True and False Humility

   The disguised narcissist is cloaked in a garment of humility and self deprecation. He/she gives the impression of having a deflated sense of self and a diminished ego. The disguised narcissist presents a picture of being like everyone else, just plain folks----but he isn't. Distracted by his offhand, low key manner, many of us fail to notice that we are dealing with a certified narcissistic personality. -- Solid Rock Vista Cult

    It seemed like real humility.
    When our pastor first came, he seemed to me the most humble man I’d ever known. He rejected all outward manifestations of wealth, and seemed to be super spiritual. His wife said she was first attracted to him because he was totally sold out to Jesus. And so it seemed.
    The family lived on a shoestring, no fancy cars or fancy house. Very simple clothes. Not much in the way of toys. Wal-Mart was their favorite place to shop. They seemed to care about the poor, starting a food pantry and giving away food and money to poor neighbors near the church. How refreshing!
    I couldn’t understand why family after family left the church, when we finally had such a humble, non-materialistic man in charge. What I didn’t realize then was that there was a big difference between non-materialistic and humble.
    I didn’t suspect that this humble man might have a personality disorder.
    I closed my eyes to much that was happening because I so wanted to believe that this man was taking us to greener spiritual pastures than ever before. Oh, he could preach the word. He seemed to love the word, and I listened in rapture.
    Meanwhile, people left or grumbled or complained, and the pastor preached against murmuring and complaining.
   Couldn’t they see that he was giving us the real meat? Verse by verse through the Bible. How could that be wrong? What was wrong with these people?
    I figured the problem was with them, that they weren’t ready for meat. That’s why they left or complained. They were sinning and couldn’t handle the light. They were immature. They couldn’t handle truth.
    Instead of listening to them, I ignored the red flags flying all around me.
    What I didn’t know was that this man displayed signs of a disorder, a condition that makes social interaction difficult to say the least.
    The man could not endure any criticism, no matter how gentle, how needed, how true. He used the pulpit to preach against those who criticized him. One time he preached against potlucks, of all things, because a couple had asked for the reinstatement of monthly potlucks, and he viewed that as criticism. He equated the desire for these potlucks to desire for the flesh, and with the couple sitting in the pews he pretty much called them the lowest sinners on earth, without naming names of course.
    The couple had been members of the church for more than 20 years. The husband was only recently convicted and seeking the face of God. He’d listen to this pastor’s sermons on tape as he traveled for his job. He was starting to bloom in Christ, and then – cut off, preached against, derided. This couple used potlucks to invite unchurched friends to church. People nominally members of churches they never attended wouldn't attend this church. It seemed disloyal. But invite them to a potluck and they would come. That was different. So potlucks and invitations to church using potlucks -- that was their ministry, and a very fruitful ministry it was, too.
     Meanwhile, the worship team leader noticed something odd about this pastor. Though the pastor wanted to sing and play on the worship team, he refused to come to practice like everyone else. Consequently, he and his 12-string guitar were regularly out of tune and messing up the sound. Even worse, the pastor would reach over and turn up his own volume on the amps and turn down everyone else’s.
    The worship leader gently asked him to come to practice and stop messing with the volume controls. The pastor agreed. But he wouldn’t keep his promise. The odd behavior continued. And in retaliation for the “criticism,” the pastor took away the last song from the worship leader. The last song had been a time of jubilation when kids ran in from Sunday school, full of smiles, and everyone worshiped together to the music in a joyful celebration.
    The pastor knew that taking this away would hurt the leader.
    This narcissistic problem, the inability to deal with perceived criticism, led to other problems as well. In the space of a few years every family at the church when the pastor first arrived was gone. New families had come and some of them left, too.
    Occasionally, after hearing the pastor preach about persecution against him, someone would stand up in church to defend the pastor, but the mere mention of a problem sent the pastor into retaliatory mode. The speaker would have a ministry removed or given some other punishment even though he was just trying to help the pastor.  Harsh words, relatives ejected, preached against.
    This is not humility. It might seem on the surface like humility, but it isn’t.
    There would be a series of loyalty tests, and loyalty to the pastor was what it was all about. Are you loyal to me? Let’s find out. Loyalty to me is the same as loyalty to God. Let’s see how loyal you are.
    So a decree would come down, often a trivial one, but sometimes a major one. Whatever decree it was, it would hurt someone. The children may no longer play in the park after Sunday school unless the pastor’s wife is present. We may not stay to allow men to go up for prayer at Promise Keepers because the pastor must go back right at that moment and work on his sermon.  You may no longer give a communion devotional. You may not hold a Halloween alternative night. You must record attendance on Sunday school charts. You must not hold board meetings. All the decrees were flung out there to be used as loyalty tests. You must prove you are loyal to me. To be loyal to me is to be loyal to God.
     Inevitably, someone would balk and eventually leave. The rest of us would try to be loyal. We would ignore the pain of the offended party, fix the blame on them, never on the pastor, and show how loyal and dependable we were.  He would push us to the limit to see how far our passivity would go.
   We did this time and time again, not questioning, not asking why so many left, wounded and disillusioned, until it happened to us enough times and until we see enough bleeding sheep that we could no longer choose the pastor over someone we loved or over reason or over truth or over our conscience or even over the Word of God.
   It took a long time being out of the group to understand the mechanics, how things worked the way they did and why this man behaved the way he did. I'd made excuse after excuse for him, but finally ran out of excuses and was forced to face the truth that he had a personality problem.

    It seemed like humility, but we found out, sooner or later, that it wasn’t.

See also: The disguised Narcissist


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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

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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