The comings and goings of leadership within religious groups is happening all the time. It’s like a sacred form of musical chairs with the Divine being held responsible for each appointment or dispatch from the prestigious seat of power and influence. Sometimes the ‘leader’ or their family has wisely ‘just had enough’; on other occasions the departure is an expulsion for some perceived ‘sin’ on his/her part.
Loyalty to one’s ‘faith group’ is often stressed in the guise of a loyalty to God. If I love God, I will love the group and particularly His appointed leader(s). If I have issues with the leader(s) I have issues with his/her boss viz God. A few proof texts are thrown into the mix and the believer is locked into a form of social control that they don’t perceive until a personal crisis unexpectedly comes to rescue them.
My friends at Wartburg Watch are presently writing about developments in such a tight-knit religious group in the USA. I’m not surprised by these events having lived through similar ones in the 1980s.
So for any of you who suspect that all is not well in your present ‘faith group’ here is a little blog I posted sometime ago. I trust that it might empower and encourage you to step out from under control and walk in the freedom that Yeshua demonstrated during His time with His beloved mankind.
Recovering from abuse experienced within a spiritual or religious setting is a long and painful process.While the level of abuse can vary along a given spectrum there are some characteristics common to all cases.
In the same way that an alcoholic denies that he/she has a drink problem or a battered wife’s denies that her husband is an abuser, so too with victims of religious or spiritual abuse. Deep within the abused will be a feeling that something isn’t quite right and yet a strong emotional attachment still locks the victim, for that’s what they are, into a mind-control matrix. The first step to freedom is to admit that one may be imprisoned in such a complex system.
There are a number of phenomena linked to subliminal abuse and control that might suggest you’re suffering a level of abuse.
1) The elevation of the abusive group above all other faith groups.
A clear danger sign is the exclusive nature of such a religious group. The ‘God has chosen us to be special syndrome’ is a symptom of a control mentality.
2) Broken or distrustful relationships with previous friends, family or outsiders.
‘Us and them’ mental strongholds lead to emotional fractures with those previously close to the victim.
When my wife and I left our Shepherding group, an elder’s wife publicly asked the pastor if she could discuss ‘family business’ with us if she met us on the high street. Thankfully and to my great surprise she was told to be as open as she wanted. Yet the question revealed a deep seated ‘us and them’ mentality that was prevalent in the group mindset.
3) A level of ‘committment’ to the group that eats up time, money and emotional energy that’s often to the detriment of normal family life.
Often commitment to God is interpreted as commitment to the group. In my experience this is a real sign of near cultic tendencies within faith groups.
4) A strong charismatic leader with an elevated view of his own position and service.
In my own experience I was drawn to the charisma of my leader through mimetic or imitative desire – I wanted to be as close to God as he appeared to be. Like me, such ‘followers’ can greatly inflate a leaders view of his own importance leading to religious delusions and tight control.
5) A one-man-band leader who insists on doing all the public service of the church.
Variety is a strong characteristic of creation and should be reflected in the life of a faith community. It’s not just the ‘Rev/Pastor/Father Blogg’s Show’
6) A dismissal of genuine concerns by the leader or leadership.
If the leadership of your faith group are constantly ignoring or belittling your and others feelings of unease then it usually suggests a superiority attitude within the group’s leadership team.
7) ‘God has appointed us as leaders and we always will be – we see any disagreement without us as a lack of ‘faith’ on your part‘.
In my own experience my ‘Shepherd’ had a great technique whereby I left private meetings with him with the impression that the ‘problem’ only lay within me. It was a brilliant psychological trick skillfully played on all dissenters!
8) A secrecy regarding the financial expenditure of the group, especially regarding the leader’s salary.
We had a great technique in our fellowship for hiding details of expenditure. The salaries of all our workers were grouped together at the AGM giving the impression of an equality within the salary structure. The opposite was the case – if your group is secretive about detailed expenditure beware. You are under a form of financial control that is contrary to basic integrity.
9) A regular feeling of guilt regarding your ‘service’ to God via the group.
Guilt has nothing to do with being a follower of Yeshua. If this guilt lands on you after attending a faith group then you are being abused.
10) A special ‘in’ language that outsiders can’t understand.
A new language that innocently conveys the ‘hidden agenda’ of the abusers. In my own case such phrases as ‘being under authority’ and ‘ having covering’ were falsely revered as spiritual correctness.
11) A lack of vulnerability on behalf of the leader or teacher.
Most abusive leaders are locked into a denial of their own flaws and weaknesses, appearing strong to their followers.At the same time a level of vulnerability and openness is often required from followers by such a leader. Such a degree of openness keeps the follower locked into the abusive matrix. Remember knowledge is power and especially in abusive pastoral situations.
In my next blog I’ll suggest some ways that you can free yourself from such subtle and often subliminal control once you’ve been honest with yourself.