November 11, 2011

Spiritual Abuse... is it real?

Spiritual Abuse, Christian Cults and Controlling Ministries 

Above you will see a link that takes you to an article on another website. You can click on it to go read it there, or you can read here what I copied from Charisma News. I just want to make sure I am not in breach of any copyrights or taking credit for what I did not write. This is an article written by Jennifer Leclaire. I wish to thank her for her words of wisdom in dealing with such a sensitive matter. Since she has so clearly written some things I know and feel and wish to share, I will quote her article here: 

Spiritual Abuse, Christian Cults and Controlling Ministries
Jennifer LeClaire 

It’s irresponsible to loosely toss around emotionally charged accusations like “spiritual abuse,” “Christian cults” and “controlling ministries.” I wouldn’t want to stand before Jesus and give account for misspoken words that carry the potential to tear down what He is building. On the other hand, it’s also irresponsible to turn a blind eye to spiritual abuse, Christian cults and controlling ministries. I wouldn’t want to stand before Jesus and give account for supporting ministries that are tearing down what He is building. 

When spiritual leaders are caught in sex abuse scandals, the secular and Christian media alike pen stories that offer the detestable details and dogged denials. But spiritual abuse, cultish churches and controlling ministries are less often exposed than pastors who coerce teenaged boys and unsuspecting church secretaries to have sexual relations. Victims of abusive church authority structures may not even realize what they are enduring until they escape its grip. 

Spiritual abuse is often subtle. Christian cult leaders don’t always operate like Jim Jones. Controlling ministries tend to hide behind the guise of spiritual coverings. And far too many outsiders are not willing to even question the messages and practices of such churches. It takes lovers of truth with spiritual discernment to recognize the sometimes-subtle signs of abusive churches. And it takes courage to confront it. 

What exactly is spiritual abuse? Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of the classic book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, explains it this way: “Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority … misuses that authority placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.”

Spiritual abuse is hardly a new phenomenon. You can find instances in the Bible of spiritual leaders exploiting people to build their kingdoms. In Jeremiah 8, the Lord called out the abuse of prophets and priests, saying, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious” (v. 11 NIV).  The root problems of people in the “church” were treated superficially. In other words, the pastor put a Band-Aid on the problem so things looked good from the outside but the wound was festering on the inside. The pastor’s prominence was more important than the legitimate needs of the congregation. 

Today, this manifests as spiritual leaders recruiting volunteers to build their ministries while neglecting to minister to the real needs of hurting people. In such cases, churches become like businesses. The pastor is more like a CEO than a spiritual leader. Staff meetings center on marketing initiatives that will bring more people—who will bring more tithes and offerings—into the sanctuary. Church services becomes about external appearances, but the white washed tombs are full of dead men’s bones.

Jesus addressed spiritual abuse in His day. Beyond His warnings about the Pharisees, Jesus also pointed out ravenous wolves. These ravenous wolves look much like anointed prophets, but their motives are dastardly. Today, the spiritually abusive Pharisaical pastor has a long list of rules and demands and little grace for those who don’t rise to the occasion.

Entire books have been written on spiritual abuse. Those books will help you see spiritual abuse for what it is, how you got sucked into the cycle, how to break free from spiritual abuse, and how to recover from spiritual abuse once you’ve escaped its clutches. But for now, I want to leave you with some nuggets from Dave Johnson and VanVonderen’s book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.

Power-posturing is a telltale sign of spiritual abuse. Power-posturing leaders spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it. Johnson and VanVonderen say this is necessary because their spiritual authority isn’t real—based on genuine godly character—it is postured.

In practical terms, this might manifest as a leader who likes to remind the congregation that he can excommunicate people or that any anointing you are flowing in comes from the head (him). This leader can never be questioned, and is usually not accountable to anyone. Those around him are usually mere "yes men" who do his bidding in exchange for delegated authority to lord over others.

Performance preoccupation is a sign of spiritual abuse. Johnson and VanVonderen note that obedience and submission are two important words often used in abusive church structures.

Don’t get me wrong. Obedience and submission are important. But spiritual abuse often shames or scares people into obedience and submission. True obedience is a matter of the heart. Spiritual abusers apply undue pressure that is not from God. That pressure is usually applied to get you to do the leader’s will, not God’s will.

Unspoken rules are common in instances of spiritual abuse. In abusive spiritual systems, Johnson and VanVonderen offer, people’s lives are controlled from the outside in by rules, spoken and unspoken.

“Unspoken rules are those that govern unhealthy churches of 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,” Johnson and VanVonderen write. It often seems these “rules” hold more power than scripture.

The “Can’t Talk” rule is seen where spiritual abuse is present. Johnson and VanVonderen explain that the “can’t talk” rule blames the person who talks, and the ensuing punishments pressure questioners into silence.

If you voice a problem you become the problem. If you question why the church no longer picks up the poor kids in the ministry van but has shifted its focus to more affluent neighborhoods, you are removed from your role as a volunteer driver. Others see your fate and decide they'd better not rock the boat. It's a form of intimidation.

Lack of balance and extremism is often present where spiritual abuse lives. This manifests as an unbalanced approach to living out the truth of the Christian life. Johnson and VanVonderen explain that in these systems it is more important to act according to the word of a leader who has “a word” for you than to act according to what you know to be true from Scripture, or simply from your spiritual-growth history.
The truth is prophetic words don’t carry the same weight as Scripture, and you can hear from God for yourself. When you rely on other people to tell you what God is saying, you open the door to control and manipulation.

It’s not possible to fully expose the inner workings of spiritual abuse, Christian cults and controlling churches in a single article. My goal is to raise awareness of a troubling issue and get you thinking—not to send you on a witch hunt for spiritual abusers.

If you think you are part of a spiritually abusive cult-like or controlling church, ask the Lord to break any deception off your mind and show you the truth. The truth could be that you are in a healthy church and you just need to die to self. But it could be that you are in an abusive system and you need to break free. If your heart is purely seeking the truth, the Holy Spirit will surely guide you there (John 16:13).

Jennifer LeClaire is news editor at Charisma. She is also the author of several books, including The Heart of the Prophetic. You can e-mail Jennifer at jennifer.leclaire@charismamedia.com or visit her website here.

November 05, 2011

When

WHEN

When this life becomes too much, and I can't live it on my own.....
Lord, you give me strength to make your glory known.

When I feel I've had enough, and I can't take it anymore...
Lord, you lift me up and remind me I am yours.

When I'm tired and alone, and no one seems to care...
Lord, you show to me that you are always here.

When others beat me down, saying I'm not good enough...
Lord, you make it known that together we are tough.

When I question "Why?" or get mad at what you do...
Lord, you gently say "Trust that I love you."

When life seems to make no sense and I can't find my way...
Lord, you light my steps and give me guidance for each day.

When the pain and hurt is deep and doesn't want to heal...
Lord, you give compassion and all my pain you feel.

When I've given all I have and done all that I can do...
Lord, you take my broken life and make it just like new.

When I reach the end of my life and my purpose here is done...
Lord, you'll fold me in your arms and say "my child, welcome home!"

Tracy Bergsma

The Heart of the Matter

I know I opened a can of worms in my previous post titled Freedom of Worship and Lifestyle but I'd really like to get to the heart of the matter.  I talked about how I now realize that I was in a cult... but there is so much more I wish to share about this topic.  Please bear with me as I unload my emotions, thoughts, and experiences here and try to make sense of it all.  Try to understand that I am not knocking my FAITH or my belief in GOD, just the practices and procedures I was convinced to believe and follow all my life, and tried to force on others also.

You see, there is a very special word called GRACE.  It is hard to explain, other than a dictionary definition, but it is much easier to point out in action (or lack of grace [ungrace, if you will] in action).  I have experienced a lot of grace in my life, and I have experienced a lot of ungrace too!  I will talk more about grace and its definition and examples in another post, but suffice it to say that God shows us grace like no one else can.  This is because He cares about our hearts!

God's primary concern is our heart of hearts.  He cares about our dreams and goals, our fears and failures, our laughter and tears, our hopes, ambitions, hurts, longings-- the essence of all that we are!  Unlike any one or any thing in this life.... God wants us for our heart, our truest self.  Sure He wants our obedience, sacrifice, morality,  praise, worship, contentment, thanks, self-esteem, etc, etc.  All these are good, important even, but NOT the heart of what God is after!  God wants our hearts--our true being, our innermost secret self.  THIS is God's primary concern and reason for all He has done and is doing.   It really seems too good to be true!  It's so hard to allow ourselves to believe it... to trust Him.

No amount of rules or structure will yield our hearts to God.  The most severe religious regulations, the greatest personal sacrifices, the best appearance of spirituality does not ensure our hearts are God's.  In the Bible (Isaiah 29:13) God says about His chosen nation, Israel, "their hearts are far from me."  This is the Creator's lament--even though His people were rigidly and intentionally following the laws and performing their duties, their hearts were not in what they were doing.  Their innermost self did not belong to God.  It was just a legalistic adherence to the practices that were expected.  They performed faithfully, but without heart.  If God gets our hearts and we are madly, deeply, truly, trustingly in love with HIM, then all the other things will fall into place.  Who else could care for us and our deepest needs and desires like the One who made us?

Here is where the legalism, abuse and cults come in... grabbing the deep need and desire of our hearts to be at one with our Creator/Savior, to be accepted.  If we just get more involved in church, give more money (or time), sacrifice more of the personal pleasures from our life, dress more simply and modestly, drink less alcohol (or none at all), evangelize more, keep our kids out of the public schools.... on and on the list goes.... then, maybe we will find favor with God and He will love us and accept us and bless us.  It becomes a matter of outward conformity instead of the inward transformation of the heart.

God wants the heart first!  He knows that when my heart is bound with His and I am secure in His love and grace, my outward life will reflect my innermost being.  Cults, religious groups, legalistic organizations focus on the outward appearance and use it to judge what is in my heart.
  • God says "do not get drunk" (Ephesians 5:18), focusing on the need for moderation and the dangers of excess (Proverbs 20:1, 23:20, Isaiah 5:11).  However, legalists and certain religious cults will say "Don't drink alcohol at all!  Any alcohol is sin!"  Their focus is on the idea that it can lead to sin, so just avoid it completely.  
  • God's Word says "let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another" (Hebrews 10:25).  The religious cult will say this means to never miss a church service or meeting, as that is a sign of ungodliness and means you are a weak Christian. 
  • God's Word says "it is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name" (Psalm 92:1), "praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre" (Psalm 33:2), also "let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp" (Psalm 149:3) and again "praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals" (Psalm 150:3-5).  Actually, all through the Psalms God's people are encouraged to praise with voice, instruments, dance.  Yet the conservative religious groups will say that "only the good old hymns of the faith are acceptable and if the music styling does not follow the "proper biblical rules of music" then it is wrong! Dancing is always erotic and sinful, so no dancing is ever acceptable!"  Also they hold that certain instruments (like drums and bass guitars) are worldly and of the devil and cannot bring God glory.
There are so many more examples that can be given, but I think you see what I'm getting at.  Yes, God does have rules!  His rules are for our good, and He has our heart and its relationship with Him at the core of every rule.  The cults and abusers have our outward performance and conformity at the core of all their rules and enforcements.  I will touch more on this subject, in more detail, when I post about grace in the future.

I just want to share with you that I now understand the difference between God wanting my heart and seeking an intensely personal relationship with me at the core of my being; and man wanting my adherence, submission and conformity to a set of standards (rules) in order to possibly receive the "gift" they are offering, if I achieve well enough to merit it. 

This is the heart of the matter!  God offers to me freely and generously what no one else (or no thing) can ever give me.... it's up to me to reach for it and take it.  Do I trust Him with my heart?

November 04, 2011

Radically Free... what does that mean?

WOW!  I really wonder what it does mean... to be free, that is--radically free!  I don't know what it looks like or how it feels.  I believe I've had glimpses of it in my life, but I don't think I have ever truly experienced actual freedom.  This is my journey to that promise of abundant life that Jesus made.  I want the liberty that is found only in the Truth.  But sometimes the truth hurts!

The Webster's Dictionary defines radical as drastic or sweeping; extreme; favoring or resulting in extreme or revolutionary changes.  Free is defined as not imprisoned or enslaved; at liberty; not controlled by the obligation or the will of another.  So radical freedom (in my opinion and understanding) is therefore an extreme, revolutionary change to freedom and liberty.  To such an extreme that no person or thing has control over me. Truth, God's truth, THE Truth is supposed to set us free.

It is a scary journey.  The mystery of finding freedom in truth is that we have deceived ourselves for so long, we don't really want the truth.  It is hard to look at the facts, as they really are... to look at myself, truly look at the real me... and want to face the truth that is there.  Once faced, it requires action.  I must do something about the truth that I see.  Either I must continue in the truth, often alone and against the flow, or I must change the truth to fit what I want to keep believing and doing.  (Which then changes the "truth" into a lie.)

My purpose in this blog is to chronicle my journey toward being radically free; offering, perhaps, some connection of spirit, some part of my story that resonates with you.  This is with the hope of helping you to seek your own radical freedom.  I do not know how this journey will end, nor what kind of adventures I will face on the journey..... but I'm excited about it!

Is this radical thinking?  You bet!!!  And I intend to live radically free from here on.  It will be a process.  No change, however small, happens overnight.  With radical changes.... there is a lot of unlearning to do, before the new "free" way can be learned.  There is also a lot of hurt that must be uncovered and dealt with.  Digging for truth will make us question: Who am I?  Why am I the person I am? Why do I believe what I do? Is there another way, a better way?  What is my purpose in this life?  How can I change, or should I change? Why does it hurt so much to look at me as I really am, faults and all?  If I can't control my environment, how do I get free and stay free?

Freedom starts with truth.  In the Bible, Jesus declared that "I [Jesus] am the way, the TRUTH, and the life" (John 14:6), and He told the Jews "ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32).  Jesus is the Living Word of God, the truth, and in Him is radical freedom.  "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John 8:36)  

If you wish to be radically free, then start by seeking the truth.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and in Him alone is complete, extreme, drastic, sweeping liberty!  This freedom will not be completely realized in this life, on this earth... but there is great peace and freedom in understanding the truth and working toward an eternity of being Radically Free!