Spiritual Abuse: The Public Speaks Back and the Church Just Whines

"In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could find nothing to think of more interesting than his own prestige."     CS Lewis    A Preface to Paradise Lost





Pain. That is what surprised me. So many people have experienced unrelenting pain that began at the hands of callous pastors and Christian leaders. Naively, many of those hurt had once thought that the church would be a loving family that would love and support each other in the pursuit of the faith. And many churches encouraged this sort of thought process. “ Come to church, find Jesus, and find a family.” Some groups even refer to themselves as a “family.”


However, because sin is always present, both in the members AND the leaders/pastors, this ideal has been shattered for many. For some, church becomes the first place in which new Christians experience heartache. Years ago, I had no idea that churches could cause such pain. But, experience and personal reports have convinced me that it not only exists but it can be as bad as some reports indicate.


What convinced me? It is the consistency of the reports. It doesn’t matter the type of church or the denomination, the reports often seem as if someone wrote a screenplay and assigned people their prepared dialogue and roles.


Some might complain that TWW is unduly harsh towards those churches, which seem to have regular reports of abuse. Others complain about a lack of charity to individuals who seem to utilize code terminology. And maybe we are.


Here is our problem. Virtually none of the “it” pastors today acknowledge the tragedy of spiritual abuse. Instead, they place the blame of dwindling church attendance and enthusiasm squarely on the culture. It is them, not us.


The SBC wonders why people are bolting the convention. News reports seem to indicate that those who no longer believe in God in America has doubled in the past 10 years. I have heard pastors rail against the secularization of the culture. And in some respects this is true. However, as the church turns increasingly to the New Calvinism, there seems to have been a concomitant rise in reports of abusive behavior on the part of churches. Is this just a coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.


I have spent the last 5 or more years on atheist/nonbeliever websites trying to figure out what’s what. The site that has caused me the greatest concern is ExChristians.Net. This site is made up of people who claim to have been evangelical believers who have left the faith and have become agnostic, atheistic or some vague spirituality. Although most there would claim that they simply stopped believing, they share stories that make me think that some of this unbelief found its roots in the observation of pastors and others behaving unChristianly. Many were berated if they questioned the status quo. Most claim that their pastor was not to be questioned and became irritated if they asked difficult questions.


Tom Rich, who runs the excellent blog, FBC Jax Watchdog, link here,  discusses a recent statement by Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources who says that “criticism of pastors is harming the Great Commission.”

According to Rainer what makes a good church member – and one who is a true Christian – is one who doesn't ask questions and doesn't ever complain. In Rainer's view, "undoubtedly many of the worst critics are not true followers of Christ."

Says Rainer: "The time has come for church members to speak up. Too much is at stake. It is truly a sin to remain silent when it is our God-given responsibility to confront those who ultimately would hinder the spread of the gospel with the poison of their words."


Rich goes on to comment that “Rainer is out in leftfield on this – anyone that has spent time in Southern Baptist churches knows the level of opposition they will face if they ever call into question the actions or decisions of their pastor. Even when it comes to serious charges like sexual abuse – the pastor is often defended and protected by those around him while those who raise the charges are shunned and berated or slandered. The culture in most SBC churches is that asking questions and rocking the boat is a sign of spiritual immaturity and rebellion.”



In my opinion, Rainer seems to disregard that , until recently, the pastors controlled the pulpit and the microphone. They were the only ones able to berate the sinners who inhabited their congregation. These members do not tithe enough, sacrifice enough, or do enough. They buy nice houses and don't give enough to the church. They are self-centered and need to give more to their pastor. Their pastors condescend to put up with such people. And the folks are asking too many questions. If the pastor says the earth is 6000 years old, it is and they are to stop asking questions or get booted from Sunday school. The people are terrible sinners and can't see beyond their own navels. They needed to shut up, give the dough and stop complaining.


People looking for a loving Jesus are sometimes confronted with a vengeful God who is chronically angry at His Christians. And their pastor exists in a bubble on the stage. He is rarely around because he has more important things to do like writing books and giving speeches. People are often afraid to approach their pastor because he is too busy or too important. And many become discouraged.


However, the tables are turning and the flock is beginning to answer back. Here is the bottom line. Many of the “happening” pastors claim they want people to come to church and listen to them. Some of them appear on talk shows such as Larry King and Fox, pontificating about the faith and, of course, their ministries. They want public access and public attention but then get really bent out of shape when the public takes them up on their offer, pays attention, and then starts asking really, really hard questions. Like, why do you get a salary of close to a million dollars and yet tell us all to gross tithe to the church?



Let’s look at a current example with special thanks to alert reader “Jessica.” As all of you know, Ed Young Jr. has gotten lots and lots of public attention recently. No, not for his sex talks but for his lifestyle which includes a mansion, a fancy condo, a jet, fancy cars, etc. A couple of weeks ago he tweeted how he had been given a Ferrari. Shortly thereafter, he drove one out on his stage for some lame-brained sermon about how our bodies are Ferraris and we need to treat them well. This did not go over well. In fact, some believe he actually does have a Ferrari but now needs to backtrack. Interestingly, the ever thick skinned preacher felt he needed to defend the deed. Here is the You Tube video.




This is major, folks. There have been varying reports that Ed’s congregation is dwindling. He has always ignored criticism before and continues to enjoy his excessive lifestyle. But, it appears that he can no long do so with impunity. It seems he actually needs to defend himself.


Why? Because some of us “unregenerate bloggers” are holding his feet to the fire! Here’s the deal. Ed wanted the publicity, he sought face time on TV, and then he resents it when people ask questions? The tables have been turned. He no longer controls the only microphone.


Take the sad story of Ergun Caner, the FORMER President if Liberty University Theological Seminary. Liberty has long sought the limelight, believing they are a light in a dark world. Senators, Presidents, and the famous and infamous have found their way to the campus. Liberty held itself up as a model of “right” living for the world. Suddenly, the world took notice and started asking questions. Why is a man who lies about his past the head of the seminary? And Liberty balked. The world was not supposed to talk back. But, Caner was forced to step down. Make no mistake about this, dear readers. He would still be the president of the seminary if bloggers had not asked tough questions. And, to make matters worse, an unregenerate world would have seen this and blown off the witness of the church.


Here is a reality check for pastors who claim they want to be a light to the world. Sometimes, they will get caught in the brightness and will be forced to look at some dark corners.


Many churches spend quite a bit of time discussing the finer techniques for reaching a lost world. They have developed talking points for atheists, Mormons, Muslims, and others. They rail against abortion and homosexuality. But, they forgot one thing. They have not figured out how confront and deal with their own weaknesses. Their responses show it. There is a bunch of whining when the congregation talks back. There is even more whining when the world talks back. Rainer actually wants churches to set up boards to chastise the unregenerate bloggers. Why doesn’t he set up seminary courses and provide books that teach pastors and churches how to confront and deal with a questioning world like big boys and girls?


Here is the deal. The Internet is here to stay and the pulpit is no longer the only means of communication. Also, there are a lot of hurting Christians that have been ignored from the pulpit for far too long. And they are beginning to talk back. Pastors and leaders need to acknowledge them and begin to deal with the very real problem of the long-term effects of spiritual abuse.


Calvinists claim to believe in the sovereignty of God. Did they ever consider that God is calling out to churches to live the walk and not merely condemn the rest of the world? Could blogging be part of His plan? Maybe He allowed the Internet for such a time as this?


Doesn’t Rainer know that calling people “unregenerate” sounds like a whiney child and demonstrates his inability to argue the concerns raised by bloggers in an intelligent manner? He needs to read a book (Lifeway has lots of them) that will explain why his response is typical of those who use spiritual abuse as a method of control. Could his poor response be typical of the environment within the SBC and be indicative of the reasons that people are bolting from SBC land?


Pastors need to put on their big boy pants and deal with the questions raised. Recently a pastor told TWW that we were “assaulting the character” of Gary Ezzo and that Ezzo’s teachings were “very biblical.” This is such a ho-hum response from an intelligent pastor. Many nationally recognized groups, both within the medical as well as the Christian community, have called Ezzo’s methods into question. There is a serious concern that his methods could cause serious harm to infants. An intelligent response would have been demonstrated by thoughtfully discussing the large body of damning evidence available regarding this nationally disregarded author. Instead, he utilized one of the dated techniques discussed in many books on spiritual abuse-that of making the people presenting the issue the real problem. Let’s step up the dialogue, boys.


When a pastor puts himself and his church out in the public eye, the public is going to ask questions. And these questions are a darn sight harder to answer than merely presenting the Four Spiritual Laws. But isn’t that why he went into the ministry in the first place?  Shouldn’t the church and the pastor welcome these questions, knowing that we are to be the light on the hill? It is an incredible opportunity for ministry. It may be a way for a leader to demonstrate true humility instead of just talking about humility like a certain pastor we know. Imagine this, a questioner could be bringing God’s perspective about a particular flaw to light. He does use outsiders from time to time to carry out his will. In fact, he could be using a couple of middle-aged (yet always glamorous) housewives from time to time.


How are people watching? Here is one true example? TWW was recently sent some documents by a very intelligent man who was burned by some callous church leaders. We did not solicit this. He is sick and tired of pastors making bank off of the ministry. TWW was able to confirm the evidence sent since all of this is a matter of public record. Once again, we will keep the pastor’s name anonymous but he is well known to most of our readers.


Said pastor’s church is growing like gangbusters, so the church has decided to build a new church building on some recently purchased land. As the building campaign progressed, this pastor admonished his congregation not to sell their homes and move to a more expensive home. He said that they should give the money that they would have spent on a new house to the building fund for their new campus.We've got the recorded sermon! Well guess what? The pastor's response kind of reminds me of that old song by Bob Dylan “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” Said pastor, within short order, sold his $350,000 house and purchased a $500,000 larger house. We don't know the circumstances so we decided not to publish his name but it certainly looks bad.


The collective eye is watching pastors who put themselves up for public scrutiny.Heck, they were told to investigate the church for themselves.  One needs to be careful for what one wishes for. Unfortunately, the church has not treated some of those in the public well and they are answering back. Here is the question. Will they whine or will they learn to dialogue. I believe the life of the church in America depends on their answer.


Here is a classic video of Johnny and June Carter Cash singing “It Aint Me Babe.” Just so you know, I am a Johnny Cash fan and plan to hang with CS Lewis and Cash for many years in heaven.






Lydia's Corner: Numbers 36:1-Deuteronomy 1:46 Luke 5:29-6:11 Psalm 66:1-20 Proverbs 11:24-26




Spiritual Abuse: The Public Speaks Back and the Church Just Whines — 27 Comments

  1. “Could his poor response be typical of the environment within the SBC and be indicative of the reasons that people are bolting from SBC land?

    Of course. They are so insulated they cannot hear themselves. They have been so used to people listening and doing what they say they cannot imagine they are not right.

    They are having a hard time adjusting to the fact that more and more people are questioning them and not backing down. The paradigm has shifted and they are still back in the 1980’s. Instead of dealing with “content” they focus on “how” something is said and the venue in which it is said. And they call it sin so they can redirect the conversation and point fingers at the dissenters.

    And they will preach harder on obeying authority and not being rebellious. They really do think they are “God anointed” and “appointed” . (See Mohler’s assertion in his “talk” at the pastors conference)

    BTW: I have run across a ton of evil and spiritual abuse in free will seeker megas. It is not just the new Calvinists. It is about sinful man wanting authority over others when Jesus taught being a servant. It is all the sin of pride.

    As to them thinking they are special, let me add this for all the believrs reading here:
    And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. 2 Corin 5

  2. You know, it’s downright painful to read about the same kinds of abuses over and over and over – regardless of denomination.

    While I have no experience with the SBC, it does seem as if they’ve created a hierarchy that’s every bit as inflexible as the one that’s in place in the Roman Catholic church – a hierarchy that closes ranks around the offender (usually the priest or pastor) and defends him no matter how bad his actions; no matter how many he has hurt.

    Denial seems to be the watchword of all abusive groups.

    As for the ‘graph above where you say that these folks have “forgotten one thing,” I actually believe it could read “two things.” The 2nd thing (the one that Paul said was the greatest thing one could aspire to) is – of course – love. Genuine agape love.

    The other thing that comes to mind is a quote from Robert Burns:

    Oh what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practice to deceive.

    PS: the church that booted me love to view itself as “a safe place.” In fact, i even recommended it as such to a person who’d been grievously abused in another church, less than 6 months before they gave me the gate. I defended the very person who was responsible for that action toward me – thinking he was trustworthy.

    Talk about learning the hard way. I really hope the person I spoke with is OK now – I didn’t know the details of what happened to her, but it appeared to have been extremely traumatic.

  3. Pingback: The New Calvinism and abusive churches | Civil Commotion

  4. Lydia

    I agree that there has been abuse in many churches throughout the years. Perhaps the Calvinistas were the tipping point since they adhere to Calvin’s firm rule of authority. It surprises me how few people know the full history of Calvin. They read his theology, many quite superficially, and never question how that theology is applied. Because, in the end, theology is meant for our edification and that means application. Could it be that the application is centered around authority and a poor view of the priesthood?

  5. Somewhat new to tww. I have found the articles very interesting. I have been a pastor for over 50 yrs. (baptist). What I find amazing is the number of pastors who seem to want special treatment. I was under the impression that Jesus meant what he said about he that would be great among you should be a servant. I started preparing for the ministry when I was 18 yrs. old. My teachers didn’t indicate to me that I would be the church boss but I was to be willing to do all I could to minister to the needs of people as the Lord led me. I am very disturbed with too many young ministers who take the attitude that because they have invested time and money in advanced education that they feel free to refuse a church if the salary and benefits are not to their liking. here however is the rub, too many church members want to brag about Dr, so and so and feel they must defer to his advanced knowledge and wisdom. In a nutshell I sum up by saying, you should never defer to someone who would abuse you.

  6. Jack,

    Welcome to TWW! I really appreciate your input, and I believe you are spot on. I hope you will continue to read and comment. Would you ever consider writing a guest post sharing your perspective about recent trends in the SBC?


  7. “I agree that there has been abuse in many churches throughout the years. Perhaps the Calvinistas were the tipping point since they adhere to Calvin’s firm rule of authority. It surprises me how few people know the full history of Calvin. They read his theology, many quite superficially, and never question how that theology is applied. Because, in the end, theology is meant for our edification and that means application. Could it be that the application is centered around authority and a poor view of the priesthood?”

    I know, the Calvinist take to a whole new level. At least in the seeker mega’s they tried to hide it under Orwellian speak such as “Servant Leader” or complementarian, etc. The point was to be hip and cool with 3 pt moralistic 20 minute cultural sermons with lots of surrounding entertainment which included Drama, cool praise songs etc. The idea is numbers. And when people are being entertained in this social medium, they do not think to ask critical thinking questions. That is not why they are there. But behind the curtain, it was very hierarchical and the staffers are always jockeying for “face time” with the big guys. Not unlike the corporate world.

    The Calvinists make authority an A issue. It is part of your sanctification to obey the guy with a title.

  8. Hello Deb. My oldest daughter is Deborah she does’t like the name so she is “Dee”. I suppose I could comment on the S.B.C. We still have our automony in the churches but we also have some things that are sure to divide us. I don’t want to sound overly pious but I am sincerely concerned that Christ our Lord is being followed more for the loaves and fishes than for sincerity of purpose. I used to be more active in our association than I am now. I am busy enoough with the church I pastor and am no longer interested in the politics of so many of our meetings. I am not a 5 point Calvinist but do subscribe to some of the 5 points. I does bother me however, when some of the brethren want to make it a litmus test. I will continue to read your posts and will comment when invited. apprreciate what you sisters are doing. Bro Jack

  9. Jack

    I have never had any difficulty with Calvinism until recently. There is much to admire. I am concerned with the misapplication of Reformed theology in such a way that there becomes a divide between pastor and “the others.” Frankly, much of it is theoretical and secondary issues for me. I still think that it will all look very different in heaven. Much of this is man’s way to attempt to comprehend a God who is so big that He is far beyond our puny abilities to put Him in a box.

    I prefer men like Lewis and Chesterton who seemed to better grasp the intricacies of a Triune God better than others. I think many surprises await us in heaven.

    Jack, if you ever want to start a church, think Raleigh. We could use someone like you around these parts.

  10. Lydia

    Talk about dummies! I was one. I actually bought the idea of servant leader but thought it meant what it is supposed to mean. I actually met some folks along the way who actually believed it. Then I found a church that said it but didn’t practice it. Dumb, dumb, dumb

  11. Dee,

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. At least we figured it out…

    Now we’re trying to help others understand that there are some pastors who claim to be servant leaders, but in reality they want to be leaders of servants.

  12. “Talk about dummies! I was one. I actually bought the idea of servant leader but thought it meant what it is supposed to mean. I actually met some folks along the way who actually believed it. Then I found a church that said it but didn’t practice it. Dumb, dumb, dumb”

    I can one up you…I helped market that Orwellian concept to people in churches. Oh, and it made “perfect sense” to me when Ken Blanchard came and delivered his pilot training on the concept for megas.

    It was nothing but corporate leadership principles with a plastic fish slapped on them.

    What an awakening when I realized we are servants to one another. Period. (btw: You can hear that truth in Paul’s pleadings throughout his Epistles)

  13. Lydia

    You know, I am convinced that God allowed the internet to shine light into the darkness-not just in the world but in the church. People like Rainer don’t like the light. Its just too awkward to try to explain all of our weaknesses. Imagine what a witness it would be to expose our real selves and then teach the world about why we need grace.

  14. Hi Dee,

    As I’ve commented before, it’s hard for me to understand how people allow themselves to languish under such repressive regimes found in the Church systems you’ve profiled. I can only say that retrospectively, because before going back to the liberal wing of the Lutheran Church, I was tangled up with an authoritarian Church.

    I’ve been wanting to thank you ladies for allowing me to comment here even though I’m a liberal-lefty-socialist leaning Christian who most conservative evangelicals would’nt even give the time of day to. I guess if y’all can have an avowed atheist here, ya’ll can tolerate me too! All in good fun!

    By the way, and even if it is a bit off topic, here’s a link of interest:

  15. Blogging has spawned a few minor controversies in my own (decidedly Calvinistic) denomination. The interesting thing is that the blogs in question are by leadership, although the commenters usually represent both a slice of the body of Christ in our denomination.

    In response to these blogs 9th commandment violations in the form of slander are alleged, etc, etc, etc. A defense of blogging from one of our leaders is published here, although there’s a lot of insider controversy listed there.

    The predecessor of the blog was the denominational magazine, quite a popular item in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In many ways, blogging is hardly new – it just has an easier time getting to a wider audience.

  16. Muff

    A liberal, lefty socialist leaning Christian hmmmm??? Sounds intriguing.Any Christian who won’t give you the time of day must not be reading the same Bible as i do. We more than tolerate you. I love your comments and insights. I prefer to be challenged than have the old march lockstep with everyone else. Besides, I think there will be some lefties in heaven so i better start learning how to dialog now, shouldn’t I?

    Sorry about the authoritarian church debacle. My daughter is considering seminary and she says she cannot even consider some of the real conservative ones because they would disdain her for her deep love and interest in theology. She’s “just” a woman after all…..

  17. Muff
    I find the idea of aliens intriguing. Imagine how we would have to look at our theology if there was life on other planets. Have you ever read CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet trilogy? He has a few views on this as well which fired my imagination as a newly converted Christians many, many years ago.

  18. Dee, Lydia,

    Could you elaborate on the problems you’ve observed with the concept of “servant leadership” as played out in christian churhes?

    I’ve always been irked by it. It sounds really nice, but to me it seemed to be merely a convenient way to legitimize the subservient place of women under men in christianity. I felt the patricarchical / complementarian camp enthusiastically seized upon it as a way to officially silence any opposition. A way to soft-pedal patriarchal ideas, taking the focus off honest questions about the dark and ugly logical conclusions of patriarchy. A way to quell the resistance. While intentions may not have been dishonorable (but certainly extremely ignorant and naive), seems like mind control to me.

  19. @ Muff: I’m fellow “liberal, lefty, socialist-leaning Christian” and can confirm that this is a very welcoming blog! (Thanks again, Deb and Dee.)

    Oh, and I’m Lutheran – a revert after years in authoritarian churches, though admittedly, I’m probably on the “conservative” end of the Lutheran (ELCA) spectrum per many theological issues.

  20. Numo/Muff

    I have given up on labels. According to some, i would be a liberal because I believe in an old earth and extended gender roles but refuse to call my self either egal or comp. We put waaaaaay too many labels on people as it is. I used to think that all the baptists who pulled out of the SBC were this side of communists and atheists. I have found that to be really stupid of me. So, now, let people call me what they will. I am adamantly opposed to people trying to box me in.

  21. Elastigirl

    Servant leadership is defined by looking at Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples. He epitomized the “last shall be first” ideal. It was originally meant that the leaders of the church, like Jesus, would function in the same fashion-washing the feet of the church members. However, that is not how it is played out in many churches. The big guy is the big guy and the little guy does the foot washing.

    However, Elastigirl just came up with an idea I have never considered. It could be twisted to do exactly what you said. You get a standing ovation from me because I have never thought of it in this way before. How sly are these guys!!!!???

  22. This is wisdom from the past and that which we are inclined to forget in this upside world age.

    The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom for many’.

    In this respect, his example (Christ’s) is specially to be imitated by his ministers. When they urge upon others a moral duty, they must be the first to perform it. When they inculcate an act of self denial, they themselves must make the noblest sacrifice.
    Can we conceive of anything which would so much increase the moral power of the ministry, and rouse to a flame the dormant energy of the churches, as obedience to this teaching of Christ by the preachers of his gospel?

    Francis Wayland 1796-1865

  23. Shepherding Survivor,

    So glad you’re still part of the TWW “family”. Thanks for sharing this! It sickens me to see these rock star preachers who are glorifying themselves and not Christ.

  24. I think your website is important because it often exposes bullying in the churches. Too often a preacher gets a Messiah complex and expects everyone to revere them because of their title or position, not because of their likeness to Christ.

  25. Pingback: Thom Rainer’s response to the critics among Souther Baptists « BaptistPlanet

  26. “Could you elaborate on the problems you’ve observed with the concept of “servant leadership” as played out in christian churhes?”

    There is debate on who coined the term. I first heard it from Ken Blanchard when he was doing this leadership stuff for mega’s many years ago. It was a way to appeal to the youth culture of mega’s that have a problem with authority. But much emphasis is put on “leadership” using corporate leadership models. The idea is that you are “serving others by leading them”.

    Hogwash. We serve others by helping them grow as mature believers led by the Holy Spirit. Not humans.

    The problem comes down to no one in “leadership” really wants the congregation to be made up of spiritually mature Christians who are led by the Holy Spirit. That would put them out of jobs. People need to be led. After all, they are dumb sheep. And we all know you have to attend seminary to understand the Bible. even though Jesus said the Holy Spirit is the best teacher. (sigh)

    And this is a problem with the institutional church as a whole. they do rely on leaders to guide them and teach them. They never grow up as believers. They feast on spoon fed milk by the leaders who ‘cast the vision’.

    It is a bait and switch game. It is Orwellian just as the word “complementarian” which does not mean what it means. They have done nothing but change definitions for words.