7 Truths LGBT Kids Need to Hear from Homeschooling Parents

homeschoolI wanted to respond to this post:

7 Way Christian Homeschooling Parents Can Support LGBT Kids.

It’s one of those cathartic rants dripping with emotion that complains about how “my life has been ruined because I was homeschooled by crazy Fundamentalist parents.”  The Homeschool Apostates, I mean, Anonymous blog also cross-posted it at their place.  I thought I would use it as a spring board to offer a rebuttal and response to the author.

Let me begin with some of my own background for the author’s consideration.

Look it. We all understand that you were raised in a wacky, Fundamentalist atmosphere. You’re ashamed and embarrassed about your past. Now that you have freed yourself from the shackles of your Fundy upbringing, you believe you have ascended to a fuller life. We get it, okay.

I can sympathize. I spent some time floating in those orbits as well. In fact, I’ve been in both spheres — The liberal ones as well as the wacky IFB ones.

I was raised in a liberal United Methodist church pretty much all of my early life until about high school.  At the Methodist church, I rarely, if ever, learned anything about Jesus. I was exposed to weirdie, quasi-spirituality that you probably now think is “Christianity.” The worship songs we sang were old 60s-70s hippy songs like “One Tin Soldier,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.” We didn’t really believe in a “historical” Jesus. He was more of a religious figure from long ago who had some good ethical advice. Occasionally we studied the Bible — the Good News translation with the stick figure illustrations. My 6th grade Sunday school teacher was a local public school teacher who wrote trashy Harlequin romance novels as a hobby, so I didn’t get a whole lot in way of “sword drills” if you know what I mean.

When the family moved to Arkansas later when I was a teen, we began attending the Free-Will Baptist church where the family on my mother’s side went.  That was a major paradigm shift for me. There I learned about Jesus and legalism. I experienced the prying eyes of the community Dolores Umbridges who scrutinized the length of my hair and the sheen of my parachute pants. So believe me, I know all about stifling religious ideology.

I genuinely was saved during the last week of my freshman year at college, and even there I became involved with an extremely conservative, SBC church and even became a passionate KJV-onlyist. But God is gracious, and steadily the work of the Spirit straightened me out.

All of that to say that even though I may have been raised in misguided Fundamental Christianity, that doesn’t mean a biblical Christianity that affirms all the things you now despise, like creationism and inerrancy, is untrue. No matter what sort of twisted nonsense your parents may have subjected you to in the name of being “spiritual,” their warped views of Fundamentalism does not mean Fundamentalism itself is warped. You seriously need to keep in mind that your so-called new found “faith journey” is just as warped and twisted as your parents’ Fundamentalism.

If I may, let me offer seven truths I think you need to seriously ponder. I warn you now that they will sting; but you need to read them.

Consider the fact that you may be wrong – fatally so. Like I stated in my opening remarks, you have convinced yourself that you now transcend your Christian Fundamentalist past. You believe your shunning of your parents and their ways is sophisticated, so if they shun you in return, then the feeling is mutual.  As much as you think they are wrong about everything in life, you are just as equally wrong.  In your case, however, your rebellion against your parents’ form of Christianity extends to rebellion against the genuine truth: that homosexuality is a damnable sin against our Creator.

Declaring homosexuality as sinful and being pro-family values is NOT bigoted. I know you probably would say you would never think a Christian is a “bigot” for standing against homosexual sin, but you do. When you are by yourself with your friends, you all sneer at those “stupid Fundies” and those “family values retards” and you satisfy yourselves by saying how you are happy you learned better than what your parents believe. So don’t act all self-righteous when you tell homeschool parents, who you hate to begin with, to “prove” their love to you. When they weep privately together before God imploring Him to bring you to repentance, and yet stand firm in the biblical conviction that homosexuality is sin, that is not bigotry, but love calling you back to the truth.

If you believe your parents are wrong about textual criticism, do your own research into textual criticism.  You’ve probably have gathered around yourself a bunch of apostate textual critics like Bart Ehrman and others of his ilk who provide you with intellectual comfort for your re-reading of the Bible and its dismissal as God’s infallible revelation. Please understand that such men, as smart as they may be, are dishonest frauds, and they DO NOT represent all of textual criticism.  Their warped take on the discipline has been soundly answered and refuted by capable men.

If you are actively involved with a “faith community” now, you are blindly being led to the destruction of your soul. You need to bravely confront the historical truth: Biblical Christianity does not, nor cannot, affirm homosexual behavior as normative and still remain biblical Christianity.  Homosexual sin has never been affirmed as normal by any genuine Christian body of believers, nor will it ever be. Christ’s Church cannot affirm homosexual behavior and remain biblical Christianity.  Only liars and deceivers tell you that being gay is normal. If you attend a “church” now that tells you you’re okay being gay, you are being woefully deceived.  The leaders there are heaping upon you massive amounts of spiritual abuse the same as your Fundamentalist parents may have heaped when you were homeschooled.

Thoroughly research the rebuttals to the gay “Christian” literature you have more than likely read. When you began your new “faith journey” you probably secretly read gay revisionist literature that told you the Bible mistranslated specific passages that condemn homosexuality. Such things as Paul was condemning just pederasty in Romans 1 and not homosexuality, and that David and Jonathan were lovers, that sort of nonsense.

Just because an author has “Dr.” in front of his or her name, or graduated from some Ivory league school, does not mean the person is a scholar and thus competent with handling the biblical text. The person has an agenda. Additionally, the arguments in those books have been soundly refuted and shown to be propaganda rather than genuine scholarship. I would exhort you to go HERE and read a scholarly refutation of such works, or HERE to hear a lengthy audio presentation interacting with pro-gay “Christian” apologetics.  Just make sure you don’t smugly go away falsely believing no one has offered any response. That is not true.

Treat the Evangelical Christians in your life with mutual love and respect. You implore Christian homeschooling parents to treat the LGBT kids in their lives with mutual love and respect, but that cuts both ways. You cannot hypocritically suggest they treat you with love and respect, yet at the same time demand they overturn what historical, biblical Christianity has fundamentally taught concerning gender, marriage, and sex, so as to embrace your false revisionistic version that confirms homosexuality. Such is not being mutually loving and respectful.

Don’t interpret any pointed criticism as an ignorant, bigoted attack against you. Stop wearing your feelings on your sleeve. The people who are offering pointed challenges to your new found “convictions” don’t do it because they think gays are “icky” or they are attempting to shut-down some social iconoclasts that are rocking the boat of tradition.

You alone have chosen to stir up your inordinate affections and rush headlong into a lifestyle that will not only lead to the physical destruction of your health, but also the spiritual destruction of your soul.  Moreover, you insist that the entire Christian worldview that you were taught as a kid, no matter how misappropriated by your well-intentioned, but misguided parents, be overturned and done away with all for the purpose of soothing your hurt sensibilities.

Right here you need to draw a dividing line. We, the Christian Fundamentalists homeschooling parents, will never yield to your assaults against our God and our faith. We will never accommodate your sexual perversion just to prop up some phony canard about “reaching out” and “showing respect” and so forth. Though you may not believe it, we do love you.  We have hope for you because we know our God is a redeeming God who can restore broken sinners and the broken relationships their sin has caused with the people who love them.

But we also realize that Jesus Himself stated clearly,

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”  (Matthew 10:35-38)

And if regrettably, that means you may chose to continually be our enemy in spite of our best efforts to bring our restoration, then I decide to follow Jesus.

A Word to Our Benevolent Dictators

eyeThe chief complaint I hear from survivor bloggers is how they were abused by hyper-authoritarian pastors and church leadership.
Though each person may vary as to his or her experience, typically, the “authoritarianism” is reported as manifesting itself in rigid, domineering moralistic preferences that govern every aspect of a Christian’s life.  The “moralism” can be as benign as a rule against wearing short pants in the church building, to the absurd notion that trick-or-treating on Halloween is satanic, to the more sobering idea that Christian families are in serious sin if their children aren’t homeschooled.
These moral preferences aren’t spelled out in any written document that is handed out to members. (Though I am sure there are survivor bloggers who could probably produce such a real-life document).  Rather, they are shared “convictions” experienced by members in the spiritual climate within the church by what is taught in the pulpit and advocated in the Sunday school rooms.
Take for example the pastor’s idea of Christian modesty.  If he teaches that no women are ever allowed to wear pants because pants are a “man’s garments,” or a man’s hair cannot cover his ears or touch his shirt collar because “long hair on a man is effeminate,” and everyone in the church conforms to those preferences, any “non-conformity” will be met by strong glares and possible rebuke.
It’s one thing for moralistic church leadership to forbid the people from listening to any rock music including CCM.  It’s quite another when they tell you how much money you need to tithe every month or what Bible version you must use or you risk falling into sin.  Particularly odious, however, is when they tell you how many children you and your wife must have or what kinds of foods you should eat in order to be really, really godly.
Any person who may not share in these preferences will find it difficult to participate in the body life of that local church without feeling a burden of guilt and an unspoken hostility from other members for non-conformity.  That is not a spiritually healthy environment.  Pastors need to be especially alert to fomenting this sort of oppressive atmosphere in their churches.  In fact, I would say these pastors are held doubly-accountable before the Lord in such cases.
The Apostle Peter warns pastors in his first epistle not to “lord over” those that have been entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:3).  The idea here is that pastors have a unique role as spiritual leaders and they should be an example of humble service to the people they watch over.  Pastors are not to abuse their authority with manipulative intimidation.  Especially in areas that genuinely are preferences regarding the living out of moral issues on a daily basis.
As shepherds, these are men who have been stirred up by God’s Spirit to desire that office and are divinely placed in their position to govern the spiritual lives of men’s souls.  They are first teachers of God’s Word, so they have a serious responsibility before God Almighty to handle faithfully the teaching of sound doctrine (James 3:1, Ephesians 4:11-16).  But moreover, their duties as shepherds means they have an equally great responsibility to serve God’s people by loving them, discipling them, and training them in godliness.
Using his God given authority to forcibly insist Christians must adopt his non-biblical moral preferences has never been the role of a shepherd.
A genuine mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in the body of Christ is that faithful teaching will produce faithful application of that doctrine in the lives of Christian people.  One struggle a pastor may experience is learning the discernment that distinguishes between the Holy Spirit’s exclusive sanctifying work in the hearts of Christians and the authority they’ve been granted to disciple the members of their flock.  When a pastor blurs the distinction between what is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying believers with his scripturally revealed duties as a shepherd to watch after the flock, a danger exists for him to abuse his authority.
sundayA pastor who equates his personal convictions and preferences with true spiritual godliness risks lording over his flock and stepping into areas where he has no authority.
You as a pastor may believe watching TV is a worldly distraction that wastes time, and you may be right about that conviction.  But it is inappropriate for you to insist ALL church members must embrace and implement your anti-TV convictions as a means to obtain true spirituality.  All a pastor can do it mildly exhort people with long-suffering concerning his reasons for why it’s not good for Christians to watch TV.  Once he begins laying a heavy guilt trip on people, he’s moved into abusing his authority.
What steps can a pastor take in order to keep himself from falling into abusing his authority and head-off any accusations of “lording over others?”  I am sure there are probably more, but I’ll offer three simple thoughts.
FIRST, I would say communicate.  Explain clearly why it is leadership requires what they do from it’s members.  Discuss openly with the flock any major Church impacting decisions made on behalf of the people.  As long as you are sharing information that isn’t confidential, that would include any church discipline issues.
SECOND, welcome dissent.  Be prepared to defend your position, as well as answer hostile questions and challenges graciously, fully, and with long-suffering.  A pastor may have to deal with the same nit-picky, button-holing person over and over again, but dealing with hassling complainers is part of the pastor’s job.  His immediate response to dissenters must never be “my way or the highway!”
And THIRD, and most importantly, be humble. That would especially include receiving correction from the members that may result in changing a long held preference tradition or direct a course change in the way the pastor may have handle a situation.
I think if a pastor makes a good faith effort to work out at least these three suggestions in his ministry, no one can truly accuse him of lording over people and abusing his authority.
Now. A ending word to church members who like to cry “spiritual abuse” and  “hyper-authoritarianism.”
Similarly, members of the flock must heed the exhortation following Peter’s words to shepherds: Likewise you younger submit to your elders.  The “younger” here, I believe, has the idea of younger in experience, which means “young in the faith.”  The contrast is between elders/shepherds and the younger, or the remainder of those in church.  In other words, the flock over which the shepherds watch.
In the same way shepherds should serve the flock, members of the flock need to serve the elders.  They serve by submitting to them and not holding them in suspicion about everything they do.  That entails trusting their authority even at times when you, the member, don’t like them exercising their authority in particular areas.
A person prone to kick against authorities he believes are “meddling” with his life and sticking their nose in “my business,” needs to seriously re-evaluate what it is he wants out of church and why it is he’s there.  If you think it’s none of the pastor’s business that you let your teenage son date an unbeliever or that he’s concerned you and your family only attend church once or twice a month, it may be helpful to save him the grief and move on to a place where no one will interfere with your life.

Canis Lupus Pastoral

wolfpastorIdentifying the Wolf Pastor

I‘ve been interacting a little bit with the survivor blogger phenomenon.
These are individuals who claim they have experienced severe emotional and spiritual anguish under the rigid domination of abusive, overbearing church leadership.  Now that these folks have “escaped” from the tyranny of these demagogic pastors, they believe they have a duty to warn everyone with a personal blog that details the spiritual abuse they suffered.
I can understand to a degree the passionate motivation of a person who believes he has been spiritually ill-treated at a church over a long period of time.  A church is supposed to be a safe haven.  It’s a place where a family can hear the Word taught and grow in the love of the Lord together with like-minded folks.  Pastors who “lead” with a heavy, controlling hand, who for example implement unreasonable “holiness” codes among the membership and demand absolute conformity by everyone, can quickly sour souls against attending church.  In some cases, such narrow legalism will forever turn away people from church altogether.
Despite the passionate motivation, as I wrote in a previous post, I believe survivor bloggers go over-the-top with their expose’ of their previous experiences.  They will attribute to their former pastors a spiritual darkness that falls near the realm of demonic, and in some cases borders on paranoia if not the outright absurd.  For example, commenters on one survivor blog I read suggested that recent internet connectability problems the blog was experiencing could possibly be due to abusive leadership hacking the account.
Typically, though, the accusations survivor bloggers level against pastors are so imbalanced they paint an unfair picture of their true character.  The main pastor is often called a “wolf” who wants to only harm the flock, not protect and feed it like a faithful shepherd should.  He will be accused of being a controlling bully, even to the point of claiming he employs a network of spies who secretly inform upon non-conformists in the church.  Anyone, it is claimed, who asks pointed questions of him or the leadership are stifled, told they are rebellious, and threatened with dismissal.  The pastor is said to have no accountability to any one and other leadership are merely “yes men” enabling his continued reign of power.
I’ve argue that survivor bloggers are unhelpful with these sorts of criticisms.  There are a couple of reasons I draw this conclusion:
First, survivor bloggers only generate more strife and perpetuate divisiveness among church members by pitting them against the leadership.  Pastors are a group to be looked upon with suspicion, to be nit-picked to death regarding every little sniggling decision they may make on behalf of the congregation.
Second, the claims of the bloggers are ultimately one-sided, and in some respects even dishonest.  That is because they provide the readers with only one perspective of the story: the victims point of view.  Hence, there really is never a concise way in which a person can ascertain the truth of the charges leveled against the former pastor.  We can only take the victim’s “word for it.”  The leadership is often accused of lying anyways, so why bother asking them their side of the situation.
However, a real major problem I see with survivor bloggers and their supporters is the imprecision with their use of terminology.  For example, I noted in my previous article the inaccurate use of cult.
Another illustration of what I mean is the use of the word wolf to describe a bad pastor.  A bad pastor who is automatically defined as a “wolf”  immediately poisons the conversation because the charge ignites a specific image in the minds of the hearers. The idea of a “wolf” presents a man who is only seeking to prey upon and destroy people’s lives.  This is a problematic charge when a pastor may only just be unqualified as to leadership and yet is identified as a “wolf.”  His overall character as a Christian person is then tarnished, slandered, and ruined because of foolish descriptions thrown about on a survivor blog.
One of the key reasons I see for this  imprecision is that these bloggers erroneously conflate the qualifications of an elder as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 with what truly defines a spiritual “wolf.” A man who is occasionally impatient and unyielding with congregants, who has a rebellious teen, and who may struggle with personal pride, may not be qualified as a pastor, but that hardly identifies him as a “wolf” bent on destroying men’s souls.  It is these type of men I believe survivor bloggers are wrongly identifying with true spiritual wolves.
So how exactly do we distinguish between the two? I believe Scripture lends us some insights.
Let me consider a couple of passages.  One from the OT and a second from the NT.
First, in Ezekiel 34 the prophet gives a word of judgment against false shepherds.  Though God’s judgment is proclaimed specifically against religio-political leaders in Israel immediately before the Babylonian exile, there are some applicable points we can draw relating to pastors.
If one looks at Ezekiel 34:1-10, there are at least four observations to be seen.
1)The false shepherds feed themselves from the flock (1-2).  In other words, these were leaders who only saw their role as designated leaders as a means to pursue their self-interests at the expense of those they were appointed to serve.  Honestly, this is the attitude of true spiritual abuse because even though these leaders may not have direct, personal contact with the congregation, they were abusing their God given authority.
2)They do not feed the flock (3). Simply put, they do not strengthen the people by the proclamation of the Word.  In the context of the OT, the leaders were to remind the people of their covenant obligations before God.  This can only be accomplished by drawing the people to the written Scripture that reveals how they were to love the Lord and walk before Him in godliness.
3)They did not shepherd the weak (4).  The picture is of an unhealthy, sick lamb that the shepherd essentially ignores and allows it to die from its illness.  In like manner, those people who are spiritually sick are ignored by the leaders and left to themselves.  There is no personal involvement or concern for their spiritual well-being.
4)By ignoring the weak sheep, they are allowed to wander off into spiritual error.  They are led astray by every whim of doctrine away from spiritual truth and eventually spiritual doom.
Here we have at least four marks of a “spiritual wolf.”  Leaders who are self-centered and uses the people for self-interests, who do not teach them the word of God, who ignore the spiritually weak, and allow them to wander off into soul-damning error.
Turning to the New Testament, there are a number of passages I could consider, but let me zero in on Acts 20 where Paul presents his final words to the Ephesian elders and the church.  I should point out that with these final words, Paul, who will never again see these people, warns with much earnestness the need to be on the guard against what he calls “savage wolves.”
1)They come in among the body (29).  This implies the “wolves” mingle among the regular members in the church.  They are not necessarily limited to only being pastors, but could be lay level individuals.  By application, this can mean that self-proclaimed survivor bloggers are capable of being a wolf just as much as the pastors they say “abused” them.
2)Wolves also come from among leaders or elders (30).  These particular individuals, however, are primarily marked by what they teach. They teach “perverse” things; twisted, heretical doctrine that draws people away from the truth.
Notice, though, it is what they teach that marks them.
There is no discussion about whether they are “controlling” or overly “authoritarian” or shut down questions being asked of them. It is not the pastor’s inability to diplomatically manage disagreement among the members or him being short-tempered with dissenters that is in view here.  What marks out a leader as being a “wolf” is the false doctrine he spreads.
Hence, a pastor may be sweet, loving, accepting and accommodating to everyone in the church, but if he teaches that homosexuality is not a sin and God approves of gay marriage, the man is a wolf.  The people at Biologos, though they are not technically pastoring a church, are in essence wolves who destroy men’s souls.
In both of these passages, false shepherds who are spiritually abusive wolves are indicated by at least three truths:
– they seek their own self-interests with their appointed position,
– they do not guard the flock against heresy and
– they in fact will teach heresy leading disciples to ultimate destruction.
These are people we can confidently conclude are outside true salvation.
On the other hand, much of the leadership declared by survivor bloggers as being spiritually wolfish are not genuinely wolfish.  They are Christians who may lack the biblical qualifications to lead the people because of personal areas where they are yet to be sanctified.  They should be admonished and exhorted, not slandered publicly on a survivor blog.

to be continued…

Responding to the Wolf Watchers

wolfI’ve been mixing it up a bit with survivor blogger Julie Anne Smith and a few of her fans. We’ve been going back and forth in the comments of two previous posts HERE and HERE.

I encountered the so-called ex-church survivor movement shortly after I began blogging in 2005. I didn’t consider how extensive a movement it was until about a month or so ago.

After surveying the uncountable number of websites on the internet, I am confirmed daily these are folks who have a profoundly unhealthy preoccupation with the alleged wrongs done against them by bad pastors and church leadership. The attitudes I see displayed on these sites are not a good thing.

By creating websites like “X” church survivors or “X” church watch that chronicle with scrutinizing detail every slight done against them, either real or imagined, people can quickly become inwardly- focused, disgruntled navel gazers. The “survivors” come across as angry, vindictive, unforgiving, suspicious, and in some cases, paranoid. Going through life after a bad church experience with dark clouds of bitterness trailing behind you should never be a mark of a Christian. (And I am not say these folks aren’t Christians, btw, lest someone yell at me in the comments).

When I wrote up my first post highlighting Julie Anne’s case, I had two thoughts in mind. First, I was using it as a stepping stone to what I see is a much larger problem with survivor blogs. Specifically the bitterness, strife, narcissism, vindictiveness, petty name-calling, anger, antinomianism, and anti-authoritarianism I see splashed across these blogs and website. If you think I am mistaken about my claims, just drop by Julie Anne’s comment pages and read the nasty comments left by folks who brand me a fake Christian sexist hater. They blast leaders who allegedly stifle dissent and criticism, but when I raise questions about the motives and claims of survivor bloggers, attempts are made to shut me down and dismiss me. Irony, much.

Secondly, I was also amazed how easily the media, as well as self-described “Christian” commenters under the various reports about Julie Anne’s case, would immediately support the victim while demonizing the so-called abuser. Probably 99% of the people didn’t know either party. They certainly didn’t know all the facts nor were they privy to all the background leading up to the situation. Only those “facts” supplied readily by the abused party were considered. Who’s to say she is right and the church is wrong? I agree the pastor and the church is misguided with filing a lawsuit against an ex-member, but am I to believe that misguided move on their part makes them a “cult?” The pastor a mind-controlling wolfish cult leader? Really? That’s what I am suppose to automatically conclude? And just because she is being sued by a misguided pastor does that make his claims against her false? Could there be any merit to what he says she has done even though he isn’t handling the situation correctly?

At any rate, in response to my contentions I have with survivor bloggers in general, a number of commenters at Julie Anne’s place raised some questions and objections they want me to answer. I’ll hit on the key questions I see repeated, as well as respond to one particular slight against me.

There are churches that do not overtly transgress orthodoxy and yet are very cult like in their behavior. Do you agree that such churches exist? If so, how do we spot them?

At the risk of being pilloried by my detractors as mocking, this is a loaded question. I’ll point out that if we agree such churches do in fact exist, then it is only obvious there has to be some marks that allow us to spot them. Thus, we don’t have to make up phony “marks” indicating so-called “cult like” behavior. Either they are cult-like or not.

Moreover, if there are genuine “marks” to consider, where the disagreement lies is what we think those marks indicating “cult like” behavior may be. But that could differ from person to person. What you may think is “cult like” behavior may not be what I think is “cult like” behavior. Hence, the term “cult like” is too subjective and ultimately unhelpful. The idea of “cult” has a specific meaning: It primarily defines pseudo-Christian heresy. I personally do not believe the bulk of those churches accused of “spiritually abusing” the sheep by Bible-believing Christians are “a cult” in the common, technical sense of the word.

Now. Moving to the question. The qualifier of “do not transgress orthodoxy” obviously means a distinction exists between Bible oriented churches and say those of the Kingdom Hall variety. So we are not talking about churches that deny essential, historic Christian doctrine.

churchladyProbably what is in mind here would be for example churches where legalistic preference issues have been elevated on the same level with biblical doctrine and are made to control the lives of individuals. Such things, anti-CCM, or men can’t wear shorts, women can’t wear pants, whether it is worldly to watch movies, etc. Certain strains of independent, Fundamentalists Baptist and Pentecostal groups fall into this category.

Preference issues are not a bad thing in and of themselves; it is how those preference issues are applied to the body life of a local church that can be a problem.

My take is that if a pastor insists certain preference issues are determiners of one’s salvation and spirituality as a Christian, along with faithful Church membership, this is a red flag in my mind. Let’s say someone sees you going to the movies, or reading a Harry Potter novel, or some other preference considered “sinful” and the pastor confronts you and demands an account of your actions or there will be consequences, I would say that is overstepping his bounds as a pastor. But I distinguish this approach from a pastor who may admonish you regarding the same preference issue, yet leaves it up to you as to whether or not you will continue practicing it. Some folks may not like the pastor stepping on their toes, but he is not overstepping his bounds.

As odious as the application of preference issues can be in churches, however, that doesn’t necessarily imply the church or pastor are “cult-like.” So we have to turn our attention to what the Bible says about the qualifications of a shepherd. Here is where we can address a man’s personality and abilities to lead a church.

Paul provides those qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Peter further elaborates on them in 1 Peter 5:1-5. Some of the key qualifications listed in these passages are sober-mindedness, not quarrelsome, nor pugnacious, nor manipulative, nor demagogic. When spiritual abuse victims complain about “controlling” pastors, it is more than likely the opposite of these characteristics the abused person has in mind. In other words, the pastor or leadership are quarrelsome, pugnacious, manipulative and demagogic.

So what recourse do church goers have when they encounter a pastor who is manipulative, controlling, and abusive?

The Bible does not prohibit confronting a pastor. Paul writes that an elder can be confronted in 1 Timothy 5:19, 20, but any accusation brought against him must have two or three witnesses confirming it. That way, there is consistent, affirming testimony as to the charges leveled against him.

If the pastor doesn’t teach heresy, yet he behaves abusively according to biblical standards, and there are a number of other members who confirm the same pattern of abuse, well then it is certainly within biblical parameters to confront him. Just as long as the accusation isn’t contentious because you didn’t like him confronting your sin, or disagreed with his counseling, or didn’t like some decision he made.

And what should a church goer do if the pastor won’t hear a complaint against him and dismisses his accusers as trouble-makers?

Every situation is different because of the people and surrounding events. However, depending on the circumstances, if a person or persons have respectfully confronted a pastor or church leadership about what they consider are serious personality behaviors and those people are waved off as disruptive trouble-makers, that’s when those folks need to leave. It real is that simple.

Respectfully means you don’t make a scene by spreading gossip and strife about the pastor(s) and then leave the church. You don’t need to be dramatic and send the pastor(s) a certified, FED-EX letter explaining how you are “removing your membership” or any such nonsense. Just tell the leaders the reason why you are unable to fellowship and leave. If people ask “why” tell them the truth about why you are leaving. If they press you as to your claims, be prepared to give examples of what you mean. If they persist that you are mistaken, don’t argue, just thank them for their concern and move on. There really is no need to leave negative website reviews or start a “survivor blog” detailing your issues with the church. Let it go.

But someone needs to warn others about that church and the abuse they may receive.

Perhaps, but that may not be you. Certainly leaving negative reviews and starting a survivor blog daily journal isn’t the wisest course of action, either. First it makes the person appear to be mean-spirited and divisive when in fact that may not be true. Second, it only serves as a magnet for genuine troublemakers who are utterly ignorant of the situation who will only stir up real strife with their input. Third, falling into a “survivor/victim” mentality only keeps a person focused on that bad experience from a selfish perspective. “Look what they did to ME.” “I got hurt by them.” etc. This is not a means of being sanctified in the truth.

Your criticism show no compassion for those hurt and come across completely uncaring for anyone genuinely abused

I don’t doubt there are people who have genuinely experienced spiritual abuse at the hands of incompetent and manipulative leadership. I am sympathetic to their plight. But rather than enabling their continued wallowing in a state of perpetual victimization and self-pity by applauding their on-line “Wall Watching” efforts, isn’t the better course to refocus their thinking away from their own self interests and toward how they can learn from those difficult circumstances so that they can honor Christ? That has been one of my key reasons for being critical of survivor blogs.

warpathFrom my view, Fred’s question is clearly sexist. … It’s sexist because he writes it in the context of an argument concerning the credibility of complaints against a pastor. In effect the question says, “Julie Anne, your perspectives and feelings don’t really count because you’re a woman.” Was that Fred’s intent?

I noted in my original post addressing survivor blogs that it is my observation a good many of them are maintained by women. I can understand why knowing how women are by nature more emotionally invested in such things as men typically will be. That is not meant to be a sexist remark, but just an acknowledgement of basic human nature between the sexes.

That said, when I have interacted with Julie Anne, I have asked her what her husband thinks about her spiritual abuse blogging. I certainly don’t mean to imply anything sinister with that question.

I work from the assumption that Julie Anne is a Bible-believing Christian, which means she has a biblically informed understanding of marriage. Scripture describes a husband and wife as being one flesh (Genesis 2:23, 24; Matthew 19:4-6) and that a wife submits to her husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24). What a wife does publicly impacts that relationship. The husband mentioned in Proverbs 31 could safely trust in his wife (vs. 11). The implication being that the virtuous wife brought honor to her husband and family with her public interactions outside the family.

Again, assuming Julie Anne is a committed, Bible-believing Christian, what her husband thinks about all of this is an important question. Does he see the alleged abuse the same way Julie Anne sees it? What is his take as a man and husband with regards to the claims against his and Julie Anne’s ex-pastor? Does he have the same opinion of him being “controlling” as Julie Anne does? He left with her, didn’t he? I am not saying her “perspectives and feelings” don’t count as the commenter suggests, but a husband may have a complementary perspective that may bring things into focus.

The charge of “sexism” is lame. Not only does it display an attitude that diminishes the fundamental significance of a Christian marriage, it also reflects worldly thinking. This is how liberals argue against conservatives in politics.

Along with that, the charge of “sexism” has a tone of anti-authoritarianism ringing through it. Christian marriages are defined by particular spiritual parameters, namely a husband loving a wife and the wife submitting to her husband’s authority. The world thinks of marriage in the opposite fashion. That being, a woman loses her identity as a person if she “submits” to a husband, and so a man is considered “sexist” if he suggest she must. This is not the Christian way to think about marriage relationships, and calling me “sexist” is not only worldly, but it’s a dishonest way to dodge my questions.

Wicked Sheep

wolfsheep[3]Since writing up a post highlighting survivor blogs, I’ve come to learn the internet is filled with them. I guess that is to be expected it being the world wide web and all.

Typically, the folks who contribute to survivor blogs write up garment-rending laments bitterly complaining about how churches and pastors so utterly abused them. The only true recourse they had once they freed themselves from the shackles of their enslavement was to hit the internet and start a website detailing their spiritual abuse at the hands of wicked pastors.

I came across this scary looking website:

Wicked Shepherds

The moderator even posted a survey:

Spiritual Abuse Survey

The introduction states:

The following is a questionnaire to see just how healthy your church really is. To determine how well it ranks, answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.

According to the survey writer, it is believed that if you answer yes to a quarter of these questions, then your church is showing real signs of being “unhealthy.”

The problem with this survey, however, is that it’s too vague. An honest person can’t really say yes or no to any of the questions because they are in desperate need of clarification. What is considered “controlling” for one person may not be so for another.

Definitions are also left up to subjective interpretation. For example, the survey writer mentions “public shaming.” What exactly does he mean by “public shaming?” Or he notes about having “different opinions.” In relation to what, exactly? Doctrine? How about when the writer speaks about being shut down by leadership for “asking questions.” Well, what sort of questions? Of course I’d want to know if the leaders did answer his questions yet why the answer the person received from them wasn’t satisfactory.

Anyhow, I thought I would take this survey, but with keeping these clarifications in mind as I work through the questions. A few of them are repetitive, and honestly, a bit odd, so I won’t be answering all of them. Rather than these questions exposing bad pastors who abuse sheep, these questions can easily expose trouble-making antinomians who don’t like pastors, or anyone for that matter, meddling in their personal lives. I’ll show this as I move along.

•Does your church tightly control the flow of information within its ranks?

This is the kind of question I would expect to be asked by nosy busy-bodies. It really depends on the information. If it is information necessary to shepherd the congregation, then wise pastors will tactfully share what is important to be known. If it is information withheld to cover over personal sin between disagreeing church members or pastors then there is no need to gossip about what can easily be dealt with by the parties involved and only known among a few people. It really isn’t anyone’s business. Moreover, the congregation doesn’t need to know about pastor so-and-so’s bladder control problem unless he is so inclined to share.

•Does the head of your church, along with the other “leaders”, use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers?’

What does “public shaming” mean exactly? If by “public shaming” the person means church discipline in which the person in question has his or her name read from the pulpit, then yes, godly leaders do that on occasion.

•Does the head of your church and his “fellow elders” appear to be intolerant or consider it evil persecution when criticized or questioned?

What are they being criticized about? If it is nit-picky conspiratorial style questions made by a factious accuser, then any wise elder/pastor will definitely be intolerant of such a person after he or she has been rebuked two or three times (Titus 3:10, 11)

•Are you discouraged to associate with former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “defiling”; a “danger to your spiritual welfare”?

If the “former member” falls into the category of the person spoken about in Titus 3:10, 11, then that is exactly what the Bible is telling us. See previous question.

•Is leaving your church to join another church that “is not approved by your elders” equal to leaving God?

I’ll put it this way: Any person leaving our church to join a Catholic congregation, or an Unitarian congregation, or a Mormon congregation is leaving God. It makes me wonder if the folks who put together this survey have even read 1 John 2:19, 20.

I grouped these next two questions together because they cover similar ground:

•Do you fear being rebuked, shunned, or ignored for expressing a different opinion?
•Is questioning condemned as “whispering, back- biting, vicious slander, gossip, nit-picking, signs of a proud rebellious spirit, being disaffected and divisive?”

What sort of “different opinion” is being expressed? Denial of Christ’s deity certainly qualifies as a “different opinion,” but it is one worthy of rebuke.

What sort of questions are being asked? Are they spiteful, accusatory questions that imply the pastor is a crook because he is paid 50,000 a year?

I’m curious. How would the writer of this survey respond if he encountered a “member” constantly accusing the leadership of collusion with the UN, but the evidence the person presented as proof was baseless and bizarre? Would the writer rebuke that person? Shun him? or consider his views as “different opinions”? Would he think this conspiracy nut was genuinely asking questions, or would he see them as “divisive” or “slanderous?” Would he be willing to support the pastor who is attempting to deal with the troublemaker or accuse his pastor of condemning him?

The next three points are repetitive, so I took them out of order and put them together.

•At church, is there a sense of control, rather than support?
•Is there a misplaced loyalty from Jesus and God onto the leadership, which is idolatry?
•Is there a relentless obsession of reminding the sheep of “who’s in authority”?

If by the word “control” the survey writer means that pastors don’t applaud the wacko ideas of theological heretics or strife generating trouble-makers who disrupt church business meetings, then yes, a healthy church “controls” such things and would never support them.

I would hope the members of a God-fearing church would want to submit to and support their leaders. Hebrews 13:7, a passage I find absent on many of these “abuse survivor” site (or seriously maligned), clearly states we are to obey and submit to our leaders and I would hope they would support their leaders particularly in matters of factious members crying “spiritual abuse.”

•Are you told not to ask questions as to why others have left? Are you told to accept the statements that “your elders” give you?

It has been my experience that the ones who leave are rather vocal as to why they are leaving. I’ve never had to go ask an “elder” why such and such a person left, especially a person who was all the time questioning everything going on at church and held all the leaders in suspicion. The nature of most narcissistic loudmouths is to be seen and heard and have their agenda known.

•Are books, tapes and CD’s, speakers, music, etc., carefully controlled to keep only the belief structure of your church before your mind?

I hope so. Do the folks who put together this survey have any willingness to discern? Do they not think a doctrinal statement is a worthy thing to be defended? If there was some guy passing out Anthony Buzzard sermons in which he taught his anti-Trinitarian heresy, I want my elders to “control” the dissemination of that information. It makes me wonder if these “wicked shepherd” people think John the apostle was “a control freak” when he wrote to that lady and her family not to receive the one who comes to them with false doctrine (2 John 9, 10).

lamb_thumb[1]•Is there is a relentless campaign to keep you around the activities of your church, expecting you to be at all the stated meetings, except if providentially hindered? And if you are absent, is your spirituality and dedication sometimes questioned?

Is “relentless campaign” code words meaning “holding people accountable?”

Lookit, if you joined a church, committed yourself and your family’s spiritual health and growth to the pastor and leaders of that church, why would you NOT want to be involved in the activities of your church, including meetings? Do these people treat being a member of a church like a “come-as-you-please-when-it-is-at-your-convenience” affair?

•Is there present, the breaking of even the closest family ties, to “guard” the flock?

What do these people think Jesus meant in Matthew 10:34-37? Our Lord says that closest families may be broken apart over who he was. If telling a lecherous teenager of a faithful church family that he is no longer welcome at the youth group activities because of his crude, ungodly behavior will “guard the flock,” then regrettably, family ties will be challenged.

I am not going to respond to ALL of the remainder of these survey questions. I just wanted to highlight a few pertaining to leadership in general. Take note of the words “control,” “fear,” and “paranoia.”

•Is there the constant using of guilt and shame as tools of control?
•Is there present at your church the encouragement of the members to spy and report on each other, lest sin be found in the midst?
•Is there present at your church the dominant climate of fear in the group – fear of failing to keep one of the rules, and fear of being held up to public humiliation and rejection?
•Is paranoia the “very air you breathe”? Paranoia of falling from grace; thinking for yourselves; breaking the many unspoken rules as well as the clearly spelled out expectations of the leader?
•Does a code of silence reign at your church? Is no one to divulge the business of the church, or the faults of the leadership?
•Are you becoming paranoid – carefully watching your every word and even gesture, lest someone report your faults?

As I read these questions, I am reminded of Proverbs 28:1, The wicked flee when no man pursues… I start to wonder about a person’s spiritual state and overall motivation if he describes opposition to his issues with leadership in terms of their paranoia.

Generally, its the one crying “paranoia” who is in fact paranoid. “The leaders don’t want to address such-and-such or the pastors refuse to answer my questions pertaining to thus-and-so because they are paranoid of loosing power, or afraid they will loose money, or whatever.”

Because the person’s pet issues are so strange, pastors genuinely don’t want to answer them, or perhaps they give a simple response hoping to placate the person. The person, however, interpret the answers as “evading” or as a “code of silence.” If a pastor confronts and firmly rebukes the person for his odd-ball ideas, such a response is twisted to be “controlling” or stifling dissent which is hardly the case.

As a person considers these questions, it is clear to see they can cut both ways.

Certainly there are churches that are spiritually unhealthy and the atmosphere is smothering. There are pastors who are controlling and lord it over the flock they are to shepherd. However, there are also individuals and groups who bristle against any authority whatsoever, especially pastors who may come along and step on their toes. If that pastor begins to shake up the congregation a little bit with the authority of Scripture, or he puts his finger on a sore spot in an person’s life, the first response is to yell anti-authoritarian buzzwords like “controlling!”

Sheep Attacks

sheepbites3A Rant Against Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs

Last week I read with head-wagging sigh-inducing astonishment about a pastor leading his congregation to sue an ex-member for defamation and slander against him and the church. Allegedly, the slander was in the form of a negative review the ex-member left on a website.

The ex-member in question, a homeschool mother by the name of Julie Anne, complained of being “spiritually abused” by a legalistic, over-bearing pastor who would threaten church discipline against those who disagreed with him and asked pointed questions. He is also said to have led the other members to publicly shun this gal and her family, and his constant pastoral abuse supposedly drove one of Julie Anne’s daughters away from attending any church at all.

Those are troubling allegations against this pastor and his church. The fact that he has unwisely leveled a half million dollar lawsuit against this woman only serves to exacerbates her charges.

However, I am even more troubled by the way this pastor has been pilloried in the press accounts as being practically a borderline, baby-eating Satanist. Throngs of grievance mongering antinomians have rallied around this woman as if she’s been the victim of a serial rapist who was released on a minor technicality.

Now, I’ll probably agree that the pastor is acting foolishly with this lawsuit, and perhaps he displays an overall bad attitude that negatively impacts his ministry, but is he really deserving of the name calling and accusations of deviancy made by faceless, anonymous blog commenters? And the rest of us are to let such comments slip by unnoticed?

Surveying the host of news articles, so-called “spiritual abuse” blogs, and even this gal’s own “survivor” blog, my “Hmmmm…” alarm began beeping.

I’m sure Julie is as sweet as a plate of cookies, but she comes across, at least to me, as petty and vindictive. The accounts I read is that she and her family exited this church a few years ago, and then at some point after, she was inclined to leave a negative Google review complaining how this church is legalistic and doesn’t live up to the name “Grace” that is in their official title.

Her comment wasn’t particularly slanderous. It’s the kind of whiny comments that are typically found on any Google review page. You have to take them with a grain of salt. I read similar stuff about every hotel I researched when the family made a cross country trip to Arkansas.

But there certainly has to be more going on than just a weepy lady crying about her feelings getting hurt at this church. American evangelicalism is dotted with disgruntled ex-members of such-and-such a church/denomination who would also complain about similar problems that drove them to leave their churches. I could probably be numbered among that group.

The difference is they don’t run to the internet and write hostile reviews or start a “survivor” blog aimed at the church in question. Nor does the church feel the need to take those disgruntled ex-members to court to make them cease their slander. There’s more going on than we probably are aware.

I’ve circled around the ministry block enough times to learn that the folks who start an active “survivor” blog outlining in scrutinizing detail their alleged spiritual abuse at the hands of a pastor or church are generally coming from the fever swamps of tin-foil hat theology. Not saying this is Julie; I’m just saying its been my experience – and I have a lot of it.

Just notice the people who were stirred up to respond positively to the news report of this lady’s pending lawsuit.

First are the atheists and agnostics. Obviously they will chime in because they hate God and Jesus, and I imagine some of them have genuinely been excommunicated from churches.

But the biggest supporters are coming from these hives of spiritual malcontents (nearly all of them women, btw) who maintain various spiritual abuse survivor blogs.

Do any of them attend a Bible teaching church? If so, where? Again, speaking from generalities I’ll admit, the folks who I have encountered who run an active “survivor” blog either don’t attend church anywhere, or the church they do attend is one of these fruiffy emerging style churches with the water-downed doctrine. They’re the ones who are “open” to other points of view on key doctrines like Christ’s divinity and the authority of Scripture. But I digress.

In fact, I am curious as to where Julie and her family attend church. If she does, what does her pastor think of the tactics she has taken starting a “survivor” blog? From what I gather on her blog, she doesn’t attend any church, and in point of fact just recently started “trying” church again. Okay, that’s great; but after a three year’s absence?

Moreover, with all the various “survivor” blogs I surveyed, pretty much everyone of them are overran by anonymous commenters who have a streak of anti-authoritarianism running through everything they write. In my opinion, these are some rather problematic allies. A person doesn’t want spiritually unhealthy individuals informing his or her decisions in matters like what Julie is dealing with.

Now, are there mean, bullying pastors out there? Sure. Do those bullying pastors foster an atmosphere of hostility by encouraging gangs of finger-wagging Delores Umbridge types to stick their legalistic nose in everyone’s business and then rat out any non-conformists? Certainly.

However, is taking to the internet with a blog called “shepherd watch” or “battered lambs” or “such-and-such survivors” the best course of action? No. Honestly, those blogs make a person appear loopy, demanding a double-portion of his pound of flesh at all costs. Their white whale must be destroyed or there will be no rest.

Let me add a closing word on 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 because I am sure someone will ask about it in the combox.

I don’t believe Paul’s words here are intended as an absolute prohibition against Christians involving themselves in lawsuits against other Christians. The primary point is to rebuke litigious oriented Christians whose first reaction is to take a person to court over personal offenses. Just as it is today in our society, Roman society encouraged people to sue one another to protect one’s rights. Matter’s were made worse because the courts favored the wealthy and judicial decisions tended toward injustice against the one who could not defend himself in court.

Additionally, Paul is reminding the church as a whole that Christ’s people should not involve the world in the matters of the church. God’s people have the spirit of discernment operating among them. The world does not. Hence, in severe disagreements between two Christian brothers, the Christian church has the true resources to judge rightly.

At the same time, however, Paul is clear in Romans 13 that the civil authorities exist to maintain the order of society and protect its citizens. Law courts are a big part of that category of “civil authorities,” and depending on circumstances, there may be a need for law courts to intervene in serious matters in order to protect one group of citizens from another. In rare occasions, such situations may involve Christians.

But, coming back to 1 Corinthians 6:7, 8, Paul exhorts all offended parties to take such offenses and lay them aside. As he says, “Why not let yourselves be cheated?” In other words, it is better to let the bad situation go rather than making a mockery of Christ in the eyes of the world and damaging the overall Christian testimony.

That last point applies just as equally with Julie Anne as it does with her ex-church, and to all the sob-sisters “survivor” blogs.