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Once upon a time, back in my previous life as a Word of Faith devotee, doing what my mama raised me to believe was true, right and the best thing to do, Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel both rang fondly in my ears. But that was all long before I ever knew that there was such a thing as “spiritual abuse” and something called the “Shepherding Discipleship Movement.”
In fact, I was so good at innocently believing in goodness and hoping for it in the name of God's love, I think that I had to observe some serious abuse and experience a little of it myself to even consider that it such a thing was possible. What made it harder was the fact that it wasn't just a matter of a few bad apples who ended up being pastors. As Zimbardo puts it, the barrel was bad, and a good apple can't survive in a bad barrel – a barrel that is poorly maintained and provided for. Some systems and barrels become a perfect storm for spiritual abuse. No apple survives it unblemished.
Discernment Ministries Usually Avoid the Bulk of the Problems
Compounding the problem in the pre-internet days, most counter-cult apologetics groups would only ever confront doctrinal problems and ignored the behaviors, ignoring the fact that the Bible teaches that abusive religious leaders can best be spotted by what they do, not what they say. And this is, in my bold opinion, remains one of the primary failings of what many call “discernment ministries.” Modern Christians decided somewhere along the way that the twisted Scripture mantras of the Shepherding movement were all important: “Don't sow discord among the brethren.” “Don't be a talebearer.” (And don't confuse the latter one with a prejudice against family pets.) High demand religion takes this a step further and also cites “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm” as insulation and damage control against examining a pastor's behavior. “Let love cover a multitude ofsins” also exploits the trust of good, earnest people. “Don't take up offenses” also helps to maintain control.
They forget that Jesus told the Twelve to go out and shout from the rooftops about the evil deeds done in secret. They forgot about the rather histrionic ceremony of going out to the gate of a city to “kick the dust off off one's feet” as a very public sign – a formal statement against the abusive behaviors of religious charlatans within those gates. As the sidebar of this site notes prominently, 90% of the Scripture verses found in the Bible concerning false teachers, false prophets and Pharisees talk about behavior, fruit, and motive. They focus on only that ten percent, and they often teach others that discussing or focusing on anything else is improper. They forget that the late, great Walter Martin often reminded Christians that the life one lived was as important as the doctrine taught, and a Christian was accountable to have both well in order.
So the survivor of religious abuse often finds themselves without much help when they go to Christian discernment ministries for help and information about the worst things that these groups do to their members. The counter-cult apologetics groups usually fail to realize that, though important, doctrine usually isn't the primary or the most significant problem in pragmatic terms. That one thing which makes the Word of God ineffective poses the greatest problem: the traditions of men. But as I've noted here, Christians have largely decided that it's only fitting and proper to discuss doctrine.
I could not even begin to list all of the problems with Calvary Chapel, but those who read this blog should be fairly familiar with the all too familiar dynamics of high demand religion, notably Shepherding. If you're familiar with the abuses of Bill Gothard's system, you know it well, too. Considering that Paul told us in many passages that human beings are quite predictable in the ways that they sin (I Corinthians 10:1-22 , Galatians 5:19-20 as two notable examples), and considering that Jesus pointed out the predictable patterns of the Pharisees, the things men do to control a group of people are fairly predictable. Manipulation of groups looks like what Henke calls spiritual abuse and what Lifton called thought reform. And Christian groups who end up falling into the predictable patterns of the traditions of men instead of trusting God end up looking like any other high demand, abusive, idealistic group. They end up doing what the Pharisees did.
Below I'll list some links to information about the history of thought reform and spiritual abuse at Calvary Chapel who followed the errors of the Shepherding movement (which you can read about here). Think Shepherding, and you're on the right track. If you're familiar with the problems at SovereignGrace Ministries, you have a good idea of what goes on at Calvary Chapel, too.
Shepherds Suing Sheep
|Read more about the abuses of Matt 18 HERE.|
Please note that my primary focus today isn't shepherding I want to point out the growing trend of abusive ministries who sue fellow Christians and churches that sue members and former members of their flocks for breaking silence about abuse. I wrote about this trend last year – about how many churches actually believe that they're doing Gods will when the sue other Christians. Bill Alnor successfully defended himself with an anti-SLAPP suit when Hank Hanegraaf launched a defamation suit against him. I've only very briefly mentioned Julie Anne Smith's victory in court when her pastor sued her for posting a bad review of the church on Goggle, making note of some specific abuses there. Now, a church within the Calvary Chapel network has filed suit against two former congregants for exposing the abuses within the church on the internet – one of whom is the plaintiff's own son. It's yet another case of an abusive shepherd using Caesar's courts to protect the public image of the church and their “ministry.” What happened to good shepherds and why have pastors in particular dismissed 1 Corinthians 6?
Julie Ann Smith wrote a fine summary of the case on the BGBC Survivors blog some time ago, if you're not yet familiar with the issue (BGBC stands for Beaverton Grace Bible Church, the acronym for the church that sued her). She follows up with her support of the defendant at the Spiritual Sounding Board. Christianity Today helped to start the ball rolling to bring attention to the case on a wider scale. Religion News also features a quick read summary of the highlights. OC Weekly has an interesting bit to contribute, too. You can also visit the blog that started the controversy, CalvaryChapelAbuse.com.
Oppose the Tyranny
If you speak out against spiritual abuse online and elsewhere, if you gain benefit from those who do, and if you appreciate the freedom to be able to do so, please participate in the February 21 protest against those who oppose this liberty. Stand with those people who speak openly about the abuse that they endured at the hands of miserable religious groups – and stand beside them as they defend themselves against their own pastors and churches who use the civil court system to silence them. Help to shout from the rooftops that which is done in secret.
Please pop on over to Who Would Jesus Sue to find out more about how you can take action tomorrow to stand along side Tim Taylor and Alex Grenier.
More about spiritual abuse at Calvary Chapel:
There are more – you can use Google! I don't want to waste any more time on the matter. I have tweets to write.