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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Responding to the Wolf Watchers

wolfI've been mixing it up a bit with survivor blogger Julie Anne Smith and a few of her fans. We've been going back and forth in the comments of two previous posts HERE and HERE, as well as over at Julie Anne's own blog HERE.

I encountered the so-called ex-church survivor movement shortly after I began blogging in 2005. I didn't consider how extensive a movement it was until about a month or so ago.

After surveying the uncountable number of websites on the internet, I am confirmed daily these are folks who have a profoundly unhealthy preoccupation with the alleged wrongs done against them by bad pastors and church leadership. The attitudes I see displayed on these sites are not a good thing.

By creating websites like "X" church survivors or "X" church watch that chronicle with scrutinizing detail every slight done against them, either real or imagined, people can quickly become inwardly- focused, disgruntled navel gazers. The "survivors" come across as angry, vindictive, unforgiving, suspicious, and in some cases, paranoid. Going through life after a bad church experience with dark clouds of bitterness trailing behind you should never be a mark of a Christian. (And I am not say these folks aren’t Christians, btw, lest someone yell at me in the comments).

When I wrote up my first post highlighting Julie Anne's case, I had two thoughts in mind. First, I was using it as a stepping stone to what I see is a much larger problem with survivor blogs. Specifically the bitterness, strife, narcissism, vindictiveness, petty name-calling, anger, antinomianism, and anti-authoritarianism I see splashed across these blogs and website. If you think I am mistaken about my claims, just drop by Julie Anne's comment pages and read the nasty comments left by folks who brand me a fake Christian sexist hater. They blast leaders who allegedly stifle dissent and criticism, but when I raise questions about the motives and claims of survivor bloggers, attempts are made to shut me down and dismiss me. Irony, much.

Secondly, I was also amazed how easily the media, as well as self-described "Christian" commenters under the various reports about Julie Anne's case, would immediately support the victim while demonizing the so-called abuser. Probably 99% of the people didn't know either party. They certainly didn't know all the facts nor were they privy to all the background leading up to the situation. Only those "facts" supplied readily by the abused party were considered. Who's to say she is right and the church is wrong? I agree the pastor and the church is misguided with filing a lawsuit against an ex-member, but am I to believe that misguided move on their part makes them a "cult?" The pastor a mind-controlling wolfish cult leader? Really? That's what I am suppose to automatically conclude? And just because she is being sued by a misguided pastor does that make his claims against her false? Could there be any merit to what he says she has done even though he isn’t handling the situation correctly?

At any rate, in response to my contentions I have with survivor bloggers in general, a number of commenters at Julie Anne's place raised some questions and objections they want me to answer. I'll hit on the key questions I see repeated, as well as respond to one particular slight against me.

There are churches that do not overtly transgress orthodoxy and yet are very cult like in their behavior. Do you agree that such churches exist? If so, how do we spot them?

At the risk of being pilloried by my detractors as mocking, this is a loaded question. I’ll point out that if we agree such churches do in fact exist, then it is only obvious there has to be some marks that allow us to spot them. Thus, we don't have to make up phony "marks" indicating so-called "cult like" behavior. Either they are cult-like or not.

Moreover, if there are genuine "marks" to consider, where the disagreement lies is what we think those marks indicating "cult like" behavior may be. But that could differ from person to person. What you may think is "cult like" behavior may not be what I think is "cult like" behavior. Hence, the term "cult like" is too subjective and ultimately unhelpful. The idea of "cult" has a specific meaning: It primarily defines pseudo-Christian heresy. I personally do not believe the bulk of those churches accused of "spiritually abusing" the sheep by Bible-believing Christians are "a cult" in the common, technical sense of the word.

Now. Moving to the question. The qualifier of "do not transgress orthodoxy" obviously means a distinction exists between Bible oriented churches and say those of the Kingdom Hall variety. So we are not talking about churches that deny essential, historic Christian doctrine.

churchladyProbably what is in mind here would be for example churches where legalistic preference issues have been elevated on the same level with biblical doctrine and are made to control the lives of individuals. Such things, anti-CCM, or men can't wear shorts, women can't wear pants, whether it is worldly to watch movies, etc. Certain strains of independent, Fundamentalists Baptist and Pentecostal groups fall into this category.

Preference issues are not a bad thing in and of themselves; it is how those preference issues are applied to the body life of a local church that can be a problem.

My take is that if a pastor insists certain preference issues are determiners of one's salvation and spirituality as a Christian, along with faithful Church membership, this is a red flag in my mind. Let's say someone sees you going to the movies, or reading a Harry Potter novel, or some other preference considered "sinful" and the pastor confronts you and demands an account of your actions or there will be consequences, I would say that is overstepping his bounds as a pastor. But I distinguish this approach from a pastor who may admonish you regarding the same preference issue, yet leaves it up to you as to whether or not you will continue practicing it. Some folks may not like the pastor stepping on their toes, but he is not overstepping his bounds.

As odious as the application of preference issues can be in churches, however, that doesn't necessarily imply the church or pastor are "cult-like." So we have to turn our attention to what the Bible says about the qualifications of a shepherd. Here is where we can address a man's personality and abilities to lead a church.

Paul provides those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Peter further elaborates on them in 1 Peter 5:1-5. Some of the key qualifications listed in these passages are sober-mindedness, not quarrelsome, nor pugnacious, nor manipulative, nor demagogic. When spiritual abuse victims complain about "controlling" pastors, it is more than likely the opposite of these characteristics the abused person has in mind. In other words, the pastor or leadership are quarrelsome, pugnacious, manipulative and demagogic.

So what recourse do church goers have when they encounter a pastor who is manipulative, controlling, and abusive?

The Bible does not prohibit confronting a pastor. Paul writes that an elder can be confronted in 1 Timothy 5:19, 20, but any accusation brought against him must have two or three witnesses confirming it. That way, there is consistent, affirming testimony as to the charges leveled against him.

If the pastor doesn't teach heresy, yet he behaves abusively according to biblical standards, and there are a number of other members who confirm the same pattern of abuse, well then it is certainly within biblical parameters to confront him. Just as long as the accusation isn't contentious because you didn't like him confronting your sin, or disagreed with his counseling, or didn't like some decision he made.

And what should a church goer do if the pastor won't hear a complaint against him and dismisses his accusers as trouble-makers?

Every situation is different because of the people and surrounding events. However, depending on the circumstances, if a person or persons have respectfully confronted a pastor or church leadership about what they consider are serious personality behaviors and those people are waved off as disruptive trouble-makers, that's when those folks need to leave. It real is that simple.

Respectfully means you don't make a scene by spreading gossip and strife about the pastor(s) and then leave the church. You don't need to be dramatic and send the pastor(s) a certified, FED-EX letter explaining how you are "removing your membership" or any such nonsense. Just tell the leaders the reason why you are unable to fellowship and leave. If people ask "why" tell them the truth about why you are leaving. If they press you as to your claims, be prepared to give examples of what you mean. If they persist that you are mistaken, don't argue, just thank them for their concern and move on. There really is no need to leave negative website reviews or start a "survivor blog" detailing your issues with the church. Let it go.

But someone needs to warn others about that church and the abuse they may receive.

Perhaps, but that may not be you. Certainly leaving negative reviews and starting a survivor blog daily journal isn't the wisest course of action, either. First it makes the person appear to be mean-spirited and divisive when in fact that may not be true. Second, it only serves as a magnet for genuine troublemakers who are utterly ignorant of the situation who will only stir up real strife with their input. Third, falling into a "survivor/victim" mentality only keeps a person focused on that bad experience from a selfish perspective. "Look what they did to ME." "I got hurt by them." etc. This is not a means of being sanctified in the truth.

Your criticism show no compassion for those hurt and come across completely uncaring for anyone genuinely abused

I don't doubt there are people who have genuinely experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of incompetent and manipulative leadership. I am sympathetic to their plight. But rather than enabling their continued wallowing in a state of perpetual victimization and self-pity by applauding their on-line "Wall Watching" efforts, isn't the better course to refocus their thinking away from their own self interests and toward how they can learn from those difficult circumstances so that they can honor Christ? That has been one of my key reasons for being critical of survivor blogs.

warpathFrom my view, Fred's question is clearly sexist. ... It's sexist because he writes it in the context of an argument concerning the credibility of complaints against a pastor. In effect the question says, "Julie Anne, your perspectives and feelings don't really count because you're a woman." Was that Fred's intent?

I noted in my original post addressing survivor blogs that it is my observation a good many of them are maintained by women. I can understand why knowing how women are by nature more emotionally invested in such things as men typically will be. That is not meant to be a sexist remark, but just an acknowledgement of basic human nature between the sexes.

That said, when I have interacted with Julie Anne, I have asked her what her husband thinks about her spiritual abuse blogging. I certainly don't mean to imply anything sinister with that question.

I work from the assumption that Julie Anne is a Bible-believing Christian, which means she has a biblically informed understanding of marriage. Scripture describes a husband and wife as being one flesh (Genesis 2:23, 24; Matthew 19:4-6) and that a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). What a wife does publicly impacts that relationship. The husband mentioned in Proverbs 31 could safely trust in his wife (vs. 11). The implication being that the virtuous wife brought honor to her husband and family with her public interactions outside the family.

Again, assuming Julie Anne is a committed, Bible-believing Christian, what her husband thinks about all of this is an important question. Does he see the alleged abuse the same way Julie Anne sees it? What is his take as a man and husband with regards to the claims against his and Julie Anne's ex-pastor? Does he have the same opinion of him being "controlling" as Julie Anne does? He left with her, didn’t he? I am not saying her "perspectives and feelings" don't count as the commenter suggests, but a husband may have a complementary perspective that may bring things into focus.

The charge of "sexism" is lame. Not only does it display an attitude that diminishes the fundamental significance of a Christian marriage, it also reflects worldly thinking. This is how liberals argue against conservatives in politics.

Along with that, the charge of "sexism" has a tone of anti-authoritarianism ringing through it. Christian marriages are defined by particular spiritual parameters, namely a husband loving a wife and the wife submitting to her husband's authority. The world thinks of marriage in the opposite fashion. That being, a woman loses her identity as a person if she "submits" to a husband, and so a man is considered "sexist" if he suggest she must. This is not the Christian way to think about marriage relationships, and calling me “sexist” is not only worldly, but it’s a dishonest way to dodge my questions.

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14 Comments:

Blogger Fra'vangelico said...

calling me “sexist” is not only worldly, but it’s a dishonest way to dodge my questions.

Glad you brought up the issue of dodging questions, Fred. With that in mind, would you kindly respond to a question that was posed in the thread on Julie's blog:

If Julie Anne were "Julian," would you have asked Julian where is wife was in all this? Yes or no? Why or why not?

Thanks.

4:07 PM, June 27, 2012  
Blogger Julie Anne said...

Hey Fred: Surprised to see me post? LOL
1. You spelled my name correctly - that was pretty smart on your part because now it makes me want to read the rest :)

2. You wouldn't be insinuating that Churchlady pic is me, would you? Hair color is off and glasses really aren't working for me.

3. That was a bit odd to see you take questions asked by readers on my blog and post them here with responses, leaving my readers hanging. May I make a request that in addition to your post here, would you please copy your response into a comment on my blog so my readers can respond appropriately? Feel free to post them on the new post and I can add addendum to my post saying that your response follows. (If we need to work out logistics - e-mail me.) Thanks much!

4. Still waiting for that phone call! I don't bite. I'll be gone this weekend, tho.

4:43 PM, June 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Steam Tunnel guy writes,
If Julie Anne were "Julian," would you have asked Julian where is wife was in all this? Yes or no? Why or why not?

As a matter of fact, I would. I would further ask him what his current pastor thinks of all of it too.

However, the fact that the Bible places a woman under the authority of her husband has special precedence in this case. At least in my mind.

4:55 PM, June 27, 2012  
Blogger Fra'vangelico said...

Thank you, Fred, for responding to my question.

5:02 PM, June 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

1. You spelled my name correctly - that was pretty smart on your part because now it makes me want to read the rest :)

I aim to please.

2. You wouldn't be insinuating that Churchlady pic is me, would you? Hair color is off and glasses really aren't working for me.

No. It represents the topic at that point: Churches and pastors elevating preference issues to the level of biblical authority.

3. That was a bit odd to see you take questions asked by readers on my blog and post them here with responses, leaving my readers hanging.

It's not odd at all. Happens all the time in the blogging world. I've done it for years. In fact, I was going to come to your place later this evening or tomorrow morning to alert you and your readers. Again. I'm busy this week and hadn't had the time. I'm actually taking about 10 minutes before some guests arrive for dinner to offer a quick response.

May I make a request that in addition to your post here, would you please copy your response into a comment on my blog so my readers can respond appropriately?

You mean the whole blog article? Your comment feed probably won't support it. Why don't you link to this post. I like the traffic just as much as you.


4. Still waiting for that phone call! I don't bite. I'll be gone this weekend, tho.

There's really no reason to call you. Like I said. If what you met about for 11 hours can't be summarized in a page or so, then how will telling me on the phone personally help your case?

5:03 PM, June 27, 2012  
Blogger Craig Vick said...

Fred,

Thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully consider some of my questions as well as the questions of some others. I'll try to respond, and hopefully move the conversation forward. I wanted to interact with your whole post, but I realize that would make for too long of a comment. I'll focus here on your discussion of the first question you quote. I'll have comments on the rest later.

You begin your post with some general, condemnatory remarks. You write that you're confirmed daily that those on the survivor blogs you've visited ("these folks") "have a profoundly unhealthy preoccupation with the alleged wrongs done against them by bad pastors and church leadership". They "come across as angry, vindictive, unforgiving, suspicious, and in some cases, paranoid". You complain of the "the bitterness, strife, narcissism, vindictiveness, petty name-calling, anger, antinomianism, and anti-authoritarianism" you "see splashed across these blogs and website". You then say you'll discuss some of the key questions you encountered. The implication is that those asking these key questions are pretty nasty people. I wonder if you honestly believe that you've treated me and the other questioners fairly. Do you really need a defamatory build up in order to answer these questions?

When you get to my question (the first one) you claim it's loaded, and you seem to think I'm trying to trick you into having to make up phony "marks". You argue that "cult like" is too subjective.

What I meant by "cult like" behavior (as opposed to belief) is perhaps best seen by the examples of many modern cults. There are patterns to how they enslave people. The effect of these patterns is to destroy people from within. They attack what's proper to a person - boundaries, freedom, time, talents, relationships, families etc... Many are sickeningly good at it. I believe there are "churches" that do not deny historic Christian doctrine (I like the way you put this), at least in word, where these patterns occur. It's not, however, as cut and dry as we might like it to be. Even in cults these patterns occur in degrees. Some are much worse than others. Part of the nature of these patterns is that they are implemented slowly, bit by bit, over a long period of time. That's why cult members end up doing things (like mass murder suicides) that they would have never thought possible when they started in the cult. My concern, and the purpose of my question, was simply to try to identify these patterns in practical ways. We may then be better able to warn brothers and sisters in Christ when danger is ahead. We may even be able to stop some of these churches from the decay of these patterns and call them to an obedience to our Lord.

When you finally get to answering my question you make some excellent points. Your red flag example of a pastor overstepping his bounds is a good one. I especially appreciate your encouragement to focus on Biblical qualifications for leadership. The passages you sight are good, practical guides not only as qualifications for leadership but also as ongoing barometers. Perhaps, as a future post, you might even consider a careful exegesis of these passages followed by application to real life examples of failures in or drifting from the leadership Paul and Peter describe.

I'm not sure that's enough, however. Imagine someone you love, a good friend, joins a church that at first seems sound. As time moves on you begin to hear things that trouble you. The pastor seems to overstep his bounds. The person you love starts to lose himself or herself, but not in any way that Christ prescribes. You become an outsider. You try to find out what's going on, but you can't get through. You see your friend beginning to disappear. Are you willing to leave it there, to walk away from you're friend? I'm not. I will use all Biblical means to get my friend out of there.

12:18 AM, June 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Craig writes,
You begin your post with some general, condemnatory remarks...The implication is that those asking these key questions are pretty nasty people. I wonder if you honestly believe that you've treated me and the other questioners fairly. Do you really need a defamatory build up in order to answer these questions?

My remarks were as you describe, general. They don't obviously describe everyone, but they do describe the majority of what I see. And this coming from the guy who says my remarks are sexist?

continuing,
When you get to my question (the first one) you claim it's loaded, and you seem to think I'm trying to trick you into having to make up phony "marks". You argue that "cult like" is too subjective.

That is because the term IS too subjective, as I went on to explain.

That being, "cult" has a specific definition. Technically it implies pseudo-Christian doctrine. This cannot be overlooked. What you go on to say demonstrates "cultlike" does not define the majority of these churches we are discussing, unless of course they are a genuine cult that teach false doctrine, because it is my opinion that doctrine defines and shapes practice. IOW, theology matters. If your theology is cultish, the practice of the church will be as well, too.

You describe this conspiracy of sorts, by which cult leaders allegedly implement control measures over the people. Maybe some places do that. The reality, however, is that cults are organized around a charismatic leader or leaders who takes the place of Christ or God and thus stands as the ultimate authority. Hence the reason some cults commit suicide, though such things are extremely rare historically, especially on the grand scale of a Jim Jones cult.

Chuck ONeal may be a control freak, but what I have seen of him, his church does not fall into the category of what you outline in your comment. He isn't organizing his group around Himself as a Messiah figure. IF he is doing that, I haven't seen it. I only have the testimony of members.

As to identifying patterns of cultlike behavior, I attempted to do that and give my opinion one should take to implement steps to leave.

I'm not sure that's enough, however. Imagine someone you love, a good friend, joins a church that at first seems sound. As time moves on you begin to hear things that trouble you. The pastor seems to overstep his bounds. The person you love starts to lose himself or herself, but not in any way that Christ prescribes. You become an outsider. You try to find out what's going on, but you can't get through. You see your friend beginning to disappear. Are you willing to leave it there, to walk away from you're friend? I'm not. I will use all Biblical means to get my friend out of there.

If that were to happen, I certainly would take the necessary course of action to help my friend. But here I am dealing with a friend in a personal situation. Julie Anne I don't know. All I know is that she's a survivor blogger. When I examine the various websites of this online movement, alarm bells are sounding off on every website I visit. It's concerning. Everything I read immediately defends her and spews hate on the pastor and church. He's wrong, she's right. End of discussion. This demonstrates a severe lack of discernment by Christians and that is what I am trying to address.

7:23 AM, June 28, 2012  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

I still haven't heard a single good reason to have a "survivor blog." In fact, I'm starting to believe that these survivor blogs are a worse evil then the "spiritual abuse" about which they blog.

3:45 PM, June 28, 2012  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Fred,

This has been a great series, and this blog post is the best one yet!

HSAT, there are wicked hireling-shepherds and there are wicked sheep. There are innocent flocks harmed by hirelings, and there are innocent shepherds harmed by wicked sheep.

All things being equal, Godly authority is clearly God's design.

Anyways, great post!

11:22 AM, June 29, 2012  
Blogger rabbi-philosopher said...

I've been thrown off a couple of "survivor" blogs because I posted portions of the Eagle's song, GET OVER IT.

It does seem to me a lot of participants on the church survivor blogs simply wish to continue in the bitterness and anger. They're jaded, they're bitter and they intend to continue on.
There's certainly no healing there.

There IS a lot of pharisee-ism in the commentors.

6:41 PM, June 30, 2012  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Fred,

What do you think of this story:

Female Assistant Minister at Manhattan church 'seduced' parishioner: complaint

Do you think this qualifies as clergy abuse? (Not to mention that it's an abuse of Scripture for a woman to occupy the office of pastor).

Perhaps the complainant will launch a survivor abuse blog.

3:43 PM, July 09, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Oh yes, I saw that; and thought immediately of survivor blogging. That certainly qualifies as legitimate abuse. Plus, not to mention the fact she is "abusing" them by violating scripture.

6:35 AM, July 10, 2012  
Blogger terriergal said...

"However, the fact that the Bible places a woman under the authority of her husband has special precedence in this case. At least in my mind."

Well then Fred, you should be taking this up with Julie's husband and not blogging about her, per se, but her husband, shouldn't you?

5:47 PM, July 10, 2012  
Blogger terriergal said...

"I've been thrown off a couple of "survivor" blogs because I posted portions of the Eagle's song, GET OVER IT."

Imagine that! The intolerance! Are you complaining? Get over it already, "rabbi."

How does that work for your hurting friends? For your wife (even in cases where she IS being unreasonable...) Oh, don't tell me, you aren't married?

I bet they appreciate your kind and gracious bedside manner. "GET OVER IT" - huh, that's sheerly brilliant counsel! That's JUST what the good samaritan did isn't it? Or maybe it was Job's friends. I forget which.

"It does seem to me a lot of participants on the church survivor blogs simply wish to continue in the bitterness and anger. They're jaded, they're bitter and they intend to continue on.
There's certainly no healing there."

There's certainly no compassion or love for people less perfect than you in your comments.

"There IS a lot of pharisee-ism in the commentors."

Huh, you don't say.

5:54 PM, July 10, 2012  

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