Some years ago I worked for a minister and Christian apologist who counseled people out of cults and the occult. In those days, the early eighties, the groups were outside the church. Now, they are to be found inside the church via all manner of “new” beliefs, practices, and programs. And they are proliferating as marketers and pastors-turned-CEOs recognize the powerful attraction of church “missions” that co-opt post-modernism, the secular spirit of the age that is fueled by an “experience-based faith” and the human potential movement as opposed to Christianity’s core doctrines. These groups, Hydra-like in their proliferation and morphing ability (lest more people catch on), are taking root in church after church, denomination after denomination at an alarming rate. Since the eighties and especially these days, I have a heart for people just discovering “something is not quite right in my church,” to those who have been burned already but who need a little more help to identify what has happened to them and how to move on. My own (and my sister’s) story is the topic of my blog, “What in the World is Going on in Church?!” It is my prayer that this feature will help others caught in similar situations.
“I WANT A NEW FAMILY.”
She was four years-old when she sneaked out of her house, ran the short distance to the corner gas station, and announced she wanted a new family.
“I don’t remember much else,” said “Barbara,” a former student, “Except I didn’t want to live in my house anymore. And I remember the ride in a big black car to go to the foster home.”
Barbara also tells of more troubles in later life: a bad marriage, health issues. But her spirit remains somehow undaunted. Now in her fifties she’s back in school after many years to complete her education and enter a profession in which she can help others.
IT WAS TIME
Back in the day Barbara ran out of her house and down to the gas station to get a new home, people didn’t interfere with how families operated. Child abuse was barely mentioned. Indeed, many a strap still hung in a prominent place on the kitchen wall to remind recalcitrant children of the consequences of bad behavior.
So just how bad was it for that little girl?
She lived in a small town, so no doubt people knew what was going on. And, no doubt, the fellows at the corner gas station knew better than most. And then, one day, little Barbara shows up. Was she disheveled, dirty, and bruised? I wonder. She doesn’t remember that, either. But her gas station rescuers comprehended. And one of them—perhaps risking her parents’ wrath—made a phone call and possibly saved her life. He surely helped save her spirit.
Barbara struggles still in various ways, but she also knows there is at least a possibility of something better. She learned that lesson at age four, a lesson few are fortunate enough to learn so young; some, perhaps never learn it. And in her new career, I don’t doubt she will help many.
IN ANOTHER FAMILY
And the family of man plunders on. The strong conquer the weak, the powerful oppress the powerless, and the clever exploit the unwary. Hearts and homes are broken. Churches are broken, too. But today, just as there is more help for anyone in any abusive situation, there is help for the spiritually abused. The shield of secrecy over the sanctuary has been lifted.
Recently, I read about one of many first steps a person can take if he/she suspects something is wrong in his/her church. This one comes in the form of an online survey. The questions revolve around leaders who want absolute control over their congregations, who want free rein with the money, and who do not tolerate criticism no matter how appropriately presented. In addition, the survey includes questions on various kinds of physical, sexual, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual abuse. The author also offers advice on what to do next.
As bad as what my former student—and other children and adults—might suffer, it is much worse to discover abuse in the church. Perpetrators in the pulpit have more than just temporal access to victims; they pretend eternal powers as well. Instead of just withholding the means of physical survival and/or safety, they feign power to grant and to withhold salvation. Followers, convinced that such leaders have special knowledge from God or that their organization is the “only true” religion, are ultimately led by fear, shame, and/or intimidation though it be subtle. When dysfunction dominates a church it can be far worse than its presence in a family. And, history proves, far more lethal.
Fortunately, in addition to help from those who study false doctrines, practices, and abuses within the church—both ancient and “modern ancient”—and who warn and counsel us, believers have the promise of One Who never leaves nor forsakes us. He saw the days ahead and He sees our days. In Jesus Christ we have hope and in the end a new—and eternal—fellowship as He “sets the lonely in families (and) leads forth the prisoners with singing” (psalm 68:6, KJV).
Help is near. It’s time. This might be a start for someone—or a start for you.
Permission is granted to share this questionnaire developed by Chris Lawson of the Spiritual Research Network, Inc.
Here are a few of many other sites that research and publish information on the array of dangers and abuses that abound in the church today. As always, read with discernment.