Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Not Apostatize? It's the ONLY Thing Left to Do!

I have tried. And apparently failed. But failed not for lack of effort on my part.

The leadership has apparently decided that this conflict will NEVER be able to be resolved nor will there EVER be any restoration of broken relationships. Relationships that were broken and that the other person and I were trying to restore, destroyed by the leadership! Relationships that were not broken, also destroyed by the leadership!

They said I could talk to him on Sunday mornings like everyone else but yet he either completely ignores me or they run interference and prohibit the very thing they said I could do! And if they aren't doing that, well, they've already acted unbiblically with regard to the church discipline process they claim to adhere to and basically already excommunicated me without any process.

They pushed me away from God!

He said he wanted things to get worked out including keeping his promise to restore FB which is the very thing that he broke his end of our agreement on to start with, the very thing that started all of the conflict. He said that I was NEVER to ask him on his wall why/if he hated me and that if I did, then he would break things, but I kept my end of that agreement only to have him break it without even considering everything that he and I had already worked through to get to that point to start with!

He said to my face that he wanted things to get worked out including FB and that he could see it happening before the year even!

But there's no way. Not when the leadership told me that I could talk to him on Sunday mornings like everyone else but he either ignores me completely or they run interference keeping it from happening!

And the worst thing is that in putting things in process after MONTHS of asking them to do something is that KNOWING that the process will do no good until he is brought into a meeting, yet three, almost four weeks later, he has yet to be brought in!

So what else can I do? I've tried. And they've caused me to fail!

So I guess the ONLY thing left to do is to apostatize.

I hope they're happy now because he said it himself. If he EVER caused someone, particularly someone who is immature in the faith (like I am), that he had to reconsider being a pastor since he could not continue being one knowing he caused someone to stumble in that way.

But I can no longer stay where I have been and am being subjected to such spiritual abuse including them acting unbiblically and in violation of the very thing they claim to practice and am being treated as less than a non-member in status and where they tell me I can do something but yet prohibit me from being able to do the VERY thing they said I could do.

I will try to give them one more chance before the holidays, but if he hasn't been brought into a meeting by then and if they keep acting like they are now, I do not know where else I can go since they kind of have me trapped now and if they are no longer a safe place, no place is.

Thus, the journey to apostasy has now officially begun.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Road to Apostasy (Or the Road to Being Gomer)

What would make a person commit apostasy?

Church/spiritual abuse. Via social isolation. Via cutting a "member" off from the fellowship by removing them from those activities that even non-members are allowed.

Abuse. Via not following exact Biblical outline for church discipline. The offended must go to the offender. If the offender does not listen, then the offended takes one or two others. Well, failure to do the first step and failure to do the second step EXACTLY as it is laid out constitutes abuse when they pursue discipline without having done the proper steps. The Bible says it in black-and-white and offers no exceptions.

Abuse leads the victim to apostasy as trust is rapidly deteriorated as a result. Trust in the church. Trust in "Christians." Trust in God.

As such, the victim has no where to turn and quits altogether. Because the abusive church often places the victim under the guise of discipline making it impossible for the victim to go elsewhere.

So that leads to apostasy. To being Gomer.

Oh well. Who cares?

Not the abusive church, that's for sure. All the abusive church cares about is protecting its image, often under the guise of "protecting the peace and purity of the church." What the abusive church fails to realize is that in this effort, they themselves are often the one that ends up actually hurting the "peace and purity" as the victim decides that they have had more abuse than they can take and is strong enough to speak up against the abuse.

The abusive church then gets uglier and tries to silence the victim threatening discipline and blaming the victim failing to realize that there was a trigger.

Does the trigger get punished? Not if the trigger is the head pastor. The head pastor is "perfect and can do no wrong." The head pastor is idolized. In abusive churches.

So this is one insight into why a person apostatizes and becomes Gomer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Special Needs in the Church

At some point in time, most churches will end up having people with special needs come through them. By this, I don't just mean those who have physical disabilities or handicaps. I also mean those who have special needs that are on the mental, psychological, and learning disability or handicap spectrum.

Why does God allow for a special needs person to come into the church?

I think it is to help provide a picture of who He really is.

Most of these special needs individuals are some of the most loving individuals there are and just really need someone and some place to love them well and help them get on a level playing field as their "normal" peers.

For the special needs individual, getting and maintaining a job (for adults), relationships, conflict in relationships, and health issues seem to be some pretty heavy challenges.

A lot of churches that do offer ministries for special needs individuals only offer such ministries for children through the age of 21, but if the individuals live past the age of 21, they still need help. Special needs do not go away just because an individual turns 21.

Some of the special needs that need to be addressed in churches include: ADHD in children and adults (this special population tends to exhibit a high intelligence, but may not be socially adjusted and may not comprehend things in the same way or even on the same level as their normal counterparts; sometimes dubbed the trouble makers for their hyperactivity, obsessed for their hyperfocus; often blamed on bad parenting, too much television or screen time; seemingly impatient (comes the impulsivity side of the diagnostic scale); might seem defiant); autism spectrum disorder (affects social skills; can be either high or low functioning which primarily stems from intelligence and acquisition of communication skills; might seem aloof or like they don't care about what a speaker is saying); hearing impairment or deaf (might benefit from having sign language interpreter or assistive listening devices available for listening to the sermons depending on severity); those with environmental/chemical allergies and asthma; OCD; oppositional defiance; dyslexic; Down's syndrome; and MR.

Fact is that ALL churches may end up facing these special needs and more at some point in time.

How can a church respond to this?

If the church is technologically advanced, they can find assistive listening devices that easily connect with their existing sound systems. Offering programs not just for children but also for adults that helps to socialize them and let them learn age-appropriate social skills while providing necessary respite for their caretakers; this can also mean offering programs to help them acquire and keep jobs.

See, here's part of the premise.

While a person with special needs is birth through 21 years of age, there are services to help them available through just about any agency including Vocational Rehabilitation Services. This is a good chunk of time and can get the person through preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school and even perhaps the first two or three years of college if the person manages to get acceptance into a college or university. Voc Rehab is supposed to be there for adults with special needs making the transition from school to work and seeking employment but who might need assistance obtaining any adaptive technologies or accommodations that can help them be on a level playing field as their normal peers in transitioning to the work force.

Parks and Recreation Services often have special programs for children with special needs to help them with any physical challenges as well to help with social skills. Even churches that offer respite care tend to focus on families with children with special needs.

But there are very few, if any, options for adults with special needs. And most special needs start in childhood and persist throughout an individual's entire life. So for those children with special needs who surpass life expectancy and live beyond 21 years of age, there are suddenly few if any programs for them to help with physical challenges and social skills development.

What can the church do to help bridge this gap?

Churches have the best positioning in community to be able to not only advocate for more community services and programs (free or low cost) for the special needs adults. They might even consider possibly extending their respite care programs for children and opening it up to adults who have special needs as well. Of course, there may have to be a sort of intake process so that there won't be a sudden overwhelming number of people as opposed to workers/volunteers. They could offer a Sunday school or other small group class that is geared more the challenges of the special needs adults, including VBS activities for adults with special needs. They could offer creative arts programs for those with special needs as many individuals with special needs have a high level of creative energy to expend. Puppetry is a great asset. Music therapy/art therapy type of programs. Assistive listening devices. Interpretation ministry.

Other ways might even include having a designated zone for the special needs individual to "escape" since a lot of the special needs lead to a sense of overwhelming and frustration due to the fact there is already a challenge to their attention and processing, but then there is also the social challenge side of things. For instance, if there is an event at the church that the special needs individual might attend, having a quiet room apart from the activities might be a good way to allow the person to get some alone time in order to regather and recompose so they can later reintegrate and re-engage.

Understanding too that these needs exist and developing more awareness about them and having the staff go through sensitivity training might even be important as sometimes the staff ends up saying something that comes across as hurtful or mean to the individual with special needs. Telling someone who has ADHD that they are impatient could be an attack on their impulsivity that is part of their ADHD. And if handling an ADHD individual in discussions and meetings, giving them too much information all at once and not allowing them time to process things or giving them options in order to have questions heard and answered or even to express grievances and frustrations or seek clarifications, is doing them a great disservice.

If we are supposed to love even the least of these, consider the fact that the special needs individual is one of the least of these, especially the special needs adult who often ends up having no resources to help him/her be a functional member of society or the church.

Peer mentorship is another good option as is a strong discipleship program so that the special needs individual can be "adopted" by another more mature individual and have someone to sit with them in church services and even meet with him/her on a regular basis.

Education and mobilization.

*October is Mental Health Month and the week of October 16-22, 2011 is ADHD Awareness Week.

Recognizing When Spiritual Abuse Is in the Church, Part II: Spiritual Abuse Defined

What is spiritual abuse? What might it look like? Like any other forms of non-physical abuse, it tends to be more subtle. Sometimes victims are not aware of it until after they feel so pressured and so hurt that they just apostatize.

Not one denomination is immune to it. Yet learning to recognize the signs of it is important in preventing it and correcting it.

Often it might even start off as a form of discipline, but over time, it becomes abuse as the victim begins to feel socially isolated from their friends and their family unit within the church and community and just ends up leaving altogether. Many of these victims are likely to never set foot in another church again after enduring spiritual abuse as trust in not only people but also trust in God is fractured.

It is a very serious problem and can lead to some very serious results if it is not recognized and corrected soon enough.

The Barnabas Ministry has a lot of different articles about what spiritual abuse is. One of these articles, "The Yeast of the Pharisees: Spiritual Abuse by Pastors and Counselors" by Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D. (2006, Christian Counseling Today from Christian Counseling Today 2005, Vol. 13 No. 1:35), explains that spiritual abuse can lead to serious harm. Christians long for fellowship with one another. For that matter, people long for fellowship with one another. Humans were not designed to be alone without being in community. But when spiritual abuse arises, it hurts that fellowship. Spiritual abuse consists of any actions that cause a distortion or a severance in relationship with God as it hurts a person's sense of self-worth. It can even cause mental and emotional distress.

In their article, "Uncovering and Facing Spiritual Abuse," (John Engler, 2006) spiritual abuse is described as being a situation in which a person in a position of spiritual authority misuses his/her position and can involve an outright mistreatment and harshness or a subtle direction for the his/her own prestige. This is often evidenced by the stereotypical televangelist.

Engler defines spiritual abuse as "the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person's spiritual empowerment." Functionally, it can occur "when a leader uses his/her spiritual position to control or dominate another person," and "often involves overriding the feelings and opinions of another, without regard to what will result in the other person's state of living, emotions or spiritual well-being" (from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, 20-21). It can also happen "when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds" (Healing Spiritual Abuse by Ken Blue, p. 12).

For individuals who come from an already harsh background and may have been abused growing up, this very subtle abuse can actually cause a lot of trauma. Whereas someone who grew up with a loving family may not experience any trauma.

Because church membership often involves a lifelong commitment, if the victim feels pressured to leave the church, they risk being separated from friends and family, and that is what makes it a hard issue.

Cumella lays out thirteen features of spiritual abuse based on Matthew 23 when Jesus addressed the actions of the Pharisees. These features are:

1. Authoritarianism - Instead of modeling and teaching obedience to God, leaders just expect believers to obey them. They expect everyone to just approve of everything instead of actually being accountable.

2. Coercion - Instead of respecting freedom and conscience, and "offering messages that persuade based on scriptural integrity and reason," abusive leaders strong-arm members and coerce them to overrule better judgment and follow their demands.(This could be a situation in which a member has confessed to sin and expressed willingness to cooperate so there can be restoration, but instead of moving toward restoration, they make even more demands and then don't allow for questions to be asked as to why and don't explain why. The result is then a member who feels socially isolated and is ready to apostatize due to the mourning he/she is going through over the loss of all their friends, community and fellowship. Especially if leaders have prohibited the member from being in community by prohibiting small group - the family unit of the church - that even non-members are allowed to attend - without explanation.)

3. Intimidation - Instead of building up the church body in love, there are threats of punishment, excommunication and condemnation in the effort to force people to submit and continue church membership.

4. Terrorism - Abusive leaders intensify fear, shame and false guilt instead of inviting people to follow Christ with the Gospel of love and forgiveness. They teach "that problems in believers' lives are due to the believers' personal sins." (Although on a side note in some ways, a lot of problems in the life of a believer are in fact a result of sin.)

5. Condemnation - Instead of refraining from judgment, they condemn anyone they feel is a sinner and then suggest that anyone associating with the individual may need to leave. The individual becomes the scapegoat.

6. Classism - Abusive leaders tend to be preoccupied with a hierarchy. (This could also be a form of elitism.)

7. Conformity - Abusive leaders may unintentionally target inexperienced and dependent individuals who are seeking a strong leader. The individuals will often keep quiet when they object to something the leader does due to fear of shame.

8. Manipulation - Twisting the scripture to convey personal opinion rather than God's intent. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden did with Eve.

9. Irrationality - This happens when scripture gets manipulated and often causes contradictory interpretations.

10. Legalism - Instead of treating people with love, grace and forgiveness, an abusive leader may end up communicating (even unintentionally) that a person's worth and amount of love deserved depends on performance. (So if a person is in a conflict and trying to seek restoration, what might end up happening is that the leader makes demands and then judges the person based on those demands. What ends up happening is that grace becomes contingent on performance and becoming what has been called "cheap grace.")

11. Isolation - This to me is the biggest concern. Abusive leaders might discourage an individual to cut off any ties from anyone they see as being a challenge to them and their ability to be in control. (Conversely, cutting a member off from the very essence of what comprises the community of the church, is another form of isolation. So this one could be demanding that a member cut off ties with non-church people or prohibiting the person from being in community.)

12. Elitism - Sometimes this consists of building up a false pride to compensate for the shame and worthlessness a person might feel due to other experiences. This often involves teaching that members "must protect the church's image at any cost." (When protecting image becomes more important than teaching how to be in community, there might be imbalance.)

13. Ensnarement - Instead of promoting maturity, abusive leaders end up promoting "self-doubt, guilt and identity confusion" as believers struggle with what their conscience says and try to reconcile that with what they are taught. This contradiction between conscience and teaching along "with fear of condemnation and loss of direction and fellowship" is what makes it more difficult and painful for a victim to leave an abusive situation.

The scriptural background that Cumella based his title on is from Galatians 5:7-10 and Matthew 16:6.

Why is it so subtle? Engler calls it a diversion of attention. The abuser might try to minimize the situation by stating that they are imperfect, busy, not take responsibility for their part in causing the hurt and attempt to treat such situations as individual cases rather than a pattern. He/she might blame the victim claim that the victim brought up the issues in the wrong way; claiming those who are hurt are "just too sensitive, not mature enough, didn't understand understand what was meant, etc.; find a lot of people who think that he/she is "just wonderful" and cite the victim as just being bitter; accusing the victim of not strictly following Matthew 18:15-17 and then intimidate and bully people so hardly anyone will directly challenge him/her - misuse their authority; and claim that if the person "had just come to them and expressed how they felt, they would have been so sorry for the hurts that were caused." The abuser might create confusion by associating themselves with the good work of the church which makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions as doing so becomes "opposing or attacking the work of the church," appealing to others that they are under attack instead of just being held accountable, acting hurt and playing the victim, appealing to the good results of his/her ministry in attempt to suggest that the good outweighs the bad, citing  "Jesus' tough talks with the apostles which could imply that abusive treatment is okay and even necessary, focusing "on the deep frustration and hurt of abused people and call it 'bitterness'" making them the issue instead of the abuser's behavior, having a group of influential supporters who are in subordinate leadership positions and can provide favorable treatment for him/her (this can lead to supporters deflecting all concerns raised and doing counter-attacks on anyone asking questions and then the main leader persistently endorsing the positions of influence causing a lack of checks and balances and leading to favoritism and honest, legitimate questions never getting anywhere), appealing to the concept of grace and expecting forgiveness without ever acknowledging wrongdoing (grace and forgiveness often becomes a lack of accountability for his/her actions), implicitly or explicitly threatening staff members who then feel like their positions are in jeopardy if they question or object to certain behavior and therefore defend the abuser due to intimidation or self-interest (compromise), blackmailing by saying if they are disciplined for what they did there won't be anyone to lead the church, and positioning themselves as being the solution for any problems their behavior caused.

So how does one deal with the issue of spiritual abuse? Some of the lasting effects of it are betrayal of trust, learning to trust again and trying to figure out who can be trusted, falling out with and seeking forgiveness from God and family, grief, and understanding grace and God's loving nature. The victim might feel worthless instead of dignity and self-respect. He/she might try to control their circumstances instead of surrendering everything to God in trust. He/she might feel shame instead of accepting him/herself. He/she might still feel guilt over past mistakes that have already been forgiven. He/she might develop performance anxiety and fear punishment instead expecting peace. He/she might become more morally rigid instead of showing grace and unconditional love. He/she might place him/herself in more isolation and in secrecy instead of trying to belong and be authentic with others. He/she might develop addictions and compulsions instead of healthy boundaries and coping skills. He/she may be confused and lack clear understanding of the Gospel and God's nature. He/she may also feel hopeless instead of having a sense of meaning, purpose and direction.

Cumella also has a lot of suggestions for intervention including "encouraging involvement in a healthy faith and community" and helping the person reduce the cognitive dissonance between conscience and teaching. He suggests that a healthy faith community offer what he calls "the four F's" of: Food from "sound Biblical messages promoting personal growth and maturity," Fellowship from "supportive relationships," Fit from "commonality with other members," and Fruit from "service to community and one another."

What can be done?

Engler suggests that learn to love and seek the truth and not look the other away when mistreatment or abuse arises, since if the abuse is the truth, it demands action. Those who are abused or mistreated and those who cannot even conceive that there is such a problem need to recognize each other and understand that neither side is lying. Everyone involved needs to sort out the good from the bad and act with maturity. People need to realize that just because it has not happened to them personally doesn't mean it does not and has not happened at all. Engler suggests that non-staff and non-leadership might not ever actually see the abuse. Exercising objectiveness with regard to the allegations and weighing love of the truth. Understanding that often abuse is not deliberate. And not demonizing those who report the mistreatment. Engler also explains that others should not minimize or underestimate how hurtful and damaging such abuse or mistreatment can be, particularly for the victims who can end up having emotional scars that stay with them for life. The people who report it are taking risks in terms of their own identity in the organization but deserve respect, support and love and do not deserve to be torn down or have their motives questioned. Listen. Engler suggests churches have explicit policies addressing spiritual abuse and train staff and other leadership in awareness. He also suggests that every church have a clear process for addressing such issues quickly and fairly with unbiased and uninvolved but spiritually mature parties investigating the matters. Depending on the circumstances, abusers might need removal from positions of leadership. If a body is not "uniformly resolute in addressing the problem," it becomes a "grave disservice to abusers who need the truth about their behaviors" if there is ever to be a chance at change and healing. There can be reconciliation between the abusers and the abused, but it might be a long process (where trust might be betrayed so quickly and easily, rebuilding trust is not so quick and not so easy). Forgiving abusers and reconciliation with them "should not be confused with re-establishing the trust necessary for spiritual leadership." Abusers need help once they admit it and recognize a need for help and need someone to tell it them straight.

Other links that might be helpful include:

"Characteristics of Unhealthy, Abusive and Cultic Church Environments" by John Engler (2005, 2008)

Next post will discuss the issue of special needs in the church.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Recognizing When Spiritual Abuse Is in a Church, Part I

This is going to be a multipart post namely because I'm still trying to process the reality of things, but this has happened to many church members in many denominations ranging from Southern Baptist to Presbyterian, even in the Presbyterian Church in America. For the victims, it often results in apostasy and distrust of church leaders as well as distrust of God Who the victim may often describe in terms of what the abusing party did or was like. It has happened to me personally even in a variety of ways.

The first step is to recognize that the problem exists. Just like a victim often stays in an abusive relationship with a spouse or significant other, sometimes the victim stays with a church that has become abusive as well.

Why would the victim stay? Because of the need for relationship, love and intimacy. My parents were together for 20 1/2 years before what I called World War III. It was rough. The summer of their separation, I had had as much as I could take of the fighting and moved closer to the college I was attending (I was a year-round fasttrack student) into an apartment that I had to leave due to abuse of privileges by roommates who abused my phone number by refusing to get their number established as advised since mine needed the Internet. It was during that fateful summer that I had the vivid flashback of being beaten with his belt. Over and over. I was around six. "Daddy stop. You're hurting me." He threatened to kill her if I ever told anyone. She'd be driving me to school some mornings during high school and I'd see bruises. During that summer, something else happened. I was visiting home and packing more things for the apartment when he came and got very violent because he no longer could get in the workshop. She changed the locks. My grandmother was there. He shouted through the door as we waited for the sheriff, "She's not mine!" She yelled, "Do I need to have a paternity test on her to prove she's yours because if I have to, I will!" My heart shattered into countless pieces that day.

But I didn't give up on him. At least not then. It wasn't until a friend in some of my classes and my co-ed dorm suggested writing a letter that summer to see what would happen that I gained some closure. I asked why he did it. The response I got was the first time I ever got a headache reading a letter, it was so loud. But that closed not only the door but also the window. That chapter closed. Until about four years ago when the night terrors came. And pieces of a fragmented memory that suggest when I was even younger, still a toddler, that something else happened.

Why did my parents stay together so long when he was so abusive? Because of me. Because she didn't know. Because I kept quiet. I blocked it off. After all, he threatened to kill her if I ever told anyone.

So for victims of prior abuse, it's harder to recognize when they end up in another abusive situation. Victims think it's normal because it's all they've known.

But it's never normal for abuse of any kind to happen. Not physical, not emotional, not spiritual. Whether it's bullying, socially isolating someone who speaks up and questions authority and calls them out for the wrongs the leaders have done (what I call excommunication without process), or what, it's not normal.

The victims are left with broken pieces as they face the fact that if they leave the abusive situation, they stand to lose job, friends, home, reputation, and even faith in God. The churches that commit spiritual abuse often are unaware until attention is called to it, but stand to lose a potentially committed person willing to do anything to help in any activity they can as well as reputation and standing in community, and worse, risk causing apostasy.

The leadership that are guilty often abuse their power as they continue to make the victim even more socially isolated and mentally and emotionally, sometimes physically and definitely spiritually hurt. They make demands to comply without question and abuse their authority to such extent that they leave the victim with no right to ask questions, even for clarification, and with no resource.

The thing that is most heart-sickening is that they often act in a manner that I have personally experienced and even start accusing the victim of being the abuser! And sometimes these leaders can be so blinded that they don't even recognize that they are doing it.

How many churches will commit spiritual abuse before it's addressed? How many victims will lose faith in God or apostatize before it's addressed?

Shamefully, it's not just the members that suffer. In some churches, it's both the victim and the pastor who suffer spiritual abuse from the leadership. I recognize that in a case where a member and a pastor have become friends, close friends, not best friends but closer than most members and pastors and even almost closer than other leaders and pastors. But the friendship gets hurt because the pastor does something. However, the two as friends keep trying to move toward restoration and resolution only to have the other leaders deliberately block any and all efforts to move forward toward restoration and resolution because they are resentful of that relationship being as close as it is. The member and the pastor both want to work it out, but trust on both sides is broken because the leaders are hindering the restoration and resolution process by adding more and more to the victim being socially isolated such to the extent that the member is having doubts in their salvation and wanting to apostatize and even begging them to show grace and bring them under church discipline outlined in Matthew 18 because it makes more sense than acknowledging the truth that they are being spiritually abused!

In the next article, I will address more specifics about the signs of spiritual abuse and outline some of the research on it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Deciding to Follow God Is Scary

I have resolutely decided that because I do believe that the leaders have acted unbiblically, that I have two choices:

1. If I continue to comply with them, I will be in direct disobedience to God and that is not good;


2. if I follow what God wants, I will be in disobedience to the leaders.

But I have been taught that if the rule of man conflicts with the rule of God that I am ALWAYS supposed to follow the rule of God.

So, in light of what I have been taught, and in light of the fact that continued disobedience to God could mean that God will punish me and His punishment is much worse than any punishment from men, I have decided that I can no longer comply with the leaders as continuing to do so means direct disobedience to God.

This is scary as heck for me because either way I am in defiance of somebody, but I fear God more than I do the leaders and thus I must do what I know God wants even if it means disobeying the leaders.