Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Can't Talk Rule or Don't Talk Rule

Various sources on spiritual abuse warn about the Can't Talk rule (or the Don't Talk rule) in abusive groups. In spiritually manipulative churches, pastors don't usually come right out and tell you not to talk about certain issues. (Especially concerns in the church.) They are much more subtle.

They might hint at "the enemy" who incites people to gossip, or they may denounce weak Christians who whisper. They might blast the motives of anyone who brings a legitimate issue to the leadership, condemning them as self-centered, divisive or lazy.
They might emphasize grumbling and complaining as among the gravest of sins. They might compare those who bring up church issues to scoffers in Moses' time -- implying that if you dare mention a weakness of the church you are similar to those ungrateful Israelites that the good Moses ( read: church leader) had to put up with.

They might tell you to "get in line with the mission," "submit to authority," or "stop dividing the flock," shaming someone who brings honest questions  -- in order to deflect scrutiny from themselves.
Some might tell you that you are not in harmony with "the vision or mission" of the church, which often is just a high-sounding way of saying that the leader's views are beyond question, and accountability is not the business of a mere layperson.

By whatever means available, abusive pastors will shut down discussion and prevent accountability for suspect practices. The unspoken "don't talk" rule makes this easy. Anyone who dares raise an issue to the light of day will be shut down, preached against, shunned, mistreated or shamed, either by open means or subtle means.

Perhaps some have left the church, and you wish to know why. Maybe the pastor has preached something that doesn't line up with scripture. Maybe someone has been kicked out of church or removed from a ministry. Perhaps these uncomfortable practices have been increasing. Maybe the finances are not open to public view; or business meetings are closed -- or nonexistent. Perhaps teachers or musicians have complained about mistreatment and you are not sure who to believe. A Sunday school teacher suddenly leaves or is moved elsewhere without any explanation. An elder resigns. A spouse or older child disappears and no one dares ask about it.

Those living under a Can't Talk or Don't Talk rule know not to ask questions. They have been manipulated into remaining silent, even though their active conscience urges them to speak up. The reluctance to speak up is often disguised as virtue. You're not a grumbler. You're not a troublemaker. It's someone else's place to ask questions, not yours. You're just a humble nobody.
So the pastor or leader remains accountable to no one. He can do what he likes without opposition, no matter how questionable, unorthodox, ungodly -- or in some cases, illegal.

If this describes the mechanism in place at your church, make sure to do a little research into spiritual abuse and see if other signs might not also be present in your group. The Can't Talk rule is an unspoken rule meant to stifle and hide anything that challenges the control of a leader or that has the potential to put a leader in a bad light. It is often the tip of the iceberg.

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