More Roles in a Toxic Faith System – Enabler, Victim, and Outcast

Toxic Faith systems would not exist without individuals playing certain roles.  We have previously examined the roles of persecutor and co-conspirator.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out  that leaders would not be able to lead if they didn't have followers who follow.  Let's take a look at two types of followers in toxic faith systems — the enabler and the victim




"While the co-conspirator is actively involved in delusion and connives to keep the persecutor in power, the enabler allows rather than promotes, victimization."  (p. 190)  In a toxic organizations, enablers do not have any decision-making authority, but they willingly support the persecutor and co-conspirator(s).  Along with the co-conspirators, they help rescue the persecutor when necessary and placate whenever possible.  Toxic faith systems have a pecking order – persecutor, co-conspirator, enabler.


"Enablers are the primary caretakers of the persecutor.  Often they are asked to do the behind-the-scenes dirty work of the persecutor and co-conspirators."  (p. 190) 


Arterburn and Felton explain that enablers resent their roles, but they rarely complain.  Why?  "They are religious addicts, addicted to the persecutor, the toxic system, and their role.  They are addicted to the feelings of worth they obtain when they are called  to fix problems or cover up the wrongs of the persecutor….  Addiction to the persecutor takes precedence over everything else.  The addiction poisons them and robs them of their faith.  They leave their faith in God and place it in the persecutor.  They rationalize supporting evil and a victimizing system out of the need to be submissive (emphasis mine).  Addiction to the person is the single most importnat factor in allowing the wrongs of a toxic-faith system to continue."  (p. 190)


Enablers exhibit specific behaviors, and one of the most dangerous is "going along with the group consensus.  When this occurs in a toxic ministry, thousands of people can be harmed."  (p. 191)  Despite the reality that many are being victimized, the enables just goes along and complies as though everything in this toxic organization were fine.   


Characteristics of the Enabler (p. 191)

* Allows victimization rather than promotes it

* Supports victimization with silence

* Is dedicated to not rocking the boat

* Does not trust God enough to allow family turmoil or destruction of a ministry

* Appears powerless

* Receives praise for sainthood in being able to survive under severe persecution

* Can be perceived by co-conspirators as the enemy or a threat to the co-conspirators' position

* Allows the persecutor to be in denial

* Covers up the harm done to the family or the organization

* Eases the persecutor's pain

* Outwardly appears loving and supportive of the persecutor

* Inwardly is angry at living an unfulfilled life

* As a persecutor begins to lose credibility, will start to develop other skills, such as obtain a degree in counseling, knowing the system and the family may fall apart

* Feels very little self-worth

* Becomes a caretaker of the persecutor

* Is addicted to the persecutor and the system

* Has the primary goal of maintaining peace and the status quo

* Has great difficulty thinking for oneself

* Goes along with group consensus

* Acts to survive

* Feels extremely responsible

* If the ministry fails, blames self

* Neglects personal needs for the sake of the ministry and the persecutor

* Never stops hoping things will change

* Never stops fearing what will happen if things do change

* Needs someone to intervene



Arterburn and Felton explain that the only hope for those trapped in the role of enabler is reality.  Enablers must face the fact that they are playing out an unhealthy role and that they are ensnared in a toxic faith system that is doomed to failure.  "The hope comes from ending the charade before more people are hurt."  (p. 194)


Now let's look at the most unfortunate of roles in a toxic faith system — the victim.




Sadly, victims don't realize what they're doing when they blindly place their trust in a toxic faith system.  They operate out of a desire to know God and worship Him; however, their actions are greatly misguided. 


What are victims sacrificing in a toxic organization?  Time, money, emotions, and faith to support the system.  "the persecutor, co-conspirators, and enablers manipulate those people to keep the family or toxic-faith system going and the persecutor in power."  (p. 196


Victims tend to be extremely compliant, believing every word that is passed down from on high (from the persecutor).  Like enablers, they never rock the boat and keep silent about serious flaws in the organization.  "The silent and invisible victims sacrifice their need to be significant in order to be valued by the system.  They fear rejection and abandonment so much that they would rather be exploited members of something than be on their own and part of nothing."  The leaders and parents  in the toxic system know this and exploit it regularly.  Victims hide from each other any sadness and pain from feeling insignificant.  Everyone acts as if it is a great privilige to be taken for granted and lost in such a worthwhile mission."  (p. 196)


Characteristics of the Victim (pp. 200-201)

* Makes tremendous sacfifices out of a combination of a desire to serve God and very low self-esteem

* Wants to feel a valuable part of something important

* Was often victimized as a child

* Looks for someone to make salvation easy

* Often experiences loneliness

* Actually believes money and effort will buy favor with God

* Willingly sacrifices time, money, and self for a cause considered to be of God

* Is easily manipulated by persecutors and co-conspirators

* Is spiritually molested by toxic-faith leaders or parents

* Feels victimized when the truth about toxic-faith ministry is revealed

* Often abandons spiritual journey upon discovery of abuse by an exploitative leader or parent

* Is often threatened by co-conspirators and persecutors to keep the victimization a secret

* Bears the pain of existing in a world of lies and deception

* Sometimes leaves one toxic-faith system and moves to another

* Frequently is very emotional in the practice of faith

* Becomes isolated and lonely once disillusioned about a ministry or family

* Though astute in business and other affairs, naively practices a blind faith

* Refuses to doubt questionable activities; instead rationalizes why exploitative things would be necessary for the ministry's survival

* The more money given to the ministry, the greater the resolve to protect and defend it

* Gives untold  hours to develop the ministry and then sacrifices further in attempts to fix it

* Sacrifices a wonderful family for the sake of a toxic leader

* Often has a martyr complex

* May be seduced into a sexual relationship to meet "special" needs of the minister

* Is reluctant to stop the victimization for fear of looking foolish

* Often is involved with toxic-faith ministry out of a desire to be or look important

* Willingly pays a high price for acceptance

* Frequently needs counseling after discovering exploitation



According to the authors of Toxic Faith, the victim's only hope comes from "exercising the gift of free choice given by God.  Free choice is never made in the midst of emotional blackmail or pressure to conform.  The free choice of faith is made out of love for God and the desire to serve him."  (p. 201)  


Here's my question — if a victim is trapped in a ministry that denies the existence of FREE WILL, is there any hope of ever being set free?   


Yes there is hope as demonstrated by the fifth and final role in a toxic faith system — the outcast.


If you're reading here, you are probably extremely familiar with this role.  In fact, it may be YOUR role.  I absolutely love how Arterburn and Felton explain the role of the outcast:


"Of the five roles in the toxic-faith system, only one is not a religious addict or bound by toxic faith.  In most stoxic systems, someone can usually see the problem and confront it.  Unwilling to play the fames of the persecutors and co-conspirators, the person becomes an outcast.


The people who stand up for what is right and challenge thse system lose their jobs, friends, and church.  They become lone voices in the wilderness, crying out for change that will not come as long as the persecutor dictates power, the co-conspirators manipulate the system, the enablers allow it to continue, and the victims fall in line with blind faith.  When outcasts surface, they are identified as TROUBLEMAKERS and pushed out of the system as soon as possible." (p. 201)


In a toxic faith system, no one is allowed to disagree.  If they ever try to speak out, they are labelled as complainers, negative thinkers, and not team players.  "Loyalty is equated with blind faith and complete agreement with the leader".  (p. 202) 


For those of you who are outcasts, here are some encouraging words  from Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton:


"Outcasts who challenge the delusion of the system are discredited immediately.  The toxic-faith system creates a lose-lose situation where the outcasts must give up perceptions of reality or be willing to tace complete rejection.  Abandonment becomes the reward for trying to correct the ministry.


Outcasts can interpret reality for themselves.  Even when their perception of reality contradicts that of hundreds and thousands of followers, they can clearly see the problems and press for solutions to those problems.  Outcasts are unimpressed by position or personhood.  They love God and want to protect his people and his institutions from spiritual fraud.


Those who are so dedicated to God have little difficulty seeing others' dedication to ego and empires.  Yet they are forced to suffer for what they see because they refuse to watch people live a lie and abuse others.  No toxic-faith system can handle this keen insight and dedication to truth.  They must place their jobs and the church they love on the altar of sacrifice as they are forced to move on to a place free of toxic faith."  (p. 202)


Characteristics of the Outcast (p. 203)

* Is not a religious addict

* Does not possess a toxic faith

* Willingly stands alone

* Stands up for what is right

* Is willing to be rejected by others in the toxic-faith system

* Can discern right from wrong

* Commits to leaders having integrity

* Refuses to be victimized by false teaching and lack of integrity

* Speaks out for truth

* Usually loses a job withing a toxic organization over concern for it

* Suffers rejection by friends after challenging the leadership of those in the toxic-faith system

* Often is treated as a leper

* Is begged by others in the toxic-faith system to support the persecutor

* Endures shame for actions

* Refuses to respect or be manipulated by those in the toxic-faith system

* Sees the truth and acts on it even if it produces great personal pain

* Interprets reality for self

* Is motivated to protect peope from spiritual fraud

* Is very dedicated to God and the people who seek a relationship with him

* Comands respect of others for courage



For those of you who can identify with these characteristics, there is hope.  Arterburn and Felton have a special word of encouragement for you, as they write:


"God honors those who are willing to sacrifice their comfort on the altar of what is right.  God has a special place in his heart for the heroes of a toxic-faith system.   Those who stand up for God and tell the world the emperor has no clothes will receive their reward sooner or later."  (p. 202)

If you are  an outcast, there is hope!  Even though you have been rejected in one place, the authors of Toxic Faith want to assure you that ministries do exist "where pure faith is upheld and God is honored through the integrity of the organization's leadership."  (p. 203)



I'll wrap up our series on toxic faith in the upcoming post when I will share Arterburn and Felton's recommendations for treatment and recovery.


More Roles in a Toxic Faith System – Enabler, Victim, and Outcast — 12 Comments

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    I wish there was a way to spread this. I mean really really get it out there to the masses so they could see see real truths .

    It is exactly how those within the Baptist Mafia operate.

    It is exactly what happened to me. I am an example and living proof. I am just trying to recover day by day.

    I am going to read this book.

    Thanks…dee and deb WOW it is right on….

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    Dee and Deb – thank you for these informative articles. As I am learning, the “outcast” will be slandered, even will be accused of crimes if necessary, in order to discredit them and harm their reputation so the remaining followers will not want to associate with them. Soon enough, I will tell my story, and this information you are sharing is helpful in framing it. It will not be pretty, but tell it I will in due time.

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    Tom R,

    Be sure to get the book Toxic Faith. It will serve as an excellent resource for you.

    There is so much information in this 250+ page book that it’s a challenge to summarize it in a handful of blog posts. There are quite a few stories scattered throughout the book that reinforce the information I’m sharing in these posts.

    I absolutely LOVE how the internet allows those of us who are outcasts to unite. If we formed our own “coalition”, what would we call it? Any ideas?

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    I call us the “Pariahist”……

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    I’ve always liked “The Recalcitrants”…a term Paige Patterson has used to describe us. Sounds like a good mini-series on NBC.

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    Hi all
    Back for one night then back for real in two days. I still say the Fellowship of the Wounded works.

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    Keep up the great work. Thanks for the break. When I get back I am going to compare unspoken church “bylaws” to being locked in a mansion with nudists. That will keep you guessing until I return.
    Your partner in verbiage

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    My son and daughter in law were involved with a toxic faith system out here in the Bible Belt West. It was one of the McMega-Biggie congregations (approx. 12,000 souls). It took awhile to get them de-programmed on account of the fear, guilt, and rigid authority structure they use to maintain a strangle hold over parishoners.

    It was especially hard for my daughter in law because of the way she grew up. Abuse both corporeal and sexual were facts of miserable life for her during childhood. One abusive structure got replaced with another. Like Jefferson, I have sworn eternal hostility toward any form of tyranny over the mind of man (anthropos).

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    I am so sorry! Over a decade ago I became acquainted with a woman whose family was heavily involved with the Worldwide Church of God during her growing up years. She had an extremely legalistic/abusive upbringing. Fortunately, she broke free and was able to get the help she needed when she became an adult.

    I am so grieved that people get trapped in these cultish religious systems. May they develop the courage to break free.

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    But many do not know or believe that they are in one of these cultist religious system.

    They think it is “being GOD led” to follow the beliefs of these Pastors and many within the Baptist Mafia

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    There is another one, though it is fairly rare: The Barnabas.
    Characteristics are similar to the outcast, but has not been himself rejected. Sometimes criticized for helping the outcast, but really doesn’t care, as they are sure enough of God’s real desires.
    Is able to encourage the healing of the outcast (see Barnabas and Mark)
    Usually well enough respected, that leaders of malicious groups don’t try to criticize them. (Though they sometimes do)
    When they hear of someone being hurt, they rush in to help.

    Hi Baranbas!

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    HI me

    What a kind thing to say. I wish I could be more like Barnabas. All I had to endure was pain when a new church wouldn’t allow me to join because a rather unkind pastor who has lost his way talked “out of church” to another pastor who was naive enough to believe that a “real” pastor is somehow more truthful than a lowlife congregational member. What are they teaching in seminaries these days?

    I am not so sure I could endure the imprisonment and beatings that Barnabas signed up for to be a friend and encourager. I would like to think that I would be that brave but …who knows. Perhaps the Spirit would give strength when necessary. Thank you for a Barnbas comment!!!