“A hallmark of spiritual abuse is treating the person who dares to point out a problem as the problem.” Roger Olson
The Eagle Nebula-NASA
In today's post-evangelcial climate (or, as I call it, the post-evangelcial thicket because every which way I turn, I see people getting impaled by thorns), there is a chorus of hip seminarians and pastors who are trying to convince us that good theology will result in good church practices. Many of the ones who make such claims fall into the Calvinista camp.Take the current debate over TD Jake's modalism. With the help of the au courant "theologian" Mark Driscoll, Jakes has apparently recanted. All well and good, right?
But here is my dilemna. Driscoll, along with his good buddy and mentor CJ Mahaney, who proudly adhere to Calvinista theology, have been the subject of intense scrutiny as escalating claims of spiritual abuse make their way into the news. So, does theology make a difference in producing well-balanced churches?
I am going to cause waves with my answer. Churches that abuse come from theology of all stripes. "Correct" theology, if it exists as certain Calvinistas claim, does not prevent abusive churches and pastors. Men like Mahaney and Driscoll exist in every kind of church system. Men like Mahaney and Driscoll also exist in non-Christian systems as well. Abusive individuals always find a place to freely exercise their controlling, undignified and legalistic personalities.
Today, we present a an unsolicited story from a woman who questioned the system in the International Churches of Christ. I am sure that there will be some theological snobs out there who will say that it is their theology that causes these problems. I say that it runs far deeper than that. It goes to the very reason why we need Jesus. Men seek power. Didn't that happen in the Garden? We wanted to be like God. So, some men who recognize that there is a big God, will invent a little god who, surprise, surprise, happens to be themselves. Then they get to rule in their little kingdoms. And, what makes it so sad is they don't realize how little their world is.
So, as you read this story, think about your own story of abuse. Thinks about the stories reported from the ministries of Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney.Think about the current revelations in the Sovereign Grace debacle. Ask yourself these questions. What causes an abusive church? How do they "suck in" and control the new people? Does the ability to quote Bible verses prevent being misled? What are the red flags? We will be interested in your answers.
Once again, we know the identity of the woman who penned her story. We shall call her Faith because she persevered due to her faith in Jesus. We thank her for her story. She holds a Masters degree in Library Sciences and her history of the movement is most informative. The more stories like this that are told, the more we can all learn the elements that comprise a potentially abusive church system. I have also highlighted some words that I think are key to the story.
To understand the history of the International Churches of Christ, you have to go back to approximately 1967 and a man named Chuck Lucas. He was a youth pastor who grew up in the Churches of Christ. He became a minister at the 14th Street Church of Christ in Gainesville, Florida and developed a program of discipling that included prayer partners and neighborhood Bible studies, called “Soul Talks”. The church grew, largely due to the number of young people eager to share their faith.
In approximately 1972, the church moved to a new building and became known as the Crossroads Church of Christ. During the 1970’s, the church grew and they also began their own school of ministry that turned out several ministers who went across the country. It was about this time that controversy and negative press began. Crossroads has been accused of being a cult, of being “cultic”, of being controlling, etc. Several church splits can be traced to the arrival of a Crossroads-trained preacher or to the arrival of members who were trained in what was called the “Crossroads philosophy” or “Crossroads movement”.
I got involved in this movement in 1981 at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. I was a freshman in college. I grew up Baptist but my family stopped going to church when I was in high school. I think it was a combination of getting out of the habit of going and a split that happened in that particular church. My mother has made a few snide comments about “them good old Baptists”. I believed in God and went forward and “prayed the prayer” when I was a very young child, about six, seven or eight. The next week I was baptized. Unlike many young people who turn their backs on religion when they go to college, one of the first things I did was look for a church, and I found a small Baptist one.
In my dorm, I saw signs for a Bible study. I’m unusual in that I came on my own—no one invited me. That was around October, 1981. The next day, I had lunch with a member of the Bible study. Soon afterwards, she asked me to read the Bible with her, and I did. Eventually, the women’s counselor (in charge of women’s ministries) came in on the studies . . . and they got to the subject of baptism. For all intents and purposes, if you weren’t baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of sins, you were not a Christian. And only those who taught that doctrine were Christians . . . and of course, the only people that taught that were Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches. In other words, they were the only people who had the truth and everyone else was lost and going to hell, Including me. Of course, that scared me half to death.
I did read the Scriptures they gave me on baptism, and then I looked up all of the conversions in the book of Acts. I found that when a conversion was given in detail, the person was baptized. That got my attention. Eventually, I did decide to be baptized in the Church of Christ. That was November 11, 1981, and I consider that the day I became a Christian.
What was/is expected out of members in the type of ministry I was involved in was:
1. To be at church or church-related activities every time the doors were open. This included: Sunday morning Sunday School and worship service, Sunday evening services, a small-group Bible study during the week, a discipleship group during the week, Wednesday night church service, and a Friday night devotional service for the college students. If special speakers were coming to church, you were expected to be there. If there was a college retreat or a “ladies’ day” (a gathering of women with women speakers), you were expected to be there, no matter how much the retreat/ladies’ day cost. It also included activities such as a spring banquet, an annual “Play Day” (an outdoor activity where we played games), and baby and bridal showers, even if you didn’t know the people being honored.
2. To have a daily “Quiet Time” where you prayed and studied the Bible for a certain time each day. I will say that the emphasis on personal prayer and personal Bible study is good. I did learn about Bible study in this movement and how important it was to pray daily. However, because of my experiences in this group, I refuse to use the term “Quiet Time” any more to refer to personal prayer and Bible study.
3. To get with a “prayer partner” once every week where you talked about how your “Quiet Time” was going, what you were studying in the Bible, what sins you were struggling with, and what non-Christians you were developing relationships with. On the surface, all of that sounds good. I think “partnering” with someone and to have a good friend to share your struggles with is important. But as the Crossroads Movement developed, the “prayer partner” relationship was one of the areas criticized as an area where too much control was exercised over people.
4. To “share your faith” with people daily—and to be honest, “sharing your faith” really meant “how many people can you invite to church each day?” We were expected to invite “everything that moved” to church, Bible study, special events, etc. “Everything that moved” included inviting people in line at the grocery store, the cashier at places of business, the people you had a class with, the people you worked with. This was something you were asked about in prayer partner meetings and discipleship group meetings. You were asked how many people you were inviting to church each day. (Dee note: I now have discovered a new theology-The Everything That Moves School of Evangelism)!
5. To be involved in personal Bible studies (“one-on-one studies”) with people on a regular basis and ultimately, to convert them. I would say “convert them to Christ” because that was what we said we were doing, but really, we were converting them to the church. This was called “bearing fruit”, and those who “bore fruit” were looked upon as “more spiritual” than those who did not “bear fruit”. John 15 was used as the Scripture to “prove” that we were called to “bear fruit” and that “fruit” meant “other Christians”. I was involved in about nine one-on-one Bible studies in five years in college, and as far as I know, NONE of the people I studied with ever became Christians as a result. To this day, I know of no one that I have directly influenced to become a Christian, and I count that as the biggest failure of my Christian life.
6. If you were single, you were expected to go out on dates with other singles. It’s not wrong to encourage Christians to date other Christians. I don’t believe in “missionary dating”. ☺ I had a good time on the vast majority of my dates and enjoyed getting to know other men. It was also good to be in an environment where you weren’t expected to have sex as part of the date. But as time went on, I began to feel that only the “spiritual” sisters got dated—those who invited a lot of people to church, those who converted a lot of people, those who lead group Bible studies—and since I didn’t fall into any of those categories, I didn’t get dated a lot. I began to feel that I just wasn’t spiritual enough to get a date. This is the other painful category from my years in the Crossroads ministry—feeling as if I wasn’t “worthy” of the attentions of other men.
I lasted five years in this ministry. By the end of my time in college, I felt overwhelmed and burned out by the expectations of the movement. Here were some of my personal experiences:
• As part of my undergraduate major, I had to take a class on Wednesday nights. No one made too much of a fuss about it at the time, it was understood that I wasn’t at church because I had a class and that when the class was over, I’d be back. However, about two-three years later, when I was in school for my graduate degree (I have two degrees from Florida State; I graduated with my B.A. and went straight into a master’s program for library science), when the same situation came up, I was told by my prayer partner that, “you’re just going to miss out if you’re not there”. I put off the Wednesday night class—which was a required class for my degree, by the way—so that I could go to church those evenings. Two semesters later, in my last semester of school, the same situation happened—the class I had to have was offered at two different times, once on Monday and Wednesday mornings, the other on Wednesday nights. The Monday/Wednesday section of the class conflicted with an elective class that I wanted to take (a reference class on government documents, my specialization was reference work and I wanted all the reference classes I could get.) I asked the prayer partner and a ministry leader, what should I do? The ministry leader said she’d support me no matter which way I picked. The prayer partner said, it depends on how badly you want the class. The prayer partner, incidentally, was also a library science major and knew exactly what classes I needed. I decided to take the Wednesday night section of the class, and was later informed by the prayer partner that she was “disappointed” in my decision.
• I told this same prayer partner that I wanted to not focus on having visitors so much and work on other areas in my life. She responded with, “I think you should expect to have visitors.” That remark let me know that there was no way out. No matter what, I was going to be expected to have visitors, and I would be rebuked if I didn’t meet the expectation.
• That prayer partner finally got so frustrated with my perceived lack of progress that she finally said, “I think it’s best for us not to pray together until you make some decisions.” No one ever prayed with me again. I think the reason that I wasn’t “reassigned” to another prayer partner was because I was going to be graduating in a few months and they were going to put their energies into people that were still going to be on campus. I felt like damaged, unspiritual goods.
• She also hurled the accusation at me: “You must be really ungrateful!”
• One of the comments often made by a minister from the pulpit was, “We haven’t touched the hem of the garment yet.” In other words, we could always be doing better.
• On one occasion, I asked a particular sister if she or her roommate could give me a ride to the airport because I was going to go home to visit my family. Not only was I told to take a cab, I was also told that “Saturday is our only day to sleep in” and that I needed to be more sensitive to others’ feelings and needs. The two roommates I had asked were both campus ministry leaders. I am still convinced that had the shoe been on the other foot—if they had asked me for a ride and I had given that response as to why I wasn’t able to do it—I would have been soundly rebuked for not being a servant.
• If you liked a brother, or a brother liked you, you couldn’t come right out and tell each other how you felt. You had to play games with them. I got the impression that a particular brother liked me more than I liked him, and I asked my prayer partner (the same one I referred to earlier), should I say something to him? Her answer? No, you’re supposed to let him make the first move. I finally had to tell him that “you like me more than I like you.” And during that conversation, I kept thinking, “I need to run over to so-and-so, ask her what to say, and then come back to him.” (While he wasn’t happy with me at the time, he is now married to someone else and they are happy together.)
• An earlier prayer partner of mine began seriously dating someone, and they rode together up to her parents’ house in another state. Two people of the opposite sex spending a prolonged period of time together alone was discouraged, but it was “allowed” in this case since they were steady dating. I made a reference to that car trip, and was then told that they (the couple) weren’t talking about it that much because they had gone up there alone. IIRC, I *think* the reason I wasn’t supposed to talk about it was that others might wonder why it was all right for that couple to do it but it wasn’t necessarily wise for others to do so.
• That prayer partner also called me on the phone and told me, “Go meet people,” meaning, go around the dorm and invite people to church. She used as Scriptural justification, we have not been given the Spirit of fear but of sonship. To her credit, she did call me the next day and told me, “I told you to go meet people, but I didn’t tell you how to do it.”
• In another conversation with this prayer partner, I said that one reason I had trouble with inviting people (it may have been that, or something else, I no longer remember) was because I was afraid of what people would think. She said, “Oh, it can’t be that!” We “figured out” that it was “fear of the unknown.” At another time, she flat out accused me of being selfish for some reason—I don’t remember what it was.
• Early in my involvement with the movement, our ladies’ Bible study leader came by my room, sat down, and immediately asked the question, “What do you think it is? Why aren’t we getting any people in our Bible study?” Of course, she already had the answer: we weren’t inviting enough people. She ordered me, “Open your eyes, Faith!”
• Another Bible study leader (this time, a male) had said that David wrote Psalm 119. I had a problem with him saying that because David is not identified as the author of that particular Psalm. So I went to him and said, “David didn’t write it,” and was told, “David did write it.” (This particular leader left the ministry after about a year.)
In 1985, Chuck Lucas was fired by Crossroads. There was no major announcement made anyplace. I found this out from someone who’d told me. I found a copy of the Gainesville Sun which said that Lucas had been fired for “recurring sins” in his life. At least one person has stated that the “recurring sins” were homosexual relationships with younger male members of the congregation. I stress that I do NOT know if this is true. Although, given the hyper-controlling attitudes I observed about dating, I would not be surprised if that was the reason.
One of Lucas’ “mentees” was a man named Kip McKean, who was converted in 1972 at the Crossroads Church. Kip entered the ministry a few years later and eventually wound up at a very small Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. They became the Boston Church of Christ. When Chuck was fired, Kip became *very* prominent in the movement. Even before Chuck was fired, the Boston church had been sending out mission teams to a number of areas.
I think it was in 1986 that I got a letter from a good friend who had moved down to Miami and told me that the Church of Christ she attended was doing some good teaching on grace. That was the moment that I decided, I wanted to go to Miami. I got desperate. Getting to Miami and hearing about grace was the main thing that kept me going during the last months in Tallahassee.
I graduated in December, 1986, with my master’s in library science, and I ended up securing a job in Miami as a reference librarian. The church I attended—the church that my friend had told me about—WAS good on grace, and I was relieved to hear it.
In 1987, all hell broke loose.
Before I got to Miami, the minister at the church I ended up attending had resigned and moved to Boston. A minister from the Boston Church of Christ was sent in to replace him. This was the first time this had happened in a Crossroads-style church . . . and it would not be the last. Two similar takeover attempts were made in Atlanta, Georgia and Tampa, Florida; both attempts ended in congregational splits where a Boston-style ministry was begun. At the same time, a similar takeover attempt was made in Gainesville, Florida, at the Crossroads Church itself. (In 1988, the then-elders at Crossroads made a public apology for things that had happened over the years. The congregation changed its name and is now the Campus Church of Christ.) The Boston Church of Christ then announced that they would be planting “pillar churches” –to make a very long story as short as possible, the Boston Church of Christ had just re-created the structure of the Catholic Church. From then on, we would be hearing stories about the “Boston Movement”. A LOT of people who had been originally baptized in a Crossroads Movement church were rebaptized when Boston-trained ministers took over. One of the people rebaptized was the girl who originally studied the Bible with me.
While Miami was not “taken over” by a Boston-type ministry, many, many of our members left for various reasons. When Miami started emphasizing grace, the “scaffolding” of the Crossroads Movement fell away and there wasn’t really anything to take its place. Without the structure of discipleship groups, prayer partners and Bible studies, everything fell apart.
In 1989, the ministers in charge of the congregation announced that they would be disbanding, and said that they would be starting independent house churches. I decided to go along with the house churches. Now, after looking back and analyzing what was going on, I know exactly why I did it: The leaders said that that was what they were going to do. If you were a leader, you were “spiritual”. If you wanted to be considered “spiritual” you followed your leaders. Of course, I wanted to be “spiritual”, so I followed the leaders into an independent house church structure. While this part of my story isn’t necessarily about Crossroads or the Boston Movement, I do think it is related.
I lasted for five and a half years in about three independent house churches. We went from the controlling legalism of the Crossroads Movement to an atmosphere of “you can do/believe whatever it is you want, and if anyone asks any questions or challenges your beliefs, they’re just being legalistic”. At one point, a member of the house church group talked about how great it was that he could welcome Mormons as “fellow Christians”. I was taken aback by that statement. While there’s much to admire about certain practices of the LDS Church, I have a problem with the fact that they hold the Book of Mormon on the same level as the Old and New Testaments. I said something to that person, about how Mormons added to the Gospel, and his response was, “Do you think that *we* added something to the Gospel?”
On another occasion, we got into a big fight about the interpretation of a passage in the book of Romans. I said that all religions believed that they were the only ones who were right. The response I got was, “No, they don’t.” It’s been my experience that most churches believe that they are right, everyone else is wrong, and they can “prove” it by Scripture. (A book written by L.G. Tomlinson, Churches of Today In the Light of Scripture, does precisely this—it systematically “proves” that no denomination could stand up when examined by Scripture.) Or, if they are willing to admit that other churches just *may* have the truth, they believe that “you’ll have a better chance with us”.
I got married in 1993. Right before my wedding, I told my husband to be that the house churches were not working and that it was time to get out. It took us about a year, but we eventually moved to Atlanta and now worship at what would be considered a “progressive” or “liberal” Church of Christ in the Atlanta area. When we started the house churches, there were about seven or eight groups meeting. When my husband and I left, there were about three groups left—and the group we had been meeting with stopped meeting after we left. I do not think it is an accident that at least four couples I am aware of that were involved in the house church movement are now either separated or divorced (including one of the ministers whose idea it was in the first place to go into house churches!) Of the people that were in the last house church I was in, all but about one or two people have gone back to “organized” churches.
What I know about the movement these days comes from Internet postings I have read. Right around the turn of the 21st Century, a man named Henry Kriete wrote a letter that was the equivalent of the 95 Theses being nailed to the door of the Wittenberg Church. It confronted and exposed a lot of errors and practice in what was now known as the International Churches of Christ. I can’t remember whether it was before or after this letter that Kip McKean resigned from his post of “missions evangelist”. None of Kip’s children have remained faithful Christians. I don’t find that surprising.
Kip, however, didn’t stay out of the ministry long. He took over a church in Portland, Oregon a few years ago . . . and he has now appointed himself as a leader in the International Christian Churches, also known as the “Sold-Out Discipling Movement”. He is trying to recreate history. (Editors note: Does this remind you of anyone in a certain "family of churches?"
The ICOC has stated that “mistakes were made”. I have a relative that is part of the ICOC and she used those exact words. I would feel a lot better if people in leadership would own up to very specific mistakes that were made, make some serious public apologies, and resign from leadership.
Where has all of this left me? Well . . .I still have a faith in God. I count myself lucky. Many people involved with the ICOC have left and have no faith in God at all. I know of a minister who left the movement and is now an atheist. The prayer partner that I referred to who told me that I ought to “expect to have visitors” also left the movement, joined another religion, and now believes that the New Testament is a lie.
I guess the best way that I can sum up my beliefs at this moment is that while I still believe that Jesus is the only way to God, I am not so sure any more that the Church of Christ is the only way to Jesus. And I find myself with a lot of mistrust of people in religious leadership, even when the people in leadership have given me no reason to mistrust them. My current minister is a wonderful teacher, passionate about God and the Bible—and I find myself wondering, is he *really* telling the truth? And I have *no* reasons not to trust him! I find myself with a lot of mistrust of “does the Bible really say this?” and wondering if there really is any way to find the truth.
In a recent Internet discussion, I asked, what do you say to someone who holds a particular belief (that was being discussed at that moment)? They answered: ask them to show you book, chapter and verse. But that wasn’t the problem. They DID have book, chapter and verse to “prove” what they believed. Just like the Crossroads Movement. Just like the Boston Movement. Just like the ICOC. Just like the Mars Hill people, like Mark Driscoll, and like other people you have profiled on your blog. If everyone believes they are right and can “prove” it by Scripture, how in the world can you figure out who it is that’s telling the truth?
It has taken me about two days to write this. It’s a lot of information and that shouldn’t surprise me, because my history with these people goes back thirty years. If you Google “Chuck Lucas”, “Kip McKean”, “International Churches of Christ”, “Crossroads Movement” or “Boston Movement”, you will find a wealth of information.
Lydia's Corner: Isaiah 48:12-50:11 Ephesians 4:17-32 Psalm 69:1-18 Proverbs 24:5-6