This has been a difficult book to write because it is a book that is critical of other Christians. One always runs the risk of being misunderstood and labeled “judgmental” or arrogant when you make evaluative statements regarding Christian believers and organizations outside your own immediate circle. The book is about churches and other Christian organizations that inflict psychological and spiritual abuse upon members through the use of fear, guilt, and intimidation.
However, when we refuse to pass judgment on any religious phenomenon for fear that such judgments might violate the norm of tolerance so prevalent in our culture, we abdicate our responsibility to the body of Christ to sound a warning where a warning is justified. Some boats need to be rocked, even Christian boats. The years of research that have gone into this book have validated for me the truth of a placard I display in my office: “Those who make it hardest to be a Christian in this world are the other Christians.”
I can safely predict that not one of the groups discussed in these pages will agree that they deserve such mention. They will protest that they have been unfairly portrayed, that I have listened to “a few disgruntled former members” whose words should not be trusted, and who are not representative of the membership.
Let me assure the reader that the information I convey in this book is based not on my own fanciful imagination, but on the actual experiences of real people whose accounts can be independently verified and who, to the best of my knowledge, have been truthful about their encounters with churches that abuse. Despite the defensive protestations of authoritarian leaders that ex-members of their churches lie, distort the facts, and are “accusers of the brethren,” there is abundant evidence that a serious problem of abuse exists in the Christian community.
Researching and writing Churches That Abuse was often a depressing experience because in recounting their days in abusive environments, the survivors I talked with had to relive the pain and confusion, and, yes, the anger. Sometimes they were embarrassed to admit that they had allowed these things to happen to them. They felt the absence of understanding people willing to help them “pick up the pieces.”
It is my hope that this book will provide a context for understanding. If we have basic information about a subject, we can sometimes take preventative action. Regrettably, it is not always possible to “get through” to people already caught up in abusive churches. They do not see themselves as being manipulated, or in any danger of spiritual abuse. Hence, the frustration of parents, relatives, and friends who try to reach or “rescue” them. There are no easy solutions to this problem.
In the final analysis, the book presents a hopeful outlook.
Not only can individuals leave abusive churches and achieve recovery and restoration, but there are encouraging signs that some groups are themselves recognizing the need for change and are moving away from the fringe toward the center. May their numbers increase.
Santa Barbara, California
It is customary for authors to say that without the help of many people their books could not have been written. That is especially true with regard to this book because so much of it is comprised of case histories. My greatest debt of gratitude, therefore, is to the dozens of individuals who have shared freely with me their personal, often painful, odysseys in abusive churches. Only a few of their stories can be told in these pages. But each one has contributed to my understanding of the topic and, hopefully, all will feel they have had a part in this project. I have tried to convey as accurately as possible what they have told me, but I alone am responsible for any errors.
My gratitude extends to the following people who each contributed in various ways to the success of this effort:
Jamey Robertson, Kara Bettencourt, Rebecca Coons, Hubert Merchant, Betty Fleming, John Rodkey, and Anne Anderson.
I owe special thanks to Kevin Liu, whose assistance was invaluable, and for whom this book has unique meaning. I remain grateful to Herbert and Louise Moeller and to David and Dore Charbonneau for their years of encouragement. Warren and Barbara Landon demonstrated stability and caring when I felt alone. Thank you, friends.
I continue to be grateful to J. Whitney Shea, who many years ago introduced me to sociology and modeled for me not only scholarship, but Christian compassion and a steadfast faith.
Finally, I thank the staff at Zondervan Publishing House, especially my editor, Len Goss, and Zondervan’s publisher, Stan Gundry. Thank you both for your supportive encouragement and your willingness to take on this topic.