Response to Ben Reed’s Article on “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder”

Introduction

One of my long-time friends who is a serial survivor of spiritual abuse in churches, contacted me about Ben Reed’s article on ChurchLeaders, about “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder.” He asked me what I thought about it. This post is the result of my spending the morning, working through the article.

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Overall Impressions

Since 2007, I’ve written extensively on spiritually abusive systems. This portfolio includes a dozen case studies (for links, see the navigation sidebar, 2 CASE STUDIES AND ARTICLES), content analysis of books on abuse and personal recovery, sets of indicators for identifying malignant leaders and toxic systems, and practical how-to’s for when rehabilitation is/isn’t appropriate. I’m currently completing the first of four volumes in a training course on how to deal with toxic systems and how to set up healthy systems (see Futuristguy’s Field Guides site).

Toxic systems are complex phenomena that can involve multiple sources (e.g., malignant leaders, troublesome congregants, toxic infrastructures) and sequels (staying when you should leave, leaving when you could stay, PTSD, “nones, dones, and gones”). In comparing Ben Reed’s article at ChurchLeaders on “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder” with those categories, I found some helpful points, but felt it was more problematic than not.

I do believe the article embodies his well-meaning attempt to address some very real problems in churches, and it does include some accurate indicators of sick leadership. However, in my opinion, Mr. Reed oversimplifies both causes and correctives. He also mixes up categories of people involved; there is a significant difference between a “troubled” congregant (who is being crushed by those in leadership) and “troublesome congregants” (who are attempting to override those in leadership). He seems to put the weight of change on those who genuinely experience misuse of power/authority in a Christian church or ministry context – rather than on those responsible to remove unqualified and disqualified leaders.

And, from all I’ve personally experienced and heard from other survivors of spiritual abuse, that flip of the responsibility script will inevitably bring more harm than help to congregants. I’m concerned that his article can easily leave conscientious people feeling guilty, as if they’re causing dissension in the church, when in fact they’re discerning overlording by those who should be removed from leadership in the church.

Also, Mr. Reed apparently recommends that people stay and try to change themselves and the toxic church they’re in. However, in my long-term readings of books and blogs on recovery from spiritual abuse, the overwhelming pattern suggests the wisest general course of action is to leave a church where there are indicators of overlording leadership. Here are details on my conclusions and why I find this article problematic … Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #1

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Four: Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities

NOTE: This series was originally designed to be three posts, with this one being on positive trends and continuing challenges in survivor blog communities. However, I am splitting this into two posts so they are shorter, and the series will conclude with a few continuing challenges.

Introduction

Part of what I do in research writing focuses on analyzing paradigm systems. This means I am looking at multiple parts, how they work together, gaps and excesses that create inherent problems that turn the system toxic or otherwise prevent health and sustainability for the individuals and institutions aligned with that paradigm.

The aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections and the rancorous social media fights that ensued left me asking more questions than usual about social media. (And I have in mind primarily Facebook, Twitter, and blogs here.) I believe a series of generic problems can limit the usefulness of these communication forms. And, some of these flaws tend to get amplified in survivor blogging.

So, for this final topic in this series, I will present what I see as the general problem and then some of the ways this can work out to be more difficult in survivor communities posts. And, as I noted in Part Two, I’m speaking here at the big-picture level, which means there are likely many individual exceptions to the generalizations.

I’ll be splitting Part Four three segments, with one challenge in each:

  1. The problems of working with words.
  2. The natural limits of crowd-sourced fact gathering.
  3. The lack of a civil and conciliatory society.

Continue reading

Watergate and the White House: Case Study Resources

Is America in a new kind of Watergate situation of corroded systems of government power, where checks and balances are being pushed to the limit — and perhaps beyond?

I recently completed a preliminary survey of primary sources from the Watergate era, and other resources that analyze and interpret those times in their historical context. The article below is excerpted from the chapter I wrote based on those studies. Check out some of these materials, and discern and decide for yourself whether comparisons between Watergate and contemporary American politics are justified, and if so, in what aspects and to what degree. ~ brad/futuristguy

Introducing the Wider Watergate Scandals

“Breaking and entering. Wiretapping. Destruction of government documents. Forgery of State Department documents and letters. Secret slush funds. Plans to audit tax returns for political retaliation. Conspiracy to obstruct justice. All of this by the ‘law and order’ administration of Richard Nixon. Sounds bad when you put it like that, huh?” ~ Political commentator and TV show host Rachel Maddow, in Watergate 40th anniversary documentary, “All the President’s Men Revisited.”

For the Field Guide chapter I wrote on discernment and decision-making, I picked the Watergate scandals as the overarching situation for case studies. These could be used to highlight many topics about toxic leaders and their sick systems. I focused on investigations conducted by teams, compositing evidences and discernments, and addressing system corruption.

Initial news of the Watergate scandal broke the summer before my senior year in high school. And then, for the next two years, Watergate-related news became almost daily fare – it seemed inescapable! Maybe that’s because details came out in dribs and drabs, and took many months before they could be glued together into a larger picture. Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Three

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Three: Positive Trends in Survivor Blog Communities

NOTE: This series was originally designed to be three posts, with this one being on positive trends and continuing challenges in survivor blog communities. However, I am splitting this into two posts so they are shorter, and the series will conclude with a few continuing challenges.

Introduction

Most of these trends are relatively brief. I’m seeing what I interpret as enough points of evidence to sense that something important is going on, even if the trend is still emerging from the fog and the direction it’s heading is uncertain.

The challenges, on the other hand, seem clear enough from a longer stream of online incidents. It also seems like they will always be with us in survivor blogging. Recent events that I mentioned in the Introduction to Part One have brought a few particular challenges to the forefront.

So, here are what I see as positive trends, for your consideration. Because a number of the cases I’ve drawn from involve behind-the-scenes activities, I won’t be mentioning specific details for them, or for the continuing challenges in Part Four. Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Two – Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Two: Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs

Introduction

Over the years, I’ve seen blogs that post supposedly “negative” articles about the Church critiqued as being self-authorized, self-centered, and self-congratulating watchdog operations. According to opponents, blogs dealing with abuse are just out to cause a ruckus and tear down the Church as the Bride of Christ.

One of the key problems for critics, though, is this: How many churches, denominations, and ministry networks authorize and protect whistle-blowers who warn leaders and members alike against internal malignancy and toxicity? What ongoing processes do you have to ensure those in roles of influence haven’t gone off the rails and are inflicting damage to Christ’s disciples by their own shepherding overlordship?

If prophetic voices must work from the outside because all internal checks have failed, so be it. Jesus Christ spoke up and acted in defense of those who were weak and harmed by others – and against those who misused their position and power to the detriment of others. How is He a role model to us in ways we should confront corrosion and corruption within the Church?

Part One in this series on Survivor Blogging Trends 2017 summarized five years of previous articles on trends. Part Two looks at two issues I’m seeing as coming into the foreground.

  • First, how critics of survivor bloggers seem to conflate them with discernment blogs when they’re not, and some thoughts on sources of conflict they have with survivor blogs.
  • Second, things known probably just by those who host survivor blogs and write for them, about the reflection and restraint that goes on behind the scenes.

Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part One – Past Articles (2012-2016) on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part One: Past Articles (2012-2016)

on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities

Introduction

I have been blogging since 2003, and in 2007 I began addressing surviving spiritual abuse – mostly from the perspective of investigative research writing on malignant leadership and toxic systems. I’ve written a dozen or so case studies on spiritually abusive situations, scattered across the spectrum of theologies and organizational forms. So I’m not a newbie to blogging or survivor blogging, or to many issues of conflict that arise.

One of the most recent relates to a so-called “crisis of authority” (especially for women who post their views online) and “beware of broken wolves.”

Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere? (The age of the Internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.) by Tish Harrison Warren, via Christianity Today. See also her response to critics, posted on her blog: New CT Piece on Authority in the Church and Social Media: A Response to Critics.

Beware of Broken Wolves, by Joe Carter, via The Gospel Coalition.

The fast and furious interchanges sparked by these posts brought up some reflections on survivor blogging. So, I decided it was time to add these to my occasional series that I started in 2012 on trends in spiritual abuse survivor communities. Here’s the plan:

  • Part 1: Past Articles on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2016)
  • Part 2: Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs
  • Part 3: Positive Trends and Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities

Final thoughts in introducing this year’s trends: I hope I am known as a reasonable researcher on abusive systems, and also as a relatively fair-minded critic of our own survivor communities. I’m sure not everything I write goes down well in both of those circles, but I see my role as calling people to consider the larger picture of the organizational cultures we create and ways we misuse power in them. The squishy business of identifying and tracking trends, and giving reasoned speculation to where their trajectories may lead, is part of that role. Before I launch into what I think I see unfolding in 2017, here is the series of articles on trends that I’ve posted in the past five years, to bring you up to date. Continue reading

Training Series: Next-to-Last Draft of Field Guide #1 is Done!

Yesterday I completed the last workbook segment that goes into Field Guide #1 of 4 on systemic abuse, recovery, advocacy, activism, and setting up organizations geared to intervene in/prevent abuse of power. Some beta-readers have been giving me valuable feedback, and there is more clean-up work to do until this next-to-final draft is ready for next steps.

I’ll be giving my brain a break while I catch up on other projects that need completion. But, milestone moments are also a good time to back away from details for a bit, take a look at the big picture again, and give thanks for the process. So, here’s an overview of the providential production of this Do Good Plus Do No Harm curriculum series. Continue reading