The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. The Lord of the Rings Haldir, Chapter 'Lothlórien'.
One of the most difficult issues of spiritual abuse is proving that it exists. The whole thing hinges on word usage and Scriptural interpretation. As Christians, we all agree that gossip is bad, but who gets to decide whether a particular conversation is gossip or legitimate questioning or disagreement? The same could be said of other words such as rebellion, divisive, distrustful, and argumentative. Is our very question sinful?
In 2007, the Georgia Baptist Convention made it a “sin” to blog.
The Resolution Against Blogging
The Resolution included the following two paragraphs:
BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that we reaffirm the historic method of administering our agencies and institutions through elected boards of trustees, and we call upon bloggers to cease the critical second-guessing of these elected leaders;
and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that all Georgia Baptists respectfully request and expect that individuals who disrupt the fellowship through blogging repent and immediately cease this activity and no longer cause disharmony for the advancement of their own personal opinions and agendas . . .
Wade Burleson comments:
When the resolution "passed," I'm sure that many Southern Baptists thought those evil "bloggers" had it coming. It is quite possible that SBC agency trustees, contrary to the statement in the resolution, actually need someone to be critical of their decisions. It is also quite reasonable to believe that the "disharmony" mentioned in the resolution is not caused by a blogger following his conscience, but by church leaders following a path of deception.
Read more on this fascinating situation at: http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/
The Georgia Baptist Convention claims that blogging can hurt churches. Yet, it is the internet that has exposed the shameful cover-up of pedophiles in the SBC as well as successfully questioning the legitimacy of the prosperity gospel preachers. So, once again, who gets to define what constitutes a sin?
“Spiritual abuse occurs when a leader uses his spiritual position to dominate or control another person. This often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person’s state of living, emotions, or spiritual well being. “(pp. 20-21)
In abusive situations, Scripture is often used as a measure of spirituality as opposed to a guide for life. This can lead to an outward appearance of spiritual superiority while inwardly there is a spiritual struggle. This is called hypocrisy. The word is derived from a Greek word that was used to describe actors who were playing a part on the stage.
Recently, we have been reading about a number of ministries that have been accused of being abusive. In all of these situations, we have noted a common denominator in the view of leadership. There is an overemphasis on the problem of indwelling sin. Even after receiving Christ, and therefore, His Holy Spirit, it is taught that man is still plagued with so much sin that he is unable to clearly guide his actions both within and outside the church setting.
So, who is without sin? How can anyone lead if we are all so sinful? Well, the leadership of these abusive ministries has come up with a solution. They allege that the appointed pastors have been given a measure of grace above and beyond the average Christian and can therefore clearly guide their sheep. They are qualified to “shepherd” the flock without having to worry about that pesky sin thing interfering with their decisions. Unfortunately, some of their members buy it and thus a pattern of abuse, control, and legalism is established. This ultimately leads to increasing anxiety on the part of members because they can never live up to the expectations that are foisted upon them by misguided and never satiated tyrants.
So, what does this look in real life? Let’s look at a couple of examples.
A group of people questioned their elders regarding how the church finances were being spent and asked if more could be put into missions, etc. They were told to stop trying to create a faction in the church. (p.21)
One of our friends was kicked out of a Sunday school class for merely questioning the science that was being used to defend a young earth only position.
One of us was called “arrogant and condescending” and was even accused of using strong body language (while holding a large book, a cup of tea, and being seated with both feet planted firmly in the ground) while reading a short paragraph out of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology book (a church-approved reference) that encouraged churches to allow freedom for a particular “B” issue.
Ultimately, the person bringing a question or complaint is accused of being the problem, and the original issue is quickly forgotten. This is an excellent way to obfuscate the real matter at hand. The priesthood of the believers is no longer in play. The pastors become the untouchable leaders, and the congregation exists to carry out their mandates without complaint. We have watched as the role of deacons has been relegated to directing traffic and the elders serve merely to relay the mandates of the untouchable leader.
We want to leave you with a true story. There was a very large church in Texas whose senior pastor was well-known and considered to be a pillar of the community. He was authoritative, and the church grew to include thousands of members. Unfortunately, he was involved in a long-term affair with a member of the church. His deacon board spent years covering up this sin. Members who were hearing rumors and had the temerity to bring a complaint were accused of being divisive and of spreading malicious gossip. Eventually, the pastor went too far and was fired; however, this did not make up for the years of deception and the abuse of thoughtful members who left the church, both discouraged and bitter. The church itself was the butt of jokes for years. The cause of Christ was tarnished, especially as the cover-up became common knowledge throughout the area.
We believe that the priesthood of the believers is an integral part of Christ’s church. However, the Calvinistas are pushing for a more extreme form of authoritative church governance, and they will “prove” why they are correct most vociferously! We intend to expose the dark side of their controversial agenda.
(Except where indicated, all quotes come from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and Van Vondren)