Since writing up a post highlighting survivor blogs, I've come to learn the internet is filled with them. I guess that is to be expected it being the world wide web and all.
Typically, the folks who contribute to survivor blogs write up garment-rending laments bitterly complaining about how churches and pastors so utterly abused them. The only true recourse they had once they freed themselves from the shackles of their enslavement was to hit the internet and start a website detailing their spiritual abuse at the hands of wicked pastors.
I came across this scary looking website:
The moderator even posted a survey:
The introduction states:
The following is a questionnaire to see just how healthy your church really is. To determine how well it ranks, answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions.
According to the survey writer, it is believed that if you answer yes to a quarter of these questions, then your church is showing real signs of being "unhealthy."
The problem with this survey, however, is that it's too vague. An honest person can't really say yes or no to any of the questions because they are in desperate need of clarification. What is considered "controlling" for one person may not be so for another.
Definitions are also left up to subjective interpretation. For example, the survey writer mentions "public shaming." What exactly does he mean by "public shaming?" Or he notes about having "different opinions." In relation to what, exactly? Doctrine? How about when the writer speaks about being shut down by leadership for "asking questions." Well, what sort of questions? Of course I'd want to know if the leaders did answer his questions yet why the answer the person received from them wasn't satisfactory.
Anyhow, I thought I would take this survey, but with keeping these clarifications in mind as I work through the questions. A few of them are repetitive, and honestly, a bit odd, so I won't be answering all of them. Rather than these questions exposing bad pastors who abuse sheep, these questions can easily expose trouble-making antinomians who don't like pastors, or anyone for that matter, meddling in their personal lives. I'll show this as I move along.
•Does your church tightly control the flow of information within its ranks?
This is the kind of question I would expect to be asked by nosy busy-bodies. It really depends on the information. If it is information necessary to shepherd the congregation, then wise pastors will tactfully share what is important to be known. If it is information withheld to cover over personal sin between disagreeing church members or pastors then there is no need to gossip about what can easily be dealt with by the parties involved and only known among a few people. It really isn't anyone's business. Moreover, the congregation doesn't need to know about pastor so-and-so's bladder control problem unless he is so inclined to share.
•Does the head of your church, along with the other “leaders”, use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers?'
What does "public shaming" mean exactly? If by "public shaming" the person means church discipline in which the person in question has his or her name read from the pulpit, then yes, godly leaders do that on occasion.
•Does the head of your church and his “fellow elders” appear to be intolerant or consider it evil persecution when criticized or questioned?
What are they being criticized about? If it is nit-picky conspiratorial style questions made by a factious accuser, then any wise elder/pastor will definitely be intolerant of such a person after he or she has been rebuked two or three times (Titus 3:10, 11)
•Are you discouraged to associate with former members, being warned that they are "evil" or "defiling"; a “danger to your spiritual welfare”?
If the "former member" falls into the category of the person spoken about in Titus 3:10, 11, then that is exactly what the Bible is telling us. See previous question.
•Is leaving your church to join another church that “is not approved by your elders” equal to leaving God?
I'll put it this way: Any person leaving our church to join a Catholic congregation, or an Unitarian congregation, or a Mormon congregation is leaving God. It makes me wonder if the folks who put together this survey have even read 1 John 2:19, 20.
I grouped these next two questions together because they cover similar ground:
•Do you fear being rebuked, shunned, or ignored for expressing a different opinion?
•Is questioning condemned as "whispering, back- biting, vicious slander, gossip, nit-picking, signs of a proud rebellious spirit, being disaffected and divisive?"
What sort of "different opinion" is being expressed? Denial of Christ's deity certainly qualifies as a "different opinion," but it is one worthy of rebuke.
What sort of questions are being asked? Are they spiteful, accusatory questions that imply the pastor is a crook because he is paid 50,000 a year?
I'm curious. How would the writer of this survey respond if he encountered a "member" constantly accusing the leadership of collusion with the UN, but the evidence the person presented as proof was baseless and bizarre? Would the writer rebuke that person? Shun him? or consider his views as "different opinions"? Would he think this conspiracy nut was genuinely asking questions, or would he see them as "divisive" or "slanderous?" Would he be willing to support the pastor who is attempting to deal with the troublemaker or accuse his pastor of condemning him?
The next three points are repetitive, so I took them out of order and put them together.
•At church, is there a sense of control, rather than support?
•Is there a misplaced loyalty from Jesus and God onto the leadership, which is idolatry?
•Is there a relentless obsession of reminding the sheep of “who’s in authority”?
If by the word "control" the survey writer means that pastors don't applaud the wacko ideas of theological heretics or strife generating trouble-makers who disrupt church business meetings, then yes, a healthy church "controls" such things and would never support them.
I would hope the members of a God-fearing church would want to submit to and support their leaders. Hebrews 13:7, a passage I find absent on many of these "abuse survivor" site (or seriously maligned), clearly states we are to obey and submit to our leaders and I would hope they would support their leaders particularly in matters of factious members crying "spiritual abuse."
•Are you told not to ask questions as to why others have left? Are you told to accept the statements that “your elders” give you?
It has been my experience that the ones who leave are rather vocal as to why they are leaving. I've never had to go ask an "elder" why such and such a person left, especially a person who was all the time questioning everything going on at church and held all the leaders in suspicion. The nature of most narcissistic loudmouths is to be seen and heard and have their agenda known.
•Are books, tapes and CD’s, speakers, music, etc., carefully controlled to keep only the belief structure of your church before your mind?
I hope so. Do the folks who put together this survey have any willingness to discern? Do they not think a doctrinal statement is a worthy thing to be defended? If there was some guy passing out Anthony Buzzard sermons in which he taught his anti-Trinitarian heresy, I want my elders to "control" the dissemination of that information. It makes me wonder if these "wicked shepherd" people think John the apostle was "a control freak" when he wrote to that lady and her family not to receive the one who comes to them with false doctrine (2 John 9, 10).
•Is there is a relentless campaign to keep you around the activities of your church, expecting you to be at all the stated meetings, except if providentially hindered? And if you are absent, is your spirituality and dedication sometimes questioned?
Is "relentless campaign" code words meaning "holding people accountable?"
Lookit, if you joined a church, committed yourself and your family's spiritual health and growth to the pastor and leaders of that church, why would you NOT want to be involved in the activities of your church, including meetings? Do these people treat being a member of a church like a "come-as-you-please-when-it-is-at-your-convenience" affair?
•Is there present, the breaking of even the closest family ties, to “guard” the flock?
What do these people think Jesus meant in Matthew 10:34-37? Our Lord says that closest families may be broken apart over who he was. If telling a lecherous teenager of a faithful church family that he is no longer welcome at the youth group activities because of his crude, ungodly behavior will "guard the flock," then regrettably, family ties will be challenged.
I am not going to respond to ALL of the remainder of these survey questions. I just wanted to highlight a few pertaining to leadership in general. Take note of the words "control," "fear," and "paranoia."
•Is there the constant using of guilt and shame as tools of control?
•Is there present at your church the encouragement of the members to spy and report on each other, lest sin be found in the midst?
•Is there present at your church the dominant climate of fear in the group – fear of failing to keep one of the rules, and fear of being held up to public humiliation and rejection?
•Is paranoia the “very air you breathe”? Paranoia of falling from grace; thinking for yourselves; breaking the many unspoken rules as well as the clearly spelled out expectations of the leader?
•Does a code of silence reign at your church? Is no one to divulge the business of the church, or the faults of the leadership?
•Are you becoming paranoid – carefully watching your every word and even gesture, lest someone report your faults?
As I read these questions, I am reminded of Proverbs 28:1, The wicked flee when no man pursues... I start to wonder about a person's spiritual state and overall motivation if he describes opposition to his issues with leadership in terms of their paranoia.
Generally, its the one crying "paranoia" who is in fact paranoid. "The leaders don't want to address such-and-such or the pastors refuse to answer my questions pertaining to thus-and-so because they are paranoid of loosing power, or afraid they will loose money, or whatever."
Because the person's pet issues are so strange, pastors genuinely don't want to answer them, or perhaps they give a simple response hoping to placate the person. The person, however, interpret the answers as "evading" or as a "code of silence." If a pastor confronts and firmly rebukes the person for his odd-ball ideas, such a response is twisted to be "controlling" or stifling dissent which is hardly the case.
As a person considers these questions, it is clear to see they can cut both ways.
Certainly there are churches that are spiritually unhealthy and the atmosphere is smothering. There are pastors who are controlling and lord it over the flock they are to shepherd. However, there are also individuals and groups who bristle against any authority whatsoever, especially pastors who may come along and step on their toes. If that pastor begins to shake up the congregation a little bit with the authority of Scripture, or he puts his finger on a sore spot in an person's life, the first response is to yell anti-authoritarian buzzwords like "controlling!"