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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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