For the past several years, January has been designated as “Spiritual Abuse Awareness” month. I’ve been intentional to post something relevant on the topic at least in January – though this is one of my major blog topics, all year round.
For 2013, it seems my focus may be shifting. I’ve been blogging here extensively on spiritual abuse the past five years, mostly on analyzing the dynamics of “malignant ministers,” spiritually abusive organizational structures, and the toxic cultures they create. Some of my writing has been on personal recovery issues, and it seems some new dimensions on this topic are on line for me to explore this year …
Much of my practical synthesis of materials comes out of questions raised by personal experiences, and this year’s writings incorporate those, plus what I’ve been learning from the experiences of others. Probably one of the most intriguing things to emerge during my times of reflection on 2012 and “prayerparation” for 2013 is a list of recovery-related questions to work on answering this year. Here it is, as of January 29, 2013:
How do we dismantle a toxic culture that grew up around spiritually abusive leaders, their faulty doctrines (authoritarianism, patriarchalism, legalism, perfectionism, etc.), and the organizational structures that institutionalized those anti-biblical rules?
Or can any of it even be salvaged? If so, how do you flush out the poisons to clear up the system?
More specifically, if malignant ministers leave a church – but they’ve left their toxic imprint on the organization’s leadership strategies, structures, and training – how does that infrastructure affect the next wave of leaders, if they don’t do anything to change it?
Even if a group of people left over from when a toxic church folds start a new church, what do they need to watch out for in order to ensure it has the healthiest start possible? Or would they do better just to assimilate in somewhere else that they’ve discerned is relatively healthy?
When you’ve had a multiple-generation-long history of toxicity in a church/ministry, what impact does that have on those who were children, reared in it during their formative years? What unique problems might they face, assuming they even continue seeking to follow the way of Jesus and don’t just drop out because of the spiritual abuse they experienced?
How do we best help people who are exiting out of long-term involvement in malignant ministries as they begin to realize different aspects of how it victimized them – and how they, unwittingly and perhaps even unwillingly, victimized others through the faulty values, beliefs, and practices promoted by that toxic organization?
I don’t have fully developed responses yet. But, with the upcoming Sovereign Grace Ministries [SGM] class action lawsuit and the Calvary Chapel/Grenier defamation lawsuit – which is due to start up February 19 – and other antics of “malignant ministries,” I believe these kinds of questions will be important to address. There are more and more people joining the “nones” category in religious preference, and many of them are survivors of spiritual abuse. Also, there are more people who figure out their church leaders are abusive, because they pull some kind of stunt that makes even their loyalest followers feel like fools.
Also, especially in relation to the SGM lawsuit, people who’ve attended there are becoming more aware of how deeply the doctrines, practices, and authoritarian styles of their leaders have tainted them. And then what do they do? Something like 20% of the churches that were in the SGM “association” network a year ago have already left … what “unholy hangovers” do their leaders and members need to deal with in the aftermath of their split from the SGM network? So, these questions are very practical for the recovery of God’s people.
Last year’s defamation lawsuit of O’Neal/Beaverton Grace Bible Church [BGBC] versus Julie Anne Smith and four other defendants was grueling. It’s very possible that the upcoming SGM and Calvary Chapel/Grenier lawsuits may be just as difficult for taking in all the details. I’m not sure how closely I will be following them, but I have written some analysis pieces on the BGBC lawsuit, and those may be helpful for gaining some wisdom on the upcoming cases. (I’ll add links later.) Instead of writing about these other lawsuits specifically, I expect I will be finishing a series of curriculum books on how to deconstruct a malignant ministry and reconstruct one that is healthy and sustainable.