Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Can't Talk Rule or Don't Talk Rule

Various sources on spiritual abuse warn about the Can't Talk rule (or the Don't Talk rule) in abusive groups. In spiritually manipulative churches, pastors don't usually come right out and tell you not to talk about certain issues. (Especially concerns in the church.) They are much more subtle.

They might hint at "the enemy" who incites people to gossip, or they may denounce weak Christians who whisper. They might blast the motives of anyone who brings a legitimate issue to the leadership, condemning them as self-centered, divisive or lazy.
They might emphasize grumbling and complaining as among the gravest of sins. They might compare those who bring up church issues to scoffers in Moses' time -- implying that if you dare mention a weakness of the church you are similar to those ungrateful Israelites that the good Moses ( read: church leader) had to put up with.

They might tell you to "get in line with the mission," "submit to authority," or "stop dividing the flock," shaming someone who brings honest questions  -- in order to deflect scrutiny from themselves.
Some might tell you that you are not in harmony with "the vision or mission" of the church, which often is just a high-sounding way of saying that the leader's views are beyond question, and accountability is not the business of a mere layperson.

By whatever means available, abusive pastors will shut down discussion and prevent accountability for suspect practices. The unspoken "don't talk" rule makes this easy. Anyone who dares raise an issue to the light of day will be shut down, preached against, shunned, mistreated or shamed, either by open means or subtle means.

Perhaps some have left the church, and you wish to know why. Maybe the pastor has preached something that doesn't line up with scripture. Maybe someone has been kicked out of church or removed from a ministry. Perhaps these uncomfortable practices have been increasing. Maybe the finances are not open to public view; or business meetings are closed -- or nonexistent. Perhaps teachers or musicians have complained about mistreatment and you are not sure who to believe. A Sunday school teacher suddenly leaves or is moved elsewhere without any explanation. An elder resigns. A spouse or older child disappears and no one dares ask about it.

Those living under a Can't Talk or Don't Talk rule know not to ask questions. They have been manipulated into remaining silent, even though their active conscience urges them to speak up. The reluctance to speak up is often disguised as virtue. You're not a grumbler. You're not a troublemaker. It's someone else's place to ask questions, not yours. You're just a humble nobody.
So the pastor or leader remains accountable to no one. He can do what he likes without opposition, no matter how questionable, unorthodox, ungodly -- or in some cases, illegal.

If this describes the mechanism in place at your church, make sure to do a little research into spiritual abuse and see if other signs might not also be present in your group. The Can't Talk rule is an unspoken rule meant to stifle and hide anything that challenges the control of a leader or that has the potential to put a leader in a bad light. It is often the tip of the iceberg.

Image Consciousness

One sign of spiritual abuse, according to David Henke of Watchman Ministries, is image consciousness. (Item no. 2 on his list)

When I first saw this item on the checklist, I thought, well our group isn't image conscious. We don't advertise, we keep a low profile, we don't dress up or have new, flashy ministries.

So, at first, when I saw this item, I thought it was one of the few you couldn't check off concerning our group. Then I looked at it again and saw that Henke isn't talking about group image so much as individual image. Suddenly, the red flags popped up.

Our group, on an individual basis, was extremely image conscious. I would not want to park anywhere near a casino for fear the pastor might draw the wrong conclusion should he drive by, or anyone in the church, or anyone who knew me, for that matter.

I was afraid to buy wine vinegar at the grocery store for the same reason. It looks like a bottle of wine. (Though I didn't and don't believe alcohol was wrong, I do not drink for reasons other than religion.) How could I bring down the name of Christ by looking like a hypocrite?

I was constantly thinking, What would the pastor or his wife think of me if they saw me doing this or that? What if I had too many items in my shopping cart and I looked extravagant? What if my clothes look too expensive? Am I being Christlike by serving roast when others can only afford Mac N Cheese?


In short, image was everything. Or at least it was a much bigger deal than I realized until I was out of the group. It wasn't Christ's expectations; it was the pastor's, and the idea that since I was representing Christ to the world, I had to be perfect. Trying to avoid all appearances of evil is a full-time job.

I am pretty much free from this now. I park in front of bars and casinos if convenient. I don't detour around the liquor aisle. I don't pay attention much to what I'm wearing. I am free!

Here's what Henke has to say on the subject:
Jesus was not "image conscious." He was willing to associate with wine drinkers, cheating tax collectors and even prostitutes. He accused the legalistic Pharisees of "teaching for doctrine the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9) and likened their showy, hypocritical outward rightousness to "whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).

Neither was He paranoid. His ministry was conspicuously open to the public. When He was on trial (John 18) He was asked about His teachings and His reply was, "Why askest thou me?" Jesus pointed out that He always taught in public, and never in secret, so why not ask His disciples. He had nothing to hide.


Jesus did not fear to criticize the religious leaders or their faulty doctrines (e.g. Matthew 15:1-9; 23:1-39, etc.). And when confronted with criticism or with treacherous questions designed to discredit Him, His response was never to simply demand silence or only positive recognition from His accusers. Rather, He gave answers - scriptural and reasonable answers - to their objections (e.g. Luke 7:36-47; Matthew 19:3-9).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Murmuring in Church

When your pastor faces legitimate criticism or inquiry into the practices of the church, does he respond with a sermon against "murmuring"? Are the "murmurers" (or relatives of the "murmurers")  disciplined, ignored or driven out? In abusive churches, it often works this way.

Today, I was reading Acts 6, and I found it interesting how the early church dealt with murmurers. Acts 6:1 says this:

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

The Greeks were complaining about what seemed like unfair practices, and they felt the leadership should stop preaching and start serving more, something like that. Who else could the murmuring be against?

So here is an early church example of murmuring and what to do about it. Notice the response of the apostles.

Do the apostles preach against the murmurers? Do they get angry at the Greek widows? Do they get all huffy about their own authority and start kicking people out for touching God's annointed apostles? No. They look into the matter. Acts 6:2-5

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude:


Several things to notice here. First, the apostles appeal to reason. There is nothing wrong with reason! Human reason is given for a reason:) The apostles disagree with the criticism. They know that whatever the criticism, whatever the urgency, whatever the need, they still need to be in the word. It isn't reasonable that they should leave the word of God to serve tables. Probably, the critics didn't state things that way, but using reason, the apostles restate the problem in such a way that the critics could see why their own viewpoint and criticism is somewhat faulty.

Second, instead of getting all upset that their authority is under attack, they actually set about seeing what they can do about the problem. They take the problem seriously. They don't leave what they know is right for them to do (preaching the word) BUT they don't ignore or attack their critics either.

Third, they don't preach against criticism, or castigate the widows for slander or gossip. They come up with a very good plan on how to deal with the problems that arise. The result? Everyone was pleased.

Exploring elitism

One common sign of an abusive church is a sense of elitism. Just what IS elitism? It's a feeling that your group is special, better, far superior than other churches or groups. Most churches feel that they are on the right path, that their particular doctrines are right. That's not elitism. It might be a kind of pride to look out for, but it's not elitism to feel that you are doing what you think is right.

Elitism goes beyond just thinking that your doctrines or practices are correct. It's a hyperactive puffing up about it. Your group thinks not only that it is on the right path, but that almost no one else is.

Elitism is a sense of a special mission or a special equipping for a mission. We have better gifts or use our gifts in special ways. We care more about lost souls than others around us. We are more committed to saving souls, or helping the poor, or supporting missions, or being true to scripture, than almost anyone else. We are IT!

Extreme groups begin to think they are the only manifestation of Christ's work on earth, or at least in their area.

There are a couple of ways elitism is expressed. One is that the leaders come right out and say it. The pastor or leaders might preach that the group has a special call or a unique mission. This will be a repeated theme in abusive churches. It tends to isolate. If you are so special, God's own favorite children, why would you even want to hang out with the "unspecial"?

It also takes subtler forms. The pastor might not focus much on your special calling. He might instead spend time cutting down other groups, focusing on their perceived weaknesses and problems. If he does this enough, you get the idea. Church X doesn't really stress scripture (unspoken lesson: WE DO!); Church Y doesn't really preach salvation (unspoken lesson: WE REALLY CARE); Church Z doesn't live out the gospel (unspoken lesson: WE LIVE THE GOSPEL).

What elitism does is unify church members. They get the message. THEY don't want to be like the worldly groups out there that don't care about lost souls or the poor or missions or the scripture. They want to make sure they are among the chosen few. To do this, they will hunker down, they will keep to the group, they will make sure the leadership knows they are loyal and true and not heathen like those other groups outside.

When things get messy and they are tempted to leave, elitism is a powerful handcuff. Members have spent so much time looking down on other groups and playing up their own gifts, that to leave means they have to reverse their thinking, and that's very hard to do. Suddenly, they are thinking about no longer being part of God's special group, and also about joining up with groups they - along with the church leadership - have looked down on for so long. That's a hard reversal to stomach.

Besides bragging about gifts and callings, and besides castigating other "inferior" churches, another sign of elitism is when the pastor or leaders won't meet with other community pastors. They will not join ministerial alliances or Christian groups in a community. They are too good for those lukewarm Christians. They are far above them and will not deign to rub shoulders with them. While many elitist pastors do meet with such groups either just for show or because it lends credibility to the group, the very hard core elitists will not. If your pastor won't meet with other pastors unless they are of the same denomination, it is a big, bright, red flag that he is an elitist and possibly abusive.
Elitism can be blatant or subtle, but it's a common trait of abusive churches.

To see an example of classic elitism, go HERE to see how a Harold Camping defender attacks critics using elitist language.

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What is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse. It can happen in big churches and small. It can happen in churches that at first seem sound, biblical or healthy. Certain signatures define spiritual abuse: authoritarian leadership, claims that the group or leaders have a special calling or gifts, inability of leaders to handle criticism, harsh treatment of those who question or try to leave. These are just a few. Though the manifestation of abuse differs in externals, underneath are similar traits, repeated in abusive groups. Become familiar with spiritual abuse in a variety of churches and you will soon see how these leaders manipulate and control.

Are you covering for a spiritually abusive pastor?

What's happening to my church?

A message to culty group defenders

Cult Next Door posted this excellent response to those culty-group defenders -- who lambaste victims on blogs exposing spiritual abuse. These folks see nothing wrong with the abusive leader, defend the hurtful practices and blame the one exposing the tactics. They needle victims, and pile on blame. They excuse the harm of abusers, and belittle the pain of victims. Provender wishes every blog on spiritual abuse would have a little message like this for these folks.

Sometimes, they apologize

Every once in a while, church leaders in these situations apologize. A Florida blogger, FBCWatchdog, was kicked out of church and given trespass warning documents after being outed as a church blogger critic, and later was branded a "sociopath" by the pastor of his large, Florida church, in the local paper. The blogger eventually brought suit. After the ruling (and likely as part of the settlement), the pastor publicly apologized. There is much more to the story, but these are the highlights.

Using words to manipulate

It can be subtle, or it can hit you head on. When spiritual abusers are cornered, certain techniques crop up again and again. Here are some samples.

What does elitism have to do with spiritual abuse?

Does your church think it's special? What does it think of other churches? Elitism is a big sign your church or group could be spiritually dangerous. CLICK HERE for more

Misusing Scripture to Abuse

Check out The Cult Next Door's interview with Provender on twisting scriptures.

Stories of abuse and survival

Links to stories of spiritual abuse:

She had to choose between church or daughter

When he wanted to move out of state, the pastor of this Kansas UPC church said he'd be going "down, down, down."

This cult church made a virtual slave of one blogger -- 15 years of misery

What is it like to lose your son to a spiritually abusive church? One mother's story.

Her husband gave up law practice to give his all to church, and the whole family ended up shunned by order of the leadership.

Cruel stepfather is also pastor of a California "Bible-based" church (a Calvary Chapel). His children suffered beatings meted out by this pastor/stepdad. Church leaders would not disassociate themselves, only minimize and cover up the pastor/dad's violence.


This pastor said God gave instructions on how to roll and fold toilet paper properly. Soon the TP police were on the job Also, edicts on not smashing pennies!

They told her terrible things would happen if she left, and no other church would help her.


The man behind the curtain

Church blogger critic experiences wrath of abusers (including fake letter-of-resignation sent to employer) and major harassment with few attempts by church leaders to stop the abuse.

Caught in a Bible-based cult for 13 years

Holey coverups

Abusive voices remained in her head after she left the cultish group

A good blog on spiritual abuse, and some great links in the sidebar also.

This sad story includes 15 signs of abuse

This woman left the frying pan of one cult for the fire of another

Parents of woman who cut off baby's arms blame pastor 's influence for taking her to the edge

College senior trapped in abusive group for years finally escapes

Many, many stories mostly from UPC members

An SGM pastoral intern finds leaving isn't all that easy

When husband beat her after worship service, this mom sought help from church only to be abused further

Hedged in at her Canadian Baptist college, this young women had few places to turn, but managed to survive.

When humility is not humility

After divorcing for verbal abuse, this woman was disfellowshiped from a Baptist church with a message on a large screen in front of the church that read: CONDUCT UNBECOMING A CHILD OF GOD

His family chose the elders and shunned him

"Untouchable, unaccountable, unknowable, and alone"

Abusive pastor destroys congregation he was "called" to serve

Check main site

Make sure to check out the main Provender site

Contact Provender

If you have found an especially helpful site on spiritual abuse, please email Provender and we'll see about adding it. If you need to tell your story, you can also email Provender. We'll always keep your story confidential unless you wish to post it in the case studies section.

Also, if you notice broken links on this site, please contact Provender: Click Here

Featured link: The Web of Narcissism

Provender's guest posts

A Sense of Futility on Quivering Daughters blog

Spiritual Abuse is Hidden Trauma on The Cult Next Door blog


Are you covering your pastor's nakedness?

In Predators in the Pulpit, Chris Efinda discusses the covering nakedness doctrine. Enablers of spiritual abuse justify cover-ups of abusive pastors using this pseudo-scriptural approach. Efinda says that the spiritual "sons" of abusive leaders feel that hiding the wrongdoing of abusive pastors becomes a divine test of their own faithfulness. If you are acting as a go-between, or "filtering" what comes from your pastor and to make it seem more acceptable to others, are you trying to cover your pastor's nakedness? It's very likely.

Also see, Are You Covering for a Spiritually Abusive Pastor

A word from Ezekiel

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."

Ezekiel 34:1-6

A message to abusive pastors from Jeremiah 23

Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD.

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.

And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, says the LORD. ...

For both prophet and priest are profane; yea, in my house have I found their wickedness, says the LORD.

... for from the prophets of Jerusalem is profaneness gone forth into all the land.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, Do not listen to the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the LORD.

They say still to those who despise me, The LORD has said, You shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.

...I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.

But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they should have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

...I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed.

How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart;

Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.

The prophet that has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that has my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? says the LORD.

Is not my word like as a fire? says the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.

Jeremiah 23

Tell your story

The Cult Next Door blog invites those who have been spiritually abused to tell their stories. This can be a healthy exercise for victims of abuse, especially those living under a "can't talk" rule.

Follow the leader, but with care

An editorial on how easy it is to fall into the trap of following dangerous leaders.

Search Here

To search Provender (or to see the latest additions to Provender), CLICK HERE

Order of Posts

I like to keep the list of helpful sites on Spiritual Abuse at or near the top because providing links to the best resources on this topic is the main purpose of this blog. If a post seems to disappear, you can usually find it below the first post.

Psalms for the Oppressed

A glimpse into life under the thumb of controlling church

Breaking the Chains: Overcoming the Spiritual Abuse of a False Gospel by Shari Howerton details life under the thumb of an oppressive church.

Spiritually abused woman needs prayer, help

How they use words to manipulate and abuse

Spiritual Abuse Quote of the Month

Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors. Good behavior, demonstrating an understanding and acceptance of the group's beliefs, and compliance are rewarded while questioning, expressing doubts or criticizing are met with disapproval, redress and possible rejection. If one expresses a question, he or she is made to feel that there is something inherently wrong with them to be questioning...Approval comes from having the new member's behaviors and thought patterns conform to the models (members). Members' relationship with peers is threatened whenever they fail to learn or display new behaviors. Over time, the easy solution to the insecurity generated by the difficulties of learning the new system is to inhibit any display of doubts -- new recruits simply acquiesce, affirm and act as if they do understand and accept the new ideology. -- Step 5 of MargaretSinger's Six Conditions for Thought Reform, found on ICSA

Covering and Manipulation

Two sites I want to emphasize:
The site Covering and Authority ends up buried and hard to find because it was a late discovery, so I thought I'd make a handy sidebar link to this page on the concept of covering or theology of covering. This site includes many scriptural references refuting the idea of human responsibility for the sins and behavior of others.

Also, a Rest Ministries page on manipulation and spiritual abuse disappeared when Geocities closed its sites in October. Before it disappeared, I preserved part of it and now have it linked HERE. This site exposed, in vivid detail, techniques abusers use to get followers to do their bidding. Very insightful
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Additional resources

Dr. Barb Orlowski has provided these additional resources she came across in the course of her research. Thanks, Dr. Orlowski.

 

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