Over the next few next weeks, we will be looking at the issue surrounding spiritual abuse. This is a HOT BUTTON issue that is taking on a life of its own. We have already described the history of the shepherding movement of the 1970s. Leaders of that movement are showing up again and are gaining popularity and power due to a clever alignment between them and the “New Calvinists” (or, as we like to call them, the Calvinistas). We shall be exploring the reasons for this coalition in upcoming posts.


However, the practical effects of this movement are being seen and experienced at the local church level. Reports of heavy-handed church discipline are being reported, not only in Christian circles, but also by the secular media. As described in our previous post, we see a little old lady being perp-walked out of her church for “having a questioning and divisive spirit.” We see a network of pastors calling each other and “warning” about former members. This recently happened to one of us! Legitimate questions about one's church are now being described by church leadership as “creating division, gossiping, and quarreling.” Some pastors have become the dictatorial, unquestioned ruler of their tiny kingdoms, looking and acting like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Church members are left totally perplexed and wondering where all the supportive, kind pastors have gone. Unfortunately, the members themselves are part of the problem. If they refused to tolerate such dictatorial behavior, these miniature tyrants would have no one to “rule.”


The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse (subtitled: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority) by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen is the finest book we have ever read on this subject. It carefully delineates the difference between true authority and poor leadership. In this book the authors discuss how such abuse develops and why members are blinded to it initially. Later, when it's too late to do anything about it, the congregants finally realize what happened to their church. Interestingly, it also helps the members of such a church to understand what it is about their own personalities that allows such domineering pastors and elder boards to control them.


One of the finest chapters deals with the misapplication of various Scripture verses that are used to secure the abusive pastor’s position and keep the members of the church in line. They show how verses such as Matthew 18 are misapplied and misunderstood. It is fascinating to see how the Bible can be misused to justify almost any action, including unbiblical ones. The authors stress how the average member in such a church often feels burdened and lacking in joy. It is fascinating to note that even the “really intelligent” individual can be taken in by this sort of a church.


Finally, the reader is shown how to escape such an abusive church and find another congregation with a healthy approach to relationships. The authors then help guide the reader in how to locate a church that has healthy interactions between its leadership and its members.


We'll be going through various chapters in this book, regaling you with personal experiences (yes we, too, have been sucked in by such churches in the past) and hopefully helping you see the church to which you have been so devoted with fresh eyes. We believe you should give copies of this book to your pastors, ex-pastors, elder boards, teachers, and friends. It should be MANDATORY reading before you join ANY church! There's no question in our minds that this book would prevent much heartache. All seminary students and pastors should be required to read this book before being allowed to “rule” (oops!), we mean "pastor" any church.

Finally, two other books are worthy of mention. Churches That Abuse by Ronald Enroth is a classic. He received many threats after writing this book years ago. Enroth's book is as good a reference as any. A newly published book, Hardball Religion, by Wade Burleson, shows the seamy side of Southern Baptist politics. You will wonder how some of these folks can actually consider themselves Christians, let alone denominational leaders. By the way, they are attacking Burleson as well. In the meantime, Lottie Moon is rolling over in her grave!

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