Spiritual Abuse: The Dirty, Not-So-Little Secret of Evangelicalism

"Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."                                                                                                                                      Charles Dickens


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My counterpart and I began discussing the idea of a blog about 4 years ago. Our initial thoughts centered on a review of the news from a faith perspective. In fact, we still will do such a thing from time to time. However, the harder we tried to get going, the greater the roadblocks to our efforts materialized. Many of our friends thought this blog might not ever get of the ground. However, we believe that God held us up because we were about to get an unexpected, mano a mano, close up view of the seamier side of the faith.

I became a Christian in the Boston area in the mid 1970s and was introduced to the faith by pastors who had little use for majoring on the minors. There were so few Christians in New England that there was a sense of relief just to find another Christian, no matter the denomination, to join with in fellowship. I was tutored by the great Park Street Church, which emphasized missions and personal Bible study along with thoughtful exposition of Scripture. I cannot remember hearing a dogmatic diatribe involving some of today’s divisive secondary issues.

To those in the South, it is very difficult to communicate how few Christians I encountered in my day-to-day existence in that area. Whenever I found another real, live, “born again” person, we were instant bosom buddies. To illustrate this phenomenon, I recall a time when I drove from Boston to NYC with my tacky Christian bumper stickers prominently displayed on both front and rear bumpers. Heck, I was always on the lookout find others and this was a way to advertise my search.

I was caught in a terrible traffic jam and realized that I could not get over a couple of lanes in time to exit before a long tunnel. I was frantic because I didn’t know where I was going.(Praise God for today’s GPS and cell phones)! Suddenly, two men in a beat up car, wedged themselves between me and the other lanes of traffic so I could get over. They were smiling, waving, pointing at my bumper sticker and pointing up to heaven with the then well-known “One Way” sign. I knew, then, that I was part of a special community that looked out for each other. I always smile when I think of them and can’t wait to meet them in heaven.

Because we were a rather small community, we could not afford to divide over sub-issues such as the type of baptism, the view of communion, charismatic gifts, whatever. I attended charismatic groups even though I have never practiced such gifts. One of those met in upstate New York and was run by a Catholic priest, Father John Bertolucci. I attended Episcopal, Congregational, Methodist, American Baptist, Pentecostal, and some nonaffiliated churches. I went to Christian coffee houses and Christian gatherings that used to be called crusades. I just wanted to be around other Christians.

As time went on, I moved south to North Carolina (the first time) and west to Dallas and then back to North Carolina. I was blessed to be in churches which combined a high view of Scripture, which promoted a rigorous pursuit of the faith, along with a live and let attitude towards “B” issues and an uncompromising allegiance to the “A” issues. Except for a brief sojourn in Ed Young Jr.’s church, my church experience was both rich and liberating.

If truth be told, I would probably have been prone to think a person who complained of abuse by a church was exaggerating since I had never witnessed such behavior. My pastors were humble men, along with one associate pastor who was a woman.  They all responded well to critique and encouraged congregational input and leadership. Those congregations were made up of diverse groups of people who held divergent beliefs on issues such as charismatic gifts, eschatology and so forth.

Little did I know that God had prepared a learning laboratory for me and, over the course of a couple of years, opened my eyes to a deeper pain that was occurring within the church. By the time I left one particular situation, I was exposed to secrecy in the clergy, pedophilia, hyper-authoritarianism, “anointing” of pastors, advocacy of pre-college marriages, extreme Calvinism, arrogant leadership, and even harassment once I sought fellowship elsewhere. I was in shock and my view of the faith was fundamentally changed. But, it was changed for the better. Reality trumps fantasy (except for a good book or movie) any day of the week.

About 80% of my personal church-life was forged in wonderful, non-legalistic churches with humble and kind pastors. So, my healing from the incident was steady and sure. Unfortunately this has not been the case for many who have been systematically abused and mistreated by churches for much of their Christian experience.

Both of us are dedicated to exposing abuse, wherever it is found. Some groups, like Sovereign Grace Ministries, appear to have quite a few reported incidents of mistreatment. However, it is evident that abuse is found in all denominations and independent churches of every stripe. I believe there are two main reasons for abuse: legalism, masquerading as essential doctrine, and pastors who misuse the pulpit for their own selfish purposes.

For the next few weeks, we will be looking at the history of abuse and hope to provide our readers with tools to help them spot, as well as cope with, abuse when (and invariably it will) it comes along.

Two authors, who thought we might be interested in their books, contacted TWW. The first book is called The Prodigal Prophet written by Dylan Morrison. It will be published this spring and we were able to read it, in its entirety, on Authonomy.com. It will be available for purchase on Amazon and elsewhere in the near future.


Dylan grew up in Ireland and became involved in the charismatic movement in the late 1970s. This movement had close ties the abusive Shepherding movement in America. Our readers, who have been abused by Sovereign Grace Ministries, might find his story particularly compelling because his abuse took place in a ministry that combined charismatic teachings along with Reformed theology. Surprise, surprise! CJ Mahaney was not the progenitor of such theology, as he has commonly allowed people to believe. He was involved in the Shepherding movement and could have been aware of this unique mixing of two theologies. Could he have morphed it into its current, yet boringly similar, family of churches today? That’s up to our readers to decide.

The second book , published in 2010, is called Spiritual Abuse Recovery and subtitled Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness, was written by Barbara M Orlowski of Canada. She completed a Doctor of Ministry at A.C.T.S. Seminaries in Langley, B.C., Canada in 2008 and was able to get her research study published. TWW is quite excited to be able to offer a review of this new book and author to our readers as a recent groundbreaking and uplifting resource in dealing with this complex problem.

We will be reviewing this book over a couple of weeks, linking it to stories and experiences we have heard, both on this blog and in other venues. Although this book is available for sale on Amazon and other sites, we would encourage readers to contact Barbara directly through info@churchexiters.com. You will receive a warning about the site. Please continue with your link-it is a safe site. You can also buy the book directly from her. She is most interested in meeting others who have been through this difficult journey. In an email to me she says, “I can meet and connect with people this way and am available to hear their stories, offer support, and be a friend to them. It provides a further touch to feel the pulse beat of what is going on out there.”


She conducted extensive research into those abused by churches. The depth and breadth of her work is astonishing and we believe that it should be required reading at every seminary and Bible college. All pastors needs to read this book, which we believe will help them to effectively counsel those who have been a part of abusive church environments. It may also help them to assure that their churches are functioning in a healthy, well-balanced fashion. We would encourage any reader who has been abused, or knows someone who has been abused, to run, not walk, to get a copy of this book.

The reason this book is so unusual, is the author, after doing an extensive review of the literature dealing with abuse in the church (I couldn’t believe how many books there are on this subject), goes on to offer concrete suggestions on how to recover from abuse. The author also lists a number of blogs that deal with the issue of abuse. Once again, this blogger was startled by the actual number of blogs that deal with this issue. This speaks to apparent ongoing, widespread abuse in the church. Since the initial research, many new sites, such as TWW, SGM Survivors, BBC Open Forum and FBC Jax Watchdog, along with many others, have appeared, and garnered healthy readerships which indicates that this problem has not gone away.

Here is a revealing quote from a review of Orlowski’s work by Kirk Farnsworth, author of Wounded Workers.She listens to the voices of he wounded and lets them inform us of their reality of feeling of disappointment and disenfranchisement, tragedy, and turbulence within the church.”


One point that comes through loud and clear is that the blogosphere is having an impact on those who have been harmed by churches. Blogs are a place for people to come and tell their story, be accepted, believed and find a place of community with others who have been through similar circumstances. I find it rather amusing that pastors are very concerned about blogging, often claiming that they are an unbiblical means of dealing with problems. We think that abusive pastors and leadership are just reacting to getting caught. They used to hold the only means of quick and effective communication-the pulpit. Blogs can efficiently and thoroughly reveal abuse while supporting those in pain. This blog intends to do that, both now, and in the future.

Both Deb and I want to extend a hand of friendship, caring and concern to those hurt by the church. This is one site where your concerns will be met with compassion and understanding. We often joke that we are The Fellowship of the Wounded. We want to hear you story and encourage any of you who wish to tell your story in a more formal manner to please contact us. We believe in protecting the anonymity of our readers and will do so for anyone who wishes to post their story. We realize that pastors and church leaders can be guilty of retribution. Some people use the excuse that they do not have to listen to anonymous complaints. We have gone public with our names to neutralize this accusation. 


Finally, I pray for the day the church can be like two cars traveling on a dangerous NYC freeway, helping each other and sending signs of encouragement, instead of signs of division, along the highway of our Lord.


In closing, we want to say that we hope you know how much you are welcome here. The following video took place, quite unexpectedly, in an airport, as weary travelers were welcomed home in a most unique manner. We hope you will sense that we would greet you in a similar fashion if we could.




Lydia's Corner: Leviticus 15:1-16:28 Mark 7:1-23 Psalm 40:11-17 Proverbs 10:13-14







Spiritual Abuse: The Dirty, Not-So-Little Secret of Evangelicalism — 7 Comments

  1. Dee,

    I’m just beginning to see the BIG picture of why God brought us together as friends. I will never forget the moment we first met. You had traveled from Dallas to Raleigh to check out a potential Christian school for your children to attend. Mine were already students there. I was part of the Moms in Touch prayer ministry, and the moms involved decided to prepare a hot lunch for the teachers once a month. I believe that was the day we were serving chili. You came into the fellowship hall of the church where the school was housed, and you were wearing something I had never seen before – a silver charm necklace.

    Remember how my daughter gave your daughter a tour of the school? It’s hard to believe that both of them will be graduating from college this spring. My daughter has been singing in an a cappella group during college, and she’s gonna LOVE the video you featured. Her group has been cutting a CD over the last few weeks, and she will understand how some of these sounds are made.

    Thanks for being such a special buddy for almost a decade (I think). God is good!

  2. Deb

    A decade? Where did the time go? You still look as glamorous, if not more so.

    This is truly a match made in heaven. How many women do you know who would put themselves out there like we have?

    Let’s expose the abuse, friend. I am getting tired of this problem growing bigger and bigger along with churches becoming more mega and mega.

  3. Thank you for your exposure of abuse in the church.

    Abusive pastors hate blogging because it’s a medium they can’t control. They like monopolizing all communication mediums, as you pointed out, therefore controlling the minds of their followers, keeping them in ignorance. They do this because they are tremendously insecure, partly because they are rooted in works-based theology, which of course, breeds elitism, since some can work better than others, theoretically. They also attempt to thwart by any means, ethically or unethically, others who might expose them, because they know they are liars, (lying because they don’t want to be found out that they are not elite and lying to cover up, thus creating even more insecurity).

    The curtain needs to be pulled back on all these wimps, not only for the benefit of others, but for their own benefit. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to share the true story of how I was abused in my church by, “the author,” (as I call him, since he’s not a pastor, but a published, but marginal author), and by his spellbound, lying cohorts, called deacons. My family was tremendously hurt, but God mercifully restored double all that was, so-called, lost. We’re thrilled to be out of that hell-hole of a, “church.”

    God really does use these hard situations for our good, if we allow Him and surrender totally to Him, the merciful and faithful One.

  4. Michael,

    We are so glad you have moved on from an abusive church situation. I hope you will tell your story in the future, even if you choose to do so anonymously.

    Thanks for your courage in speaking out.

  5. Just wanted to point you at a site you might not know exists. It’s a bit of a satire site, poking sometimes gentle, sometimes not-so-gentle, fun at Independent Fundamentalist Baptists. It has also become a place where people abused by such churches have found a community and healing.

    Stuff Fundies Like

    Be sure to check out the new forum. You’ll find some stories there that will resonate with you.