Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Model of Spiritually Abusive Language

If you could watch in slow motion and analyze how abusers manipulate, it would be enlightening. But when you are smack dab in a spiritually manipulative situation, sometimes the abuse happens so quickly that you don’t know what hit you. Every once in a while you catch a frozen glimpse of spiritual abuse in action. When it's in writing, it's easier to analyze. When it's in writing, it is inscribed in cement. You can take your time and actually see how the abuser is abusing.

The blog comments below (in bolded type) - from a few web sites I’ve been following - serve as freeze-frame examples of typical spiritually abusive techniques, so I thought I’d use them as an analytical tool. (My observations are in green type.)

The following comments were posted on a blog that tries to shed light on questionable practices in a large, influential church in Florida. Below the first set of comments are comments from a blog giving the story of a member hurt by a church/Bible college fiefdom in Canada.

In the first case, a blogger pointed out suspect practices and was kicked out of church. I am not so much concerned with the case itself as with the language used in these blog comments.

The writers of the comments may have no clue that the arguments they use are right out of the spiritual abuse playbook. They may think they are doing service to God. In any case, the arguments are a handy tool for those interested in examining the topic of spiritual abuse because they reflect so many spiritually abusive tactics, all in one place:

Well, there you go again, attacking an honest God-fearing, God-anointed, and God-appointed minister of the Gospel.

Notice the characterizing of what is said in opposition to a church leader as an “attack.” This is common with spiritual abusers and their helpers. The leader elicits sympathy by characterizing criticism as an attack. By drawing followers into a circle-the-wagons mentality, the persecution complex these leaders often exhibit can spread to the whole congregation.. Soon, it’s not just the leader, but the whole group that feels "under attack." (See Rick Ross, 10 signs regarding people in a relationship with a potentially unsafe group leader)
Also, the writer assumes without question that ministers are automatically “God-appointed.” We are to believe this without hesitation because title alone is what gives a church leader authority.
The commenter implies that ministers should never be contradicted, and this is an indication of authoritarianism, where position alone equals authority and authority is not to be questioned.
Click here for a discussion on authoritarianism in the church. Also check out cult expert Rick Ross’s list of what makes an unsafe group leader. Look at the first two items especially.

Yes, I now know your argument quite well and have read enough of your other posts to have the clear picture of you as somebody that just wants to spread fear and doubt

When abusive leaders or their followers are confronted with legitimate questions about their actions, they quickly turn to ad hominem. They will start listing your faults so that you will be too busy defending yourself to remember what you were saying about their actions.
Abusive pastors and their henchmen also like to pretend they can know your heart and motives. By pretending this, they wrap themselves in a robe of power and mystery.

and not accept the fact that God is in control and has the ultimate authority over all church matters. If God is giving Dr. ___________ such a message to seminary students there must be a reason for it, such as the real existence of antagonism and dissent based on an uncooperative spirit

Simply delivering a sermon does not mean God is behind it. Abusers want you to believe that the leader is a spokesman for God at all times.
Uncooperative spirit, critical spirit, unteachable spirit: these are all names that spiritual abusers call those who stand up to abuse. We have seen this many times in various cases of

that determines to undermine God's will and disrupt His work by focusing on trivial things.

Undermining the pastor’s will is equated to undermining God’s will in abusive churches.

In a world of many unsaved people that need the Gospel, where there are diseases, famines, natural disasters, abortions, and unspeakable crimes, do you think that God is concerned about the size of the office suite that our Pastor has?

God has the number of hairs on our head counted. He cares about every bird that falls. He cares about everything. He especially cares about those who are prey to the powerful. Supporters of abusive pastors like to divert attention AWAY from abusive behavior.
Uncovering and Facing Spiritual Abuse by Barnabas Ministry lists several ways supporters do this. Look especially at the section called Diverting Attention. In this case, the commenter took one portion of the blogger’s concerns and magnified it out of proportion, then tried to knock down that “straw man” argument, among other tactics.

Do you truly believe that God would consider it wrong for a pastor to warn future pastors about the high probability of enduring persecution?

Many abusive pastors will contact the new pastor of an expelled victim to slander him or give a negative report. Here, the supporter excuses this behavior at the same time charging persecution. Here is the very favorite P word, “persecution.” Spiritual abusers and their Yes-men resort to this charge constantly when facing scrutiny. Anything that might call them to account is automatically labeled “persecution.” Check out Persecution Complex in the article Abusive Churches by Pat Zukeran

In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul wrote, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." I believe this verse proves that Dr. __________ is on the right track and in God's will,

Using this verse in a such a twisted way upholds a common fallacy: Cats are soft. My slipper is soft. My slipper must be a cat. That is the logic used here. The Bible says godly people suffer persecution. The abusive pastor suffers “persecution.” Therefore, the abusive pastor is godly. Invalid syllogysm.

for he is obviously facing persecution. It's very dismaying to know that it's coming from within the church and that it has no substantial basis on which to defend itself. Oh, go ahead, call me naive and gullible again for thinking that way. If believing in the Bible and trusting in God's sovereignty is naive and gullible, I'll be happy to be those things.

Two manipulative tactics here. One, becoming the "suffering servant," defenders of abusive groups portray themselves as suffering, or hardworking or unloved. Supporters view their abusive pastors in that way and present them that way. It is an attempt to elicit sympathy and support for their leader. Another common attribute of spiritually abusive churches is scripture twisting. Torturing the scriptures to support your view, and especially to negate someone else’s view, can seem noble and holy, but it is a dreadful thing to do with scripture. Check out the article, Twisting Scriptures a sample chapter from Mary Alice Chrnalogar’s book Twisted Scriptures from the site Stop Spiritual Abuse.

Don't you think that questioning the man of God and hence, God's wisdom and providence, fall into the category of dangerous ground?

This question alone reeks of spiritually abusive practice. First, the writer assumes the abusive pastor is a man of God and the blogger isn’t. Second, the writer deifies the pastor by equating questioning him to questioning God. Third, the writer includes a veiled threat: You’re on dangerous ground questioning the pastor.

It reminds me of the phrase, "play with fire and get burned." Who are we to question our Almighty God who, as I said before, could and would bring about change if He deemed it necessary?

Everything that happens, even spiritual abuse, must be God’s will because if it wasn’t, He would change it. Misuse of logic. Under this principle, God must wish for elderly women to get mugged and African babies to starve, simply because it happens and God is in charge of everything.

Your complaints and those of your band of anonymous supporters are based on things that wouldn't be seen by looking at the big picture.

Another spiritual abuse tactic is to let victims know that they don’t have the big picture like the abuser does. They must trust in their abusive leader to have the correct view of things. (See p. 113 of Ken Blue’s Healing Spiritual Abuse)

They especially wouldn't be seen if we had our focus on the up-look and not on what's around us. As Hebrews 12:2 suggests, we need to keep our focus on Jesus! That's the main point!

While no one would dispute that the focus should be on Jesus, many would disagree on where the distraction is coming from. “Move along, don’t look too closely. The problem is YOU.” That is a common ploy of spiritually abusive leaders. It’s called “turning the tables”) See Rest Ministries’ article on Characteristics of Spiritual Abuse: Manipulation and read the “Turning the Tables” section.

If and when we wander away from that, we will certainly stumble and yield to the devil.

Confronting abuse in the church is now equated to “yielding to the devil.” One hallmark of spiritually abusive groups is a preoccupation with Satan and his work, according to Ron Enroth in this article on Apologetics Index.

Getting stressed out about the size of our Pastor's house and how he acquired land is not the result of staying focused on Jesus.

If you’re focused on Jesus you won’t care about corruption in the church, I guess. You can only do one: Focus on Jesus or question corrupt practices. You can’t do both. This is called “false dichotomy” and is another logical fallacy.

Neither is complaining about what he says about his church when preaching to other groups. Pastors have been known to use examples in their sermons. That is all he is doing. Perhaps, sad as it may in fact be, there is truth in what he says. Maybe our church has gotten more legalistic and needs to amend its ways. On his mission trips, the Apostle Paul certainly talked to one church about the issues and ways of other churches. It's obviously not wrong for a pastor to refer to his church when preaching elsewhere.

Deliberately mischaracterizing the statements of another is dishonest. The blogger was not complaining that the pastor addressed another church or used examples. Here, the dishonest characterization is used to shame the blogger. Using shame to silence critics is a hallmark of abusive churches and cults. (See the Watchman Expositor’s Elements of Spiritual Abuse.)

If there had been computers and blogs in Old Testament times, I think people would have complained about Joshua and his command to march around the walls of Jericho for seven days!

That some people in the past might have complained about righteous biblical leaders says nothing about whether a current leader is right or wrong, abusive or healthy. The attempt to condemn those who bring concerns about present abuse and compare them to murmurers in Old Testament times is a common abusive tactic. (See Scripture Twisting in Manipulation on Rest Ministries web site.) Whistleblowers are sometimes charged with "undermining the pastor," "Absalom syndrome," or "Jezebel syndrome."

There must have been some serious murmuring and doubt on display. Good thing it didn't stop Joshua. Moses encountered plenty of friction from his followers, yet he was still blessed by God and able to do great things!

Equating the authority of Moses to pastors is another common manipulative technique used by spiritual abusers. Moses was called to lead the Israelites, and God gave miracles through him to stamp His approval on him. Abusive leaders today often want to dress themselves in the authority of Moses without any sign of God’s approval. (See the Authoritarianism section in the article The Bible and Spiritual Abuse.)

Let's keep our focus on Jesus

No one on the blog was saying to stop looking on Jesus. I can certainly see the Pharisees telling Jesus to stop overturning tables and “Focus on God.” Again, this is simply a call for the blogger to stop looking at troubles and voicing concerns. Move on. Look the other way. It’s not godly to pay attention. (See Stephen Martin’s The Heresy of Mind Control, p. 92 in a section called Creating Guilt to Suppress Thought. To access the book you must click on the link at the bottom of Martin's page where it says: To read more about this subject ….)

and not allow circumstantial things to bother us and slow us down in our quest to bring honor to Him and be more like Him! Let's pray for our pastor

Another false dichotomy. The commenter suggests you can’t bring up concerns with the church and pray for the pastor at the same time. Who says the blogger isn’t already praying for the pastor?

and offer encouragement,
If corruption is involved, encouragement is not what the blogger should be doing,

help, and a positive attitude that promotes unity

another common manipulative technique seen in spiritually abusive situations is to equate unity with going along with the abuser’s agenda. Oppose the abuser and you are causing “disunity.” See the Group Leveraging section of Manipulation on Rest Ministries.

and preparation to achieve things for God and His Kingdom!

Purifying the church from abusive or corrupting influences and authoritarianism might very well be achieving things for God. Abusive pastors believe that the only godly achievements are those done for the glory of pastor or group. See Narcissism in the Pulpit.

Another blog I’ve been following more recently deals with spiritually abusive behavior at a church and Bible college in Canada. Comments defending abuse and abusers are very telling and many fit right into the same patterns mentioned in the first part of this post. Others reveal techniques not mentioned above. Again, the comments from the blog are in bolded type; my comments are in green.

You can't leave people alone can you? The Bible has allot to say about people like you.(gossips busybodies, etc.)

Here, you see the technique of “turning the tables,” pointing to the sins or crimes of the victim rather than dealing with the abuse as a topic. Notice the “gossip” charge, such a common charge used in abusive churches against those raising questions and issues.

The (church) must be doing something Great for the LORD. Because that the only reason Satan would be attacking the Church and it's leadership. this hard.

It's just Sad to see all these so called "Christians" leading the attack. I think Laura And all her Supporters will hang their heads in Shame at the judgment.

Another faulty syllogism. The commenter believes that the church is being attacked by Satan. (See "Common Threads", The second item is an increased emphasis on the role of demons in Ron Enroth's "Voices from the Fringe") 

The commenter states it as fact that Satan is attacking this particular church. He does not allow any other possibility to explain the discomfort of the leadership.  Then, he posits that because Satan is attacking the church it is proof that the church is doing great things for God.  
   Although all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, it doesn’t follow that all who suffer persecution are living godly in Christ Jesus. Further, there is a threat at the end: If you support the victim, you will be shamed at the Judgment.

It was never about her telling her "story"
it was about her getting back at her father.
she's not reaching out, she's lashing out.
It all makes sense now.

Spiritual abusers and their henchmen often impute motives onto victims to explain away honest questions regarding abusive leadership. “Revenge” is one motive of many. Bitterness is another common motive. Anger another. Rather than a true evaluation of the behavior of leadership, something that a healthy church would initiate after hearing of dissatisfaction among the faithful, abusers turn outward and invent motives to justify the continued abuse.

If everything you said against (the church) were true, you are still GRAVELY WRONG in your attitude and wisdom in handling it. You have every rite to take all your DEFINATE PROOF to be heard by the deacons                   

Sometimes spiritual abusers detour around the issue itself and attack the means of bringing matters up for consideration. The abuser will claim that victims didn’t go in an orderly fashion along all the steps of Matthew 18, or that they didn’t do A, B or C. Often, victims do try to confront a leader personally but get nowhere. When victims are told to “see the elders,” frequently the elders are spiritual snipers, bouncers, or personal body guards of the pastor and not functioning in a true elder role in a church. Their job is to make sure that no unpleasantness comes before the big cheese.
    When a sincere member comes with his list of questions, he quickly is made into a villain or sent on a longer detour or told to pray about the matter. He won’t be allowed to advance along the Matthew 18 route or any other route.    Later, when he tries to “tell it to the church” because he has been deflected a number of times from the proper paths, he is accused of going about things the wrong way.
    Sometimes, the pastor will meet with the victim but only in a room bulging with yes-men supporters who will come down like a hammer on the head of anyone bringing to the light of day questionable, unbiblical or unethical behaviors of the leadership.
    Frequently, victims who have watched as others are deflected or crushed, know that it is fruitless to even attempt a personal encounter with the pastor because the system is set up to prevent accountability. These victims learn vicariously that they cannot engage the non-engageable and they thus slink out or try other equally fruitless methods.
    After being ejected, deflected or rejected by church leadership, victims are further insulted by being blamed for going about things the wrong way!
Sounds like you have an issue with submission

    Of all the techniques spiritual abusers use, blaming the victim for being “unsubmissive” is one of the most ironic. Christians are to submit one to another, and to submit to secular authorities rather than cause trouble in the empire. But spiritual abusers turn these passages into a peons-will-submit-to-the-high-pastor command. Rarely is the pastor in submission to anyone other than himself.
    Sometimes, he will surround himself with sychophants whose positions and income depend on his pleasure and who cannot hold him accountable without endangering their livelihood.
    Occasionally, he will purposely use men too afraid to oppose him when he is unbiblical or unethical, though they do not depend on him financially. They know the power he holds and have seen him destroy others. They are not about to speak up and bring his wrath on their own heads. 

       So these abusive pastors are largely lone rangers, accountable to no one, yet they accuse their victims of being unsubmissive. They can get away with it because most of their victims ARE the submissive, humble kind who don’t speak up until they absolutely must. Often, they have served and served and served, sacrificially and at great cost, with very little thank or reward except for occasional scraps of flattery. So a charge of being unsubmissive hurts them deeply, and the pastor knows it.

bitter people anonymously gathering in large masses on the web, hiding behind their own presumptuous little hurt feelings trying to salve their stinky consciences.

The bitterness charge is so common that there are few abusive church leaders who don’t use this word in describing their victims. No one wants to be called bitter, so it’s an effective label. It is like the bully who kicks the kid with glasses, and when he cries in pain calls him a “crybaby.” It is a thin membrane between church-inflicted pain and bitterness, and pain can indeed become bitterness under the right conditions. You will find many anti-Christian web sites started by those damaged in abusive churches. So those using broad brushes can inflict more pain by deliberately confusing the two concepts.

One thing abusive church leaders hate is anonymity of those who expose their practices. Abusers sometimes go to great lengths to expose anonymous critics. The Internet helps churches call to account malevolent leaders who, in an earlier day, would have been able to maim and destroy families without any check at all on their abuses. You can see how this new element of constraint irritates would-be dictators by comments such as those above. Characterizing members who have been trampled as presumptuous and trivializing their victims’ reaction to spiritual tyranny as “hurt feelings” shows a pitiable lack of empathy so characteristic of abusive church leaders, especially those suffering from NPD.

The methods in these comments are used to shame and humiliate, to divert attention from the leader and onto the questioner, to confuse and silence critics with convoluted logic. These methods are common. You will see them in most spiritually abusive churches and groups. At the very least, this exercise gets you more familiar with many great sources on spiritual abuse.

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