Response to Ben Reed’s Article on “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder”

Introduction

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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Overall Impressions

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

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #1

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Four: Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities

NOTE: This series was originally designed to be three posts, with this one being on positive trends and continuing challenges in survivor blog communities. However, I am splitting this into two posts so they are shorter, and the series will conclude with a few continuing challenges.

Introduction

Part of what I do in research writing focuses on analyzing paradigm systems. This means I am looking at multiple parts, how they work together, gaps and excesses that create inherent problems that turn the system toxic or otherwise prevent health and sustainability for the individuals and institutions aligned with that paradigm.

The aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections and the rancorous social media fights that ensued left me asking more questions than usual about social media. (And I have in mind primarily Facebook, Twitter, and blogs here.) I believe a series of generic problems can limit the usefulness of these communication forms. And, some of these flaws tend to get amplified in survivor blogging.

So, for this final topic in this series, I will present what I see as the general problem and then some of the ways this can work out to be more difficult in survivor communities posts. And, as I noted in Part Two, I’m speaking here at the big-picture level, which means there are likely many individual exceptions to the generalizations.

I’ll be splitting Part Four three segments, with one challenge in each:

  1. The problems of working with words.
  2. The natural limits of crowd-sourced fact gathering.
  3. The lack of a civil and conciliatory society.

Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Three

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Three: Positive Trends in Survivor Blog Communities

NOTE: This series was originally designed to be three posts, with this one being on positive trends and continuing challenges in survivor blog communities. However, I am splitting this into two posts so they are shorter, and the series will conclude with a few continuing challenges.

Introduction

Most of these trends are relatively brief. I’m seeing what I interpret as enough points of evidence to sense that something important is going on, even if the trend is still emerging from the fog and the direction it’s heading is uncertain.

The challenges, on the other hand, seem clear enough from a longer stream of online incidents. It also seems like they will always be with us in survivor blogging. Recent events that I mentioned in the Introduction to Part One have brought a few particular challenges to the forefront.

So, here are what I see as positive trends, for your consideration. Because a number of the cases I’ve drawn from involve behind-the-scenes activities, I won’t be mentioning specific details for them, or for the continuing challenges in Part Four. Continue reading

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Two – Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part Two: Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs

Introduction

Over the years, I’ve seen blogs that post supposedly “negative” articles about the Church critiqued as being self-authorized, self-centered, and self-congratulating watchdog operations. According to opponents, blogs dealing with abuse are just out to cause a ruckus and tear down the Church as the Bride of Christ.

One of the key problems for critics, though, is this: How many churches, denominations, and ministry networks authorize and protect whistle-blowers who warn leaders and members alike against internal malignancy and toxicity? What ongoing processes do you have to ensure those in roles of influence haven’t gone off the rails and are inflicting damage to Christ’s disciples by their own shepherding overlordship?

If prophetic voices must work from the outside because all internal checks have failed, so be it. Jesus Christ spoke up and acted in defense of those who were weak and harmed by others – and against those who misused their position and power to the detriment of others. How is He a role model to us in ways we should confront corrosion and corruption within the Church?

Part One in this series on Survivor Blogging Trends 2017 summarized five years of previous articles on trends. Part Two looks at two issues I’m seeing as coming into the foreground.

  • First, how critics of survivor bloggers seem to conflate them with discernment blogs when they’re not, and some thoughts on sources of conflict they have with survivor blogs.
  • Second, things known probably just by those who host survivor blogs and write for them, about the reflection and restraint that goes on behind the scenes.

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

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Part One: Past Articles (2012-2016)

on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities

Introduction

I have been blogging since 2003, and in 2007 I began addressing surviving spiritual abuse – mostly from the perspective of investigative research writing on malignant leadership and toxic systems. I’ve written a dozen or so case studies on spiritually abusive situations, scattered across the spectrum of theologies and organizational forms. So I’m not a newbie to blogging or survivor blogging, or to many issues of conflict that arise.

One of the most recent relates to a so-called “crisis of authority” (especially for women who post their views online) and “beware of broken wolves.”

Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere? (The age of the Internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.) by Tish Harrison Warren, via Christianity Today. See also her response to critics, posted on her blog: New CT Piece on Authority in the Church and Social Media: A Response to Critics.

Beware of Broken Wolves, by Joe Carter, via The Gospel Coalition.

The fast and furious interchanges sparked by these posts brought up some reflections on survivor blogging. So, I decided it was time to add these to my occasional series that I started in 2012 on trends in spiritual abuse survivor communities. Here’s the plan:

  • Part 1: Past Articles on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2016)
  • Part 2: Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs
  • Part 3: Positive Trends and Continuing Challenges in Survivor Blog Communities

Final thoughts in introducing this year’s trends: I hope I am known as a reasonable researcher on abusive systems, and also as a relatively fair-minded critic of our own survivor communities. I’m sure not everything I write goes down well in both of those circles, but I see my role as calling people to consider the larger picture of the organizational cultures we create and ways we misuse power in them. The squishy business of identifying and tracking trends, and giving reasoned speculation to where their trajectories may lead, is part of that role. Before I launch into what I think I see unfolding in 2017, here is the series of articles on trends that I’ve posted in the past five years, to bring you up to date. Continue reading

Training Series Progress Update: Halfway Done with Final Draft of Chapters in Field Guide #1

This morning I finished the final draft of Chapter 8. Who Plays What Roles in a Fully Developed System That Benefits the Few and Takes Advantage of the Many? This is in Futuristguy’s Field Guide #1, which deals with systems and systemic abuse. This marks the halfway point in finalizing the chapters in that volume. After eight more chapters, I have the workbook sections, and then it will be ready for first-readers and then publishing!

Here’s a summary of this chapter, which ties together material on the Pyramid of Abuse. For me, this is a biggee, as far as a milestone. It took a few years to develop this Pyramid of Abuse, describe the roles, and refine the system. Later chapters in the training series will have similar kinds of Pyramids of Advocacy and Activism.

pyramid-of-abuse-2017-b

Pyramid of Abuse (c) 2014-2017 Brad Sargent.

The very top of the hierarchical “Pyramid of Abuse” consists of an autocrat (dictator), oligarchy (group of elites) or plutarchy (group of rich people). These PERPETRATORS run the system, openly and/or secretly.

The next layer down involves people who enforce the will of the one(s) at the top. These PERPETUATORS also typically benefit directly from the system by reaping power, prestige, and prosperity.

The next layer down involves functionaries who keep things running, pressure others into conformity through both positive and negative conditioning, and “just follow orders.” These PROCURATORS are often trying to work their way up in the Pyramid.

Those at the bottom are the masses who are milked as the sources of numbers, funds, and applause to keep the organization going. These PAWNS stay in the system for different reasons: They may know but ignore signs of toxicity, adore the leaders and what they say they stand for, or may be ignorant of warning signs.

LOYAL OPPOSITION seek to change the system from the inside; they can be in any layer of the Pyramid, but tend to be in the lower levels.

As a system, the Pyramid of Abuse also includes outsiders who perform parallel functions. COMMENDERS are supporters who lend their personal reputation and organization’s resources to prop up someone else’s system. In return, they become part of an interlocking directory that keeps multiple such Pyramids afloat in an ocean of victims. RESISTERS against a Pyramid often are survivors of victimization in it or by it. Or, they may just otherwise grasp the devastating human impact of an inhumane system and be committed to bringing justice to the situation. They become relational advocates to support other survivors and/or social activists to hold the insiders accountable for the damage they do.

Copyright and image license notes.

Pyramid of Abuse © 2014-2017 Brad Sargent. (Earlier versions called “Pyramid of Responsibility.”)

All “Gold Guy” images are © Scott Maxwell from Fotolia .com and licensed to Brad Sargent.

PERPETRATORS. Dictators: “Pointing in Hovering Futuristic Chair,” #12413672.

PERPETUATORS. Enforcers: “boxing dummy,” #1368447. Commenders: “superhero dollar,” #713804. Benefitters: “V.I.P. Access,” #5984057.

PROCURATORS. Silencers: “Alien Secret,” #9310273. Prompters: “Alien Thumbs Up,” #9310400. Diverters: “Basketball Big Hand Defense,” #6589772. Drill Instructors: “Gold Guy Thumbs Up,” #20266769. Negators: “Gold Guy Yelling And Pointing Directions,” #15452348. Validators: “Smiling Two Thumbs Up,” #9868732.

PAWNS. Avoiders: “hear see speak no,” #201421. Applauders: “award worship,” #202010. Pawns: “Puzzled Gold Guy,” #16713464. Loyal Opposition: “trapped in gear,” #810428.

 

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International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017

What can we learn about contemporary forms of systemic abuse from questions raised by case studies of the Holocaust, collaboration, and resistance in World War II?

This post previews questions covered in Volume #2 of my curriculum for social change agents, community developers, missional ministers, and church planters. Case studies from the Holocaust will be prominent in it, but I will also use other historical and contemporary case studies, and movies from various genres, to explore issues of recovery from abuse, advocacy and activism for those who currently have no voice to speak up for themselves, and rehabilitation and remediation for individuals and organizations that have perpetrated abuse. Continue reading