Spiritual Abusers, Toxic Systems, and God’s "Gestalt of Grace"

January is "Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month"

January is “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month”

January is Spiritual Abuse Awareness month, and this article on the bigger picture of God’s grace is the last that I plan on posting in my series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse, which I started on my futuristguy blog in 2008 (see the link for an index of all posts).

Summary. It is January 31st – last day of “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month” for 2011 – and I finally finished the last projected post in my series on recovery from spiritual abuse. It deals with our wrestling with the bigger picture of God’s providence and with what may be our biggest questions as survivors:

* Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?

* Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?

* Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

This is my best attempt to tease out some of the perplexities and complexities of trusting that God is truly in control, even over situations where spiritual power mongers do their thing and it SEEMS like they face no consequences … Still, God is at work both behind the scenes and on the front stage to benefit each individual involved and the community as a whole, to bring them all to wholeness. He is keeping the entire system of both individuals and community in mind, doing what is best for everyone and not only any particular one.

The past few years, I have written extensively on the subject of spiritual abuse. The topics I’ve addressed include:

  • Personal lessons I’ve learned from surviving toxic leaders in all kinds of community- and ministry-related settings: church and parachurch, university and seminary, non-profit agency and for-profit business.
  • Practicing a process of discernment and applying it to situations that apparently are abusive.
  • Toxic versus healthy organizational dynamics.
  • Identifying different kinds of abusive leaders, and what might make particular people the most susceptible to falling into the traps of specific types of abusers.
  • Specific strategies and tactics that various kinds of abusive leaders use to gain and maintain control over their “subjects.”
  • Power dynamics and what drives most perpetrators of spiritual abuse.
  • Recovery and restoration processes.

These issues are not theory for me. They are based in multiple gut-wrenching experiences, processed over many many years. So, what knowledge and wisdom I have gained has come out of great personal cost through suffering and healing.

And yet, today’s post may be the most difficult one I’ve written on the subject to date – not because it will necessarily be so controversial. Instead, it is difficult because it deals with a cluster of complexities and perplexities that we who have survived abuse may be the most reluctant or ill-equipped to consider. And that revolves around issues of “theodicy” – God justifying His character when things in the world don’t seem to mesh with who He says He is:

  • Why does God allow abusive people to stay in leadership roles?
  • Why do “good” things still happen to “bad” people like that?
  • Why did the perpetrator’s abuses and their protectors’ excuses cost me everything and seemingly cost them nothing?

Perhaps these questions represent the pinnacle of:

  • Our anger and frustration about the abuse we endured.
  • Our secret revengeful hopes at times for punishment on those who abused us and those who enabled the abusers through their active complicity or their enabling passivity.
  • Our exasperation at a God who let this happen and seems to have done nothing about it.

We hurt. Others hurt for us. We hurt others because we hurt. And often, it looks like those who violated us through their false authority are doing just fine, thank you very much. But let me suggest that all is not necessarily as it appears with perpetrators of spiritual abuse.

Every person will be held accountable to God for every word and every deed. That’s future.

Whatever was hidden in the darkness will be revealed in the light. No one can escape that revealed reality, even when it looks like misdeeds are staying hidden. (Matthew 10:26. Romans 14:10. 2 Corinthians 5:10. 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 4:5.) So, a time of judgment is coming. But that’s in the far-away future. So … what about now? What about right now and in the very near future?

I know this is speculative, but my gut intuition is that God is actually holding the larger situation in check, even while a toxic leader seemingly gets to continue doing exactly what they’ve been doing. Spiritually abusive leaders typically have a deep lust for power – to exercise control over others and over circumstances. Is it possibly the case that God has cornered them into situations that actually prevent them from achieving the full level of what their lust would drive them toward? Yes, some people are still being hurt thereby. But is it possible that God has providentially arranged to limit the destructive impact of a toxic leader so it is far less than it would be otherwise?

From my experiences I would suggest this:

Every perpetrator has likely already done some kind of irrevocable, irrefutable deed or patchwork of problems that reveals who they really are. The documentation, the depositions, the details on the internet – sooner or later, the evidences of their ill-done deeds will eventually catch up with them – perhaps far sooner than they, or we, expect. Not only that, but those who reinforced the perpetrator, either as an active protector or a passive bystander, likewise often get found out.

I have known spiritual abusers in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Each and every single one of them did something that cannot be taken back … only covered up, or explained away, or met with a false apology that is not sustained by real repentance. The abuser’s attempt to retrench and retake their position of power does not remove the event, or the witnesses, or the damage, or the consequences. Their track record of lacking integrity will eventually catch up with them. For instance, here is what happened with some of those I know who perpetrated spiritual abuse:

  • Their toxic organization imploded and they lost their job.
  • They were asked to leave, fired, or forced out.
  • They succumbed to severe mental illness when they could no longer cope with or control their situation through manipulating others, and required psychiatric intervention.
  • They had to continue worrying about whether lawsuits, IRS investigations, or even criminal charges would be launched against them for malfeasance, misuse of non-profit resources, harassment, etc.
  • They wanted to become a “big fish in a big pond” and have great influence, and instead got stuck in a role as a minor celebrity – a small fish in a pond that is/was/will be evaporated.
  • They suffered from serious physical symptoms and health problems due to stress as their tactics began to fail and their façade of power began to crumble.
  • They became isolated from roles of influence as people heard stories of their toxicity. They eventually lost project partners, service opportunities, friends, co-workers, endorsers, etc.
  • Details and questions about abusive actions and unresolved indiscretions remain posted on the internet as permanent reminders of what they did and/or what they failed to do; like one’s credit rating, their internet reputation now follows them wherever on earth they go, from that day of posting forward.

Perpetrators are not happy people, regardless of how they appear on the surface and regardless of the adrenaline “rush” they get from exercising their addiction to power. Their ruse of spirituality will not remain intact forever, and the consequences and accountability for their masquerade of meanness will dog them. And perhaps that is exactly what must happen – the collapse of their illusion of control – for God’s grace and mercy to break through in their life in order for the Holy Spirit to bring in transformation. God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of a spiritual bully as He does about anyone and everyone else.

And here is what happened with some of those who protected, supported, and covered up for the perpetrators of spiritual abuse:

  • In the process of supporting an abusive pastor/leader and perpetuating the related toxic system, they ended up losing thousands of dollars in funds and other assets that they had turned over to the church/organization. This was the reality, regardless of whether they ever repented of their involvement in perpetuating a toxic system. What they gave was gone.
  • They came to their senses when they realized they themselves had been victimized – deceived, manipulated, controlled – or when they experienced some kinds of losses – funds, fame, or “face” – that hit them in the heart and softened them to the truth.
  • They experienced guilt and shame and remorse, and sought to make things right with those who’d been hurt by the abuser they had protected, and therefore had been hurt by them as protectors. Some even attempted to confront the abuser(s).
  • They apologized, or at least acknowledged that I was not crazy but had actually identified rightly that there were abuses going on. They became open to me where previously they had closed their heart and mind to me as a person and to my perspective on the situation.
  • They sought me out to inform me about what had happened with the perpetrator(s), and sometimes to ask me to help them process their experiences and find peace, resolution, and recovery.

Protectors are not happy people either. Their foolishness will eventually come to light and they will not be able to hide in the shadow of the abuser whom they shielded. And still, God cares as much about the conversion and Christlike transformation of bystanders who let a spiritual bully do his/her thing as He does about anyone and everyone else, including the perpetrators of abuse.

But still, that all is tentative (even if probable) and it is still lurking in the future. What about NOW?

The present is perhaps the most vexing for we who are survivors, when abusive leaders continue their counterfeit ministry apparently unimpeded. But let me offer two radical suggestions. (1) This is not all about us as individuals, and (2) the Holy Spirit is doing far more behind the scenes in our community or congregation than we realize.

Grace has often been described as “God loving us unconditionally and providing things we DON’T deserve,” while the complementary counter-concept of mercy is “God NOT giving us what we DO deserve.”

So, here is a question for us to consider:

If we received retribution for what we have done in our own life, would the consequences be any less dire than what we feel the abuse perpetrators and their protectors deserve?

I believe the concept of gestalt fits here. The Wikipedia article on gestalt defines this term as the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.” In my understanding, gestalt is about being holistic in our observations, processing, and interpretations. Using it as a verb, if we “gestalt” something, we take in what appears on the surface as well as intuit the interrelations among various things in the situation. For instance, if you watch the TV programs Lie to Me or Human Target or Castle, you see how characters who have a lot of “people smarts” or “street smarts” can walk into a room where there a party is going on and “read” the body language and expressions to gather information instantaneously on who appears to be there for what reasons and who looks suspicious and why.

My main point here is this: We as individuals are not the only ones hurt by a spiritual abuser. An entire system of people gets harmed by the actions of abusers and those who shield them. In other words, abuse harms an entire community as a whole, not just a number of isolated individuals. And so, recovery is not only about what I as an individual must go through to find healing and then ongoing health, but what this whole interconnected network of people – perpetrator, protectors, survivors who escaped, and victims still in the situation – must undergo in order to find healing and then ongoing health (if possible).

Also, to sustain health, the congregation must confront and revamp their entire system of organizational structures (such as constitution, by-laws, doctrinal statement, ministry structure, leadership selection process, process of documentation for decisions, etc.) that supported the perpetuation of abuse. If that is never addressed, you can expect another user to take advantage of both individuals and the community.

But we cannot do this except from a “gestalt of God’s grace” with the Holy Spirit surrounding us, empowering us, transforming us to become more Christlike. If we try this purely in our own personal power, we will fail – and in fact, may become like the very people we are so focused on stopping from further abuse.

What about now? Yes, if at all possible, abusers should be confronted and removed from ministry roles through a biblically appropriate process. Nowhere does the New Testament indicate that abusive leaders get a free pass to stay in their roles of power. But if they are not removed, then we need to persevere with God’s providence in the situation and allow things to continue unfolding.

That does not mean being silent or protecting toxic people or toxic organizations. It does mean letting God render grace and mercy for everyone in the entire community system, and not just deal with the responsible individuals and the recovering survivors as individuals. It also means giving up our demands to control their destiny and perhaps to require a specific form of consequence; to attempt to control them – isn’t that just reversing what they did to us?

From all the Scriptures I’ve reflected on for years about “New Testament leadership,” authority, trust, abuse of power, grace, mercy, transformation, etc., I’m fairly sure that what I’ve just said is accurate. I’m not so sure that I like it. I see power-mongers as so prevalent in the churches – preying on both the naive and the courageous – that I’d rather see them all swept out at once. There are days when I’d like to see a little bit of fire and brimstone reign right in on those in a “BULLY pulpit”!

However, on my better days, I do hope for a more gentle and humble and persevering approach to change for all of us. And I suspect we together will be far more amazed at God’s goodness, power, and love, when we perhaps get a greater glimpse of His multiplicity of purposes that were accomplished through His kindness [not “niceness”] which led to repentances and helping everyone involved deal with consequences of abuse. And won’t that make an even more dramatic ending for the plotline of our interwoven stories as a community?

May we experience God’s grace and mercy in our sufferings caused by spiritual abuser, and may we extend Christlike grace and mercy to everyone, both inside and outside our community of faith …

7 thoughts on “Spiritual Abusers, Toxic Systems, and God’s "Gestalt of Grace"

  1. Brad,

    I just found your site for the first time because of an Andrew Jones blog. I moved from fg1 to fg2, and I am glad to read what I read. Multi-syllable words and multi-step processes of thinking and concluding are not everyone’s cup of tea, so I can see how the world of evangelicalism is not ready for a Cultural Studies Center.

    I resonate with the spiritual abuse stuff for similar reasons you mention. I did a search on your site for anything by Jeff Van Vonderen, Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, and came up nil. I don’t know if you have ever met Jeff or read anything by him, but an EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT resource of his, DVD series Wounded by Shame Healed by Grace, though outdated, has been a HUGE part of recovery for my wife and me.

    Do you know him or his stuff?

    God bless abundantly all you are saying and doing. May it find fertile soil and grow up into a great crop.

    • Yo Matt, thanks for your encouragement, and for the recommendation.

      Last things first: I read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen, probably around when it first was published in the early 1990s, and did find it very very helpful. I need to add an annotated bibliography to the stuff on spiritual abuse, but most of my books on that subject are in storage. Ah well … perhaps there is just one more post in that series. Thanks for the additional suggestion on Jeff’s series.

      As to your encouragement: My blogging is an attempt to at least get out of my head and onto e-paper what I’m thinking (and what’s in my brain is in even more multi-syllables than what shows up in fg1/fg2!). It’s really hard to translate the language level at the same time as moving forward while trying to maintain momentum. So it emerges as it does. Ah well … But my philosophy has been that it’s better to post something, even if it’s dense, than nothing. Those who choose to wade through it may find something of use.

      And perhaps you hit some of the key reasons why there likely never will be this kind of Cultural Studies Center (brick and mortar kind, that is), and I’ve had to give a final burial to that dream and I do not expect it to be resurrected. (Yes, I am in the process of eBaying away the materials I had collected, and that is, I believe, what I need to be doing right now.) My approach/material is too much thinking and/or vocabulary for some, too much practitioner matter for others, too irritatingly bibliteral for those who use the scriptures as an inspiration but nothing much else, too much whatever for to many whoevers. But again, my philosophy has been that it’s better to be obedient. When we’re doing what we were designed for, we may be in God’s creative flow of things, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of other people get it.

      Thanks for being one who did!

  2. Hi. Wow, that was an amazing article! I just found it through a Google search. You’ve answered a lot of things that I’ve wondered myself about spiritual abuse.

    You wrote:

    “If we received retribution for what we have done in our own life, would the consequences be any less dire than what we feel the abuse perpetrators and their protectors deserve?”

    Yes, the consequences would be far less dire IMO. Why? Because I don’t know *anybody* who has negatively affected my life like spiritual abusers. My father is not a Christian and has done some really abusive things to me in the past, but his abuse didn’t even come close to affecting me like spiritual abuse. And a while back, I had this really close friend (or so I thought) for over 4 years–we would talk at least weekly, etc. She became a Christian in the last year of our friendship too. Anyway, one day she just decided to completely break off contact and never talked to me again. She just ignored me, and never gave me a reason. (I can speculate on why, but that doesn’t excuse it in the slightest.) That type of behavior is really cruel–and just plain sick. But did her behavior affect me the same way as ministers who perpetrate spiritual abuse? Not even close. She hurt me badly, but she didn’t devastate the core of my being. I never thought of suicide or anything after she ended our friendship. However, I did have thoughts of suicide after being the victim of spiritual abuse.

    So, in a nutshell, yes, I think the retribution that spiritual abusers deserve is far greater than anything average laypeople deserve. James 3:1 seems to imply that IMO. [“Not many of you should presume to be teachers … because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” NIV.] Here’s another way to think of it. Let’s say that you walk down a street in a rough part of town, and some shady character calls you a vulgar name and spits in your face. Would that be traumatic? Certainly. Would it be something that would scar you for life? If you talked about it with others and/or got counseling, then probably not. Now, let’s say you are in a room with Billy Graham. Let’s say that, once everybody else has left, he calls you a vulgar name and spits in your face. Would that be something that would scar you for life? Quite possibly. 🙂

    Anyway, I’d like to get your opinion about this matter, which wasn’t directly mentioned in your article. I’ve had 3 incidents of spiritual abuse which left huge scars on me. I’ll just talk about the last one. It occurred many years ago. We’ll call the offending minister “Joe.” Way back then, my life was a complete nightmare. It would take too long to explain everything that was going on, but trust me–it’s one of the worst, most horrible situations you could ever be in. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on anybody. My life looked completely hopeless, with no way out. Anyway, I wrote Joe, a minister who worked with a well-known healing ministry, a letter. I kind of “let it all hang out” in my letter, but looking back, I couldn’t really help it, because I was desperate to find some hope. I thought maybe he could help me. WRONG. He sent me a letter back, and it felt like it had come straight from hell. Accusatory, condemning, angry, etc. Proverbs 12:18a comes to mind. [“Reckless words pierce like a sword.” NIV.]

    (Actually, I do think there was a demonic element to it. I definitely believe that Satan and his minions know exactly how to tempt ministers to hurt others severely.) After I read his letter, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty, and I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. And I started to have serious thoughts of suicide. OK, I’ll stop there. 🙂

    That was well over a decade ago. To make a long story short, that letter left an awful scar on me. A few months ago, I wrote about my experience with Joe on the Great Nonprofits website. It had a listing for his ministry. In my review of his ministry, I did not pull any punches. I stated flat-out that his verbal abuse nearly drove me to suicide. Anyway, I just discovered that, about a week ago, he responded to what I wrote. He sounded very contrite and remorseful, said he honestly did not remember the incident, asked me for my forgiveness for how he had hurt me, etc. He definitely sounded sincere. It was kind of a shock. I eventually plan to respond to what he wrote, but I’m not in any hurry.

    So here are my questions. Based on what he wrote, it seems pretty clear to me that Joe wasn’t really aware of his abuse. And he sounded remorseful and grieved to think of how we could have hurt me so badly.

    1) Assuming that Joe has been reasonably repentant all these years, how could God honestly let him go on thinking that he’s been doing a decent job when he hurt someone like me so badly? It’s not as if he were just a little abrasive–his words truly felt like death to me. Does Joe have to wait for over a decade for me to post about my experience on the Internet before he gets a clue that he even “might have” done something abusive???? I just don’t get it. Sometimes, it’s hard not to wonder, “Is God even doing His job?”

    2) Let’s say that Joe has completely repented now for any hurt that he knows he caused me. Will the fact that he seemingly didn’t even know that he was being abusive excuse him from paying the consequences of causing someone a terrible scar for well over a decade (and counting)? His apology isn’t just going to magically “make it right.” It’s like, “too little, too late.” It makes me think of the expression, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If I unknowingly park somewhere that’s illegal, I can still get a ticket, whether I meant well or not. I would like to know what the consequences of the abuse of someone like Joe will be. As I said, abusive actions from people I know, many of whom were *purposely* being vicious, didn’t even affect me close to the way that spiritual abuse from a careless minister (whom I had never even met) did.

    The Bible says that when we know the truth, it will set us free, so hopefully the answers to these questions is something that will be freeing and let us know that God really does know what He’s doing and can indeed be trusted to render just judgment.

    Do I expect you to “know” the answers to these questions? 🙂 I think we can only make educated guesses about them. But I would be interested in your opinions. Thanks for offering any insight. And again, excellent article.

    • Hi Sam, and thanks for your patience in waiting for me to post your comment and respond. I could not get to this sooner due to unavoidable life circumstances (otherwise known as work, health, and all those other obligations that have to take precedence over pastime blogging …).

      As it is for many of us survivors, the wounds you suffered went deep and take time to heal. Proverbs 12:18 that you referred to is especially powerful: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (NIV)

      I don’t know that I have very much more to add in responding to the questions you posed about the situation with “Joe” at the end of your comment. But I would say this: all this Job kind of suffering takes time to work through until a sense of personal restoration and even joy returns.

      On the other side of the coin, all of us are both victims and victimizers, in varying degrees. All of us have areas of brokenness – some that we are aware of already, and some that we aren’t aware of yet. We don’t know what was going in Joe’s heart during the decade between what he did and when you let him know about the impact it had, but, from the overall flow of Scripture, we have to trust that God is constantly at work in the hearts of His people to conform us all more fully into the image of His Son. Have you and I done things to others where it took a decade or more for that to come to light? I suspect so … The Holy Spirit works on whichever areas God chooses to bring into the light at any given time. We don’t set that agenda (though at times I think I’d really REALLY like to! … for someone else, that is).

      In short, we all have areas of unknown brokenness and sin, where the damage we inflict on ourselves and others is unintentional – but still very real. All of us have areas of known sin and brokenness, where our damage-causing actions are quite intentional. Even the Levitical system of offerings recognized this reality. The sin and trespass offerings were compulsory, and addressed acknowledgement of guilt, the need for cleansing, and restoration of relationship. Offerings were required when a previously unknown sin came to light, and also when the sin was known and intentional. (See especially Leviticus 5:15-19.)

      Part of being the Body of Christ is helping one another understand and face up to the impact of sin and brokenness – both where the underlying sources/damage are known/intentional and unknown/unintentional. Hopefully all of us become more open-hearted about our need to be transformed so we inflict less damage on ourselves and others, and demonstrate to the world a Christlike way of being healthy in community.

      Okay, hope that’s of some help.

  3. Thanks for your response, futuristguy.

    “But I would say this: all this Job kind of suffering takes time to work through until a sense of personal restoration and even joy returns.”

    That makes sense. But I’m not sure some wounds ever completely heal in this life.

    “We don’t know what was going in Joe’s heart during the decade between what he did and when you let him know about the impact it had, but, from the overall flow of Scripture, we have to trust that God is constantly at work in the hearts of His people to conform us all more fully into the image of His Son. Have you and I done things to others where it took a decade or more for that to come to light? I suspect so … ”

    Yes, but again, nobody I know has ever wounded me like a careless spiritual abuser, even when they were being purposely malicious. God isn’t going to judge the actions of your average John Doe in the same way that he will a minister who has been placed in a position of great authority. It’s kind of like being the pilot of an airplane. You may mean well, but if you’re careless, you could cost hundreds of people their lives.

    I remember right after 9/11, at a memorial service, Billy Graham said something that kind of shocked me. He said that the question of evil and suffering has never truly been resolved to his satisfaction. I thought that was an extremely honest thing to say. And I have to agree with him. I think there are a lot of things that will never completely make sense to us in this life.

    “The Holy Spirit works on whichever areas God chooses to bring into the light at any given time. We don’t set that agenda (though at times I think I’d really REALLY like to! … for someone else, that is).”

    True. In the case of my spiritual abuser, he worked with a ministry that constantly teaches about hearing the voice of God. They pray and (supposedly) get very specific words from God. In my case, it’s unfathomable to me why God wouldn’t have said to him, “You just wrote a very abusive letter.” I guess I just won’t try to completely make sense of it.

    “Part of being the Body of Christ is helping one another understand and face up to the impact of sin and brokenness – both where the underlying sources/damage are known/intentional and unknown/unintentional. ”

    That makes sense, but I decided that I’m probably not going to respond to the abusive minister on that Web site I mentioned earlier. What am I going to say? “Thank you for your apology”? I think I’m just going to let him wonder what he did.

    Anyway, thanks again for your response.

  4. I was thinking about this topic a bit more. It seems to me that a minister is a lot like a physician, except for the spirit/soul instead of the body.

    Let’s say that you have a doctor who operates on you, and, because of gross negligence, does a really bum job. Let’s say that you end up with chronic pain (for life, seemingly), in a coma, or perhaps even dead. What is the proper response to such a situation? Assuming that you’re still conscious (i.e., not in a coma or dead), should you be thinking, “You know, I’ve been negligent at times too. One time, I wasn’t watching our kid closely enough, and he ended up swallowing about 1/4 cup of shampoo”? Or “A few years ago, I wasn’t really paying attention, and I ran a red light and rear-ended somebody. It caused a lot of damage, and even hurt the neck of someone in the car”? I would say that, in the end, what you did or didn’t do in the past is completely irrelevant to the doctor’s negligence. If he was negligent, then he deserves to “pay,” whatever that is. He may deserve a big lawsuit. The fact that you are an imperfect human being who doesn’t always do everything right has no bearing on the doctor’s negligence and/or incompetence IMO. They’re entirely separate issues.

    I think it’s a lot like that with spiritual abuse. The spiritual abuser deserves to suffer the consequences of his or her abuse. (Of course, I’m not talking about borderline cases such as when a minister becomes a bit snippy or says something slightly rude, and then apologizes. I’m talking about spiritual abuse that causes great damage.) The fact that the victim is not a complete Mother Teresa in every area of his or her life is beside the point. Of course, we should never take vengeance into our own hands, but we should do everything that is (rightly) in our power to ensure that justice is served. The Internet is a great place to do that–tell your story, loud and clear. And tell others you know. Let that person’s reputation deservedly suffer. Pray that the abuse of that person will be exposed for all to see. Furthermore, there’s no reason not to use imprecatory prayers either IMO, if one so chooses. King David did that in the Bible. And in Luke 18, we have the story of the persistent widow who kept on saying, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” Ultimately, it’s up to God how He will answer our prayers, but I definitely think we should do our part and not just passively “leave everything in His hands.”

    Anyway, hopefully I explained my point clearly enough.

    • Yup. Makes sense. As an acquaintance stated: “Sins on the part of the confronter do not negate the confrontation.” I would never knowingly imply that a victim “deserves” what happens to him/her because he/she is imperfect. If there is a need to confront a spiritual abuser – especially a toxic leader who is in a role of power/authority – and if God is leading, then I’d say to do it.

      One of the other blog posts in this series notes that I made a commitment not to protect serial abusers. There is substantial biblical support for the fact that abusive, angry, untruthful, immature, self-centered people disqualify themselves from roles of authority over others in the realm of spirituality/church/ministry. Their actions are not my fault – I didn’t “cause” them to do what toxic behaviors they chose to inflict on me and/or others.

      When there is a reason to expose an abusive person’s behavior, the way I tend to preface my remarks these days goes something like this: “There is a demonstrated and verifiable pattern in [name of the person]‘s life of [specify the issue(s): misuse of power, not following through on their word, spiritual abuse, verbal abuse, uncontrollable anger, misuse of church personnel and/or resources, control tactics, aggressive attitudes and behaviors, ignoring those they’ve caused conflict with, dramatically slanting the facts to protect themselves, etc. etc. etc. whatever is documented and verifiable.] You need to know that they have been confronted on this issue [by me / by leaders / by church members / by staff members / by multiple people] and have consistently refused to take responsibility for their actions. If necessary, I can give you a list of people willing to be interviewed who can confirm these details and conclusions.”

      I’ve had to practice that speech more than a few times so that I am not caught off guard when there is a need to respond about people who demonstrate a pattern of abuse.

      This is an unpleasant task, but it is not about run-of-the-mill sin. This is about patterns that inflict great harm on people. And aren’t there enough biblical passages telling us that those who remain silent about others’ sins share in their guilt? Not talking about gossip here, but silence that protects, covers up, condones the abusive sins of others … This is about exposing evil and protecting others if/when the opportunity arises.

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