is healing. You don't have to continue to live with shame and guilt. Father loves you and has never been disappointed in you. He's always loved you and He wants you to know that it wasn't your fault. You were a victim but now it's time to get beyond that victim mentality and begin to see yourself as a son or daughter of a God who loves you more than you'll ever know so rise up and begin your journey to wholeness today. Healing is possible. I can attest to that fact from personal experience.

Let's begin our journey

In 2008, I began to have a desire to share the message of God’s grace, so in January of that year, I started my first blog, Forgetting the Former Things. Over time, I also began adding posts and resources directed at helping those who had been victimized by spiritual abuse. As that emphasis began to grow, it became obvious that my blog was becoming known as a resource for those seeking information about spiritual abuse. However, I also felt that those needed resources were getting lost among all of my other posts so in 2009, I decided to set up a blog totally devoted to spiritual abuse and that is how Setting the Captives Free was born.

This blog has been under construction since March of 2009 with very little activity but now I just sense that the time is right to begin developing it. I will also continue to add posts regarding spiritual abuse to Forgetting the Former Things but for those who prefer to not wade through the other material, the same information will be posted here.

My hope is that those who are confused and hurting because of their involvement in a spiritually abusive group will find hope and encouragement here. There is healing and restoration so let’s together begin your journey to freedom.