Updated Index to Posts on Spiritual Abuse

Regardless of the season, every so often the urge to Spring-Clean my desk sweeps over me, so I gather up all those to-do notes written on envelope backs and napkin corners and Post-Its halves – and just do ‘em. One of them said: “update index.”

Hence, I’ve spent time bringing up to date my Index to futuristguy Posts on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse. I do this every few years, and for whatever reasons, the time was now. I’ve recategorized a few posts, added everything up through my current series, and done some general clean up.

Hope you find it of help in thinking through your experiences with toxic systems and abusive leaders, and discovering again the grace and truth needed for renewed spiritual stability and community.

New Page: Resources for Research-Writing on Spiritual Abuse

I’ve just posted a new page at the top of my blog, Resources for Research/Writing on Situations of Spiritual Abuse. For a long time, I’ve wanted to collect together bits and pieces of research writing I’ve done on technical topics that keep cropping up in the spiritual abuse survivor communities. And I finally got that together.

I still have a few sections to add, but this covers most of what I think will be helpful to pass on to next waves of people who are considering how to share their own accounts of surviving spiritual abuse, “citizen journalist” bloggers, case study writers, church-change social activists, etc. Here are the topics covered:

  1. Key Legal and IRS Problems for Tax-Exempt Non-Profits
  2. Filing a Complaint/Referral with the IRS Against a Tax-Exempt Non-Profits
  3. Types of “Threshold of Evidence” Required / Spoliation of Evidence
  4. Child Abuse and Neglect / Child Sexual Abuse
  5. Recording Phone Calls and Conversations
  6. Sexual Harassment / Hostile Work Environment
  7. “Citizen Journalists,” Blog Reports, Digital Dissent
  8. SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP Lawsuits
  9. Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse

NOTE: This page is meant to be informational and motivational, to give a framework and some key links for starting your own research projects. The content at the linked pages may not be the most current available, so don’t rely solely on their information. Also, the material here is NOT meant to be legal advice. If you have legal issues, see a lawyer who can help you with the relevant local, state, and federal laws.

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems

Part 2A and Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems.

Part 2A / Post #1

  • Section 1. Culpability, Complicity, and a Pyramid of Responsibility
    • Power and Its Abuse, In Social and Spiritual Settings
    • What is “Spiritual Abuse” and Who is “Abusive”?
    • Moving from Culpability to Complicity
    • Why Does a Mayan Pyramid Capture Such Systems?

Part 2B / Post #2

  • Section 2. What’s the Big Picture of the Pyramid of Responsibility?
  • Section 3. Layer #1 – Dictators – Highest Culpability
  • Section 4. Layer #2 – Propagators – High Culpability
  • Section 5. Layer #3 – Extinguishers and Reinforcers – Moderate Culpability/Complicity
  • Section 6. Layer #4 – Enablers and Pawns – Lower Culpability/Complicity
  • Suggested Readings/Resources

Section 2. What’s the Big Picture of the Pyramid of Responsibility?

The Pyramid of Responsibility (c) 2014 Brad Sargent.

[All 10 illustrations in the Pyramid are © Scott Maxwell and usage is licensed from Fotolia. See details on each illustration when shown individually below.]

You might be expecting for me to lay out my theology first. Instead, I have based this post on personal experiences, because my learning styles are geared to “action-reflection” more than to “theory-into-practice.” From what I experience, I develop real-world questions that launch me into the Scriptures to explore for relevant concepts that respond to those questions. I believe that helps ensure that whatever theology I come up with covers both beliefs and behaviors. And I’ve been involved with “malignant ministries” from some very different systems. The 10 roles here come from things I’ve witnessed in all of them.

Here is how I set up my “Pyramid of Responsibility.” I put the highest level of direct involvement and therefore attributed blame (i.e., culpability) to the few in the very top Layer. Down at the bottom Layers are the lowest levels of direct abuse and therefore of culpability, but the highest levels of complicity for keeping the system afloat and therefore supporting spiritual abuse/abusers indirectly. Continue reading

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 2A – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems

Series Summary: Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse

Part 1- Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery for Spiritually Abusive Individuals and Toxic Organizations. Real-world problems in discerning what constitutes a toxic organization, who is a spiritually abusive leader, and what to do about them and others who keep a harmful system going. This post includes a list of questions. Some apply generally to any individual or organization apparently engaged in spiritually abusive practices, and some deal specifically with the current situation of the leaders and institution at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.

Part 2A and Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems. When it comes to spiritual abuse, who has higher or lower responsibility/accountability and for what – whether they are leaders preaching from the pulpit, or people sitting in the pews, or outside individuals and organizations that keep a sick system propped up? This framework is based on my own experiences of malignant ministers and ministries. I suggest a pyramid of people with different roles and levels of responsibility in creating and perpetuating a toxic system that ultimately harms people, despite any good that its leaders or members may do.

Part 3 – Onlookers Aren’t Necessarily Innocent ~ Moving Toward a Theology of Complicity. This moves from questions and initial ideas of how to organize observations, to figuring out relevant biblical concepts about levels of responsibility when things turn malignant in a ministry. I’ve been writing extensively on personal and organizational aspects of spiritual abuse since 2008. But, this is my first attempt to forge my reflections into a more coherent theological approach on moral responsibility and accountability for spiritual abuse.

The issues I’ll deal with arise out of my own experiences of figuring out peace-making responsibilities I had for reconciliation and restitution as a result of involvement in several churches that turned out to be toxic. I’ll address both the culpability of those who are primarily responsible for creating sick systems, and the complicity of those who might general consider themselves nothing but bystanders and therefore without blame. But are they innocent? I’ll also talk about how I discovered hope and help in the midst of attempting to cope with the confusion, anger, and grief of realizing I’d been victimized … and also served malignant ministers as a surrogate victimizer.

There may be a Part 4 – Current Case Studies from Abuse Survivor Communities ~ Looking for Larger Patterns. Several situations have dominated the focus of spiritual abuse survivor communities the past few years, and there is far more use of “digital dissent” and online documentation to push back on people/organizations who need to be held accountable for the direct harm they inflict under a guise of righteousness. But, this has expanded to holding “Commenders” accountable for indirectly keeping abusive people and their systems propped up though endorsements, certifications, speaking engagements, publishing contracts, positive-spin media exposure, etc. What might these patterns mean for a more transparent, accountable, and responsible Church in the internet era? Continue reading

Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 1 – Questions of Culpability, Complicity, and Recovery

Over 15 years ago, I took two week-long workshops on learning styles with Dr. Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, Inc. It was there that I finally understood some major ways that my brain processed information differently from how other people’s do. Turns out that my default setting on how my brain works best is when there’s a question asked or a problem to be solved. I truly don’t know what I think is AN answer – or THE answer –until I start talking aloud about the question or problem. And even then, it’s not the first thing that pops out of my mouth that is MY answer, it’s the last thing at the end of a trail of verbal processing, regardless of whether that took a long time or short.

There’s no easy predicting as to what questions capture my attention. It might be something mundane, or maybe something extraordinarily complex that will take me a few years of gathering information and reflecting on it before my brain is saturated enough with observations and analysis to yield a next-iteration interpretation or final opinion.

One of my favorite stories about how that works out comes from the last millennium. I was invited to give a guest lecture on culture to a seminary class in church planting. My professor friend introduced me and told a bit about my background in church planting and futurist studies and such, and then he said, “And Brad is someone who is working on answers to questions that no one else is asking yet.”

This post is about questions I’ve had that have emerged from the case study in allegations of spiritual abuse that Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and its co-founding pastor Mark Driscoll, have provided the U.S. Church. This is highly complex and grievous situation, and involves years of problematic leadership and labyrinthine organizational issues. I’ve been watching the situation especially since 2008 when I started research writing on spiritual abuse issues in depth.

Today also happens to be a day when some kind of important announcement is due from Mr. Driscoll. I’d been working on this particular series for a while and this seemed as good a day as any to begin posting. There are people in Mars Hill Church who may find help and hope from this series.

Here are short descriptions of the probable posts in this series. I’ll save extended descriptions for later, but thought I’d help to have an overview up front. Titles are tentative. (They’re kind of clunky, even if descriptive, so I’ll see if I can do better later.) Continue reading

A Brief Timeline for Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, for Understanding Ron Wheeler’s Open Letter to Mark Driscoll

In the ongoing efforts to call Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church to account for past and present behaviors, his former colleague and protégé Ron Wheeler posted the following open letter: I. Am. Not. Anonymous. In it, Mr. Wheeler details his early history with Mr. Driscoll and then says:

Soon I began traveling the nation with you, speaking at various conferences, seminars and events. It was such an honor. We became involved on the ground-floor of this new movement that was shaping the landscape of evangelical Christianity. We were on the board of Young Leader network together. We were on the Terra Nova project together. We were working with some pretty amazing people. These were the early days when there was talk of the postmodern era, and the Emergent church started “emerging” and New Calvinism had yet to emerge as a thing. It was heady stuff. It was also dangerous, as some of it started wandering far from historical orthodox Christian belief and practice. [Emphasis added.]

But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent.

For that, I could not be more sorry.

I believe this section of the open letter holds some significance, but would be hard to interpret. That’s because the history of Young Leaders Network (sponsored by Leadership Network) and its subsequent transition into the Terra Nova Project aren’t generally known. The purposes of this post are:

  1. To offer some background on the timeline of these Generation X-oriented networks.
  2. To overview some of the relevant terminology for ministry during that early part of the modern-to-postmodern transition.
  3. To suggest how that era relates to various “streams” in contemporary Christianity that came out of that period and have been coming into fruition over a decade later.

In a later post, I may summarize the ongoing controversies about Mr. Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, from my perspective as a research writer with backgrounds in studies of spiritual abuse, organizational dynamics, recovery ministry, and social transformation. But for the moment, I’ll focus on this material about Young Leaders Network and Terra Nova Project, so that section of Mr. Wheeler’s open letter has more context. Continue reading

“The Gift Is You” by David Wolf Launches July 29th

Once in a while, I post about resources worth noting. Today, I wanted to let you know about The Gift is You – a friend’s book that officially launches on Tuesday, July 29. It’s the personal story of David Wolf, a “Type A” personality doctor who delivered over 10,000 babies during his career, did medical mission work in Haiti, and mentored many other doctors – but ended up partially paralyzed from a go-kart accident at age 53, on July 29, 2001. Instead of letting such difficult circumstances stop him, David chose to roll with and around his obstacles.

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that part of God’s design is our innate desire to make a difference. When we engage that flow from our soul, the impact of our actions is like running water: It spreads out, seeps in, helps seedlings of change grow elsewhere. But what happens when barriers appear – challenges and changes, sufferings and frustrations? That water can be stoppered and the resulting lake can stagnate, but the stream of desire to make a difference just doesn’t go away. How can it find routes around, under, and/or over the inevitable barriers that life brings our way? That’s part of what tempers our character and sparks our creativity. And how David learned to navigate with grace such drastic changes in his life is what I find the most inspirational about his story.

I had the opportunity to help shape an earlier version of his book, and trust you’ll find true what the book’s subtitle says, “Encouragement for people seeking hope during life’s tough times.” The official launch day for the book is Tuesday, July 29. Check out other reviews on Amazon, and please consider purchasing on the 29th to give his book a boost! Proceeds from sales go to non-profits with ministries in Haiti and Congo.