Saturday, March 28, 2009

When we want others to see and come out

One difficult aftermath of spiritual abuse is knowing friends or family are still inside the abusive group, that they can't see, or can't fully see the problem. We want them to know what we've learned about manipulation, mind-control, pressure. And yet, we know that since we are the sinful outcasts or exiles, they would never listen to us.

We wish, sometimes, that someone they respect, someone they would listen to, would take them aside and say something like, "You know, your group sounds a little strange. It sounds like there may be manipulation going on. Have you ever heard of spiritual abuse? You might want to look into it."

But, of course, there are few people they respect enough to listen to like that since abusive leaders steer them into an elitist perspective. And these leaders move themselves into the place of prominence. Not obviously, of course, but slowly and surely. No one knows truth like the leader. How can inferior Christians have any special insights into spiritual matters? Why, they attend a church that doesn't believe X or does believe Y. No point in listening to their opinions.

So, they stay trapped in the group.

You know that they are confused, as each new person leaves the group or is kicked out. You know they are confused when the pastor says something that is at odds with what they know is right and they struggle to rationalize it. They waver, they struggle, they fight their own conscience and reason.

They know it's godly to think the best of people, so when something critical comes up against their leader, they think the best. What they don't consider, though, is that to think the best of their pastor or leader, they have to think the worst of all the other people hurt by that pastor. And they do. They think of them as rebellious or selfish or worldly or sinful, or maybe just weak.

So they struggle and you only pray that someday, before too much damage is done, they will be able to see through the manipulations and have the strength to get out.

Though I consider our group only somewhat abusive, after two years I was not able to hear from God anymore. It took another year and a half before I knew for certain God's voice to me personally. I wasn't sure I'd ever know it again.

I've been on sites of those who suffered too much damage and who can no longer hear from God, or no longer know if they can hear from Him. It is the saddest thing to come across these sites. Your heart just aches.

You wish that there were some magic formula, some article they would read and be convinced, some phrase you could say that would open their eyes.

Occasionally, though, they do see. One family in our abusive little group, after sticking it out a couple of years longer than we did, finally began to see the signs, and they are now out. I never thought this would happen. The wife came across information on spiritual abuse and, slowly, the grip of the abusive leader weakened on their family.

So it does happen, but it takes a good, long time in many cases.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What's happening to my church?

Your church is a great church. It is one of the few in the area truly sold out to Jesus.
Your pastor reminds you often how special your church is, and he sometimes criticizes other churches and ministries that don't quite have what you do.

It used to bother you when your pastor found fault with other groups, but lately, you barely even notice.
Sometimes you even put down other churches yourself.
Your church is a real family to you. It's been there for you and you belong.

Still, there are things going on that trouble you. You're not really sure what is behind all the trouble.
People have left, and they've said critical things about your leaders or pastor. You've occasionally wondered if any of the criticism is based on truth -- but you don't want to think about that! You won't go there. Best to leave that idea alone, you think.
Your church leaders do seem truly inspired by God. The Word comes to life. People are saved and touched by what goes on there.

Besides, you know what would happen if you ever dared question your pastor or leaders. You'd get the look.
Your pastor would look at you in the same way he looks at those who left or who "cause trouble."
Soon, others would look at you in the same way, too.

You don't want church members thinking you are sinful, or that you have made God angry, or that you are a backslider or rebellious or worldly.
So you don't articulate your doubts, questions or thoughts about the uncomfortable goings on in the church.
The ones who left? They must have committed some fault, some sin -- or at least there must be some terrible misunderstanding. It can't be your pastor, can it? How could someone who brings about such good and holy things be to blame for church trouble? Impossible! Or are you overlooking something?

You've made excuses for your pastor or leaders. You tell others that the leaders do things that seem unorthodox because they are dedicated to their work for the Lord, that they are too focused on God to see the problems around them, that they mean well, that they don't realize when they hurt people -- and you've provided other, similar excuses.
You wouldn't want anyone to know it, but you wonder quite a bit about whether your pastor is in the right or not.

It's time to ask yourself a few things.
Can you question your pastor without fear?  Would you even dare question your pastor? What would it take for you to approach your pastor with a question about something he's done? What do you think would happen if you did? How bad would things have to get before you were willing to ask some questions?

If you are nervous about confronting your pastor about things that don't seem quite right, ask yourself why this is.
Know this: You are not the first one to be in the situation you are now in. Many, many others have been on the same spiritual roller coaster you are now on. Some never get off.
But many on that crack-the-whip, push-and-pull, heights-to-depths game you've been part of have learned how to make it all stop.
First you need to determine if your church is healthy or unhealthy.
Check out the stories of spiritual abuse on this site and others. 
Is the pattern of abuse that emerges similar to what is happening at your church? 
Since every church is different, your experience won't be exactly like that of another church. But certain behaviors are common in abusive churches and rare in healthy ones.

When you become familiar with aberrant tendencies, look again at your church and make sure it is a place that will nurture faith over the long haul, not just in doctrinal stances but in treatment of people in and out of the church.

If you feel you can't question your pastor, that is a sign that there is a huge problem with your church -- and the sooner you do some digging, the sooner you will find a place of peace.