Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“Spiritual Abuse Hidden in Plain Sight”

Jim Jones in Guyana: gruesome images of 931 rotting corpses gunned down or felled by cyanide spiked Flavor-Aid cocktail.
David Koresh in Waco, Texas: a holocaust of a charred compound and sixty-seven victims, twenty-one of them being children.
Heaven’s Gate and the latest cult scandal of FDLS compound in Texas.

Perhaps a ‘Brittany Spear’ question must be asked of organized religion: what cult flagrancy could possibly happen next?

I submit that the ‘next’ is and has been happening for decades.

The four examples presented in the first paragraph bore the same symptoms: members confined in a compound setting.

Essentially, is this not the photo identification of a cult: Aberrant clothing, social and sexual behavior, and RESTRICTION OF MOBILITY?

Exhaustive study of resources, communication with abuse victims, and my own veritable abuse span exceeding two decades have conveyed to me an inescapable truth.
The cult, the spiritual abuse that thrives in the church next door, down the road, i.e. NOT IN A COMPOUND is as lethal, as fatal as the cult of restricted mobility.

To the untrained eye, the spiritually abused church member’s freedom and autonomy is passable. The dress code is perhaps inhibiting and the relentless church attendance might be a little excessive. “But”, thinks the unaware observer, “they have their own house which is not on church property and a car of their own AND THEY COME AND GO AS THEY PLEASE.”

It is in this that the spiritually abused are dammed and double dammed. As long as the abused member has an ‘outside’ job, a car, money of their own, they seemingly cannot fall into the salvageable category of a cult.

Abused spouses instantly would call this assumption ‘a load of bull’.
Captivity of the mind is in every way debilitating as restricted mobility.

I have lived on both sides of the abuse/freedom from abuse ‘coin’. On the abuse side, the pastor of a Dade City church held absolute authority. I didn’t go out of town, go to a friend’s house, or go on dates without her permission. On the freedom side, I rejoice at the empowerment of the every day decisions I make on MY VERY OWN- no permission phone call required!

Unless you have been the victim of spiritual abuse, you can never fully understand the devastating fear that surges over the abused when the abuser walks into the room.

I vividly remember the first instance I was aware that I had been abused. An “Are You a Victim of Abuse” sign hung over the sink where I was washing my hands. As I read over the bulleted warning traits, I thought, “My God, I’ve been abused”. I almost fell onto the floor I was so shocked. I had lived most of my life in an abusive environment. To me, abuse was normal.

In ‘Toxic Churches’, Marc Dupont says in regards to the Pharisees: “These abusive leaders believed they were above the law and had a legal license from God Almighty to judge, harm and shame anyone who tampered with their authority and power.” Dupont goes on to quote Pastor Ken Blue’s summarized list of warning signs of a spiritual abusive environment:
1. Abusive leaders base their spiritual authority on their positions or their office rather than on their service to the group…
(For me this meant being totally available and totally transparent to the pastor. Availability included serving on her cleaning crew. She had an upwards of five buildings that church members cleaned on a volunteer basis. All proceeds went to her. Total transparency meant just that- she knew of your doctor visits, your financial troubles, etc.)

2. Leaders in shame-based churches often say one thing and do another.
3. They manipulate people by making them feel guilty for not measuring up spiritually…You know that you are in an abusive church if the loads just keep getting heavier.
4. Abusive leaders are preoccupied with looking good… They stifle any criticism that puts them in a bad light.
5. …They promote a class system with themselves at the top.
6. Their communication is not straight. Their speech becomes especially vague and confusing when they are defending themselves.

Yes, in a Dade City church I had mobility of body. My emotions and mind, however, were wound tight with fear. What if I made the pastor angry with any thing I said or did? She had direct access to God- She could decide if I burned in hell or not.

I lived in terror as confining as the Koresh compound. My god was my pastor and she WASN’T unchangeable with everlasting love. Just as I thought I had all her rules down to a science, she would set new higher boundaries. This was ‘God’s refining process’. He required much of us because much had been given us.

Ha! Given us, my south end! As Wanda Mason so aptly put it on her site, “I suffered for my cult!” It was the pastor who was given much, and in the strange equation of spiritual abuse, it was she of who the least was required!

I find it particularly nauseating that spiritual abuse apes spouse abuse. For as followers of Christ, isn’t our relationship with Him exemplified as a marital one? “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…”. In the healthy marriage, both partners strive to meet the other’s needs. Giving, sharing, standing on equal ground of mutual respect is meat and drink of the relationship. In an abusive marriage, the dominant spouse fulfills their own needs with and in the control of the other spouse. So it is with abusive churches: No matter what the cost the dominant leadership will have their needs fulfilled.

To all spiritually abused: Know the truth. It will set you free.

Notes: Quotes from Toxic Churches pg. 170-171

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