The Voices of Redlands ~ In-depth case study in spiritual abuse, advocacy and activism, and (hopefully) eventual restoration.

Because I write regularly on topics of malignant leaders and toxic organizations, sometimes spiritual abuse survivors ask me for help related to their story of experiencing misuse of power by people in ministry. I’m not often able to do that, but occasionally I know I must. And The Voices of Redlands book, video, and website put together by Ryan Ashton, John Baldwin, and their friends was one of those situations. Months ago, I reviewed next-to-final versions of their book. I had a few conversations with Ryan about the purposes of the project and offered feedback on their evidence and analysis.

Today they launched their RedlandsBook website and made their project public. I’ve just watched the seven-minute video of Ryan’s testimony on Facebook, skimmed through the final PDF edition of The Voices of Redlands book they posted, and took a look at their initial website. I would commend this set of materials to you as an important, in-depth case to study. It shows, not just tells, what it feels like to be embroiled in the midst of abuse, what it means to stand up for others as their advocate, how to push back on control as an activist, and ways to support a community that is confused and suffering. Besides being a call to action in their local situation, these all provide tremendous practical resources for anyone thinking through the damaging dynamics of abuse, silencing of victims, and spinning the story.

They have well documented the situation in Redlands, California, with first-person accounts, factual evidence from other sources, theological insights, and helpful analysis about how spiritual abuse happens. I believe they’ve made the case that there are serious problems in both doctrine and authoritarian influence afoot in Redlands, and that such abuses can’t be corrected by ignoring, deflecting, or defending them.

They did not put this together hastily – it took three years for them to get to this point, with many attempts to challenge alleged abuse and seek reconciliation along the way. Sadly, the situation remains unresolved and so they have gone public in order to warn others.

So, as you listen to Ryan and read from John and others about what happened, I hope you will hear their hearts in seeking to protect the Church and restore relationships, however imperfect their efforts and others’ reactions to them. I appreciate Ryan, John, and their friends risking what it takes to shine the spotlight into the dark. In my opinion, they have been careful, self-critical, and conciliatory – and this makes them role models for making a difference in the face of surviving abuse.

Please take time to consider their work, and reflect on their efforts to bring truth, justice, and hope into what looks to be a severely abusive situation.

[Edited slightly to expand text.]



2 thoughts on “The Voices of Redlands ~ In-depth case study in spiritual abuse, advocacy and activism, and (hopefully) eventual restoration.

    • Likewise, Jan. However, there are always risks in documenting and exposing alleged abuse. If the authors of those pieces are sued for defamation of character, there are some legal protections in place, as the people being put into the spotlight are likely to be deemed “limited public figures” due to the public nature of their ministries. If I understand correctly, that would mean for their lawsuit to succeed, they would need to demonstrate that the authors (1) lied, (2) knowingly lied, (3) and did so with malice. Malice is particularly difficult to prove.

      Another protection for whistleblowers like these is found in SLAPP statutes. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These are civil suits whose purposes are generally designed to silence or intimidate opponents. SLAPP suits are often frivolous and insidious, used by individuals or entities with “deep pockets” – ample funds to outlast and outlawyer their opponents. In many states, when it appears a lawsuit is filed to shut up those who are blowing the whistle on abuse, the defendants can file an Anti-SLAPP countersuit. This tends to stop any further legal “discovery” process, turn the action over to the court system for expedited consideration, and require the plaintiff(s) to pay all court costs and legal fees if the court decides in favor of the plaintiffs. For more information on SLAPP/Anti-SLAPP, see section 8 on my page of Spiritual Abuse Legal/Media Research.

      Because the authors in this particular case have been very detailed, it seems to me the ministry workers exposed by their allegations would have a difficult time making their own case.

      Also, on the moral-ethical-ministry side of things — even though that doesn’t figure much into the legal aspects of things — as mentioned in the blog post, this extensive publication was pretty much a last resort effort after multiple attempts at reconciliation. The New Testament has quite a few instances of “spiritual whistleblowing” on leaders who fail tests of moral character, upright behavior, and not using their position to exert control by lording it over others.

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