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.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Twisting Scripture: A Guest Post by Provender

The author of the informative Provender blogspot was so gracious as to be a guest poster on The Cult Next Door.

I shared several questions I felt were pertinent concerning scriptures abusive pastors use to solidfy their control over their congregation.

Here are my questions and Provender's insightful answers.

1. The Scripture- "Don't touch God's anointed" (my paraphrase) was used over and over again to assert my ex-pastor's authority to do anything she wished.

Do you think the scripture is actually giving pastors carte blanche?

That passage is used a couple times in scripture, first in I Chronicles 16 and second in Psalms 105 (which is an echo of I Chronicles). It’s clear in both passages that the phrase “the Lord’s anointed” refers to all God’s people, not just leaders. In fact, the very passage talks of God reproving leaders who do harm to His people. In context:

17And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,

18Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance;

19When ye were but few, even a few, and strangers in it.

20And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people;

21He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,

22Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.

23Sing unto the LORD, all the earth; show forth from day to day his salvation.

That passage alone ought to turn on its head the idea that God has some special protection in mind for abusive pastors. Instead, the protection is for all His people, and if abusive leaders hurt them, they can expect to be reproved by the Lord.

Thank you so much for your astute answers to my questions, Provender.
I hope any who are in the clutches of a controlling pastor will read your explanation and start questioning the toxic twist their leader has placed on God's Word.

What abusive pastors are really trying to cite is the passage in I Sam. 24: 5-7 where David refuses to kill King Saul when it’s in his power to do so because Saul is the Lord’s anointed king. Abusive pastors equate themselves with a king, which alone should be very telling. And with King Saul, too, whom the spirit of God has left. Also, very telling. Nevertheless, they try to draw a parallel. Saul did bad things, but submissive David recognized him as the Lord’s anointed and refused to kill him. I would say that, yes, we should not kill abusive pastors. I agree with the scriptural interpretation up to that point. But David did not put himself under Saul’s power, did he? He did not say, “Saul, God chose you, so whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.” No. He continued to keep his distance even though Saul wanted him to submit and be killed. He continued to point out Saul’s faults toward him publicly. Nowhere in scripture does it say that leaders are to be free from criticism or that they can never be held accountable for what they do.

Revelation 1:6 makes it clear that all believers, and not just pastors, “are made kings and priests.” And we are to submit one to another, not just to those in authority. (I Peter 5:5, Eph. 5:21) If your pastor isn’t submitting to anyone, but requiring you to submit to him or her, there is a problem. We all have to give up our naturally self-seeking desires on occasion, putting others first, not just some of us. Be careful of those who exploit your willingness to put others first.
2. What scripture would you use to set parameters to a pastor's authority?

The entire chapter of Ezekiel 34 sets out what a good pastor should do and what bad pastors do instead. It’s a must-read for anyone in an abusive situation. What the passage says good pastors should do:
• Feed sheep
• Help the sick and injured
• Bind up the broken
• Bring back those who were driven away
• Seek the lost (these are the lost who were already part of the flock)
• Keep sheep from becoming prey to devouring beasts

This is what the passage says bad pastors do:
• Feed themselves instead of the sheep (narcissism or greed)
• Kill best, fattest sheep and eat the fat (arrogance and self-focus) Traditionally, the fat belonged to God. They are taking God’s possession for themselves.
• Use the sheep to clothe selves (exploitation)
• Ignore the sick and wounded (Image consciousness)
• Don’t seek, care about those they’ve driven away (blaming others)
• Rule over sheep with harshness and force (lording it over flock)
• Allow sheep to wander and get devoured by beasts (impure motive)
• Don’t care when sheep scatter or get eaten (elitism: we’re good, they’re not)
• Provide dirty food and water (twisting scriptures)
• Push the needy and sick away (manipulation)

No question about it. The important thing for abusive pastors is to keep questions and scrutiny away. By putting church members on the defensive through scripture manipulation like this, they do two things: They keep the focus off their own unjust acts and onto the acts of the believers in their group. And they also shame church members into silence so they won’t compare notes and see that the problem is larger than just a problem with one individual.

4. What Scripture do you think refers to abusive pastors?

1 Peter 5:3 is advice from Peter to pastors: Don’t lord it over the flock, but be examples.

John mentions Diotrephes who “loves to have the preeminence” and who would not receive Paul. These are traits of an abusive pastor.
Paul says in I Tim 4 that “some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth.”
These are pastor’s commands: don’t marry, don’t eat this, don’t eat that. It’s a power trip. And the result of spiritual abuse is clear: some fall away through these leaders and their lies.

As Harold Bussell points out in his excellent article,
Checks on Power and Authority in the New Testament, when Paul confronted the great apostle Peter about his hypocritical double standard concerning Gentiles, Paul didn’t say, “I cannot question those in authority over me.” Bussell takes many, many incidents in the New Testament where authority is questioned and confronted and shows the absurdity of taking the spiritually abusive line toward them. Bussell’s article is another must read.

5. What would you say to the controlling pastor who quotes the Scripture, "Obey those that have the rule over you?"
First, I wouldn’t do much talking to abusive pastors. It’s often not worth the agony and the time. The scripture says “Mark those who cause division and avoid them.” Romans 16:17 In my mind, no one causes division in the church more than abusive pastors. When you finally realize that abusive patterns are happening in the church, instead of agonizing about all the steps of Matthew 18 or trying to reason with the unreasonable, your best course is often to leave. No scripture says that the local church you are currently in is THE church. No scripture says you must stay in any particular church.

But if you feel you must try to reason with a manipulator, you can point out any of the passages listed in Bussell’s article and see what the response is. Don’t expect contrition though, or any change at all. With abusive pastors, scripture is only a means to an end, and the end is control. It’s not about Christ, it’s not about scripture; it’s about controlling you. Any scripture the pastor gives back to you, you can be assured, will make you look like the bad guy and the pastor look like Moses or Paul.

As far as obeying those who have the rule over you. Good idea to get along with spiritual mentors. There are churches where laymen attack pastors for no good reason or are always throwing roadblocks in the way. You can have jerks who are church members as well as jerks who are leaders. It’s a good idea to cooperate with good church leaders and to work for peaceful relations in church. That’s a whole different matter from submitting to manipulative, dangerous leadership. You can sharpen your discernment skills by keeping close to scripture on your own, checking what is preached against what the word actually says, like the Bereans did, and keeping your eyes and ears open.

6. What Scripture would you use to convince a spiritually abused parishioner to leave the toxic church?
I wish I knew the answer to this question. Right now there is about one man left in our former church who was there when we were. This very humble man I am sure is confused and distraught. I have often thought about this. If I were to share scripture with this man, since I’m one of the excommunicated, would he even listen?

After all,
in an elitist church (and abusive churches are notoriously elitist, feeling they are the super spiritual while other churches and believers are tainted by the ways of the world) how ca

n you listen to someone outside with any confidence they have answers? They are the sinful, weak ones. They can’t help you.

Still, I often think about this. How can I get through to him?

I would first have to convince him that there is a problem with the church. That wouldn’t be too hard since so many have left or been kicked out. He’s already disturbed and unhappy. But then I would have to convince him that it’s worthwhile listening to me, and that might pose a problem.

If he did, though, I think I’d lead him to Ezekiel 34, because one thing is certain: Abusive pastors do not convincingly seek after the sheep they’ve driven away. They are hirelings. If any passage would make that clear, it’s this one.

I think my best bet is to pray for him, and if I get a chance share Ezekiel 34 and maybe some information on spiritual abuse. I’m open to suggestions on this too. Perhaps some reader has had success getting through to those still trapped. If so, I’d like to know
how it’s done.

3. Do you think this Scripture (Touch not mine annointed) is used to enforce the "Don't Talk" rule which characterizes abusive churches?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday Quote

The saying "time heals all things" is just not true. If you have an infected finger, the last thing you want to do is give it more time..Our hearts, minds, and souls are exactly like that. When someone has hurt us-or we've allowed someone to hurt us-we need to drain the wound before we're going to get any relief. If we'll open it up and clean it out and put in a little medicine, it will get better. Just like cleaning out a wound, it hurts for a little while... [but] it's worth it.
The statement, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted," is true at so many levels. We do not need to walk around with toxins inside of us, either physically or emotionally.

Dr. Henry Cloud
The Secret Things of God