Monday, September 19, 2005

An Unhealthy Body

Part 7 of 7

Sadly, spiritual abuse is all too common and eerily similar wherever it occurs. It is not limited to particular denominations or extreme cult-like churches, but also happens among many normal, mainstream churches.

Part of the reason is because the church has adopted the political and power structures of the world for governing, rather than building the church with kingdom principles and values.

It is the nature of those systems that actually corrupts relationships within community. Hierarchial structures and authoritarian leadership produce the politics that result in abuse.

Pyramid-shaped leadership structures produce an elite class. This is damaging not only to the members who assume passive roles, but also to the leaders who take on a distorted view of their spiritual authority and responsiblity.

The idea of spiritual covering is a common teaching that is a manifestation of this distorted concept of a leader's authority. The covering teaching elevates the leader as a mediator, replacing the role of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the person's life.

Churches have become clubs built around the superiority of their particular doctrine. This works to not only divide groups of believers, but also creates an unhealthy culture of exclusivity within the group.

Rather than being a dispersed people focused on our mission in the world, the time, talent, and money of members is invested in maintaining organizations.

The church was supposed to be a new kind of society with a unique character. It has instead emulated the world in its leadership and organization.

If change is necessary, let us be willing to change for the health and growth of the Body, not protecting our organizations and structures as if they were sacred.

Whether they have experienced abuse or not, many within the emerging conversation understand the inaccuracies of the system and are taking a serious look at the leadership of church.

Take a look at this reformation paper written by Marc Van der Woude outlining many of the changes that are necessary.

These are the things the emerging conversation is challenging and attempting to redefine. Many of us have abandoned our attachment to organizations and structures. However, we have not abandoned our love for the body of Christ.


Grey Owl said...

I've really enjoyed this series, Grace. Thanks for your insights. I hope we can, as you say, "be willing to change for the health and growth of the Body, not protecting our organizations and structures as if they were sacred."

Cindy said...

Amen, Grace.

grace said...

Thanks grey owl and cindy.

Now I think I'll take a little break and spend my time reading what you guys are writing. It looks like good stuff. :)

David Cho said...

Very well said. Never understood the church having an elaborate "consitution." That is one thing that has bugged me.

Have you studied how New Testament churches were structured? Not much about orgnization can be drawn from Paul's letters, but I'm curious.

grace said...

I have read quite a bit that others have written on the subject.

Here is a link to a long article by Frank Viola. I don't agree with all of his teachings, but find this article to be throrough.

It is an excerpt from his book "Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices."

To read the article, click on

jhugo said...

Today I read your series on spiritual abuse, and it describe what I had to live and to experience now.

I think you had the best words to express or explain what people that suffered spiritual abuse can feel.
I lived it 1 year and some month ago in Vail, CO and I'm still living in pain.
I'm from Argentina where now I'm living with the help of my family on it. But it still is a hard and painful time.
I read books about spiritual abuse, maybe I'll ask for same sharing because I want to share about it in spanish, cause there's not much material about it.

Grey Owl said...

Hope I do see you by my site sometime, Grace!

grace said...

I pray that the Lord will continue his healing in you. I hope that you have people to support you and to talk with.

jhugo said...

I spent all day reading your serie on it. I'm translating to spanish to share with those who don't know english.
I have my family (small) and 1 friend.
I loose a job, a good place, desires, communication w/ best friend, plus all that you mentioned on it.
I'm not willing get out of my home anytime. Part of it I think is the social-economic situation of Argentina.
I'll write you much later.

jhugo said...

I didn't find your email, so I write here.
I'd like to use what you wrote on my blog. I want to share with others about it. I'd like to translate it and make references to your blog.

Samuel said...

Some of what you say in this entry reminds me of a piece by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity, shared with me by a common friend - Jimmy over at FluidFaith.

"Stupidity is a more dangerous foe of the good than evil is. It is possible to protest against evil, to expose oneself, and at times it can be prevented by force. Evil always carries in itself the gern of a substitute for it, in that it leaves behind at least a feeling of uneasiness in men. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor force can accomplish anythin here; reasons are of no avail; facts that contradict one's own prejudices simply do not need to be believed -- in such cases the stupid person even becomes critical -- and if they are unavoidable, the can simply be shoved aside as insignificant, isolated cases.

In this the stupid person, in contrast to an evil one, is completely satisfied with himself. Indeed he even becomes dangerous in that he is easily inclined to assume the offensive. Thus more care must be shown in dealing with a stupid person than with an evil one. We shall never again seek to convince a stupid person with reasons; it is senseless and dangerous. In order to know how to deal with stupidity we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is not essentially an intellectual defect but a human one. There are intellectually quite able men who are stupid, and intellectually very dull men who are anything but stupid. In certain specific situations we make this discovery to our astonishment. In this connection one has less the impression that stupidity is an inborn defect than that under certain circumstances men are made stupid, or perhaps let themselves be made stupid.

We observe, moreover, that men who live secluded and alone show this defect less often than men and groups of men who are inclined or fated to sociability. Thus stupidity seems to be less a psychological problem than a sociological one. It is a particular form of the effect of historical circumstances on man, a psychological phenomenon that accompanies specific external relationships. On closer view it is seen that every strong outward development of power, whether of a political or of a religious nature, smites a large portion of mankind with stupidity. Yes, this has precisely the appearance of a sociological-psychological law. The power of one man needs the stupidity of another. In this it does not turn out that specific -- and thus perhaps intellectual -- human concerns suddenly are spoiled or go awry, but that under the overpowering impression of the development of power, man is robbed of his inner independence, and theat he now -- more or less unconsciously -- renounces any attempt to find his own relation to the situation that has developed.

The fact that a stupid person is often stubborn should not deceive anyone into thinking that he is independent. In conversation with him it is felt that you are not dealing with the person himself, but with cliches, slogans, etc., that have gained dominance over him. He is under a spell, he is blinded, he is misused, mishandled in his own being. Thus having become a will-less instrument the stupid person becomes capable of all evil, and at the same time incapable of recognizing it as evil. Here lies the danger of the diabolical abuse. In this way men can be destroyed forever.

But it is here that it also becomes quite clear that iti is not instruction but only liberation that can overcome stupidity. In this connection we must first realizae that a genuine inner liberation is possible in most cases only after external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must renounce all attempts to convince the stupid. In this state of affairs lies the reason why under such circumstance it is useless to seek to know what 'the people' are really thinking, and why this question is so superfluous for the one who thinks and acts responsibly -- only however, under the given circumstances. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10) says that the inner liberation of man to responsible life before God is the only real conquest of stupidity.

Furthermore, these thoughts about stupidity have this element of comfort, that they by no means permit one to regard the majority of men as stupid under all circumstances. It will really depend on whether those in power can expect more from stupidity or from the inner independence and intelligence of men."

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Loved This People

Trailady said...

This is why more and more I am moving away from organized religion and toward Christianity. I don't need a big organization behind me to be a child of God. What church did Jesus belong to?? None. If you say He was a Jew, then I would say He was a very BAD Jew, seeing how He failed to keep many of their customs and spoke to those Israel had rejected. (Samaritans) He broke the social rules of speaking to women. He ruined His reputation by eating & drinking with "sinners".
I must follow my Savior. If this means leaving a church- then I will do it if it comes to that. Often the structure and the fact that most in the church seem to be working their way up the ladder of influence is distracting. Many sermons are rhetoric shared with the intent to keep the church under control, etc.
All I want is to be close to God and mingle with others who desire above all things to demonstrate His love in their daily lives.

Blessings Be Upon You, Grace!

Anonymous said...

Right on Grace...
We have set about in our fellowship doing the exact opposite too break down these structures and mechanisms. The difficulty though is that people actually WANT it the wrong way because it allows them to be comfortable. Appease their conscience and not be messed with...

Sharon said...

This is so true. My husband and I attended this neighborhood church for 14 years. We were very active.
I was on staff for 7 of those years. During the 14 years we were there the church was served by 6 pastors and 3 of them during my time on staff.

The last pastor (#6)who has served for 1.5 years, acted more like he was the CEO of a corporation. He did not like to be questioned and if you expressed an idea, during a committee meeting, he'd shoot it down.

He didn't show compassion to anyone (not that I witnessed. In fact, when people would leave the office upset, in a smug voice, he'd say, "she needs to get over it!") He had a temper that would fly off (which made me feel very uneasy) and during the last incident(the one that finally made us decide to leave) my husband and I had just experienced a death in the family.

I was working at the church (still grieving the loss of our loved one) but hard at work because it was Easter and you know how busy the church is at that time. He came storming in the office and that is when everything fell apart.

I was chastised before the committee while he was in the room. They never once asked to hear my side of the story.

I am left to wonder so many things like....

Why did he feel it was okay to come in on that day of all days yelling demands (again)? He knew our situation and all that we'd been through.

Why did he always mico-manage when previous pastors had never done this? For instance, why did he feel it was necessary to lean over me and ask to have a word moved precisely two-spaces to the right to center it perfectly?

Why was he always so emotion-less, especially when you needed compassion (like when a family member dies)? I asked him if he would pray with me and he wouldn't. He said that when I began receiving a paycheck our relationship changed--that he was no longer my pastor---He was my supervisor.

Why was he so mean? Why did he not care?

There's so much more that happened and the leadership never cared about what was going on behind closed doors. Sometimes I feel like going to the district level but he's known him since he was a boy and I feel he won't listen either.

What I have told is such a small, small part of all that happened.

I am trying to move on but it is so hard and I do feel so betrayed.