Spiritual Abuse Survivors: The “Community” Becomes a “Movement”

January is "Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month"

January is “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month”

If you read my last post on ““Hangover Unholiness” Left by Malignant Ministers: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Questions for 2013,” you may not have caught the comment that came in from my friend Linda of Kingdomgrace. She’s been a pioneer blogger in the spiritual abuse survivors community, and I appreciate her big-picture perspective on healing for individuals and how this works out in systems. Here’s what she said:

Brad, Really good questions. It seems detox has mostly been addressed at the personal level. You are doing important work identifying systemic issues at the organizational level. I think there is also a social-cultural aspect of detox that exists beyond the organization having to do with social identity, relationships, group think, etc. Your questions reminded me of how complex this issue is and how comprehensive approaches to healing must be.

Here is the reply I wrote. It covers some things I’ve been thinking about for a while on the impact of toxic systems dynamics, and I felt it was important enough to highlight in a follow-up post to the one on “Hangover Unholiness.”

Hi Linda — great to hear from you, and thanks for your feedback.

Each phase in stabilization, recovery, and growth brings forth new questions, deeper levels of grace for healing to explore. It really does seem to me that we’re in the midst of a shift in the questions we ARE asking, and ones that I suspect we NEED TO BE asking. It seems to be shifting from an emphasis on the personal, over to dimensions of the social. The two always were side by side — just as Robert Jay Lifton in his original research on authoritarian “cults” of totalism looked at both individual “brainwashing” and mass social conditioning. But I don’t know that we (i.e., the survivor community) were ready for the social dimensions of spiritual abuse recovery yet.

However, the times we live in seem to be sparking that shift. The events of the past few years have unsettled and reshaped the spiritual abuse survivor “community” into more of a “movement.” I’m thinking here of things like the Beaverton Grace Bible Church vs. Smith et al defamation lawsuit, the release of documentation about the leadership layers in Mars Hills Church, and the filing of the class action lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries.

I think I’m seeing a wider arc of trajectory, more momentum, and deeper drilling into our paradigms. It can’t be just about personal healing — not that it ever was about that alone, despite what critics may think. Think of the hundreds if not thousands of current and former members of Sovereign Grace Ministries who may be shocked out of numbness (or maybe even into numbness?) by the startling revelations in the lawsuit about what has allegedly gone on behind the scenes. Where will they go when they realize that their spiritual haven hasn’t really been such a safe place? What happens when they realize they’ve been given deep-tissue wounds in their spirit, and are fumbling around for what questions even to ask about their past, their present, their future? What happens when they start realizing that the social environment at the church in which they raised their children tainted those young ones’ perspectives over years and years of exposure to toxic teachings and masked but malignant ministers? Who will help them, and how?

And the questions of what becomes of organizations themselves that have been steeped in legalism for so long that it permeates every strategy and structure, every communication method and message? Can it survive? Should it? Can it be salvaged? How and by whom? Or have they become supertoxic “Three Mile Island” or “Chernobyl” landsites that can only grow mutated crops, and should be abandoned?

This is an opportunity for our community/movement to step into the gap to serve, to show what gravitas of character the Lord has rebuilt into us through our experiences of recovery from abuse. To extend our “consider the victims first” mindset to next waves of survivors. To stretch ourselves toward understanding implications of abuse and recovery for entire systems and not just individual people. And perhaps those who have been critical of us — sometimes for right reasons, because we who are wounded can lash out as wickedly as anyone — will see there is an emerging degree of pastoral care for the next generations of wounded, not just critiques of wounders, and it will cause them to wonder. I am hopeful the new set of questions our community is already asking may even mean we will become known more for what we stand for in spiritual healing and health, than merely what it appears we stand against because we’ve had to.

Well, that was not what I expected to come out when I started with the notion of “thanks for your comment, Linda.” But okay, there it is, for what it is worth, on the last day of January 2013′s Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month.

For some additional perspective, consider how this compares with thoughts I posted in January 2012, on Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012.

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Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2016)

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012 (January 31, 2012).

“Hangover Unholiness” Left by Malignant Ministers: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Questions for 2013 (January 29, 2013).

Spiritual Abuse Survivors: The “Community” Becomes a ”Movement” (January 31, 2013).

Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) – Part 1: Setting the Stage (November 30, 2014).

Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014) Part 2: New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations (November 30, 2014).

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities ~ 10 Trend Projections and Predictions for 2016-2020 (January 1, 2016).

Spiritual Sounding Board: The Legacy That a Defamation Lawsuit Left to the Survivor Community (February 22, 2016).

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part One – Past Articles (2012-2016) on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (May 1, 2017).

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Two – Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs (May 1, 2017).

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Three – Positive Trends in Survivor Blog Communities (May 9, 2017).

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #1 – We’re Working Mostly in Words (May 25, 2017).

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #2 – Natural Limits of Crowd-Sourced Fact Gathering (November 2, 2017).

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3 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse Survivors: The “Community” Becomes a “Movement”

  1. Hey Brad,

    Thanks for giving a comprehensive overview of what you perceive is taking place, especially in the blogosphere. Yes, individuals have networked together and many good things have come out of it. I agree with your sentiment:

    “I am hopeful the new set of questions our community is already asking may even mean we will become known more for what we stand for in spiritual healing and health, than merely what it appears we stand against because we’ve had to.”

    This is a paradigm shift for spiritual abuse survivors as well as for those who observe this phenomenon. Continuing to join you in ‘watching’ how things unfold. 🙂

    • Thanks, Barb. I find it encouraging when any kind of group or movement takes a turn toward being even more constructive or reconstructive. Better things ahead …

  2. I received another email today about an abusive situation where some failed to convince a government agency that their allegations about their intended victim were accurate. Here is a slightly edited and expanded version of what I wrote in response:

    This is great news, not just for [NAME], but as part of the larger issue where it chalks up yet one more “epic fail” for malignant ministries. The more frequently the brashest of abusers loses at some frivolous tactic like this, perhaps the less likely others will be to try those kinds of actions in the future.

    As best I can see as to long-term patterns, the playing field is in the process of dramatic changes. What works in a closed system fails when attempted in public. Abusive tactics that try to use the courts and political agencies put these situations out into the light of public opinion and the scrutiny of the survivors’ community … ummm … make that the survivors’ *movement* … where the victimizers lose control of the process. No longer “in house” but in the public square, they are far, far less likely to be able to keep things quiet or to scrub the internet of their deeds and misdeeds. Their brazen attempts to use public agencies to extend their abusive reach are also more likely to draw out documentation from their victims/survivors that is posted in public for the analysis of any and all who choose to do so.

    So, huzzah, hoorah, hooray! I’m sure it is a relief for [NAME], and this victory comes at great personal cost in terms of time, energy, and worry. But I’m thankful for [NAME’S] tenacity to see it through. It benefits the community in the long run.

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