Church, leadership, Spiritual Abuse, Theology

Spiritual Abuse: Me Too Stories From the UK Church


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Why Write This Now?

It was roughly five years ago in 2013, before the law of the land in the UK had changed to encompass homosexual couples within the sanctity of marriage, that I wrote a post entitled “What Jesus Would Say About Marriage if He Appeared on the BBC’s Question Time Panel”.

The purpose of writing back then was the same two-fold purpose that I have in writing today: exposing deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and empowering Christian expression.

This will be accused by some as being an unhealthy, imbalanced obsession with “criticism” whereas I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am called to lift my voice at this time in history.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near…”

As always, the goal is truth and that all honour and all glory would be unto the name of Jesus only.

It’s All About the Context

Three months ago, I published one of the most-read posts I’ve ever written in more then 11 years of blogging. Aware at the time that it was going to be a controversial piece, nevertheless I released the post in good conscience not doubting that it was Spirit-led rather than of the flesh.

Most fundamentally, the blog was expressing the overall burden that I have for the immaturity and compromise in the Church – the “Trojan horse” of “church life”, you could say. On this occasion, what I had written touched upon some of the sacred cows/idols of christian leadership within one specific wing of the seeker-sensitive camp, (with which I have significant history in the UK).

If you don’t have time to read or find the wider context, let me provide it for you now because it’s important:

May 2018: I had originally read an alarming Instagram post from a prominent, UK Christian leader, been concerned (along with a heap of other quality people), posted a highly-respectful question in response but was, quite literally, ignored and mocked for asking the question. I considered that behaviour to be unacceptable for any “christian leader”, especially given the gravity of the subject (the great commission) AND their global influence so wrote aforementioned blog. Particularly given related events last week, I now consider this culture to be endemic and symptomatic of a wider/deeper/historic issue in the Church and one that requires repentance and, therefore, the call to repentance, without which God simply will not command blessing in the way that some of us dream about. Regardless, these behaviours will be held to account one day (James 3:1).

Unfriended & Blocked for Jesus – a 21st Century Persecution

So, through what I can only describe as the flash flood of spiritual attack, what happened last week, via a friend of 15 years, resulted in a sentence of relational exile and my being unfriended and blocked on social media, all without a single word of conversation via telephone or, even, email – an axing of a decade and a half of friendship and ministry literally without a single word.*

Via these blinkered judgments of a former friend, a personal and two-fold lesson of wisdom emerged for me in the secret heart (Psalm 51:6) :-

a) Tasting what’s ahead for those who are called to be a prophetic voice within the UK Church wilderness, preparing the way of Jesus’ return and

b) Knowing how I (we) should be prepared to respond and, sometimes, not respond to back-whipping and beard-yanking.

The shock and the pain of these kinds of attack do quickly subside if ones’ heart is, in fact, right. Indeed, when the clouds have cleared, there remains the sunrise for each of us of the calling into the deeper joy of both His glory and his suffering. (Romans 8:17, 1 Peter 4:13).

But we tend to name and claim the glory and get all squeamish about the suffering.

And the criticism.

Spiritual Abuse in the UK Church

As a couple, God has given us clear and gracious insights (even in recent months through virtually impossible encounters from other parts of the world) into spiritual cultures of control, abuse and neglect in some churches within the UK. These insights have been profoundly affirming for us personally but also, I’m realising, a very serious responsibility to action on behalf of others. (Isaiah 61:1).

For example, a friend of mine last week contacted me to let me know that he’d had to resign from his place of Christian leadership training because of institutionalised bullying, blind-eye-turning, compromise, control and abuse. Other friends of ours are still recovering, several years on, from exactly the same kind of appalling spiritual abuse at the hands of those leading a Christian organisation here in Scotland. Since my blog in question from May 2018, at least 5 people and several couples have come to me to express deep regret (and thanks) for the piece I’d written, empathising from their own horror stories from the same church. I’ve had to resign from a christian ‘biblical’ organisation here in Edinburgh in recent months because of appalling hypocrisy, control and spiritual abuse. And this isn’t the first time – I’ve had multiple experiences of working in “christian” organisations within which anti-Christ behaviour is condoned and even embraced.

At what point does it become OK to say something about all of this? Or, rather, at what point does it become not OK to not say something about all of this?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men do nothing

~ Edmund Burke

The world are waking up to these types of concealed abuses through the steam train of the #MeToo campaign.

God forbid that the Church don’t.

The Healing Gift of Matthew 18

Relationships are difficult. Period. Some are less difficult, some are even largely free from difficulty and characterised by fun and laughter and trust, but all relationships are difficult from time to time.

God has given us a gift to help us all maintain not just relational equilibrium but, quite honestly, what we all really long for: a relational deepening and flourishing – the true anti-dote to “Sunday Syndrome”.

What’s this gift called?

Dialogue.

(Click/Read: Matthew 18 vv 15-19)

Given that open dialogue in this instance has been deliberately blocked, I’m going to briefly respond to the central/indirect allegation that was made against me last week following this shambolic fiasco, not primarily for myself (although there is a record to be set straight here), but for those of you reading this who are fearful of such abusive behaviours from other Christian leaders. 

Some of you know only too well the fear-mongering in unhealthy, (often numerically large), churches: you have a bad heart, you don’t honour leadership, there’s something wrong with you and that you won’t have a ‘good life’ if you disagree or ask questions or, God-forbid, criticise too much.

Encouragement vs Criticism

My friend has independently decided that I have become too critical/deficient in encouragement and therefore that I am producing a harvest of unhealthy, dysfunctional fruit, and, quoting his Insta post below, “building a culture of fear and intimidation, insecurity, stress and loneliness” (this is presumably an excerpt of the “wisdom” from the “studies” he’s been reading).

He continues,

If the only language you have in your toolbox is criticism then the reality is that you’re going to build a dysfunctional environment, and you’re not going to have many friends, if any…

Consider closely (i.e. with reference to your Bible, not psychological studies) what my friend writes in full below, addressing the topic of encouragement and criticism. Then allow me to make three observations, including the direct connection between this species of hypocrisy and the insipid cultures of spiritual abuse and Sunday Syndrome within some UK churches today.

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CRITICISM & ENCOURAGEMENT I believe there’s a point at which healthy criticism becomes unhealthy and we need to understand why… I’m a firm believer that without healthy criticism we are unable to excel in life. We need to be able to embrace healthy criticism to deconstruct areas of our lives that weaken or sabotage us from flourishing and growing. Healthy criticism helps us achieve this by shining a light on areas that need to change. However when you’re consistently exposed to an environment that speaks criticism as its mother-tongue and lacks (in greater measure) the language of encouragement, then the fallout can be detrimental & dysfunctional to the individual, family, team, church or organisation. Anyone offering criticism must also be skilful and mindful of the more important ingredient of encouragement. If the only language you have in your toolbox is criticism then the reality is, you’re going to build a dysfunctional environment and you’re not going to have many friends – if any. Studies show us that people blossom and grow more in environments that embrace greater levels of encouragement than criticism. Yes we need both because criticism is important but ENCOURAGEMENT trumps criticism. An environment that lacks encouragement and majors on criticism will build a culture that has an air of… 1. Fear 2. Intimidation 3. Insecurity 4. Stress 5. Relational dysfunction 6. Hurt 7. Anxiety 8. Offence 9. Anger 10. Frustration 11. Isolation Alternatively, an environment that builds itself firstly on ENCOURAGEMENT and tempers itself with “healthy” criticism as a tool for change will create a culture of… 1. Life 2. Hope 3. Faith 4. Love 5. Strength 6. Excellence 7. Joy 8. Synergy 9. Unity 10. Energy 11. Impact 12. Honesty 13. Openness 14. Legacy And the list goes on… My prayers is that we learn that both criticism and encouragement are important. But one is more important than the other so let’s be wise in our approach towards building the culture of our lives ❤️ – – #criticismandencouragement #feedthedreamin2018 #believe #love #faith #hope #grace #church #Jesus #God #HolySpirit #one #unity #changeyourlife #imagination #peoplematter #helpothers

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Observation One

My friend is saying that there are forms of criticism that are both healthy and unhealthy. I agree in principle. However, the undeniable and fundamental problem with this (in context) is that he is subjectively deciding the difference and drawing the line without any dialogue.

What or who decides when criticism becomes unhealthy? Is there a percentage of “critical” posts that one is allowed to communicate before one becomes a black sheep?

This will be a call he’s making based on his own personal preference or perhaps a past experience or a particularly helpful study that he’s read. Or, it will be because he’s personally offended with me. How can anyone ever confidently – or prayerfully – make the call that criticism is unhealthy, or not, without dialoguing, especially when that is invited? The same could also be asked about encouragement. How can you know for sure that encouragement is healthy?

Jesus taught that fruit enables us to recognise between the counterfeit prophet and the genuine shepherd of the sheep, (Click/Read Matthew 7:15-20) but it’s only God that really knows the heart. (Click/Read 1 Samuel 16:7).

I’m guessing that my friend has looked at the fruit from the tree of our lives, in a particular season,  and decided that, to him, it’s the fake fruit from a fake tree of a fake prophetic family. But it is of course impossible to know someone’s heart without picking up the phone, writing an email or replying to a message….without some form of dialogue.

What does this say of his heart to lurch to a conclusion like this while actively blocking the conversation and dialogue that might have brought agreement and would certainly have made room for peace? What does this say about leaders who behave like this?

Regardless of your own church experience, it’s vital to see that this kind of behaviour is a type of fruit in and of itself and not becoming of any Christian leader or any Christian church. I would be appalled to hear that any pastor would behave like this, whether within his congregation or not.

How much more for a friend?

This is the point: as a brother in Christ (the family context of Matthew 18), my friend would still have been completely wrong to behave in the way that he has even if he’d come to me to speak and I’d thrown the toys out the pram and told him to go away without wanting to listen. Even then, he would have been wrong.

Why?

Because it is written! In Matthew 18, Jesus commends and commands a process – a process that, in this case, didn’t even begin, never happened and, of course, if we’d actually had dialogue, would have been obvious that didn’t ever warrant happening in the first place.

I believe the Word of God was ignored and the heart of the Father was grieved. And I believe that the Spirit of God was quenched.

This is what happens in spiritually-abusive cultures with too high a regard for man and too low a regard for God.

Observation Two

Returning to Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 7 concerning recognising fake prophets and wolves by their fruits, I believe my friend has looked at a critical focus in recent months (within my blogging/vlogging) and, balking, misinterpreted what he’s seen.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 was in the context of the differences between apostate/false prophets and the LORD’s anointed, not between brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree. So, unless my friend believes that I’m not saved and instead sent by the devil to maul the sheep of His flock, I can’t understand what is going through his mind.

The point here is this: in right standing with Christ, led by Christ, full of Christ, it’s impossible to have an evil “mother tongue” of criticism. It’s literally impossible except, perhaps, in very rare situations. 

My friend is either deliberately not considering, (or ignorantly unaware of), the other emphases in our lives that are full of the “encouragement” and “building up” and “cherishing” of the Church – whatever positive verbs you’d like to us – that he considers the only heathy mother tongue. Either way, he can not know our hearts or our callings.

So the fundamental premise of his Instagram post is uninformed, at best, and manipulatively misleading, at worst. I believe it is inexcusably wrong and only in keeping with his refusal to reach out to me or respond when I had reached out to him!

In John 7:24, Jesus says,

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

This, of course, applies to both the wolf and to the sheep.

Observation Three

We have a very skewed understanding of love these days. This sorry state of affairs demonstrates to me that the demonically-inspired, politically-correct narratives coursing through our cultural veins have infiltrated the Church…big time. We need more Chloe households and we should be distressed.

Just in the same way that a gay-right’s activist would slam a Bible-believing evangelical Christian as being hateful and bigoted for not agreeing with homosexuality or the redefinition of marriage – just as they have a fundamentally flawed understanding of love – so I believe my friend is demonstrating a fundamentally flawed understanding of what constitutes encouragement and criticism.

Was Jeremiah not encouraging Israel by denouncing the heresy of the counterfeits? Was John the Baptist not encouraging Israel by calling them to repent or to the Pharisees to produce fruit in keeping with repentance? What about the tone of Titus, the tears of Paul, or the fire of Peter? Where would all of these legends have sat on my friend’s “encouragement/criticism spectrum”?

Clearly, at the opposite end to him.

I believe his Instagram post has the allure and guise of being encouraging and wise but, ultimately, was written in the profoundly hypocritical root system of tearing down a brother in Christ while protesting much about unhealthy criticism, all the while promoting a shallow, one-dimensional, surface-level understanding about the heart of God, the Word of God and the family of God.

But that wouldn’t be obvious or even possible to know by everyone, would it? 

When We Think We’re Wiser Than Jesus

Mairi and I have been ‘cut out’ of my friend’s life last week because he thinks he’s wiser than Jesus and, I would go as far as to say, because he’d actually prefer not to have the presence of God in this situation. This is the only conclusion from Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 if you read the full context of verse 20.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them

This “fake unity” applies to any Christian who quotes Jesus on forgiveness while simultaneously blocking the dialogue that serves reconciliation – it’s an appearance of godliness while denying its very power.

If this wasn’t true, he would have come to me to confront me about what he, presumably, considers to be sinful. He’d have dropped me a text or picked up the phone, wouldn’t he? Maybe he’d have responded to the message that I sent him after I noticed he’d unfollowed and blocked me?

What is going on? How does a 15 year relationship in which songs have been written and recorded, conferences have been organised and led, in which prayer and prophecy once thundered – a kindred spirit you might have said – how is a relationship like this assassinated overnight without even one word?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 aren’t a suggestion and they’re never superseded by culture or circumstance. They are a command of God to give us all what we all need the most: His Presence.

When Christian leaders behave like this, when they ignore and mock questions, when they promote anti-Christ uncertainty about the words of Christ with no context or explanation, when fifteen year old relationships are axed overnight with not even as much as the one call of an arrested prisoner to their Lawyer, it is spiritually abusive and must be exposed.

If you’re a leader who has ever behaved in an abusive way like this, whether recently or years ago, please reach out and make it right this side of heaven. In some cases, it’s a phone call or an email that will suffice; in others, you may need to arrange a meeting.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

~ James 3:1

If you have ever experienced spiritual abuse in cultures that bully and control and that provide pseudo forms of faux family, please speak to someone that you can trust. This is NEVER the heart of the Father and NEVER the heart of your Saviour.

May God have mercy and, in the Name of Jesus, may He heal your heart fully and tenderly today.

P.S.

I would still be willing to talk with my friend.

(Let me just say here now, yes, I have on rare occasions over the last twelve years, blocked people on social media but always with some form of dialogue/rationale. (Less than 10 I think). I would be confident that of these people all of them were either not “friends” as much as random connections (we actually didn’t know each other and the personal divulging of our lives wasn’t appropriate) or I had unsuccessfully reached out and tried to have dialogue over difficult issues. Sometimes blocking is better than the persistent drip-feed of relational turbulence).

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