Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Have You Been Spiritually Hazed?

Winkipedia has this to say on the subject of hazing:
"Hazing” refers to any activity expected of someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate. In years past, hazing practices were typically considered harmless pranks or comical antics associated with young men in college fraternities.

Today we know that hazing extends far beyond college fraternities and is experienced by boys/men and girls/women in school groups, university organizations, athletic teams, the military, and other social and professional organizations. Hazing is a complex social problem that is shaped by power dynamics operating in a group and/or organization and within a particular cultural context.

In the context of “any activity expected… [to join] a group…that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional…harm” I endured hazing for two plus decades. In my perspective the dynamic was a power play of a narcissistic woman to see how far she could degrade without protest from the “hazee” or the surrounding crowd.

For example: a church member spends a holiday with a family member outside of the church with whom they share a relatively strong bond. Upon the next church service, the pastor would stand to her feet and say God had revealed a “rebellious spirit” to her: like Achan and the hidden gold, there was sin “hidden in the camp”.

Whenever she made that announcement, my heart would beat faster, my mouth would go cotton dry, and often I would sweat a vile smell from sheer fear.
She would then begin to vaguely list the symptoms of the afflicted person. Each church member had been assigned evil character traits by the pastor. If she spoke of a family spirit or someone that was always tired (I had an auto-immune disease- fatigue is a normal symptom) I knew my number was up: God through her was about to check my loyalty by public ridicule.

The pastor would rant and rave about my last year’s worth of mistakes, real or imagined. Then the congregation would stand to their feet one by one and say how that if they were blessed enough to have God reveal spiritual danger through such a wonderful mouth piece, they would fall to their knees and repent. Kind church members would talk about their last experience with God’s cleansing. If you were lucky like me you got to sit by one of the pastor’s favored people and have loud “AMENS” yelled in your ear as the pastor revealed the worst of your offenses to the whole church. It was bitter humiliation to say the very least.

I knew the only way to stop the emotional torture was to stand and admit to every offense she had listed. Many times she would have the guilty party come forward and have the evil cast out of them by prayer.
The final humiliation was to publicly thank her for the emotional abuse and call it a gift from God.

And her hazing had accomplished what she intended: her power over the group had been re-enforced, I was debased in my own eyes and the eyes of my peers and not much of a threat to the system, and the on-lookers would be loath to find themselves in such a situation by attempting any family visits.

She had many such tactics to ensure her twisted authority, such as instructing family members, even husbands and wives to distance themselves from the offending party.

Hazing, in my mind, is a great tool for an abuser to keep their place of authority right where they want it: right on the neck of the hazed church member.

Have you been "hazed" in an abusive church? Please add your experience in the comments below.

Further Reading:
Exploring Bounded Choice
Can't You See I'm Dying?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Informative Links

If you scroll down the blog you will notice a sidebar titled "Informative Blogs". I highly recommend each of them as they are excellent resources on recognizing and escaping spiritual abuse.

There are several links that I would like to bring to the top of the list due to their relevant topics:

1. Signs of Spiritual Abuse by the blog "Religious Cults in the South"
2. Newspaper in California Cover Spiritual Abuse and Red Flags by the blogger "Provender"
3. Strong Delusion and What We Lose by Danny Bryant
4. The Grieving Process: Depression & Loneliness by the Blogger My Teen Mania Experience
5. Conversations About Spiritual Abuse by Pluck’s Blog

Hope For the New Year

It is my fervent hope that one day my ex-pastor will awaken to the knowledge that she is an abuser. I pray that she will confess her sins and make recompense to those she has wounded in God's name.

This is the link to a letter I wrote in the throes of the PTSD I experienced after leaving the cult.

I know she has read the letter. It served to only enrage her.

I wish she would come to the true knowledge of God's saving grace.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Light Always Wins

Once again it is my pleasure to have the guest poster, Witch's Slave No More, share his journey out of spiritual abuse. During these final days of being under her illusion, I felt as if I needed to buy time to prepare my heart to get rid of her. I felt then that my Bible studies had to go on every day in order to strengthen. Also, I had to slightly pretend that I cared about what she said and did, even though I knew these things were evil. The Lord had set a task on my heart and that task was to sit still and observe what she is TRULY like.

She would use phrases that no good person should use "I hate those people that....", "They are just so stupid....", "I would kill them if....", and then of course there are the usual profanities that shouldn't be said by anyone, especially in the context that she used them in and in front of children, the elderly. I realized that these things were so wrong and I prayed and studied for resolution and finally, God gave me the answer. The leap of faith that He wanted me to take was my first step and He filled my heart with His assurance that if I followed Him, He would stick with me and reward me with what I needed and wanted in my life.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Finding Colossians 3:5 was the green light that God gave me to break all ties with her. She told me that I was wasting my time with church and giving money to them that I could spend on our relationship (she meant on her). I fired volleys back at her "you just make the rules up as you go" and "you think that you are good, but your favorite word is 'hate'". We argued for about twenty minutes before I just got sick of it, hung up the phone, instantly changed my number with the phone company, changed the locks on my doors, and drove out of town to spend some "away time" with the family. My family was really supportive with the break up and they had a little party to celebrate my new independence.

I have to tell you, that the fight at the end wasn't nearly as difficult as I had anticipated, but I know that was because the Lord was there. He helped to keep me calm during the worst of it all. The hardest part was actually recognizing that I was being spiritually abused. The breaking up period took 6 months from the time I realized that she was using me and destroying my soul with witchcraft and deceit of multiple kinds.

The Lord laid rewards at my feet, He led me to my wife, a sweetheart that understands about spiritual abuse (we help each other a lot in that area). I am much more comfortable in life and do feel like I am free again, but often, God sets various reminders for me that I am NEVER to forget to help those that need help and to not slack off for too long.

I hope that I helped at least one person out there with my story, that is my goal, not too belittle my abuser, but to keep others from the same trap. I have reopened a lot of old wounds to relay my testimony for you, so now, I ANXIOUSLY await your questions so I might help try to help you recognize what you are going through and help you through these times.

I have gone through the Bible and chosen some very distinct messages which I hope to share with you to help you realize what those involved in spiritual abuse are going though and what we can do to help them.

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Psalm 124:6-8 Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. Who have escaped like a bird out of the fowler's snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 6:1-5 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something and he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to someone else, for each one should carry his own load.

Until then,
Witch's Slave No More

picture from photobucket in wonderfulgrace1225 account

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Gleam of Light: A Guest Post by Witch's Slave No More

The blogger, Witch's Slave No More, continues his story of a journey out of mind-control and manipulation in this second guest post. To read the first part of his story, click here.

You know, I had heard that even a single match lit in the darkest of caves can create a fantastic force of light that can be seen from hundreds of yards, even miles away.

When I started to read the Bible again, I could see that light, but it was not enough to make out that the light WAS the Lord Christ. The light was of Good origin, I knew this much, but it was not enough to say who was casting it and certainly not enough to fight off the evil that was subduing me.

She continued to try to sell me her lies, but I was only lending a deaf ear to what she had to say as I started my studies. Proverbs was my first book, and I loved it dearly. The wisdom is deep and so very simple to understand. I prayed for protection and read verses over and over again from the book of Psalms. As I continued to study, I noticed that certain things began to happen to my abuser. Over the next year, I saw the following changes in her: a spider bite from a brown recluse which resulted in the loss of a toe, a torn ACL (knee joint) which required surgery, contraction of diabetes and several diabetic seizures, multiple lice infestations, lupus, total decay in about 6 different teeth, severe bone density loss, more than I can actually name.

My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. -2 Samuel 22:3-

When the time felt right, I took my stand. I had my family praying for me and I was going to at least try for my freedom. I could hear the Lord pounding drums in my chest. She came to my door and I stood my ground, telling her that Witchcraft is wrong and I cited the scriptures that I knew...
God, you've walked out on your family Jacob because their world is full of hokey religion, Philistine witchcraft, and pagan hocus-pocus, a world rolling in wealth, Stuffed with things, no end to its machines and gadgets, And gods—gods of all sorts and sizes. These people make their own gods and worship what they make. A degenerate race, facedown in the gutter. Don't bother with them! They're not worth forgiving! -Isaiah 2:6-
But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. -Rev 21:8-
She stood her ground by reiterating what she had said before about the Bible being fickle. When I asked her proof, she could not respond with anything besides cusswords. I had caught her off guard.

She had promised not to make me practice witchcraft again, but still, it wasn't over. I wanted these horrible games she was playing to be over and done with once and for all, but despite the wishes of my God, my family and myself, the war for my soul continued. However, getting her to stop was a step in the right direction, but I knew that if I didn't keep reading that Bible, her willpower would overthrow mine and she would once again command fully. At the time I felt like I had won a battle, but slowly witchcraft's principles gradually and subtly leaked from her. So I read,
Wake up! Rise to my defense! Take up my case, my God and my Lord. Declare me not guilty, O Lord my God, for you give justice. Don’t let my enemies laugh about me in my troubles. Don’t let them say, “Look, we got what we wanted! Now we will eat him alive! -Psalms 35:23-25-

I studied and started going to a non-denominational church. The preacher reminded me of the one I knew at that little Church of Christ where my spirituality was born. The community of church can give you something that no other group of people can: bravery, even in the midst of terrifying adversity. Since church provides friends that will listen and help, it was no wonder that she didn't want me going on a regular basis. In less than a month I was truly prepared to make that final step. Within that time, the Lord gave me the strength to study and prepare for perhaps the greatest spiritual battle of my life: to at last end my relationship with this witch and to save my soul...Until next time,

Witch's Slave No More

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alone In a Corner

It is my great privilege to have the blogger ‘Witch’s Slave No More’ post his experience on the Cult Next Door.

I met this wonderful man on e-harmony and soon realized that he did indeed understand what it was to have your trust in God crushed and your belief in human beings trampled.

I have been truly blessed to have a mate that not only listens sympathetically but also empathizes with his whole heart.

Truly this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in my eyes.

I met this site's current head writer known as "Toxic Sheep No More" on eHarmony last year. One of the things that we quickly established was that we both were victims of spiritual abuse. She, however, has undergone a more classic case of cult abuse whereby a leader, of remarkable charisma, employs arsenals of altered scripture citing that runs inconsistently with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

My history of being spiritually abused comes from a place that is overlooked by most: I was the solitary victim.

After a painful and bitter divorce (which I am no longer bitter about), after a long and difficult battle with my desire to smoke tobacco and marijuana, and after a year solid of pure loneliness (lonely, as in not having even had a date of even just a PLATONIC nature), I met a woman who would take the next 3 and 1/2 years of my life and try to brainwash me into submission. I became a victim of a solitary cultist. You see, where a church cult targets a group of people, a solitary focuses on one victim. During this time, I was brainwashed out of my Fender bass guitar, several computer components, a car (which she traded in for $5,000) and what I estimate to be around $12,000 cash.

However, the money wasn't the worst part. I was conned out of my religion and convinced that faith was futile. At a very gradual rate, this person started to change my perception of God.

Let's start from the beginning. I was raised in a Church of Christ and was taught to love Jesus, Savior of all that put their faith in Him. My parents, as all good parents should do, encouraged me to grow my faith. For the first 3 years or so, they took me to church and I LOVED going to Sunday school, hearing about this "lamb of God", and hanging out with my church friends during service. Our pastor got very sick and my parents didn't like the new pastor so they stopped going and I had to as well. The new church they went to made me uncomfortable and I never quite found a church-home again like that little Church of Christ . Through my teenage years and my early 20's, I didn't fit in anywhere. In my mid-20's, for a short time, I found a Baptist preacher that really seemed to know what he was doing, but then my wife and I divorced and I had to move.

A year after the move, I met the woman that I will only refer to in pronouns. She began citing obscure Bible verses, ones that focuses on the wraith of God, instead of His love. For example, how God sent plagues onto Egypt , but she would conveniently leave out parts, saying that they were to be overlooked because they were a part of a different story. This didn't make sense to me, but she was someone who was willing to talk about God (even though she never listened or took my point of view into any consideration) and talking about God with someone, really felt good. She had an answer for everything, but nothing she said had any real basis of truth to it and after a while, I got sick of questioning what she thought was right. A lonely person like me, craving attention and a listening ear, anyone's ear, will listen to the silliest garbage and eventually accept the garbage as truth. After I stopped questioning her and started buying into her Biblical misdirection, she said that the Bible had no real basis for fact at all, since "it was written by man and it changed every couple of generations to keep up with the times." She had no real proof of this, of course, but she was still reeling me in, like a worm on a hook. I had started to believe that the Bible was pure lies. Then she started to tell me that the "real" god wants us to worship solstices and the equinox and light candles and chant and cast spells to "protect" others. It seemed far fetched, until I did it a few times and I invested a lot of good money for cheesy merchandise. Her next step was to tell me that there were two gods! One that was older than the God that I had believed in... that was pretty much a stumbling block on her part. I could start to see a little bit of light in the dark cavern that was my life and I started to pick the Bible back up again...

That story I will have to tell next time.
"Witch's Slave No More"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Give Away

Breaking The Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel is Shari Howerton’s account of life in a cult and the subsequent journey out of the mind control. Click here to read Shari ’s blog interview with the Cult Next Door.

Shari’s book is slated to be released mid-October and I am counting the days to get my hands on my copy.

In the spirit of sharing, I will be giving my copy to one fortunate reader, who hopefully will share it with another friend.

Two steps are required for the book drawing. First: tweet me @ toxicsheepnomore with the scripture, song, book, friend, movie, etc. that helped you ‘break the chains’ of toxic faith, a bad situation, a harmful relationship, etc.

For example: Shari speaks of Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song “Remember Your Chains” as being inspirational on her journey. Shannon on the blog Free Believers speaks of feeling like the character Rose in Titanic as she despairingly considers ending her life.
I recognized myself in the character of Penelope, a girl who has been cloistered all her life till she faces the world bravely, despite her pig snout nose. Several family members read Charles Swindoll’s book, Grace Awakening, and realized their bondage.
And the list goes on and on. Pick your favorite inspiration and tweet me. If you are a spiritual abuse survivor be sure to include those words in your tweet. That will cause the tweet to show up on the side bar.

Next e-mail me at toxicsheepnomore@yahoo.com the address you wish the book
sent to. I will put the addresses in a literal hat and pull out the winner on December 1st, 2009. I will post the winning tweeter unless you request not to be posted.

God Bless!

Halloween Post One: When You Want To Free the House Elves

When I escaped the emotional, mental, and physical slavery of a fundamental cult I spent the first year bouncing from exhilaration of unconstrained freedom to the depths of burning anger against the perpetrator of abuse and those that watched helplessly as she bullied with glee.

Talking with other ex-cult members helped put these wildly varying emotions into perspective. Talking with counselors affirmed that being verbal about the torrent of emotions was healthy and very necessary.

Methodically I rid myself of clothes, music, perfume- anything that defined the world in which I had existed.
This exercise (or exorcise?) proved enjoyable. Shredding the letters which were shoved under the door that read “What have I done? Why did you leave?” (click here and decided how long you would stay) Smashing perfume bottles (she wanted every woman in the church to smell like her) – that bit of fun did have a high price- we couldn’t walk in the back yard for days without getting a whiff of her.

And then I remembered. I had left behind a dear friend who must be as desperate for freedom as I had been.

When several family members had ‘defected’ a few years back (her term for those who refuse her dictatorial rule- and if she caught you communicating with defectors she would chastise you verbally for hours) one tried to reach me by leaving gifts and kind notes on the doorstep. While I didn’t respond by resuming communication, the knowledge that someone cared was a comfort.

“Ah!” I thought, “I will leave a trail of kindness that she will follow out of the madness.”

So I wrote a kind note and left it and a box of snacks on her porch.
This earned no response.
“Ah!” went the brilliant brain, “I have gotten my message of continued good will across.”

A month and a half went by and I left another gift and note. “More kindness crumbs that show the way out.”

And then! The bolt of lightening fell. One day she drove up to my house, jumped out of the car, curtly handed me a letter and left.
Essentially, the letter told me I was going to hell and keep my witchy self to myself.

Did I learn from this episode? Oh, no. I had to try once more- after all, she’s held against her will, right?

Wrong. The last card, which included a list of traits of a manipulator/narcissist, resulted in this old friend, with which I experienced decades of friendship, beating on the door and yelling for someone to come out to speak with her.

It was obvious that she didn’t plan to gush with thanksgiving at having the prison she was in pointed out to her, so the door was not opened.

And so I have come to realize that she is so controlled by a narcissist pastor that she would indeed drink the Kool-Aid if ordered to do so.
This fact troubles me greatly. Will Dade City be witness to another Jonestown? How insane has this abusive pastor become? Will she eventually demand the ultimate sacrifice to prove her follower’s loyalty?

I see in this experience a parallel to the house elves of J.K. Rowling’s creation.
Hermione Granger sees the house elves’ squelched existence, their lack of autonomy, and sets up an organization to free these pitiful slaves of the magical world.
Do the house elves respond eagerly to this movement?

No. They run away from Hermione and her ‘evil’ ideas, preferring to cling to the old ways of enslavement, proudly bearing the bondage of their masters. Simply put: The house elves enjoy their rotten lot.

So, I’ll learn from this house-elf experience. If you crave freedom, as Dobby did (see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for details), you’ll find a way to be free.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised, a magical mirror that lets the viewer see himself with what he most desires.

Harry, an orphan, sees himself surrounded by family. He returns night after night, to experience the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by family.
One night, Professor Dumbledore is waiting for him by the mirror.
He admonishes:
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that Harry."
For me, I’ve had my nose pressed against the glass of imaging my friend out of darkness, flourishing in freedom from fear. It has motivated me to pray and think of her often.
But I am seeing events as I want them to be, not as they truly are. She doesn’t want freedom; she may never refuse the abuse.

And I cannot live in dreams and forget to live.

I’ll still pray for her, but with acceptance, not resolve. I’ll think of her occasionally, with regret, not with frustrated determination.
She belongs to the mirror and I to the living.

Halloween Post Two: Some Days it is Just a Monster Mash

In an interview with Focus on the Family author Frank Peretti explained his motivation for writing about monsters. As a child he had a medical condition which turned his tongue an oozing black.

As children are often the cruelest beings on the planet, Peretti suffered through taunts of being a “monster”. Choosing the positive aspect of a bad situation, he decided to see monsters as “cool” and himself as special in being associated with them.

This post is in celebration of choosing the positive, and yes, even the humorous aspect of feeling like a freak.

After living in a fundamental cult for twenty plus years, I escaped into what I thought would be stress-free living. I survived hell on earth- now it was time to lay back and relax, right?

That might be right for some. And if you are part of that some, congratulations- you have the good life.

For me and many that I have spoken with, coming out of the cult is the easy part. Living outside of the cult is the true challenge.

For many, the challenge proves too great and they return to the cult, though it be harsh and unforgiving, at least they understand how it functions.

I grew up inside the cult, attended the cult’s school, and after graduation was told that I needed to volunteer my time in return for the all the cult had given me.

When I escaped, and left behind the twisted, haunted laboratory of mind control I discovered that, surprise! I had stunted social skills, an amputated sense of self, and a macabre understanding of what my future would be.

Like Frankenstein, I raged (mentally, at least) at the perverted mind that amputated my sense of self and hijacked my devotion to God to serve her evil empire.

I stomped about for a year, howling with anger at whoever I could. I hated parties; they reminded me of a “get-together” at her house. These often included being yelled at in her bedroom (if you were lucky) and in front of everyone (if you weren’t).

I hated searching for a job. How do you explain away a decade plus that you gave away? How you never finished college because you were too tired to think after forty hours of volunteering, five nights a week of church, and twelve plus hours a week of cleaning on her cleaning crew?

Honestly, I felt like a Picasso painting walking into a job interview that said, “This is me. My nose is on my chin and my eyes are in my forehead. I don’t know how to make decisions, I think my worth is below minimum wage, and I will never speak up for myself. So, please hire me (if it’s not too inconvenient) I know I’m a freak, just let me scuttle around in the background quietly.”

Here lies the dividing line. Some well meaning but utterly clueless soul might say that I should believe that God was ‘working a good work’ in my life and in the middle of it all and I should praise my way into joy at this knowledge.

This is foolish thinking. God did not and never will plan abuse to ‘work His good work in you’. What is at work here is the fact that humanity has free will and a pastor chose to use her position of leadership to satiate her need for control. She placed herself as a god and will, unless she has the good sense to repent, one day stand in judgment for deeds.

What I do know is that God gives ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning’.

And so for the Frank Peretti moment of deciding to embrace the experience (not the abuse), acknowledge where I am because of it, and take stock of skills I learned in the proverbial fire.

As for where I am:
I spent years wishing to know the joys of marriage, for as Luther said there is nothing more comforting than a marriage.
I met and married a wonderful man a year after leaving the cult. Our paths would not have crossed if I had lived a different life.

What I have learned:
I am resilient, having lived under extreme stress and oppression.
I have empathy for others who have experienced abuse or slavery.

The skills I have acquired:
Endurance in the workplace and a willingness to go the extra mile.

One ex-cult member showed beautiful perspective in dressing up as the pastor for Halloween. Their motivation was she was the scariest character they could think of.

It was a perfect statement. She is scary, she is monstrous, but it is she that is the monster, not me.

I think I will make my statement one Halloween by making a scarecrow that resembles her and hang a sign that reads “This would scare anything”.

Am I making light of the abuse or the fact that a pastor is in dire moral straits?

No. I am doing what many people do with Halloween: Put on a monster mask, confront what you fear, celebrate it for a day and then, move on.

Till next year. Maybe I’ll dress up as the witch she always accused me of being. After all, I know the hat fits and I’ll wear it.

On the other hand, is she brave enough to wear her hat?

read another excellent post on this subject by Provender

Halloween Post Three: There Are Zombies on the Loose

"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned."

-Matthew 23:15-

I highly recommend Stephen Arteburn’s book, Toxic Faith. In the course of describing faith that has gone from helpful to harmful, he lists signs of a toxic church.

Here are ten of those signs:

The leader must be in control of every aspect at all times
When problems arise, a guilty party must be found immediately to bear the blame.

No mistakes are allowed
Never point out the reality of the situation-[i.e. the leader is wrong, was unkind, etc.]
Never express your feelings unless they are positive
DON”T ASK QUESTIONS (capitals mine)
Don’t do anything outside of your role-[i.e. visiting a church member on your own, etc]
DON”T TRUST ANYONE (capitals mine)
Nothing is MORE IMPORTANT than giving money to the organization/and or pastor (capitals mine)
AT ALL COSTS, keep up the image of the organization [pastor] (capitals mine)

Having grown up in a fundamental cult, I can attest that each of these signs is a red flag that a church is metamorphosing into a cult.

A healthy church has no need to “make” followers. People are draw by healthy aspects of the church such as community service programs, fellowship, bible study groups, etc.

Cults create their followers. The cult leader recognizes a vulnerability or need in a prospective member and cultivates that area instead of strengthening the vulnerability or meeting the need.

When evaluating an existing church dynamic or determining a new church home, be critical of everything you feel and see. Does the congregation lavish unwarranted praise on the pastor/leader? Does the leader/pastor’s attention to new members seem excessive? Is the situation just a little too holy, a little too good to true.

Be careful. This too shiny, too perfect pastor may be a cult leader in disguise. In Halloween terms, he’s a zombie. And a zombie’s life achievement is to make other zombies.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blog Interview With Author Shari Howerton

Shari Howerton is the author of Breaking the Chains:Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel. She graciously stopped by The Cult Next Door for a blog interview.

I first "met" Shari on a message board for spiritual abuse victims. Searching for understanding and truth about my own toxic church experiences, I was blessed by Shari's postings concerning her own experience.

When I heard she was sharing her testimony with a published book I was elated. Her kind yet truth-filled account will be a blessing to those on the journey out of spiritual abuse.

Without further ado, here is The Cult Next Door blogspot interview with Shari:

You picked an awesome title! Last time we chatted back and forth, you were still searching for the right one- "Breaking the Chains" is so apt!

Thank you.

You describe the imprisonment of legalism and false religion your church forced on you in the preface:

"My husband has told me he cannot imagine anyone, let alone a Christian, believing the things I was taught. Although it is a foreign concept to him and others I have talked to, it was my life for forty-three years...Despite my desire to live for God all those years, I was a prisoner of my chains. I needed deliverance as much as any sinner in the gutter. I knew nothing of the freedom Christ had died to provide for me. ."

What enlightened you that you were living in a spiritual prison?

Finding the Gospel and the cross, my freedom in Christ, grace -- these aspects of Christianity served as my enlightenment. It was a long process, not one event. Over the course of my life in the church, I saw many inconsistencies. We had all the same problems and all the same sin as any other group. The only difference seemed to be in behavior you could fake. What I mean is that the things that set us "apart" from other Christians were outward. You can appear holy in a setting like that and have no real change happening in your heart. Many people led double lives. Yet we professed a different standard of holiness and a "higher calling." It just didn't add up for me. It seemed like we only talked about perfection; I didn't see anybody actually being perfected. I always had questions in my heart and mind. I remember wondering how we could possibly be who we thought we were. At the same time, I was reluctant to go too far in my questioning.

I had been told all my life that I couldn't find God or be in God's will outside "the Body." I was also told I could never go anywhere and find truer friends or people who loved me like those people. I bought into all of that. However, prior to leaving, I would have told you I wasn't a prisoner and I wasn't trapped there. I could leave any time I wanted to. I finally did decide to leave because I wasn't growing spiritually in that environment. Yet I was experiencing God and the potential to grow spiritually much more in other settings, which was not something I would have ever expected. That gave me the courage to search for God outside those walls and I felt like He was nudging me to leave. I couldn’t be sure I was doing the right thing and I had a lot of conditioning to overcome. I feared displeasing God, but I prayed and asked Him many times to simply show me if I had been wrong to leave and I would go back.

Only after I did leave did I become aware of the level to which I had been controlled and conditioned by fear. I would occasionally have anxiety about whether or not God was mad at me for leaving "the Body," even though He so abundantly blessed my life in every way after I left. I would wonder "what if they're right?" and "what if they are the true church?" and "what if I've left the true church and now I'm deceived?" The perfection teaching haunted me most, and I had trouble believing that I would really go to heaven because of what Jesus did rather than by earning eternal life (through my own good works/perfection/righteousness). I wanted to believe the Gospel, but it seemed too good to be true. I had been told that Christians who believed their salvation was accomplished through the cross were just looking for an "easy way." I wondered if I was just taking the "easy way." I didn’t consciously want to do that. There was a lot of struggle involved. Through that struggle, I became more and more aware of my chains. I recognized the spiritual prison I had been in as a result of experiencing freedom. The more I embraced the truth, the more I realized the bondage from which I had been set free. My spiritual theme song is "Remember Your Chains" by Steven Curtis Chapman; "Remember the prison that once held you before the love of God broke through."

"I did not know what it meant to be in Christ. I only knew what it meant to be in church."

Victims of spiritual abuse readily understand this statement. Consumed with pleasing church leaders, living by an ever-increasing list of their rules, having little or no control over your own life decisions- this is life lived under the dictatorship of a human, not under the grace of God.

Looking back over your experiences in this church, how did the leadership keep you "in line" so that you followed their rules and expectations?

I wanted to be loved and accepted. I wanted to please. I wanted to be approved of. I did not want to be viewed as someone who was rebellious, unwilling to submit to authority, in a bad spirit. I didn't want to be viewed as worldly or backslidden. It had so much to do with peer acceptance and fitting in. You were viewed differently (judged) if you were openly non-compliant - even in small things. At the same time, plenty of people did not follow the "rules" if they were out of town or knew they would not be running into other church people. I recognized this lack of spiritual integrity long before leaving.

Before I left, I began to realize how self-focused my motivation was even for doing right. It wasn't about God. I didn't really believe that some of our rules were important to God. I complied in order to have the love, acceptance and approval of my social group, which made it about me and the response I wanted (or wanted to avoid) from other people. God showed me the self-absorption of people pleasing. Seeing the wrong priorities that were cultivated in me helped me to leave. It wasn't so much that I was afraid of my pastor (what he could do to me). However, I feared his disapproval and the disapproval of others. I did not want to disappoint him or other people in my church. Many cast people who went against the pastor in a negative light.

However, I cannot honestly say I ever followed every rule.

You came from a church that shares many similarities to my former church.
In my church, the pastor always guaranteed death and destruction to anyone who dared speak against her or leave the congregation. She preached often that the Judgment Day of God was nigh and anyone not listening to her, The Voice of God From The Pulpit, as she titled herself, would be dammed to destruction.
Did your church leaders utilize scare tactics such as these to keep members frightened and unwilling to leave or attend other churches?

What I remember is the fear of joining myself to the beast and being deceived. I don't remember statements about being damned (other than the Scripture about believing a lie and being damned). I do remember many warnings about being outside the Body, outside the covering, rejecting the truth I had been so privileged to receive. I remember one prominent minister saying publicly that it would be better for someone to be lost in the world than lost in the Baptist Church. So I got the very strong message that the only thing MORE displeasing to God than turning my back on HIM would be turning my back on THE CHURCH and that particular group of people.

When our pastor told us that he believed God had told him to relocate to the Nashville area, he said that we were all supposed to remain with him (move across the country). That was what GOD wanted. Someone asked him what he would think if we prayed and didn't feel like God was telling US to move. His response was that he would fear for our soul (if we thought God told us that). I remember rejecting that idea. I did not believe that my very soul depended upon being in one specific man's congregation. However, my whole life revolved around the church and the people in the church. The thought of remaining in California without my family and friends was just unfathomable to me. This gives a man, or leader, a lot of control over your life and your choices.

I think these leaders have a lot of control based on two things: 1) the teaching that they alone have the truth – truth that the rest of Christianity is lacking – holds people who are afraid that might be true. I was afraid it was true. "If I left, where would I go? Nobody else has the truth. Perhaps in leaving I would be displeasing God and not treasuring 'these precious truths' He has privileged me to know." The other component is the way we built our whole lives into the church. Everyone, for the most part, married within the group. So everyone, over time, winds up related in some way to others in the church. Most of their family is in the group. Many do business primarily within the group. Social relationships are formed and cultivated primarily within the group. If people do think about leaving, they have to uproot their entire life, as they know it, and start over. To say a person has to be willing to leave their comfort zone is about the most monumental understatement that could be made. Not to mention, if one considers the possibility of this group not having the truth as they had believed, they must then confront the possibility that they have based their whole lives on a lie. Many people simply cannot do that - or are unwilling even to consider it.

I remember telling God that I didn't care if everything I had ever believed was a lie and I had to start over from scratch. I just wanted the truth. If I lost all my friends and had to start over, I knew He would give me new friends. It wasn't easy. I can't begin to tell you how many times I cried, missing certain close friends from my earlier life. To this day, it hurts to know how some now view me. They cannot see my heart. To them, I have become a bitter, angry, venomous person. They don't understand why I could not remain silent and go my way, leaving them alone. Some have called me a betrayer of lifelong friends. That will never be an easy thing for me to accept and come to terms with. I still wrestle with it. I still have a desire for those friends to know my heart. Nevertheless, part of breaking my chains is finding an acceptance of what God has ordained for my life. I believe He has asked me to give up those friendships. As much as it hurts to let go, I have had to let go.

Author Ken Blue in his book, Healing Spiritual Abuse, recounts the tragic story of a woman named Natasha. Her pastor and church leaders told the congregation that salvation could only be obtained by fulfilling extreme rules and standards. Believing herself rejected by God for failing to keep these rules, Natasha laid down on a track to be crushed by the passing train.
Jeff Vonvendern, author of the Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse defines this type of pressure as abuse. He says that spiritual abuse happens
“…when spirituality is used to make others live up to a ‘spiritual standard’…without regard to an individual’s actual well being…the person…is sent the message that [their] spirituality [is] defective.

Did you observe members of your former church feeling despair because they could not live up to the standard of perfection?

This is an interesting point and I’m glad you asked this question. It brings back something very specific. Charlie Daniels wrote my foreword and he stated that I had been persecuted. I felt a bit of discomfort with that word because so many people use it lightly. I asked my editor his opinion. I explained that although I have endured criticism, harsh judgments and even some rejection, I didn’t feel “persecuted.” Anything I have suffered is so miniscule in comparison to what Jesus suffered for my redemption. It doesn’t seem to reach the level of what I would define as persecution. My editor disagreed. He responded that, most importantly, those are Charlie’s words, not mine. I do not have to be completely comfortable with his word choice because it is his opinion he’s giving in the foreword. However, my editor also pointed out that persecution takes many forms. I can’t find the email in order to quote him, but I thought what he said was profound. He took the time to explain to me that I was under persecution before I ever left CGT because of the doctrine of perfection. He said that many forms of persecution would at least drive you to the cross and to the Savior. However, the doctrine of perfection did not. It caused me to persecute myself because I knew I could not be perfect. It robbed me of my hope in Christ.

I did know others would felt despair that they could never be good enough. Several who have also left have shared with me the hopelessness they felt under that teaching. But many others have shared with me that they simply did not think about perfection at all. I find that hard to understand or relate to because I remember thinking about it and feeling the weight of my inadequacy at a very young age. My son has told me recently, as an adult, that he remembers thinking about killing himself (while in elementary school) because he didn’t think he could ever be perfect. I had no idea he was thinking so deeply about perfection at that young age. However, I understood the heaviness he felt because I remember feeling it and asking God why I had to be born in “the true church” and know “the truth” that I wasn’t going to heaven. I was only in fifth or sixth grade when I was feeling the weightiness of this “truth.”

The second half of Shari's interview is continued in the next post.

Blog Interview With Shari Howerton

“I grew up in a religious cult. It is difficult for me to use that word in print because it is inflammatory. I am aware that the word conjures up images of mass suicide, burning buildings, polygamy, and such. Those extremes are not part of my story, nor do I have any expectation that those dangers exist today for others within my former church.”

I am glad you stated your situation bluntly. The term "cult" is synonymous of Jim Jones, David Koresh, and the mass destruction of their followers. While your former church leaders aren't passing around poisoned Kool-Aid, they have passed around the understanding that they (and their organization) are sole holders of the truths of salvation. Offend them, you have offended God and thereby lose sight of salvation. This is the cult mentality that motivated Koresh and Jones into believing they held the power of life or death over their followers.

I think this mentality is present in varying degrees in different individual congregations throughout this fellowship (GAC/Sowders). There are also varying degrees of control. The messages are conveyed in a multitude of ways. Many times the messages are implied rather than communicated through bold statements (though they are often quite direct). For instance, in the congregation where I was raised, my former pastor never made an outright declaration that if we offended him, we offended God. Nor did he say he held the power of life or death over us. It was usually more subtle than that, but nonetheless direct.

My former pastor occasionally told a story about something happening to someone who opposed him (you would get the implied message). He frequently asked the question, "Are you not for me?" He would say that if we were not for him, we were against him. We were likened to the children of Israel, who murmured against Moses, if we questioned or challenged. When we were asked to move with our pastor from CA to TN, he said he would fear for our souls if we prayed and we thought God didn't tell us to go with him. He told us many times that God wouldn't tell us something without telling Him. If God hadn't told our pastor what we thought He'd told us, there was good reason to question that God had spoken to us at all. We should not pray for God to tell us, we should pray for God to tell Him and He would tell us what God wanted us to do. There were many messages like this over the course of my life (from birth to age forty-three). So, you see, he didn't come right out and declare that we were leaving God if we left His ministry or we were offending God by offending him, but the message was successfully conveyed to most of us nonetheless. I know it was conveyed to me.

It has been said of some of us that we left because we could not come under "the covering" and "the authority" of God's order. We left because we didn't want to obey or comply with the standards/rules. We are bitter, angry ex-members of the church if we challenge their beliefs and practices. We are dismissed as having personal agendas. We are enemies of the church. It is not acceptable to voice one’s disagreement openly. It is always the person's fault (who has "issues" with the church) and there has been no acknowledgment of wrong doing on the part of the church or church leaders. A member of my own family has portrayed me as someone with "problems" to people who didn't know me as a way to dismiss me (or anything I might say). Several of those people have told me that their impression of me (based on that description) was that I must be a bit wacky or unstable. I am neither.

However, in spite of all this, as I read your statement above, it caused me discomfort (even after being out for over six years). It's still emotional for me. I don't want to label all the people in my old church. I truly love many who remain there and I don't want to hurt them. I care about them collectively. However, the more I read about cults, the more I have to face the reality that I spent most of my life in one.

Before I left, I could only recognize that we had some "ways" that might appear cultish to outsiders, people who didn't realize who we were. I look back now on that way of thinking and realize my own cult mentality at the time. But as long as you stay, you cannot see it for what it is. I know that from experience. I did not leave because I had come to the realization that I was in a cult. I left because I found it impossible to grow spiritually in that environment. Now I understand more fully why I couldn't.

The message was powerfully conveyed to me that I could not find the truth outside the Body (Sowders) fellowship. After I left, I struggled for quite a while with intermittent fear and anxiety about God being upset or displeased with me. I know I was not born with those fears. They were instilled in me. However, I didn't fully recognize how strongly I had been held by fear until I left. It wasn't because someone enlightened me. But those fears did not fully emerge as long as I stayed in the group. It was more lack a nagging thought. I could deny that fear was a factor as long as I didn't fully experience it. But after I left, embedded fears emerged. And that was when I dealt with them. I sincerely did not want to displease God. I prayed many times that He would show me if I was out of His will or I had left His true church. It had been deeply ingrained in me that all other churches (outside the GAC group) were Babylon (the false church). Why would I have fears like that if I hadn't been taught to believe that?

Many in my former congregation are presently trying to deny that they have ever been exclusive or claimed to have the revealed truth that the rest of Christianity lacked. Some have actually said we never believed or claimed such things. This is an attempt to rewrite history. It's dishonest. We sang songs about it. These dishonest representations of the past only confirm to me that God rescued me from a bad place. If they no longer believe in their distinct and unique calling, they should be honest enough to admit they once did, but they don't believe that any longer.

I have no reason to rewrite my history. I was raised and taught to believe that I couldn't go anywhere else and find the truth that God had revealed to William Sowders. We were the only Christians who knew we were not completely saved by faith in Christ (that we had to go on to reach perfection). We were uniquely called to restore the church and the uncorrupted truth of the early church in these latter days. When the call went forth to “come out of her,” we believed we would be the garner they would come into. There were songs, dreams, experiences. I have notes in my Bible. I have tape recordings. It’s hard to believe anyone denies this.

Men who are honest within the group will still acknowledge the long held beliefs of the group. But men who are trying to gain acceptance from "the religious world" and other Christians are trying to conceal their beliefs in order to grow the church. This is a deceptive practice and it is wrong.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone standing on the threshold between fear of an abusive pastor and the freedom of God's unending grace?

I have written a whole book in an attempt to encourage other wounded people and point them to the cross and God's matchless, unending grace. It is difficult for me to encapsulate all of the things I would say to someone "standing on the threshold" between fear of man and the grace of God.

I will boil it down to this. If you fear your pastor, he is not a true shepherd. If he engages in deception, and that has been revealed to you, God has revealed the truth to you for a reason. Jesus came to set captives free. If you fear men and how they may respond to you, you are not free; you are a captive. The truth will set you free unless you refuse to receive it.

Fear no man, nor what man can do to you. Please don't allow men to rob you of the promises of God. I have finally realized what grace is. Grace is something you cannot earn. It is God's unmerited favor through faith in Him and His Son. When we truly grasp what God has done for us in Christ, our response will be such deep love and gratitude that we will want to live lives of obedience. We will want to glorify our Savior and point others to the cross. We will want to please the One who loves us so much that He provided for our forgiveness and redemption at great cost to Himself. There is no other response to such amazing love. But obedience is our response to His love, not the means of salvation. We are saved by grace.

Jesus died to break our chains. He died to free us; that we may live in the freedom of His love. Because we are free from condemnation, we are free to trust completely in the love and grace of God and willingly obey Him from our hearts.

Thank you so much, Shari for your patience as I worked on the appearance of this interview!

Shari has bravely stepped forward to share her testimony of a life lived in a toxic church environment.

Those unfamiliar with such terms as toxic church and spiritual abuse may be mystified that Shari simply did not leave the ‘bad church’.

Just as a hostage does not simply waltz away from a bank robber, or a battered wife dance away from her abusive husband, so one does not ‘walk out’ of an abusive church.

The robber has a gun and death threats.

The abusive husband maintains a death grip on the wife’s self-esteem.

The toxic pastor or church leaders declare that if the church member leaves their congregation, they turn their back on God.

As Shari mentions in the interview, this knowledge is clearly understood by the congregation even though the pastor may not have spoken the actual words.

Simply stated, these so called men and woman of God took hostage the abused parishioner’s spirituality for their own emotional, sexual, or monetary profit.

As Provender stated in the guest post:

We trusted. Our trust was seized and used against us. We loved. Our love was grabbed and twisted into servitude. We hoped. Our hope was dangled in front of us with promise after promise, not always spoken. Those promises were yanked farther away. We yearned to be nearer to God. Instead, we were led along a walkway to a human idol and told we were nearing God, as the burdens grew heavier and more unbearable.

To me, spiritual abusers are the equivalents of vampires and pirates.
A ‘pirate’ for they steal time, money, and devotion not rightfully theirs.
A ‘vampire’ as they suck the very life-blood of the abused’s relationship with their Creator.

As Shari said:

If you fear your pastor, he is not a true shepherd. If he engages in deception, and that has been revealed to you, God has revealed the truth to you for a reason. Jesus came to set captives free. If you fear men and how they may respond to you, you are not free; you are a captive. The truth will set you free unless you refuse to receive it.

The address to my blog, outofthesilverchair, refers to the C.S. Lewis tale, The Silver Chair.

The story is a fitting allegory of spiritual abuse as the prince, Rillian, is kidnapped by an evil witch and taken to dwell in her gloomy underworld kingdom.

The witch is not content to simply bind the Rillian in chains. Rather, she enchants him so that his captivity seems pleasant and his captor, the witch, and also slayer of his mother, the queen, is perfection embodied.

So it is with spiritual abusers. They bind their victims with false fear of God and delude the victim into thinking that they are God’s direct voice, prophet, etc.

May God free all who dwell against their will in the dark underworld of toxic religion.

Shari's blogspot, Miss oblivous Thinks Out Loud, contains a collection of her thoughts and prayers from her journey out of a spiritual prison. It is an sightful and enjoyable blog to follow

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Guest Post By Provender: Spiritual Abuse is Invisible Trauma

Alcatraz - Hospital Bed
photo by JoscelynAllen in flickr
Recently, I added a quote by Ron Henzel to my Spiritual Abuse quote of the month on Provender, and it’s a good one. It speaks to the heart of the issue of spiritual abuse:
The manipulation involved in Spiritual Abuse is especially cruel because it takes advantage of a person's deepest needs and highest ideals.

After you’ve gone through a period of spiritual abuse, you are at first only interested in survival, and then recovery. It takes some time to look back and take stock of what happened. Even after you’ve done that, you don’t always appreciate the huge toll spiritual abuse takes on your psyche. You know you’re hurting. You know the hurt is magnified by memories of unjust incidents and painful words.
Still, I’m not sure how many victims realize that spiritual abuse reaches right into the depths of the spirit and hurts the most vulnerable parts of our being. We trusted. Our trust was seized and used against us. We loved. Our love was grabbed and twisted into servitude. We hoped. Our hope was dangled in front of us with promise after promise, not always spoken. Those promises were yanked farther away. We yearned to be nearer to God. Instead, we were led along a walkway to a human idol and told we were nearing God, as the burdens grew heavier and more unbearable.

I’ve been on sites where victims of spiritual abuse cry in pain. They don’t know if they will ever again trust. They no longer know for sure if God is real. They long for intimacy with Him but can’t find it. I’ve been on other pages where victims are cynical and even hostile toward believers and churches. The pain and bitterness ate through their souls and left an empty hole. Some start anti-Christian web sites and spew hate-filled words like weapons at the church.

None of this surprises me any more. What they endured was a searing hot poker at their most sensitive spiritual skin. Some do heal. They may have to deal with disfigurement and scar tissue, but they manage to get back to a place where they can open up to God again. For some, that takes years and years. Some seem to waver, going back and forth, believing and not believing. Hardly daring to believe.

Others go from one abusive situation into another. Some have been drawn to more than one other abusive situation after a first one. How any of those victims survive, I will never know.

The point I’m trying to make is for those freshly out of a spiritually abusive experience. If you haven’t been able to recover right away, don’t be bewildered about it. Don’t wonder why you can’t pray, or keep rehashing unpleasant experiences, or wake up fearful, or constantly worry about people in your old group. You’ve just been through something extremely high on the stress continuum. Spiritual abuse is like losing a spouse or being in a fire or discovering the betrayal of adultery. It’s like a fatal car accident, a child’s life-threatening injury, a diagnosis of cancer.

People don’t talk about spiritual abuse. There are some good books on the subject but they don’t hit the bestseller list. There are good sites out there on the topic, but often you have to dig for them. There are groups that help in recovery, but churches rarely talk about them.

Because spiritual abuse is something you aren’t exposed to much before it happens to you, it may seem like it’s not something big, that you should be better by now, that you are silly for being paranoid or frightened or angry or obsessed about what happened. But you’re not. You’ve been through something that scarred the most vulnerable part of you. It’s going to take some time.

So what can you do? Read about spiritual abuse to see how common it is. Talk about what happened to you and don’t let the Don’t Talk Rule silence you. It’s not sin to talk about it. In fact, it promotes healing to do that. Find others who have been through it and talk to them. If you don’t think you can pray, try praying again later, when the wounds are less raw. And remember to take care of yourself because you’ve been through a lot, even though no one around you can see it.

Click here to read Provender's guest post "Twisting Scripture".

Further Reading:
Weaning Myself From Religious Addiction

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Breaking The Chains: A New Book On Overcoming False Gospel

I can't wait to read this book!
Breaking The Chains chronicles the mental, spiritual, and emotional captivity of a life lived in a perfectionist church who believes their organization and their organization alone will be accepted into heaven.
Click here to learn more.
image bydavidmccleary in photobucket

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Vampire Pastors: When God Becomes An Impersonal Force Wielded by a Narcissist

Once again I am viewing my church experience through the conclusion that my ex-pastor was a narcissist.
As I stated in the previous post, I am not a professional health care provider and I am not diagnosing the ex-pastor. To my knowledge she has never been under the care of a mental health care provider who has professionally diagnosed her as a personality disorder.
My main objective in research, compiling and then writing my thoughts and conclusions is to convince myself by understanding of narcissism and by authority of Scripture that the judgments she passed on me (supposedly inspired by the Holy Spirit) and her interpretations of God’s Word are the products of a distressed mind and are no more validated than a hearing-impaired individual’s assumption that the world is silent.
Plainly stated: She is impaired in judgment and due to the nature of her disease, incapable of projecting sound judgment of God and His Word.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

~Abraham Lincoln-

sense of entitlement and hyper-reactivity to criticism

Many of her sermons were comprised of twisted Scriptures designed to reinforce her perverted authority.

She often quoted the scripture in Psalms of “Touch not my anointed” when a parishioner disagreed or questioned her authority. (Read a former post by Provender on Scripture twisting)

There was, however, no ceiling to her authority.

A visiting minister once preached an eloquent message on what the fruit says about the tree, quoting Jesus’ parable of the fig tree.

She was livid and dedicated the next week of services on refuting his words and then announced that he had called her back in tears and repented for questioning her (I believe this was a lie).

She publicly and frequently challenged Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” saying it misdirected readers into a life full of self.

After leaving the cult, I read the book and realized why it posed such a threat to her: it directs people to seek God, not her, for the direction and purpose of their life.

She warned that the Promise Keepers was a dangerous movement and would evolve into a pseudo-Nazi organization.

And the list goes on: If a prominent minister dared direct people to seek God for themselves -she would say that phrase with great derision, adding that God shared His word through His mouthpiece-her.

Imagine thinking that in the millions of churches and Christian fellowships on this planet, God only chose to spoke through you.

If that isn’t delusions of grandeur, I don’t know what is.

She was also a rabid racist. According to her, mixed marriages were prohibited by God, most African-American males would turn into rapists given half a chance, and Muslims, well, I don’t have time and space to write of her hatred of that ethnic group.

She gloated when Katrina ravaged New Orleans saying God had shown Himself as He did when he annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah. She was absolutely emotionless over the massive loss of innocent lives.

She felt enough of a sense of entitlement to prohibit a couple from marrying for over sixteen years.

In another instance, she took money donated by a parent for the betterment of school to buy a new stove for her house.

People had to choose their house furnishing and color schemes according to her preferences. If they ‘rebelled’ she would belittle them in private when she talked with her ‘family members’.

She had phone wires tapped, stole from the elderly, and told people what career or job God wanted them to have.

In essence, she believed the Scripture of “not touching” referred solely to the fact that no one was allowed to touch her. God had meant that in the centuries of church history only she could not be ‘touched’.

So, yes, I do believe her sense of entitlement was well-founded. She was, however, in direct defiance of the Scripture that instructs leaders to be humble.

She had an incredibly manipulative and exploitative nature. She would play the wounded warrior often, saying God had reveled certain parishioner’s hatred of her, and that those who were loyal to her had urged her to save her health by moving where she would be treated right. After returning from a visit to another church she pronounced that she felt God’s leading to a place where people had “ears to hear God’s Word”. Unfortunately for those of us stuck under her dictatorship, she never mad good on that “leading”.

Displaying her sense of entitlement, she declared that God had revealed to her that He had allowed an ex-parishioner into heaven because, as the parishioner was dying, she had apologized for defying the pastor.

She encouraged people that had aging or ailing parents that there place was in church, with her, not caring for or seeing to the needs of their parents. She stated that “the world will care for their own”.

As mentioned in an earlier account, parishioners earned her income by cleaning five to seven buildings bi-weekly.

This was all done on a voluntary basis- the parishioners used their own cars and paid gas for a sixty mile round trip.

I did some rough figuring for a ball park sum of wages she should have paid these “volunteers”.

I came up with:

Paying minimum wage x 14 hours a week = $91.70 a person

An average of 10 people cleaned every week = $917

The buildings had to be cleaned every week- no holidays- so:

917 x 52= $47, 684 for a year’s worth of salaries

Most people had cleaned for twenty years so:

20 x 52= 1,040 weeks x 10 people= 10,400 x $47,684=

$495,913,600-salaries she should have paid to her volunteers over a period of twenty years.

If I saw her today, I would quote what Bishop Desmond Tutu said:

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.

There were times that she seemed to be a decent human being. She promoted sending cards to acquaintances and parishioners who were sick or going through difficult circumstances. The issue was that if you sent the cards without her knowledge.

I am not interested in her twisted sense of God. What she did to a churchful of people was use God as an impersonal force to fulfill her own perverted need for control.

I have hope that, recognizing the harm she inflicted on generations of parishioners, she could have an ‘Damascus road’ experience, as Paul did.

Eugene Peterson, in his preface for Galatians (Message, Re-Mix) states:

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life


Tuesday Quote

"When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place”. The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious…Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different- a free life in God.

Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.

God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within."

-Eugene Peterson-

Preface to Galatians [The Message Re-Mix]

Hope For The Narcissist Pastor?

I believe there is.

Ezekiel 33:14-16 says:

“…Tell a wicked person, “You’ll die for your wicked life,” and he repents of his sin and starts living a righteous and just life-being generous to the down-and-out, restoring what he had stolen, cultivating life-nourishing ways that don’t hurt others-he’ll live. He won’t die. None of his sins will be kept on the books. He’s doing what’s right, living a good life. He’ll live.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wolves Among The Sheep: When Narcissism Invades the Church

I am not a professional mental health care provider. This post should in no way be used as a means to decide if an individual in your life is a narcissist. The purpose of this post is to relate my experience of a pastor who I believe to be is narcissist. If you feel you are in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, you should contact your local support line for abused individuals.

I believe I spent the better part of my life subjected to the whims of a narcissistic pastor.
Not until freeing myself of her control did I realize this fact.
She was like the mythical vampire that sucked the life blood of my personhood, my spirituality, my understanding of God.
After researching narcissim, I am begining to believe that this abusive pastor only survived by the 'preying' she did on 'her' church members. In retrospect I can see that she truly had no sense of self.
Oh, she ranted and raved about the world and it's ungodly state. Upon research, however, I see that she was merely mimicing beliefs held by the relgious movement in which she grew up.
A WebMD interview with author Sam Vaknin shed further light on my experiences with her. He describes the narcissist as:

A Narcissist (notice the capital N) has no sense of self. If not reflected by others, he feels annulled, dead, void. It is a harrowing experience (I went through it once). It is like being separated to molecules and suspended in mid air...[They have]hyper-dependence on the views of others, sense of entitlement, a manipulative and exploitative nature, sadism, emotional absence, grandiosity -- incommensurate with real achievements, hyper-reactivity to criticism, delusions of reference...Narcissists are shrewd, shifty, manipulative and mental health professionals are easily deceived and fall prey to the narcissist's False Self (roughly the image that he projects).

Removing the terror of her absolute authority, I am able to see my abuser clearly- and her substance is as clear as air.
She had no original thoughts: her gripes, beliefs, conclusions on the world around her were taken verbatim from the few magazines she read and movies she watched.
She based an entire sermon on a "Touched By An Angel" episode. While the show was inspirational, it hardly merited a three hour sermon.
Many of her life stories were false or stolen from another person's experience.
In one instance she took another church member's account of a near robbery and re-spun it as her own tale.
Vaknin says:

...narcissists have no or very little personality -- they have only or mostly their reflection. That's why they need others, dependent on them for their very self-definition.

I saw this "feeding" happen repeatedly.
Following her three hour sermon, church members would stand and 'testify' of the power and life-changing experience of listening to her words.
If there was no testimonies, she would stalk home in a rage only to return next service and give the parishioners hell for not "heeding God' Word".
I remember in one instance that several church members were excited about the sequel of a Hallmark movie. The movie coincided with the Sunday night service. When the service finished early, they rushed to a back room where a TV was kept to catch the last few minutes of the movie.
When the pastor was informed of this, she publicly berated the parishioners for caring more about a worldly thing such as a movie more than her sermon.
I was berated from the pulpit for saying I had enjoyed a walk in the woods.
According to her, I should have said how thankful I was to be hearing God's Word that she preached.
She was depending on me to lavish her words with her praise. I had not. Therefore she punished me in the most effective way she could muster: to publically humilate. Vaknin projects that, as narcissists survive by manpulation, they themselves are easy prey to it:

My book says that narcissists are easily identifiable and that, once identified, can be easily manipulated. The need to manipulate them arises out of their propensity to destroy everything and everyone around them. To manipulate a narcissist is to survive. It is a survival tactic of the victims of narcissists.

I saw this effect often in her relationships with those who, in her words, "stayed close".
When one of these "close members" wanted a favor from her, they would come and kneel down before her as she sat in a chair. Adoringly, the person would call her "Mom" and praise her recent sermons. They would speak of how her words influenced them to change their sinfully ways- how convicted they felt as God's Word spoken through her fell on their ears.
Then, almost as an after thought, the person would mention the favor: permission to go see a relative or perhaps go on vacation.
Enthralled with the 'reflection' just showered on her by the cunning 'close one', she would, in most instances capitualate.
I often wonder if, severed from the church members who enable her, would she exist? No, I don't think so. I believe she would wither into nothingnes without her supply of their constant adulation.
I wish I could read to these remaining church members Vaknin's warning of the effect a narcissist has:

Accommodate them, flatter them, adore them, admire them or get out of their way -- and fast. They are vindictive. They are aggressive. They are emotionless. In short: they can be dangerous to your health.

I have heard some people say that they can and do love narcissists. I, personally, find it unhealthy (see my FAQ 66 co-authored with Alice Ratzlaff). It is a variant of co-dependence with more than a tinge of masochism.

To live with a narcissist is to endure torturous uncertainty, unpredictability, capriciousness, cruelty -- sprinkled with technicolor displays of "magnanimity," "largesse," and "brilliance".

The narcissist -- forced to obtain his supply of emotional drug is also forced to cater to SOME of the needs of his sources of supply. But he does so only grudgingly and reverts immediately to his former, degrading, abusive, behavior.