I-5 Spiritual Abuse, Recovery, Advocacy

This page is under construction. Structure and headings are tentative.


  • Introduction: Issues of Individuals, Institutions, Leaders, Relational and Systems Repair Work, and Technical Research
  • Malignant Ministers and Personal Recovery from Spiritual Abuse (2008-2011)

    • About My Series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse
    • Part 1 – My Experiences
    • Part 2 – How to Choose a Healthy Fellowship
    • Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy
    • Part 4 – Recovering from Spiritual Abuse
  • Other Posts and Resources on Spiritual Abuse (2008-2010)
  • Individuals: Recovery and Support/Advocacy (2014-2018)
  • “People of Peace” and Processes of Peace-Making (2015-2016)
  • Trends in Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2018)
    • Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2016)
    • Survivor Blogging Trends 2017
    • Survivor Blogging Background, Trends, and Analysis 2018
  • A Cultural Geography of Abuse Survivor Communities (2018-2019)
  • Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse (2013)
  • Spiritual Abuse and Recovery Book Lists: Categorized and Chronological Visual Bibliographies (2012)

    • Introduction
    • Spiritual Abuse Resources – The Chronological Version
    • Spiritual Abuse Resources – The Categorized Version
    • Informal Content Analysis Shows Top Three Most Common Theological Problems in Malignant Ministries
  • Other Resource/Reference Pages
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05 Spiritual Abuse, Recovery, and Advocacy

January is “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month”

Introduction: Issues of Individuals, Institutions, Leaders,

Relational and Systems Repair Work, and Technical Research

INTRODUCTORY NOTES: Since 2007, I have done research writing on issues related to individual, institutional, and ideological elements contributing to abuse and violence. The materials I’ve developed draw from two main sources: (1) Personal experiences of participation in organizations that turned out to have malignant leaders and so were toxic, and (2) extensive experiences working with non-profit agencies, churches, and start-ups since 1973. Many of these materials linked to here are technical, some are more personal. I have been reorganizing these and many other articles into four Field Guides to improve the logical flow, and editing them for consistency and accessibility. In the meantime, here are select articles that offer some help on particular aspects of systemic abuse issues.

January has been designated as “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month.” You’ll find information about this at the Spiritual Abuse Awareness page on Facebook. That page offers many helpful principles, comments, and links there about freedom, choice, and hope in Christ. Also see the Raising Awareness page on the Spiritual Abuse Awareness website for details.

Since 2007, I have written extensively on abuse by people in roles of spiritual influence and authority, inherently toxic ministry systems and movements, and recovery from the trauma of spiritual abuse. I thought one of the most helpful things I could do is share an index and links for what has already been published. I am reworking much of this material for a forthcoming book series that will cover personal and organizational topics related to spiritual abuse.

UPDATE AUGUST 2014. This index was originally posted in January 2011. I have updated it several times, and just recently expanded the index to include additional posts up through this month in my blog category on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse. Posts in this category profile human and organizational aspects in systems of abuse, suggest their source problems, and lead survivors toward constructive personal and institutional responses.

My hope is that you find it of help in thinking through your experiences with toxic systems and abusive leaders, and discovering again the grace and truth needed for renewed spiritual stability and community.

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Malignant Ministers and Personal Recovery

from Spiritual Abuse (2008-2011)

About My Series on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse

Recovery from Spiritual Abuse (category). Please note that these were some of the first posts I wrote about in-depth processing of my own multiple experiences of malignant leaders and toxic organizations (churches, ministries, Christian non-profits). I have not edited or updated them. Some of the concepts and conclusions were only in kernel form 10+ years ago, and have since become far more developed.

RECOVERY FROM SPIRITUAL ABUSE — CATEGORY SUMMARY: Posts in this category profile human and organizational aspects in systems of abuse, suggest their source problems, and lead survivors toward constructive personal and institutional responses.

I supposed if I could determine all things for myself, I would never have undergone the difficult series of encounters I did with spiritually abusive leaders, unsustainable ministry structures, and toxic church systems. Who in their right mind would want to earn the equivalent of a Ph.D. in experiencing church toxicology?

And yet, this area of unwanted expertise does have a redemptive side, as I have been finding out since some processing of the big-picture lessons learned. My intentional exercise in externalizing the experiences has involved connecting the dots of periodic abusive situations during the last 35 years. These ongoing encounters have all occurred in theologically conservative churches and ministries that are evangelical, non-denominational, Baptist, and/or mildly charismatic. I’d thought a lot about specific instances before, but focused on discerning the overall patterns when I completed a survey in January 2008 for doctoral student Barb Orlowski’s D.Min. project on leaders recovering from spiritual abuse and her Church Exiters website.

My series was originally designed to have four parts, dealing with a range of personal and systems issues in toxicity versus sustainability.

  • Part 1 – My Experiences
  • Part 2 – How to Choose a Healthy Fellowship
  • Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy
  • Part 4 – Recovering from Spiritual Abuse

Here are overviews of those four sections, plus links to the posts.

Part 1 – My Experiences

The Spiritual Abuse Part 1 post addresses the five main personal lessons that I have distilled out of my experiences:

  1. Do not enter or exit church relationships lightly.
  2. Listen to my gut intuitions, and consider them carefully.
  3. Do not protect toxic leaders, organizations, or people, or I am adding to their body count of traumatized victims.
  4. Steward my life experiences and giftings as well as possible, considering that I am a subject of Jesus Christ, not of church leaders.
  5. Healthy context, forward trajectory, and transformational hope are critical to sustaining my personal involvement in a church or ministry, so look for those before committing to deeper involvement.

Part 2 – How to Choose a Healthy Fellowship

In a mini-series of six blog posts, Part 2 overviews the five main criteria I now use to choose a healthy fellowship (governance, dealing with difference, sustainability, biblical church discipline, and theological similarity), and goes into extensive consideration of these criteria, especially how they show up in ministry systems.

Spiritual Abuse Part 2A overviews the five criteria and what healthy leadership looks like.

Spiritual Abuse Part 2B looks at learning discernment – interpreting the realities between appearance versus substance among leaders – illustrated by Pride and Prejudice.

Spiritual Abuse Part 2C considers the framework of intervention when toxic patterns are entrenched, interception for those at risk but before their abusiveness is too far confirmed, and prevention so future leaders will act in healthy ways and avoid toxicity. It also gives a bit more detail on each of the five critieria.

Spiritual abuse seems to be pervasive in the North American church, and many wounded disciples seek for resources on the internet. The Interlude post allowed readers to comment on issues they would like to see explored.

Spiritual Abuse Part 2D adds material on organizational cultural dynamics and governance. It gives a framework on monocultural, multicultural, and intercultural approaches to structuring an organization, and then analyzes potential church governance models in several three generational paradigms – Traditional (Builder), Pragmatic (Boomer), and Holistic (younger generations). [NOTE: This article has been removed for updating.]

Spiritual Abuse Part 2E completes this section with a portrait of a healthy church that is intergenerational and intercultural, and also looks at the redemptive role of suffering in building leaders who leave a legacy.

Part 3 – Dynamics of Leadership: Abusive Versus Healthy

In a mini-series of three blog posts, Part 3 focuses on personal elements in spiritual abuse versus healthy leadership, such as what background issues make some people more susceptible to being misused by leaders and some to become abusive leaders, and what makes for respectable leaders.

Spiritual Abuse Part 3A overviews the conceptual framework for healthy discipleship and personal transformation in the book, Finding Authentic Hope and Wholeness: Five Questions That Will Change Your Life, by Kathy Koch, Ph.D., of Celebrate Kids, Inc. It also lists tentative topics related to spiritual abuse susceptibility and/or recovery for each of the five elements in her framework – security, identity, belonging, purpose, and competence.

Spiritual Abuse Part 3B uses films to illustrate different types of abusive personalities in leaders. [NOTE: This article has been removed for updating.]

Spiritual Abuse Part 3C explores how power addiction is like porn, in terms of treating people like objects for personal (mis)use.

Part 4 – Recovering from Spiritual Abuse

This series originally was meant to be capped off with a mini-series of posts on personal and corporate recovery from spiritual abuse. However, I did not get this section of posts completed. I had outlined topics related to moving forward after surviving the trauma of spiritual abuse by a person in a role of power/authority. It was designed to focus on coping emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, plus learning to hope again and imagine a different future, as we attempt to regain our bearings, overcome spiritual deflation from the barbs of abuse, and find a redemptive edge to experiences that no one should ever have to endure. What I have completed of these topics between futuristguy [1] and futuristguy2 are noted below. If opportunity for publication of this material as a book presents itself, I will add more about recovery principles, practices, and experiences.

Redemption and Restoration Part 1-The Power of the Powerless illustrates restoration: what it means and what it looks like for someone to return to a functional life after deep brokenness, how that comes about, and what it means for the Kingdom.

Redemption and Restoration Part 2-The Restoration of the Powerful explores briefly some signs of genuine restoration to watch for in those who have abused their ministry position, versus indicators of a counterfeit repentance hiding under the garb of reinstatement to leadership.

Strategies and Tactics of Leaders Who are Abusive offers a list of specific actions by people who attempt to manipulate, control, or directly harm individuals and/or organizational systems. Because various kinds of abusers typically use very different approaches to getting their own way, many items on this list seem to contradict each other. But, these actions serve as indicators to warn us of both probable perpetrators of spiritual abuse and those who act as protectors of perpetrators.

How Do I Know I’m Healing From Spiritual Abuse? shares lists of observations, analyses, feelings, action decisions, and theological conclusions that help us reflect on our level of healing and identify continued “spiritual sore spots” that need attention.

Spiritual Abusers, Toxic Systems, and God’s “Gestalt of Grace” concludes the planned blog posts with thoughts on how God’s grace and mercy respond to difficult questions we typically have in interpreting why God doesn’t just immediately remove all abusive leaders from their positions of power, why good things apparently happen to “bad” people like them, why there seem to be no consequences to their toxic actions and inactions. It’s because God is keeping the entire system of both individuals and community in mind, doing what is best for everyone and not only any particular one.

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Other Posts and Resources on Spiritual Abuse (2008-2010)

Additional posts in the Spiritual Abuse Category addressed Barbara Orlowski’s ground-breaking doctoral research on spiritual abuse, issues of redemption and restoration, and a guest interview with therapist Dr. Margaret Jones on leadership and spiritual abuse.

Barb Orlowski Gives “Oral Defense” on Doctoral Report, October 2nd

Dr. Barb Orlowski’s Website Up and Running!

Dr. Barb Orlowski’s Dissertation on Recovery from Spiritual Abuse to be Published

Spiritual Abuse Recovery Book by Dr. Barb Orlowski Published!

Join Me on Monday, May 4th for a “Virtual Book Tour” Visit from Dr. Margaret Jones

Guest Interview with Dr. Margaret Jones on Leadership and Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse Article Index (page). Includes all series and individual posts on futuristguy writings on spiritual abuse topics, plus links and one-paragraph descriptions. Also includes links to multiple case studies and archives on spiritual abuse.

Spiritual Abuse FAQs (page). A selection of links to futuristguy blog posts that answer FAQs on spiritual abuse, indicators of organizational and leader health/toxicity, toxic organizations, personal recovery, support/advocacy, and activism.

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Individuals: Recovery and Support/Advocacy (2014-2018)

Pyramid of Abuse (c) 2018 Brad Sargent

Pyramid of Abuse and Culpability/Complicity (revised version, 2018). This article gives my answer to the question, “How do authoritarian leaders and their toxic control systems get into power – regardless of whether it’s a culture of compliance, chaos, charisma, or competition – and keep it going?” It looks at the roles various people take, their degree of culpability for causing harm to others, and tactics used to keep people under control. This provides a base for exploring not only the damages that are done to victims of abuse, but considering the “redemptive opposite” accomplished by advocacy.

Thoughts on Redemption in the Wake of Abuse: Agents of Damage versus Agents of Healing (2014). Gives some snapshots from my journey in learning about victimization and recovery, and how it involves Agents of Damage and paradoxical parallel Agents of Healing.

Dolores Umbridge and the 10 Roles in a Toxic System, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (page). This sample from a section workbook segment of Futuristguy’s Field Guide #2 illustrates what a “Master Class” is like, with a small amount of guiding content, and several do-it-yourself tasks with tools so you can learn and discern as individuals and in teams.

As I was thinking about movies to illustrate the Pyramid of Responsibility for Abuse, I tried to come up with something that covered as many of the 10 different roles as possible. I must have been in the midst of one of my periodic Harry Potter revisitations, as what came to mind wasn’t a what, but a who: Dolores Umbridge. Madame Umbridge is the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge. She is unquestionably loyal to him, and has that whatever-it-takes mindset to implement his policies and to protect him from criticism.

So, it was intriguing to go through the movie for Harry Potter 5  – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – and pick out all the dialogue by Dolores Umbridge while watching the film. (If I had a transcript, I’d have marked all her statements with an appropriate shade of pink.) I was looking to see how many roles she played through what she said, and wondered if she had played as many as nine. (Since she was a subordinate in the Ministry of Magic hierarchy, I knew she wouldn’t be the Dictator, the tenth and top-most role, though one wonders if was a Dictator-Wannabe.)

Even just doing this, I immediately identified that Madame Umbridge embodied at least four of nine different kinds of roles that non-Dictator people take in abusive systems. As I studied those scenes and sayings later, I found that she did indeed seem to cover all of those nine roles. That’s not so surprising, but what turned out to be very helpful were the specific statements she made. They seem sort of classic illustrations of various roles, sometimes showing the pleasant and positive “good cop” side of the role, sometimes the aggressive and negative “bad cop” side.

Task #1 is to go through the movie and note all dialogue by Dolores Umbridge. (According to my compilation, she has about 35 statements total in Chapters 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, and 15 of the Theatrical Release DVD.)

Task #2 is to see how each statement matches with any roles in the Pyramid of Responsibility for Damage.

Task #3 uses a series of questions for personal reflection and then group discussion about relevant dynamics of power, abuse, and damage.

If Dolores Umbridge is perhaps the ultimate representative for Agents of Damage at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is there someone there who could be considered a quintessential Agent of Healing? Who do you think that might be, and why?

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Peacemaking and Becoming “People of Peace” (mostly 2015-2016)

Although many of the posts in this section are not directly about spiritual abuse, they do address important aspects of advocacy, peacemaking, and helping others process trauma in the aftermath of destructive experiences.

Misogyny, Misandry, and Pathways of Peace. We get our words misogyny, misandry, and misanthropy from misos (the Greek word for “hatred”), used as a prefix to combine with an object of antipathy. We’ve probably heard the term misogyny (literally, hatred of women – from the Greek gunē) the most. Far less frequently heard are the terms misandry (hatred of men – from the Greek anēr, man, and the genitive form andros) and misanthropy (hatred of people – Greek anthrōpos). But what do they really mean, in terms of how they actually affect people?

Over the years, I’ve concluded that all three of these forms of misos are much more prevalent than we might realize, and they have both personal and social dimensions to them. I also believe from life-long observations, that they can show up in very unexpected places, so you cannot accurately predict, then, who will inflict them. (August 24, 2012)

Tributes for Two Teachers ~ Domestic Violence Awareness Month 2015 (October 26, 2015). October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Over the years, I’ve come to see how similar many of the underlying dynamics and tactics are between domestic violence and abuse of power in religious contexts – the grooming, verbal assaults, emotional manipulations, implanting of lies, quenching of hope.

My awareness about survivors of domestic violence began earlier than my understanding of spiritual abuse. It started 40 years ago with what I learned from my sister, who had friends who were survivors of domestic violence. She stepped into roles of support, advocacy, and activism, and taught me all along the way. Then, 10 years later, I helped one of my own friends who was a survivor edit the story of her experiences. I recently got in touch with her, to thank her for making a difference in my life by sharing her story with me. Both my sister and my friend brought light into dark places to the people around them. Their role-modeling of advocacy and activism helped me learn how to come alongside those who were lurking in the shadows, or emerging from them, and offer them whatever support I could. In honor of them, I decided to share two short pieces I’d written.

Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace ~ Post 1: Sojourners Under Stress (November 10, 2016). Our national election was Tuesday, November 8. I spent much of the next day following up on election analysis, messaging friends to be supportive as we processed the results, and thinking about what I could contribute that would be constructive in such a time as this. I decided to post a series of articles on experiences of peacemaking, and what it means to be a person of peace who welcomes others, stands against injustice, and challenges people and systems that cause harm.

Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace ~ Post 2: Compassion and Risk-Taking in Times of Trouble (November 12, 2016). AIDS – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome – was identified in June 1981. The news of this modern plague created an intense level of anxiety, especially because so many things about it were unknown at the outset: what caused it, how it was transmitted, what could be done to treat those infected. Sadly, the Church mostly lagged behind, especially in showing compassion and giving care to those infected or affected.

In 1987, I heard Harold Ivan Smith talk about Tear-Catchers, one of his many books on dealing with grief, loss, and suffering as well as ministering to those in distress. He shared how tears form, and the different chemical compositions of various kinds of tears. I was struck when he talked about tears of emotion, which have a particular compound in them such that they aren’t reabsorbed into our bottom eyelids, but roll down our cheeks instead. “It’s like God meant for such tears to be seen by others,” he noted.

In the middle of his talk, he spoke about different ministries of compassion. Then he calmly said something along the lines of this: “You know, we are six years into the AIDS epidemic, and many people face passing into eternity, potentially without Christ, but the Church has pushed people away. Where would Jesus be in the midst of this, and what should we as Christians do? Someone needs to do something.”

No guilt, just statements of facts. But those three little sentences about a topic no one in churches was talking about reset the course of my life for the next 10 years. I did not know a single person with full-blown AIDS at the time, or even anyone infected with HIV. But I knew in my spirit that I was one of the someones being called to do at least something.

Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace ~ Post 3: Cross-Cultural Dialogue Cracks Through Our Caricatures (November 13, 2016). Caricatures. Those often funny drawings that take someone’s most prominent physical features and/or flaws, and accentuate them to the point of absurdity – though the person is still recognizable. We create caricatures with words, too, when we stick labels on people to stereotype their supposed traits – physical, moral, social, political. But these are generally not so nice, and the people behind the profiles may become unrecognizable. The 2016 political season has been awash in caricatures and stereotypes that show no nuance. They’ve often been used to demean “the opposition,” and replace human faces with plastic masks. In this uncivil war of words, what can we do to reverse this trend and heal the damage already done?

Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace ~ Post 4: Migrants, Refugees, Immigrants, Friends (December 22, 2016). Recently, I’ve been typing up my Mom’s oral history interviews for a memoir she’s reading next year at one of the two non-profits she’s still active in at age almost 90. Some of her specific stories remind me again of the privilege it is to have been raised in a family with people of peace on both sides. I’ll post stories from my Dad another time, but for this post, I wanted to draw together three stories based on my Mom’s memories of her parents and their family, that demonstrate facets of what it is to be people of peace: welcoming the sojourner, showing hospitality, and standing for justice. One is about migrant farm worker friends, another about refugee friends who fled from Russia, and a third about Japanese American friends during World War II.

Peacemaking and Becoming People of Peace ~ Post 5: My Dad as a Person of Peace (December 31, 2016). Some things about your parents you just know because you’re there. Other things you figure out, whether early on in family life or later. And some things you may not even find out til some surprises come to light. And one of the things I’ve come to understand better over the years is that my Dad was a “person of peace” …

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 (January 27, 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 Field Guide #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.

Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits (August 31, 2017). How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence (August 31, 2017), by Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith. To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable. In the previous post, I gave a brief preview of key features for The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide from a systems perspective, and listed other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In this post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal and historical perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers.

World AIDS Day and Remembering Dr. Lalia Phipps Boone (December 1, 2017). Description to be added.

Remembering The White Rose (February 22, 2018). 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. 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.

Domestic Violence, Ministry, and Controversy in Conservative Christianity: Some Historical Context and Perspective (April 29, 2018). 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. This post offers some background on other forms of abuse and violence that find relevance in the recent problems that have arisen with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson.

Surprises from Post-Apartheid South Africa (September 23, 2014). Description to be added.

Movie Recommendations in Remembrance of Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday (July 18, 2018). Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918. Surely he is one of the most renowned people of the 20th and 21st centuries. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday, I have three movies to recommend: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Invictus, and Reconciliation: Mandela’s Miracle. In these movies, I see deep lessons on both humility and having a conciliatory spirit, and how these two complementary attitudes can fuel peace-making efforts that embody “compassion, restraint, and generosity.” Those three qualities were absent under apartheid, according to a speech Mandela gives to his fellow black and colored South Africans in Invictus. And now, as their newly elected president, he hopes these qualities will be exhibited by the black and colored majority toward the white minority.

These are movies for our times, whether we are survivors of injustice, leaders in social enterprises or ministries, or everyday people who want to make a difference.

Remembering the “Zero Hour” Over Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 9, 2018). This week marks the 73rd year since the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima, Japan, (August 6) and a few days later on Nagasaki (August 9). Two months ago, Judy Wu Dominick, whom I follow on Twitter, posted a photo of “the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.” This image and knowing what it meant stirred up a lot of emotions. It moved me to post on memories I’d been mulling over the past few years, since I was acquainted with Dr. Larry Johnston, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and developed the “starter bombs” that trigger the nuclear bombs used in these explosions.

Coming to Terms with Culture, Context, and Civil Conversations (September 30, 2018). Contextualization to bridge cultural differences is a paradoxical practice. We cannot discern general cultural trends if we do not truly hear lived experiences of specific individuals. And if we only pay attention to individuals, we fail to see how culture influences them. [Also] needed for cross-cultural communication to be more effective [is the practice of] humility. Namely, a willingness to share in the conversation – not be in control over it, plus speak honestly and keep asking clarification questions to work through to understanding. It strikes me these … practices also form the core of civility in social discourse, regardless of the topics at hand. But humility is the center of civility; if we are unwilling to partner in conversations, surely we only get diatribes and debates, never true dialogue.

Kristallnacht 1938-2018 (November 10, 2018). Angela Merkel recently said that, “When the generation that survived the war is no longer with us, we’ll find out whether we have learned from history” (Newsweek, July 20, 2018). That time draws ever near, and what have we learned … about totalitarianism? About violence? About resistance? November 9-10 marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht – the “night of broken glass.” These orchestrated attacks against Jewish citizens, shops, and synagogues in Germany mark the onset of violence that led to thousands of concentration and labor camps, six death camps, and genocide with the ultimate loss of millions of lives.

Veterans Day, PTSD, The Lord of the Rings, and Winnie-the-Pooh (November 11, 2018). War is devastating, and World War I was particularly so. According to a BBC segment on A Lost Generation, “It is believed that World War One had the highest number of active serving writers, artists and musicians of any war in history, many of whom were part of the estimated nine million military casualties.” Among those cultural creatives who fought in the war were J.R.R. Tolkien and A.A. Milne. How might their wartime experiences and possibly even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have played a role in what they wrote and why? What personal and social dynamics did suffering, loss, and grief bring to their country, and how might this have affected the ways in which these authors’ works were received?

Thirty Years Ago: “Troubles” At and After Tiananmen Square (June 3, 2019). This post is one I have mulled over for almost as long as I’ve been blogging, and that’s over 15 years–half the timespan between events related to the massacres in Tiananmen and the lesser-remembered Tianfu Squares, and now. I’ve delayed writing it, not just because it’s about some difficult and disturbing subject matter, but because if I were to write about this at all, I knew I needed to write with discretion, to do my best to shield a friend from China.

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Trends in Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2018)

INTRODUCTORY NOTES: The research and reflection that went into these posts on trends from 2012 through 2018 eventually sparked the series that became A Cultural Geography of Abuse Survivor Communities, which I wrote starting in December 2018 and finished in December 2019.

Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2012-2016)

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month: Emerging Issues, 2012. For a few years now, January has been designated as “Spiritual Abuse Awareness” month. So, I wanted to post a list of “barometer” readings of recent events in the “spiritual abuse survivors’ community,” plus suggest emerging issues that help us identify indications of change in the cultural atmosphere on issues of spiritual abuse. This post considers changes to the number of support and resource networks for survivors of spiritual abuse. It also looks at four emerging issues of note:

  1. De-Churched Christians.
  2. No virtual pass for abusive actions by leaders.
  3. More “citizen journalist” reports with detailed documentation of alleged spiritual abuse.
  4. Expanding the concept of accountability to “system partners” that enable abusive behavior by celebrity Christians.

“Hangover Unholiness” Left by Malignant Ministers: Spiritual Abuse Recovery Questions for 2013. I’ve been blogging on spiritual abuse the past five years, mostly on analyzing dynamics of “malignant ministers,” spiritually abusive organizational structures, and 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.

For 2013, it seems my focus may be shifting to writing about organizational and systemic questions dealing with the aftermath of years of intact cultures of toxicity, and how to dismantle them – if they can even be salvaged. And what unique issues will be faced by multiple generations when they have been immersed in these abusive environments of faulty doctrines (e.g., authoritarianism, patriarchalism, legalism, perfectionism), and the organizational structures that institutionalized those anti-biblical rules?

Spiritual Abuse Survivors: The “Community” Becomes a Movement.” If you read my 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.” My reply 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.”

Trends, Turning Points, and Tipping Points in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (2014). A series in two parts: Setting the Stage, and New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations.

Part 1: Setting the Stage. Part 1 introduces the overall framework I use for analyzing developments in abuse survivor communities:

  1. Trends – general patterns in beliefs, actions, and consequences.
  2. Turning points – noticeable course corrections for the better, or changes for the worse.
  3. Tipping points – passing the threshold for sustaining a trajectory in the long run.

Part 2: New Observations, Analysis, Interpretations. Part 2 shares a series of specifics in those three categories.

  1. Trends – survivors from different types of abuse connecting; and public apologies by people culpable for or complicit in abuse.
  2. Turning points – wiser crowd-sourcing of information; getting better at navigating legal issues involved in confronting abuse; and increased emphasis on prevention practices and starting healthier systems.
  3. Tipping points – interpreting from a systems mindset.

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities ~ 10 Trend Projections and Predictions for 2016-2020. (posted 2016). These trends and related predictions are in no particular order other than in when they came to mind.

  1. Four core false doctrines [word of faith, health-and-wealth/prosperity gospel, shepherding movement, Eternal Subordination of the Son], and three core toxic systems [authoritarianism, monetarism, patriarchalism].
  2. Networking is moving toward more collaborative action.
  3. Increased calling out of abusers plus their commenders, defenders, and enablers.
  4. Implosion of the Southern Baptist Convention and other ministry associations.
  5. Lawsuits against allegedly abusive religious non-profit boards, staffs, and membership.
  6. Child abuse prevention training.
  7. Organizational evaluation and certification for preventing spiritual abuse.
  8. IRS regulations and investigations on religious non-profits will change.
  9. Abuse survivor specialists in academic, practitioner, and ministry fields.
  10. Advances in trauma psychology and research.

Spiritual Sounding Board: The Legacy That a Defamation Lawsuit Left to the Survivor Community (February 22, 2016). Who would’ve thought that a pastor’s defamation lawsuit that seemed meant to intimidate and destroy former congregants, instead had the opposite impact? It sparked resources to comfort and edify spiritual abuse survivors. This post marks the four-year anniversary of the beginning of the lawsuit by Charles O’Neal and Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) against Julie Anne Smith and four other defendants. In that time, Julie Anne’s Spiritual Sounding Board blog has become a beacon for survivors of spiritual abuse and other types of abuse/violence. She has posted 920 articles in 169 categories with nearly 1000 tags to help in search processes, and tallied nearly 1 million views on the home page.

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Survivor Blogging Trends 2017

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part One – Past Articles (2012-2016) on Trends in Spiritual Abuse Survivor Communities (May 1, 2017). Part One in this series lays out the plan for blogging in 2017 about recent trends in survivor communities, plus gives summaries for each of the previous trend posts from 2012 through 2016.

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Two – Survivor Blogs Aren’t the Same as Discernment Blogs (May 1, 2017). 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. [Teamwork, women and men working as colleagues, input from other survivor bloggers to serve as peer review/input panel, and some of the behind-the-scenes processes that go into discerning if and when to publish articles.]

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Three – Positive Trends in Survivor Blog Communities (May 9, 2017). Overviews four constructive trends that have emerged:

  1. Building of working relationships with news agencies.
  2. Accessing research/recovery materials through cross-listing, mega-link lists, indexing, archiving, categories, and tags.
  3. Increasing numbers of people conducting academic-level research, curricula, and trainings.
  4. Deeper discussions about systemic elements and issues that perpetuate abuse, including theologies, church polities, organizational insiders and outsiders who enable abusers, and toxic organizational strategies and structures.

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #1 – We’re Working Mostly in Words (May 25, 2017). We abuse survivors tend to have a lot of issues to address in our thinking, feelings, and actions. Participating in survivor blog threads doesn’t automatically fill in all gaps in our understanding, or correct any flaws in our paradigm – even if it does offer us a community of people who get it about the trauma we’ve gone through. Many social media types are tough to use in talking about abuse survival and recovery, because they’re mostly just words in print. When the meaning of the words is ambiguous, “The 40/60 Rule” helps us understand why social media is stressful. According to that rule, only 40% of intended meaning comes from (1) the words themselves, and the other 60% comes from the larger context, which includes (2) tone of voice, (3) facial expression, and (4) overall body language. Since most social media works only in writing, that lends itself to conflicts beyond the content of the words themselves, such as dealing with “tone policing.”

Survivor Blogging Trends 2017: Part Four – Challenge #2 – Natural Limits of Crowd-Sourced Fact Gathering (November 2, 2017). In survivor blogging, a lot of the writers I know invest time in “due diligence.” They’re seeking to get their information straight – collecting as many facts and observations as possible so they can sort through what’s relevant to patterns that indicate abuse. As I see it, there can be a problem involving this critical thinking equation. It’s about the limits of crowd-sourcing additional facts, and discussing them. When a comment thread has reached the limit of factual information available, that creates a sort of threshold for when a thread tends to go off-topic and and gets more unproductive on the original topic. The ultimate impact can be a problem: The post (or the whole blog) loses readers who get frustrated with irrelevant comments and opinions, emotional reactions to the situations, and/or speculations. How could/should blog owners deal with this to keep comments on-topic and productive?

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Survivor Blogging Background, Trends, and Analysis 2018

Forty Years of Trends Leading to #MeToo, #ChurchToo, and #SBCToo (September 5, 2018). This post begins with historical background on the #MeToo, #ChurchToo, and #SBCToo movements and hashtag campaigns. It then compiles a series of comments I made using futurist concepts and techniques on a post at The Wartburg Watch in June 2018 about the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the impact of abuse survivor movements.

  1. The STEEPER tool for the order things tend to change in for different social-cultural domains.
  2. Tipping points for change, and how deep-level change takes place through paradigm shifts.
  3. The big question of whether #MeToo and #ChurchToo are long-term drivers of change that will last 50 years or more, or just mere fads that will lose steam within a few years.
  4. Trends and movements of the last 40 years that set the stage for #MeToo.

Reflections on The Courage Conference 2018 (October 25, 2018). I attended the third annual Courage Conference, October 20-21. This post shares some observations and trends about survivor communities (on resources, gender equity, and racial diversity), plus some thoughts on how to process patterns and track social change. The section on processing patterns provides the base for much of the rest of this series.

GC2 and Questions to Evaluate Our Expertise on Systemic Abuse and Sexual Violence (November 17, 2018). This article was originally posted as a thread in my Twitter feed. I have edited it to remove abbreviations, embed links, and add bracketed words for understandability. Otherwise, it is the same as posted there. I wrote it in response to a critical question posed by Wade Mullen, in a thread about the December 13, 2018, GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Violence.

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A Cultural Geography of Abuse Survivor Communities (2018-2019)

OVERVIEW. This series is a first-draft attempt on my part to share what I see as happening in mostly North American Christian dimensions of what has become known as the #MeToo movement. This will combine elements of:

  • Where this movement came from.
  • Some of the key people and organizations involved historically and currently.
  • What values, beliefs, and practices participants tend to have in common.
  • How things seem to work (or not work) in these communities – for survivors, their support advocates, and social change advocates.

What cartography, GPS, and Google map videos do for physical landscapes, “cultural geography” does for cultural landscapes and their surrounding social eco-systems. This interdisciplinary approach to human ecology seeks to capture the composition contours and key issue features in some kind of social group, culture, or organization. That’s what I hope to do for Christian abuse/violence survivor communities, at least in a preliminary way, from what I’ve absorbed while working in and around them.

I know from my past studies in analyzing subculture emergence, social movements, and cultural paradigm shifts, that it’s difficult to be precise when you’re trying to survey what’s happening at the same time that you’re swirling in a whirlpool of change. But certain kinds of things do become evident – or at least present themselves of indicators of which ways the waters are moving. And that’s the situation that confronts us with the #MeToo movement and its related Church-based counterparts. There are some things we can grab on to fairly easily, but still a lot of questions floating around.

This series is based on my personal experiences far more than theoretical research into abuse survivor communities. As such, the posts are idiosyncratic — what I have observed, analyzed, and interpreted — rather than synthesizing the research of others. Still, I hope these resources will help those inside and outside the range of abuse/violence survivor communities to better understand some of the dimensions and dynamics involved among the broad range of people affected by issues of abuse and violence.

Introduction. This post shares some of my background related to archiving, cultural geography, and futuring, and how these disciplines come together in developing this series. In this cultural geography of abuse/violence survivor communities, I will attempt to capture the contours of topics and trends that I have worked in and around, some of them for over 40 years.

Part 1 – A Paradigm Profile and Cultural GPS of the Christian Wing(s) of the #MeToo Movement. This two-part article is the most technical in the series, but foundational to all else in analyzing this movement’s paradigm, problems, and possibilities.

Part 1A applies aspects of paradigm profiling, subcultural emergence, and social transformation tracking to the punk rock subculture and “emerging ministry movement.” This gives us a robust historical example as a framework to consider what brings people together into movements, and how things tend to change over time in it.

Part 1B applies these frameworks to give an initial profile for the Christian version of the #MeToo movement. I base this description primarily on my own personal experiences, online interactions, and other sources. It includes my initial analysis of key elements of common ground that unify this movement. I also identify issues where there are considerable doctrinal differences that may have the power to fragment the movement if participants choose strict conformity over stepped collaboration.

Part 2– Confirmation Bias Much? When it comes to concepts about “systemic abuse,” what’s on our radar? How did those ideas and indicators get there? If we don’t detail our presuppositions when describing a situation we see as “abusive,” does that invalidate our conclusions? Are we only allowed to critique public figures or situation if we personally know them?

What’s on our discernment radar about abuse, and conflicts we have with other advocates over concepts, become especially relevant in the current #MeToo environment. There, individual and institutional abuse is being called out – but Christian figures are often behind the curve in understanding what this social movement means for the Church and survivors.

This post summarizes the common ground of #MeToo as a movement, and suggests basic reasons for conflicts among factions when it comes to the Christian version of it. It also include a series of questions that help reveal what’s on our radar about systemic abuse/violence, and where we may have problem-causing gaps.

Part 3 – Abuse Survivor Storying Systems. In this post, I describe key changes I’ve seen since beginning in 2007 to track how abuse survivors have been sharing their personal accounts of victimization, push-back, and recovery. It includes storying opportunities for abuse survivors, provided by six sources:

  1. in-person sharing,
  2. “survivor blogs,”
  3. social media platforms and campaigns,
  4. conventional media/news sources,
  5. conferences, and
  6. independent investigations.

This post also includes an example of how even one person’s sharing of their story can create a pebble-in-the-pond effect that ripples out to reach at least two more rings of impact.

Part 4 – Investigations and Integrations. For nearly eight months, I’ve been trying to figure out a concept framework that helps organize what I’ve been learning about what constitutes an “independent investigation” into a situation of abuse. This is a significant concern in survivor communities, because not every person or organization that says they’re for “independent” investigations really are. And the results for abuse survivors who end up in some kind of non-independent investigation often find themselves with buyers remorse later.

My resulting framework looks at five different system integration points for investigations. It profiles the purpose, mission, values, and vision that each integration point naturally produces. It also considers what differences in paradigms can mean in terms of constructive or destructive impact for abuse survivors.

Part 5 – The Contours of “Watchblog” Communities. In a recently filed defamation lawsuit, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel labeled the people he’s suing as “attack bloggers.” Are they really just attacking him for reasons of revenge – or are they simply attempting to reveal individual and institutional actions that have harmed people whom the church should have helped, and shine a light on the ideologies that drove them?

Blogs have become a significant source of investigative information for survivor communities. So, they have sometimes been called “watchblogs.” But are all sites that engage in exposés of reported abuses actually survivor-friendly? What are the contours of blogging among survivor communities – along with subcategories and the distinctives of each? How does blogging relate to various types of abuse, and what are important patterns and trends that we see among them? This post maps out contours of the wider watchblog communities.

Part 6 – Pursuing a “Truth Before Reconciliation” Process – and Identifying Shortcomings of Reliance on Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation. Not all aspects of so-called “investigations” are geared to serve survivors by finding the truth and rectifying the abuse. Some processes seek to silence the victims. Others effectively limit liability to the individuals and/or organizations accused of perpetrating and perpetuating abuse. Some supposed reconciliation processes ultimately fail the system of people involved by not preventing future abuse. This post offers several frameworks to observe, analyze, and interpret how dependent or independent an investigation is. This includes considering conflicts of interest, theological misinterpretations, and net effects on victims and perpetrators of various elements used by investigative agencies.

In the posts of Part 6, we’ll look at some of the means that Christian institutions use against individuals victimized in/by toxic organizations. These methods may achieve the institution’s integrating goal of self-protection. However, they typically leverage flawed theological points to manipulate survivors. Ultimately, giving in to these tools and theologies comes at a cost of legal and ethical consequences for survivors.

Part 6A. Introduction to legal-system tools and investigation/negotiation/resolution processes that benefit institutions over survivors.

Part 6B. Four legal-system tools (defamation lawsuits, non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreements, non-compete clauses, and church membership “covenants” that are legal contracts). Includes brief examples, plus a longer case study from The Village Church and its membership covenant.

Part 6C. Initial exploration into three investigation/negotiation/resolution processes (arbitration, conciliation, and mediation), plus a case study from Willow Creek Community Church leaders hiring Crossroads Resolution Group and the women victims refusing to play by those rules, and why.

Part 6D. Overview of key problems in misuse of these legal tools and resolution processes; some ways their impact has affected (and disaffected) survivor communities; and some resources on pastoral care, survivor recovery, and building better perspective.

Part 6E. This post on systems-related terms sets up the final segment in Part 6, where we will look at better ways of “restorative justice” for situations to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation.

Part 6F. In this final segment for Part 6, we look at the better way of resolution to situations involving systemic abuse and historical/societal oppression, through truth-finding before reconciliation. This last element sets up the basis for Part 7, comparing and contrasting agencies that promote independent investigations and restorative justice versus those that promote internal or partial investigations and dispute resolution processes that fail to dismantle systemic abuse.

Part 7 – Evaluating Christian Agencies That Deal with Abuse Investigations, Arbitration, Conciliation, and/or Mediation.In recent years, we’ve seen an increased number of abuse survivors refuse offers of involvement in investigations or negotiations with reportedly abusive individuals and institutions. Typically, these processes have required private, partial, or internal investigations; and/or arbitration, conciliation, mediation services as a gateway to “reconciliation.” How do we evaluate whether they are trustworthy and the process is just?

The previous post in this series laid out a framework for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” With that comprehensive framework in place for evaluating how independent an investigative method is, it makes sense to apply this to the organizations and networks that purport to conduct investigations into abuse. This should help people understand why so many in survivor communities have seen GRACE as setting the high bar for all truly independent investigative agencies – and why they reject attempts to use other processes and organizations that serve the hiring institutions instead of the abuse survivors.

Part 7A lays out frameworks for evaluating the inputs and impact of these various approaches to “making things right.” It lists questions to use for analyzing: (1) the ethical environment in which proposed resolutions are offered, (2) the infrastructures for interaction, and (3) resolution arrangements.

Part 7B applies these three frameworks (ethics, infrastructures, and resolutions), plus resonance with core values of abuse survivor communities, to major Christian agencies involved in victim situations. This is presented in three sections:

Part 7B1: Understand Community Values for Insights Into Response Patterns.

Part 7B2: Examples of What Survivor Communities Have Actually Been Up Against. This post serves as a “reader’s guide” to what has become a quintessential litmus-test case in the kinds of abuse, cover-up, and deflection that survivors and their communities have had to endure.

In this case of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM; more recently renamed Sovereign Grace Churches) and their celebrity leader, CJ Mahaney, that state of unresolved trauma and ongoing triggering for many victims of child abuse and reported spiritual abuse, has gone on for decades.

I chose this case study because it came into existence long before any form of the #MeToo movement got going, and it has resurfaced annually since then. A protective shell of other well-known evangelical individuals and institutions keep surrounding SGM and CJ Mahaney. This adds to the frustration of survivors, their loved ones, and their advocates who seek justice but have been met with silencing.

Part 7B3: Researching Key Concerns About Major Christian Investigation/Resolution Agencies. As I near completion of this series, I want to share some things about why I began it in the first place. Two main observations were driving it.

First, I noticed that some individuals within the wider Christian #MeToo circles had significant issues with MinistrySafe – a Christian investigation/conciliation agency run by lawyers.

Second, it was clear from responses/opinions about MinistrySafe that there were multiple subgroups or layers within this Christian wing of the #MeToo movement, beyond just different denominational ties.

So, I wanted to provide some observations about this, and offer links for those who want to research more on their own.

Part 8 – Coming Full Circle on Issues That Could Divide Us. This post concludes the cultural geography series. It took a full year to finish, and is somewhere around 40,000 words. This just-completed conclusion addresses key trends and some methodological differences that threaten to fragment us. In my opinion, survival solutions are to be found a paradigm that supports open-system, centered-set approaches to advocacy and activism.

If there’s one key trend I’d note for 2019, it’s that some significant – and potentially destructive – internal differences among abuse survivors, advocates, and activists became more noticeable in social media.

I believe we cannot overcome these potential fault lines unless we move to an open-system/ centered-set approach in our advocacy and activism. This allows us coexist with those who have differences in theology and tolerable differences in methodologies – while negotiating to develop common ground for the common good.

Although some potential allies might end up sidelined in these efforts, we cannot succumb to those who would impose a closed-system/ bounded-set approach to advocacy. In my view, that would be counterproductive because it requires submitting to bullying.

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Documenting and Writing Your Account of Spiritual Abuse (2013)

Is It Time To Tell My Story? Suggestions for spiritual abuse survivors on how, when, and why in sharing their accounts of abuse and recovery.

I highly recommend Barbara Orlowski’s 20-question survey, which provides an essential framework as you begin thinking through the before, during, and after periods of the abuse and recovery processes. This survey was the basis for her research project for her Doctor of Ministry degree. It would be helpful to at least look at her questions to see the flow of how they work together – it is a well-constructed survey, and can be immensely helpful in processing your experiences.

Many people are now writing or commenting on spiritual abuse survivor topics. Given the damage to our souls wrought by such so-called “discipleship,” it is no surprise that some of what we write demonstrates anger, sarcasm, innuendo, curses, and harsh or vulgar language. However, if this does perhaps help us in our venting about abuse and abusers, it can also prove “triggering” – not edifying – for others who read it. So, in the following post, I offer some practical advice on Writing Respectfully and Defusing “Triggers” that I have learned over the years in my research writing on abuse, violence, and social action.

For advanced suggestions on writing your story, see Tutorial #9 on Transformation. This tutorial covers a series of critical thinking skills and tools for detailing events and discerning the times, with the ultimate goal of moving beyond our current paradigm and past factors that shaped it, and pursuing a future that is both possible and preferable. It contains a list of spiritual abuse investigation and archive sites, many of which present the stories of individual survivors – especially from very specific church denominations or ministry organizations.

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Spiritual Abuse and Recovery Book Lists

Categorized and Chronological Visual Bibliographies (2012)

Spiritual Abuse and Recovery Book Lists (page) and Chronology of Books on Spiritual Abuse and Recovery (post). Two extensive lists of primary Christian books on spiritual abuse – categorized and chronological – and tips for how to use each.


I’ve been working on two reference/resource lists for a while now – and am presenting them in two versions: chronological order, and alphabetical within several key categories. Each serves a unique purpose. Both use a select list (but I’m trying to get it more and more comprehensive over time). I’m looking for Christian books primarily, plus a few that are from other religious/spiritual backgrounds and some academic volumes. I’m also including a few select titles on spiritual abuse and cults that are now considered “classic,” regardless of whether they are Christian in their perspective or not. Overall, the lists include books that deal with such topics as:

  • Authoritarian Leaders
  • Church Discipline
  • Conditioning, Mind-Control, Brainwashing, and “Reprogramming”
  • Dechurched Disciples
  • Faulty Teachings, Heretical Teachings, and Cults (some general, some very specific)
  • Legalistic Theologies
  • Personality Disorders and Abuse: Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic,Obsessive-Compulsive, Paranoid, Passive-Aggressive, Psychopath/Sociopath, Sadistic
  • Recovery and Restoration
  • Religious Addiction
  • Spiritual Abuse
  • Toxic Churches/Organizations/Systems


The timeline version: Chronology of Books on Spiritual Abuse and Recovery. (2012)

The Categorized Version, with books posted alphabetically by title. (2012)

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Spiritual Abuse Resources – The Chronological Version

See the following link for a Chronology of Books on Spiritual Abuse and Recovery. The books there are clustered into five-year periods from 1976 to 2015, and publications go through early 2012. From this grouping technique, we may see some patterns about what issues were emphasized in what eras.

I wanted to put these books in chronological order, as a potential study tool for understanding how the history of wider Church-based concern about “malignant ministry” has developed. This is in part because, as a 20-something-year-old, I endured a devastating church split that came closer to claiming my faith than anything before or since. That was in 1978, and all I had back then were the Scriptures, a few friends to process things with, and a tenuous clinging onto Jesus Christ, that gradually over time turned into a tenacious commitment. It would be a dozen years before some of the very first (and also what have turned out to be some of the very best) resource books were published for survivors of such horrific experiences. Somewhere along the line, it just made sense for me to do my own research writing on spiritual abuse, toxic systems, and recovery because I knew from experience what it was like not finding information to answer relevant questions.

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Spiritual Abuse Resources – The Categorized Version

The Categorized Version lists books alphabetically by title. Books are clustered into three categories:

1. General Resources. Authoritarian Leaders, Dechurched Disciples, Legalistic Theologies, Religious Addiction, Spiritual Abuse, Toxic Churches, Recovery, Restoration

2. Bullies, Leaders, and Enablers with Personality Disorders. Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic,Obsessive-Compulsive, Paranoid, Passive-Aggressive, Psychopath/Sociopath, Sadistic

3. Cults and Extreme Abuse Organizations. Conditioning, Mind-Control, Brainwashing, Recovery, and “Reprogramming”

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Informal Content Analysis Shows Top Three Most Common Theological Problems in Malignant Ministries

This section is from a comment I made on a thread at The Wartburg Watch in November 2014. I have edited it slightly for clarity.

There’s an interesting pattern that I recognized a while back when I was working on a comprehensive list of Christian books about spiritual abuse that have been published since about 1990. I included books from every theological bent possible. I didn’t do a formal list and run a tally, but the impression kept lodging in my memory and distilled out that the three theological problems mentioned most often were:

  • Authoritarian leadership and some variation on the Shepherding Movement.
  • Word of Faith with its sort of pray it, say it, don’t delay it — or conceive it, believe it, receive it — mantras!
  • Prosperity gospel, where God’s blessing on you/your ministry is supposedly validated with wealth.

It’s all insidious, but it does seem that maybe Word of Faith shows up more often in the charismatic zone of theology, while Prosperity Gospel in the most baptistic zone. Meanwhile, some form of Shepherding seems to undergird all malignant ministries and sick church systems. The worst of the worst will have all three conjoined in a “toxic trifecta.”

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Other Resource/Reference Pages

Some items may be added here.

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All materials (c) Brad Sargent except where otherwise noted.