Domestic Violence, Ministry, and Controversy in Conservative Christianity: Some Historical Context and Perspective

This article also appears on Spiritual Sounding Board as a guest post.

Although I am known for my more recent research writings on spiritual abuse from a systemic perspective, I have also written and edited on other forms of abuse and violence since the 1980s.

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Contemporary Conservative Christianity

and Questions About Abuse

Contention over abuse and violence in Christian communities has heightened in the era of #metoo and #churchtoo. However, controversies over theology, advocacy, and actions have been with us for a very long time. Recently, comments on abuse made by Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, resurfaced and ignited a social media firestorm. Continue reading

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Some Thoughts on Supposedly Feminist Men Who Reportedly Abuse/Harass Women

Today, The Wartburg Watch (TWW) published a post about the ongoing Willow Creek/Bill Hybels situation: Nancy Ortberg Claims She Endured an Unwanted Physical Encounter with Bill Hybels and Raises Some Serious Questions About His Behavior.

This is Dee Parsons’ seventh post on related topics. (See Resource Bibliography on Willow Creek Church Situation and Bill Hybels’ Reported Misconduct, which includes her prior posts and other key statements and analysis.) Near the conclusion of the article, she notes:

I am going to ask a hard question. Is it possible that Bill Hybels encouraged the leadership of women in order to increase his own access to women who admired him within the confines of church business, giving him plausible deniability? I do not know the answer to this question but red flags are waving up, down and all around this situation. (emphasis added)

I think this is a crucial question, and I appreciate that Dee has put it forward for consideration in abuse survivor communities. I’ve been thinking along similar lines for a few days, and had thought about writing an extended article, but I don’t have time available to develop it right now, due to other project deadlines. So, I decided to post this short form version with two key thoughts. Continue reading

Happy 15th Blogging Anniversary, Blue Moon Easter, April Fools Day, Plus Really Good News Day!

Who knew, today would be the convergence of all these momentous events – a huge, bright, full moon (which I saw when I woke up at 3:30 a.m.) on Easter morning – and the anniversary of the beginning of my blogging career on April 1st of 2003.

I specifically chose April Fools Day as the milestone moment to take up blogging. It just seemed right, especially after all the talk of paradox at the Wabi Sabi gathering. That “postmodern” ministry event emphasized the juxtaposition of young and old, fresh and practiced, broken and redeemed. It was a natural metaphor for so much of what I end up writing about: finding a redemptive edge in the midst of suffering.

If you’d like to read that post from 2003, I reblogged it on my 10th blogaversary in 2013: “The Frodo Syndrome: Overcoming Grief and Melancholia in the Modern-to-Postmodern Transition.”

I was 47 years old when I took up blogging. For more about the friends who pushed me to stop the talk and start to write, it’s here: “My 10th Blogiversary on April Fools’ Day 2013 – No Joke!

I’ve been writing for over 30 years, but this season of 15 years blogging has taken me in other directions as I learned to process publicly what I was experiencing and reflecting about in real time. My main blogs – futuristguy and beyondposthuman before that – have tracked my transitions from “emerging” ministry to missional, and from church planting to social entrepreneurship. They’ve also logged my long slog toward producing a series of four books on deconstructing systemic abuse and (re)constructing healthy organizational enterprises.

I thought it would make for an intriguing exercise to list what I think have been the five most memorable or important writings from this period. Here’s what I came up with: (1) The Pyramid of Abuse. (2) The Transformational Index. (3) Four Kinds of Control Cultures. (4) Six “S” Factors for Organizational Success. (5) Distinguishing between Systemic Abuse and Systemic Oppression.

1. The Pyramid of Abuse (first version in 2014, most recent version 2018, as I keep on learning!) captured my understanding of the different roles used in organizations that benefit a few people at the expense of the many, and the main kinds of tactics used to “overlord people.” I’ve gotten more positive feedback on this than anything else I’ve written, probably because a huge number of people have been victimized by bullying, abuse, and violence. Most recent version (2018):

2. The Transformational Index, on which I was a co-author with Shannon Hopkins and Andy Schofield. This is a tool for “measuring what matters” in qualitative impact from social transformation work.

3. Four Kinds of Control Cultures explores social control by compliance, chaos, charisma, or competition. Most of these are illustrated in a series I did on The Hunger Games, applying Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of “totalist psychology” control cultures.

4. Six “S” for Organizational Success: (1) SAFE meeting ground that prevents a hostile work environment, (2) mission that is SUITABLE for the people actually involved as shareholders and stakeholders, (3) SCALE of operation that match the resources available in the setting, (4) SENSITIVE messaging that takes into account differences in processing due to learning styles and cultures, (5) methods that can SURVIVE global paradigm and cultural shifts that are beyond anyone’s control, and (6) SUSTAINABLE momentum for the organization to last beyond two generations.

5. The Pyramid of Abuse – “Layer 5” and Systemic Oppression. I haven’t posted on this yet, but have been doing the groundwork for years. The Pyramid of Abuse was about *insiders* in its system, while oppression involves *outsiders* from the Pyramid’s system. So, this is what helps understand dynamics where a system (such as oligarchy, patriarchy, racial segregation, or religious persecution) is rigged against large people groups and they are excluded from freedom and opportunity. I may post on this soon and if so, will add a link here.

Maybe you’ve found other things I’ve written that have been helpful or made an impression. If so, I’d love to know!

AND THE REALLY GOOD NEWS … it looks as if there’s FINALLY a go-live date for sales of Field Guide #1 in the Do Good Plus Do No Harm training series! If all goes well, the graphic design work will be done in June, with pre-sales starting shortly after, and sales website live in July. I hate that it’s taken so long to get this far, but I’ve done the best I could with no financial resources or stamina reserves to make it go any faster. Somehow, I suspect the timing will turn out providential. That just seems to be how the Lord often works …

Thanks for your encouragement along the way. And Happy Easter – He is risen!

Only an Independent Investigation Can Remove the Cloud of Suspicion Over Sovereign Grace Churches

Be respectful toward all people, because all bear the image of the Lord God who made us.

But do not be a “respecter of persons” – showing partiality for, or prejudice against – based on their race, gender, social class, wealth, family connections, or other status.

~ brad/futuristguy

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I originally posted this as a Twitter thread on March 10, 2018, about Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) and its former version, Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM). What follows is a compilation of 15 tweets and related links in that thread, slightly edited for better readability.

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Here are some thoughts I’ve had on justifications for an independent/outside investigation in the case of Sovereign Grace, et al.

CONCLUSIONS: It IS needed, since partiality toward key players and against key victims has been spotlighted over the lengthy course of alleged failures of SGM/SGC leaders.

Their leaders’ and members’ critiques focus on abstractions of theology and polity, and negations of questioners, more than responding to the witnesses of concrete evidence and testimonies by those claiming to have been harmed.

So, if SGM/SGC wishes this perma-cloud of suspicion to be lifted, an independent investigation by a trusted external agency may be the only action that could do it. Otherwise, they should expect the Kingdom Klieg lights and national news spotlights to continue.

SOME DETAILS: The way I see it, there are at least four domains in which entities external to SGC/SGM, et al, legitimately hold authority over them. Continue reading

Remembering The White Rose

February 22nd. On this day 75 years ago, three members of the White Rose student resistance group were executed for opposing Nazism. Hans Scholl. Sophie Scholl. Christoph Probst.

I first learned about their courage 50 years ago, from a text my sister translated in her high school German class with Mr. Reid. The article had photos of White Rose members. So full of life – they seemed radiant, yet willingly risked all to stand against evil.

I wondered why.

By raising that question, they planted a seed in me to find out whys and wherefores of resistance, a course I’ve pursued 50 years.

The New York Times published an article by Richard Hurowitz on Remembering the White Rose. Here is a quote from it:

“They did not seek martyrdom in the name of any extraordinary idea,” Inge Scholl recalled in her memoir of her siblings and White Rose comrades. “They wanted to make it possible for people like you and me to live in a humane society.”

The sentiment makes me ponder:

What change-seeds do we plant?

What legacy do we leave for next generations?

How might our pursuit of hope, service, and justice affect the course of the future?

A quote I’ve pondered for the last 25 years continues to challenge me to keep those kinds of questions in mind:

In the long run, what counts is how the next generation thinks. How far new ideas permeate culture is not measured just by attitude change during one generation, but by what is taken for granted in the next. ~ Helen Haste

Perhaps I’ll have far greater understanding in another 25 years …

Training Series Companion Website: Systemic Abuse Researcher Notes

Today I completed the first go-round for all pages on Futuristguy’s Systemic Abuse Researcher Notes. This is an important piece of progress in the overall Training Series system I’ve been developing. It’s the general research tools that go with the four Field Guides and its other companion website with resources specific to every chapter in the book series. So, things are pretty much ready to roll, once the first Field Guide has cover and interior design done.

Here’s some background and the purposes behind this Research Notes website, from one of the posts there:

Some of us bloggers in abuse survivor communities have periodically talked behind the scenes about our need for:

1. Some sort of research clearinghouse for resources on abuse and violence. We see the many underlying similarities among dynamics in all forms of abuse, and also the need for information sources on personal recovery, relational advocacy, and institutional accountability.

2. Some kind of listing about denominational policies, resources, and case studies. Both survivor experiences and research work show that situations of abuse and violence have emerged in every theological stream, every organizational form of church governance, and in both centralized and decentralized networks.

There have been some collaborate efforts toward those goals in the past, but getting a site together or maintaining it have been difficult. Since much of my work in survivor activism has involved research writing articles and case studies, I know the value of having go-to sources on the many complicated, interrelated issues that arise. I felt moved by the recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements that this was a providential moment when need #1 — creating a research/resource clearinghouse — was both urgent and important. (Need #2 is still important in the long run. But it would be a huge project, and I believe it would be more effective if core topics on systemic abuse get addressed first as a way to determine criteria to evaluate the efficacy of denominational resources.)

So, this is my attempt to set up a site that can serve as a comprehensive framework for crowd-sourcing additional resources on key research issues, and an accessible format for people to share the findings. (It won’t be a site for resources on recovery from specific types of abuse, violence, or trauma situations. I will leave that for others who feel called to take up that task.)

This new website updates and takes the place of some of the material that’s been on this Futuristguy blog for a while. Specifically:

Mars Hill Case Study main page and Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Research Guide – Part 1 – Research Guide to Mark Driscoll’s Personal Issues (the first post in the original article series that was later compiled into a page).

The “Pyramid of Abuse” section in the Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse (Compilation of Posts) page and the Responsibility for Spiritual Abuse – Part 2B – The “Pyramid of Responsibility” in Toxic Systems post.

Spiritual Abuse Legal/Media Research page.

I’ve put notes on those posts and pages to alert readers to these updates, but left the original post or page intact.

I hope that having all the key research, statistical, legal information, etc., in one site will make it easier to navigate. Check out the Table of Contents page to see what gets covered!

 

Two Reposts: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] & Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion

“Gold Guy With Question” (c) Scott Maxwell / Fotolia #16798720, Licensed to Brad Sargent.

Introduction (2017)

Questions are something I find central to pretty much everything I do in terms of professional work, personal ministry, and pastimes. Editing is about questioning a text to see if what it says makes sense — or, if not, how to work with the author to refine it so it does. Research writing involves questions that guide the search for details (Who did what?), timelines (When did that happen, and how did that shape the context of what happened?), personal profiles (Who are you, and what drives your life in the pathway that you’re on?), and practicalities (What went wrong, why, and how can we repair that?). As to hobbies, I especially enjoy movies because, it seems to me, each one typically wrestles with two or three Big-Idea-Earth-Shattering-Or-Life-Shaping Questions. So, if I can identify those questions, I have a resource to share with people who are looking for an answer, or who’ve been living out an answer that doesn’t really fit The Question That Drives Their Life.

Anyway, I recently became acquainted with someone who really, REALLY likes the topic of questions. So, I thought I’d edit and repost these for my new friend’s enjoyment. I wrote the first one for Advent almost a decade ago in 2008. That same year, I republished an article from 2004 about questions the catalyze subcultures — another topic I find very intriguing, especially since it ties right in with social change. (I first wrote about subculturization in 1997 and, if all goes well, I’ll be able to pick up that thread again sometime soon to revisit it from the angle of social movements and how social entrepreneurs can navigate them.)

  • Hope Awaits: Pursuing Questions That Lead to the Answer[er] (2008)
  • Finding a Culture’s Quest/ion and Shaping Their Transformative Trajectory (2004)

I hope friends old and new will find something of interest in these articles, in picking up new questions or polishing reflections from old ones. Continue reading