Darkness Is Present

Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness were popular when I was a teenager. We didn’t have them (I think they were a bit too lurid to pass my parents’ vetting) but I borrowed them from a friend. They made for an exciting read, although I do remember being a bit skeptical at the idea that spiritual warfare meant there were demon conspiracies behind everything. At the time, I certainly did not catch the very revealing theme woven through them (see Twitter thread by R. L. Stollar below for specific paragraphs). But then, of course I didn’t… I was well-trained to dismiss women, children and any accusation against Authority.

Accusations were either false – Peretti portrays them as demon-inspired – or, if they proved undeniably true, they were the victim’s own sad fault. I recall a conversation I overheard years ago among some women in our congregation about a murder case on the news, a victim of domestic violence. The comment, which I will never forget and which illustrates how we were taught to think, was: “She must have provoked him. She was probably a contentious woman.”

R. L. Stollar points out that in Peretti’s narrative, helpers (such as Child Protective Services) are evil and villainous – another very familiar theme. The World™ was always trying to get in our homes and steal the children & subvert the women.

I echo Stollar’s criticism: “These portrayals are cruel, false, and dangerous caricatures of abuse survivors and survivor advocates.”

You can read his whole thread HERE.

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1177746142051745792.html

Unbelieved

I just finished watching the new miniseries on Netflix by this title, inspired by true events. It’s about a young woman who reports being raped but later recants under pressure and “confesses” having lied about it (and is prosecuted for her supposed false report), and the police investigation in a different state that finally led to the capture of the serial rapist who had indeed raped her and many other women. It is a grim story to watch but good – even necessary, I think.

As Adrian Horton put it in his review for The Guardian, the series is “a portrait in how things should be – how serious sexual assault cases should be taken, how crucial it is to listen to victims, how memory lapses and scattered details should be considered part and parcel of trauma memory, not a strike against it.”

Marie Adler, the victim accused of presenting a false report, was not believed even by the people closest to her. Her friendships, her mental health, her lodging, her job, all fell as collateral damage. There is a very poignant scene where she was asked by her assigned therapist how she would handle the situation if it ever happened again. This was her answer:

If I had to do it over…I would lie earlier – and better. I would just figure it out on my own, by myself. No matter how much someone says they care about you, they don’t – not enough. I mean, maybe they mean to, or they try to, but – other things end up being more important…Even with good people and with people you can kinda trust, if the truth is inconvenient – if the truth doesn’t, like, fit – they don’t believe it.

I could not help but think of the many people in religious systems – specifically my own, the evangelical world – that have borne such terrible burdens. The burden of living in environments where abuse is structurally enabled, and abusers protected. The burden of being forced to occupy positions (because of age, or gender) that make them terrifyingly vulnerable. The burden of being shamed and disbelieved. The burden of having to keep secrets. The burden of having to pretend or lie because the truth is inconvenient to others. Burdens that they must stagger under their whole lives.

And I ask, with Detective Karen Duvall, WHERE IS OUR OUTRAGE?

Marie Adler’s stern, two-word response to the officers’ fumbling and inadequate apologies applies to us as well: DO BETTER.

Developing Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is crucial to personal growth and the prevention of spiritual abuse. No one is born with it; it must be cultivated. 

The following excerpt from Steven Smith’s article, “A Biblical Perspective on Spiritual Authority and Critical Thinking” might serve as an excellent New Year’s resolution list:

‘How can a Christian develop critical thinking skills? Here are ten steps I wish I had followed:

  • Pray for the Spirit of wisdom (James 1:5-8).
  • Intentionally encounter diverse people and perspectives. Travel. Listen to podcasts from other preachers and teachers. Cultivate friends outside of your church circle.
  • Zondervan’s Counterpoint series is an excellent way to study thorny theological matters. Scholars from each major position present their case on a particular topic, and the other scholars interact with those essays.
  • Learn to dialogue instead of shutting down at the first hint of difference.
  • Educate yourself about the world at large. Read foreign English newspapers. Subscribe to a blog (or ten). Think outside the box.
  • Learning to think critically is like training for an athletic event. Find “trainers” who will stretch you, tone you, and give you a good workout. Ravi Zacharias always helps me to think more clearly (find his website here).
  • Idolize no man or woman. Respect and admire, but put no one on a pedestal except for God.
  • Do theology in community. Yes, discuss spiritual things in your own local church, but also engage with the Church universal, and the historical church. There are (and have been) wise Christians throughout the world who have thought well about God, other people, and themselves.
  • Embrace mystery and give grace for “grayness” in disputable matters. Not every theological issue is critical for salvation. Really. As one of my seminary professors says, heaven will be like torn paper: it tears unevenly. We will be surprised at some of the people who made it in…and even more surprised by who’s missing.
  • Relax. Enjoy being part of the Body of Christ and humble yourself to receive from other people, even people outside your church or denomination. If Solomon’s temple couldn’t hold all of the presence of God, neither can your little church.’

How To Be a Good Cult Member

While it is very important to recognize abusive behavior in leaders/ministries, it is no less important to recognize and avoid enabling behavior. They are two sides of the same coin. There is (and I quote a friend) the danger of those who are driven by the compulsion to dominate and manipulate, and there is the danger of those who desire order to such an extent that they will allow themselves to be dominated and manipulated.

In his article, “Someone Like Me: Anatomy of a Cult Member,” Steve Smith talks about what made him an excellent cult member for 25 years. Being a blind follower. Being a rule-abider/legalist. Seeking belonging. Having low self-esteem. A lack of critical thinking. Being performance oriented.

This is the kind of behavior that gives abusive people their power, but unfortunately many Christians are taught that being blindly obedient and submissive is virtuous and godly, and that critical thinking is rebellious and dangerous. We need to break away from these false notions and work on developing genuine Christian character, which would include sagacity, strength and nobility.

Steve gives us a lot to think about. Here’s the link to his article:

Whistleblowing in the Church

After a friend shared some articles about the ongoing situation with James MacDonald & Harvest Bible Chapel – one of which contained a charge from one of the (resigning) elders on his staff concerning cult-like behavior – several people threw their hands up in horror at hearing the word “cult” associated with a church.

It may come as a surprise that even evangelical churches can become cultic groups. But so it is. Quoting Steve Smith :


Can a group affirm the Bible and still be a cult?
Yes.
What makes some groups destructive is not their doctrine but rather their practice. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them,” (cf. Matthew 7:15-20), and destructive groups have a way of twisting scriptures and practicing coercion which results in damaged followers. Ironically, groups like this are often intensely concerned about the fruits of salvation in their followers, yet their own fruit is rotten.


In his paper, “Cult Formation“, Robert J. Lifton, M.D. listed three primary characteristics of a cult as follows:

a) A charismatic leader [or, I add, nucleus of leaders] with no meaningful accountability,

b) A process of coercive persuasion or thought reform, and

c) Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

When the whole Harvest situation came to my attention, and I read MacDonald’s version, members’ testimonies and Roys’ investigation (which I did, not out of morbid fascination but because James MacDonald is a familiar name and several of my friends follow his ministry), what stood out immediately to me were those basic cultic characteristics.

Some people are taking exception to the fact that the situation is being made public, and that Christians are sharing links to the investigation on the social media, something they call “participating in a smear campaign”. They think we are bound to only speak well of other Christians, protect their reputations, overlook facts and cover up any sin in the interest of love & good testimony.

But reputations are not sacred – in fact, as Rebecca Davis pointed out in her outstanding article, “The only thing a person deserves when it comes to reputation is to have his reputation match his character.” If Christian leaders or groups are engaging in cultic behavior, they SHOULD be exposed – in the interest of all. Those being wronged should be helped. Those wronging should be stopped, and they should receive the opportunity to repent.

Silence (the no-whistleblowing policy) is not always the spiritual option – not when:

It replaces truth-telling;

It is inspired by fear;

It keeps wrong unchallenged;

It covers up harm;

It enables harmers.

There are situations where Paul’s directive applies: “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather EXPOSE THEM” (Eph. 5:11).

Protect His Sheep: An Open Letter to New Testament Assemblies

This letter was sent out last week by the directors of the Galilee Program to all the listed assemblies (“Plymouth Brethren“) in North America. It is a call to identify and address the problem of child abuse (sexual, physical and emotional) in our church circles.

This problem, as the authors state, is not limited to a few isolated cases, but is much more prevalent than we realize. Its seriousness has been greatly underestimated and the response has been inadequate.

It is my personal persuasion that this problem is directly fueled by supposedly “Biblical” teaching on child-rearing and by supposedly “Biblical” teaching on authority, and that the problem is by no means limited to children but encompasses women as well. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are a terrible, present problem in our church circles. It is HIGH TIME they were addressed.

The website Protect His Sheep, linked below, contains the letter and helpful resources. May I encourage you to read and share.

LINK: Protect His Sheep

Train Up A Child In the Way He Should Go, And…?

Let me start with this truly humble disclaimer: I am no expert in child-raising. I’m still raising my own and making plenty of mistakes in the process – so no, no kind of expert, and yes, still in the school of hard knocks.

That being said, over the years I have reached conclusions on some methods that don’t work. I can say this with confidence because I’ve observed them first-hand and seen the results.

Recently I read a short series on a blog that reminded me of some of these things. It’s a critical review of Reb Bradley’s Child Training Tips, a book which lines up pretty well with a few others you may or may not recognize:

What the Bible Says About Child Training, Richard Fugate
To Train Up A Child, Michael Pearl
Withhold Not Correction, Bruce A. Ray
Spanking: Why, When, How?, Roy Lessin

These books offer a supposedly Biblical parenting formula that guarantees success: the “right” training method equals godly, obedient children who grow into godly, obedient adults. The results, however, reveal important flaws and dangers in the formula (something Reb Bradley himself had to admit in his later article, “Exposing the 7 Major Blind Spots of Homeschoolers”).

This is the breakdown of the critical issues reviewed in the series:

#1: Parents are pushed to assume the worst about their children instead of being encouraged to demonstrate the virtues of mercy and understanding.

#2: Parents are urged to exercise an extreme level of control of their child’s mind and body, which prevents the child from preparing for adulthood.

#3: Parents are instructed to use spanking as their primary tool of discipline, not only for behavior modification but also to force the child to change their opinions or feelings.

#4: Parents are urged to isolate their families in order to maintain extreme levels of control over their children without outside interference.

If you’re raising a kid/kids I’d love for you to read the author’s exposition of each point –  not only for the excellent analysis, but for the practical advice and encouragement it offers. The series is linked below.

In addition, I’m sharing a link to an article by Sally Clarkson, a truly excellent essay recently passed on to me by a friend, which I wish I had read years ago, called “First-Time Obedience: How’s That Working For You?”

I hope they prove as helpful for you as they have for me!

LINK: “Biblical” Parenting: A Series By Latebloomer
LINK: First-Time Obedience: How’s That Working For You?