Recently, my twitter feed and blog reader contained numerous articles related to recent incidents of spiritual abuse, particularly the latest turmoil surrounding Sovereign Grace Ministry. Too often, victims of spiritual abuse have been disregarded and ignored while the religious system and its leaders are protected, allowing the abuse to continue. The questions I raised nine months ago seem particularly relevant to this situation:
“When evidence of ongoing spiritual abuse begins to stack up, what role will the body of Christ play in the story? The pattern has often been to ignore, or worse yet, to blame victims who dare to speak up. We are uneasy about how to bring light to toxic ministry situations. How many victims must come forward? When does their devastation outweigh the abuser’s respectability and success? Those with the ability to confront a toxic situation cannot afford to protect the system at the expense of victims whose lives have been shattered.”
In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown said, “Cover-up cultures depend on shame to keep folks quiet. When the culture of an organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of individuals, you can be certain that shame is systemic, money drives ethics, and accountability is dead.”
Matt B. Redmond said, “There has been no leader in the Reformed community who has spoke up for the victims of sexual abuse in SGM. Not one.” He asked, “Is there no man with a ready hammer and nail willing to heave his weight and influence into the silence?”
T.F. Charlton identified the underlying theology that enables religious abuse of authority:
“At its root, abuse is the harmful exercise of power over others. Submission theology protects the privileges of the powerful; as a result, abuse survivors in submission cultures are not able to fight effectively for support or accountability. It is possible that victim advocacy is inherently impossible in a culture like SGM’s.”
Addressing another issue, Bryan Loritts spoke into the vacuum of silence, asking for an advocate regarding Doug Wilson’s book Black and Tan.
“How does racial insensitivity continue to flourish, especially in the evangelical world? . . You know what saddens me as I write these words? Once again, it’s a black man who is crying for help here, wondering where my white evangelical advocates are?”
Next week, Bryan Loritts, as a fellow keynote speaker, will share a platform with John Piper (a public proponent of Doug Wilson) and other Gospel Coalition men at Advance13.
I do not know how either of these situations will play out. The best possible outcome would be if those who have influence in these particular tribes would become the most vocal advocates for disclosure, repentance, and justice.
Although many of us are not directly affected by these situations, we all must become cognizant of toxic organizational cultures, dangerous leadership personalities, and faulty theologies that perpetuate environments of abuse.
Brad Sargent is in the trenches doing important work on deconstruction of malignant ministry. Following are examples of the types of questions he suggested we must be asking:
“How do we dismantle a toxic culture that grew up around spiritually abusive leaders, their faulty doctrines (authoritarianism, patriarchalism, legalism, perfectionism, etc.), and the organizational structures that institutionalized those anti-biblical rules?
How do we best help people who are exiting out of long-term involvement in malignant ministries as they begin to realize different aspects of how it victimized them – and how they, unwittingly and perhaps even unwillingly, victimized others through the faulty values, beliefs, and practices promoted by that toxic organization?”
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer