Continued from Part 1
I would like to tell you a tragic story. Unfortunately, it is completely true. Some time ago, I knew a lady. A devout Christian woman, she had been married for some years to a brute of a man. He had beaten her on numerous occasions, necessitating several hospitalisations and many broken bones. She lived in mortal terror and wanted desperately to leave him. She counselled with her pastor and his advice to her was horrifying. He counselled her that, as a Christian wife, she was bound by scripture to submit to her husband, and if he killed her, it would be to the glory of Elohim (God). With that, he sent her home to that beast. Sure enough, not a very long time later, she was found by a neighbour, in the living room of her home, beaten to death by her husband. Somehow, I do not think that Yahweh saw a lot of glory in that situation.
There is another story, fortunately not fatal yet, that is also alarming, from a Christian/Messianic standpoint. Another lady's husband physically abuses her and she throws him out. He seeks counsel from the man he sees as his pastor and the pastor's advice is for him to be a man and discipline his wife properly. Together they browbeat the wife into renouncing her charge of abuse and apologising for it. All this to maintain the power base and protect the status quo. Unfortunately, this pastor presents himself as a 'Christian'.
Then, another story. About a lady with a history of catastrophic abuse, married polygamously to a man who claimed to be a minister, this is a tale of multiple spiritual abuse. This lady, because of mind-boggling satanic ritual abuse while she was growing up, had serious demonic problems and the man who married her made much of the fact that he had delivered her from her demonic influences. When, in just a few months, it turned out that, in fact, she was not as delivered as he thought she was, he renounced his marriage covenants with her (something I thought a Christian could not do except in the case of adultery), and threw her out. This is a tragic enough tale but unfortunately, it gets worse. She goes to the man she sees as her pastor and he offers her refuge in his home, telling her she may stay as long as she needs to. Now this lady is having severe problems. Besides the sequelae of her childhood abuse, she now has demonic strongholds from her failed marriage. The upshot of this story is, after trying to marry this lady off to another family across the country, she is thrown out again. There is much more detail to this story, but in the interest of confidentiality, I will not give greater detail at present.
These are just three cases, but unfortunately the number of similar occurrences is frightening. There is a groundswell growing. It is spiritual abuse, a type of abuse only recognised for a very short time. Most people will readily admit that spiritual abuse occurs in the wacky cults we read about in the news, and it truly does occur in these instances. Unfortunately, the instances of spiritual abuse are growing in mainstream ministries and 'Christian' groups. While spiritual abuse can occur in individual instances in any organization, when it becomes an identifying hallmark of any particular ministry or group, then it becomes obvious that a cult is developing.
Cults can be defined theologically and sociologically. From a Christian/Messianic perspective, a group may be defined as a cult when it radically deviates from the essential historic and biblical beliefs of the Christian Church/Messianic Community. For example, this would be seen in the various groups which deny the Deity of the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus). Any behaviour, activity or doctrine that goes counter to what scripture teaches, from a Christian/Messianic standpoint, can be described as having cultic leanings, and should be viewed warily, not only from a practical standpoint, but from a spiritual standpoint as well. Sociologically, a group which uses mind control tactics such as subtle fear, guilt, and pressure etc. can be classed as a cult. It must be said that this definition is even wide enough to include some groups which may be theologically correct in many of their doctrinal beliefs. Unfortunately, even some Christian churches/Messianic assemblies where a leader, or leaders, are not acting in submission and humility to Christ, but rather have fallen into a dictatorial nature, can fall into this category. Note this carefully, for it illustrates a very important point. Just because a church/assembly is well-established and seems to be teaching doctrinally correct beliefs, does not mean it is not a cult. If there is a dictatorial atmosphere, a leader who will not be questioned and is not accountable (a type of idolatry, I might add), and the members feel a sense of isolation, then it is very likely that a cultic atmosphere is present and the potential for spiritual abuse is incredible.
There is a great incidence of crossover between theological error and sociological oppression so that one rarely occurs without the other following.
When a person is spiritually abused, it usually is not in isolation. There is also a great incidence of physical, emotional and frequently sexual abuse as well. This causes a weakening of the emotional and spiritual self brought on by these physical, mental and emotional abuses that leaves the person unable to know true emotional feelings, and spiritually confused, stagnated, and dead. They are taught that the abuses that happen to them are wrong, and then told that they must do and or accept these things in order to follow the tenets of the particular belief. As I read this description, it began to dawn on me just how devastating spiritual abuse can be. Besides the damage done to the mortal person, there is very real danger of damage or destruction to the soul as well. At this time I will not go in-depth into the symptomology found in the victims for the focus of this essay is the symptomology of the abusive group/groups and how to assess the danger.
The most common trait of a spiritually abusive, or cultic group, is the use of mind-control to dominate its members. If the group can control its members' thoughts and beliefs, then its weaknesses are much less likely to come to the fore, or can be covered up as they surface much more easily. Lets look at some characteristics of groups that utilize mind control listed at Spotlight Ministries (no longer operating):
Dear reader, as you read through the above questions, I urge you to reflect on this. If you can answer affirmative to many of these questions, then there is definitely a problem in the group you are in. The first and most important thing you can do is LEAVE. Yahweh never meant for us to live in bondage or to give up our ability to reason for ourselves and He never set our leaders up to be autocratic tyrants, above accountability and unquestionable.
- 1) Do you feel that no matter how hard you try, the 'good deeds' you perform for your group are never quite enough? As a result of this do you often feel plagued with feelings of guilt?
- 2) What are you motivated by? Is it genuine love for God (Elohim) and the group etc., or is it fear of not meeting the desired standards?
- 3) Is questioning the group, or the group leaders, discouraged or frowned upon?
- 4) Does the group you belong to believe that it is an élite and exclusive organisation which alone has 'the truth' and answers to life's questions?
- 5) Does the group pour scorn upon, attack, and mock other Christian churches and their interpretation of the Bible?
- 6) Is reading any literature critical of the group discouraged? Many cults will warn members not to read anything critical of the group, especially if written by an ex-member (who are called names by the cult such as 'apostate', 'hardened', or 'of the devil' etc.). This is a well known information control technique to stop the member from discovering the clear and documented errors of the cult. Members' abilities to think for themselves are effectively disarmed in this way. Instead, they will think more and more as the rest of the group thinks.
- 7) Take a look at the way the group looks and acts. Does everyone dress more or less the same, act the same, and talk the same? One observer, speaking of his particular involvement with a cult, said that the group encouraged its members "to do everything in exactly the same way - to pray the same, to look the same, to talk the same. This in psychology is a classic example of group conformity. Its purpose is to ensure that no-one tries to act differently or become dissident, thus nobody questions the status quo." (Andrew Hart, Jan.1999).
- 8) Does the group discourage association with non-members (except, maybe, for the possibility of converting them to the group)?
- 9) Does the group give you 'black and white answers'? What the group agrees with is right and what the group disagrees with is wrong.
- 10) Does everyone in the group believe exactly the same things (i.e. what the group leaders tell them to believe)? Is there no room for individual belief, or opinion even in minor areas?
- 11) Does the group wear 'two faces'? On the one hand, does it attempt to present itself, to potential converts and the public at large, as a group of people who are like one large family, who have love among themselves, where everyone is equal? But on the other hand, the reality is, that many members inwardly feel unfulfilled and emotionally exhausted?
- 12) Have you attempted to disable your own God-given critical thinking abilities by 'shelving' various doubts about the group or group's teachings etc.?
- 13) Are others in the group, who do not conform to the requirements of the movement's teaching, treated with suspicion, and treated like second class members?
- 14) Does the group tend to withhold certain information from the potential convert? Are the more unusual doctrines of the group not discussed until an individual is more deeply involved in the movement?
- 15) Do you feel fearful of leaving the group? Many cults use subtle fear tactics to stop members from leaving. For example, the group may imply that those who leave will be attacked by the Devil, have a nasty accident, or at least not prosper because they have left 'the truth'.
Unfortunately, this spirit is surfacing in the Christian polygamy community more and more frequently. We are finding many ministries so committed to maintaining the status quo and the power structure, that people, usually the women, are browbeaten into acceptance of the practices of the group and the leaders of the group are not interested in righteous action but maintenance of power. Nowhere is this clearer than in the misapplication of the submission doctrine. Now I have said before and I will reiterate, I absolutely do not refute the scriptural truth of a wife's duty to submit in righteousness to her husband's authority. This duty, however, does not include submitting to abuse. No husband has the right to intimidate and terrorise his wife for any reason -- and SHAME on the pastor who counsels that he does. What kind of person tells a man who has been abusing his wife that he needs to be a man and discipline her properly and then browbeats the woman into accepting it? This is a classic sign of spiritual abuse and a gross misuse of the authority granted him by Yahweh as a pastor, but unfortunately incidents such as these are becoming more and more common.
Dear reader, note carefully the list of questions above and use it to assess the group you are with. If you can answer 'yes' to enough of them that you feel uncomfortable, then you need to RUN from that group. That kind of spiritual abuse can cause permanent scars and spiritual devastation. I will emphasise again that no one, pastor, husband, father, or anyone else, has the right to compel anyone to unrighteous behavior or to compel tolerance of abuse. There is no scriptural justification for it.
Think about it. We are told repeatedly in scripture that the greatest commandment is to love Yahweh with all our hearts, minds, and souls.
Let's look at this passage from the thirteenth chapter in 1 Corinthians.
Consider this passage closely. The Apostle Paul is telling us that no matter what works we try to do for Yahweh, if we have not love in our hearts for Him and our brothers and sisters, we are nothing and can achieve nothing. I believe this is crystal clear.
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away" (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, NIV).
Where there is the true love that comes from Yah'shua, you will find joy, peace, gentleness, patience, longsuffering, meekness, and humility. If your fellowship is led by someone who is arrogant, power-hungry and refuses to answer questions or be held accountable to anyone you may be sure that he is NOT operating within the will of Yahweh. Yah'shua never browbeat His followers till they lost their peace and joy in service to Him. If correction was needed, He did it in love with redemption always the goal.
It goes without saying that as long as we wear this body of mortal flesh, we will need a system within the Body available to correct and discipline members and pastors who have strayed. This system, however, should never have power and control as its goal, as the purpose of correction and discipline is always to return the believer to the path of righteousness, not to bolster the leader's ego and power-hunger.
I could go on and on with anecdotal evidence but suffice it to say that the problem of spiritual abuse in the Christian polygamy community is growing as several ministries move ever closer to cultist ideology. I pray that each investigator is led to righteous discernment and that Yahweh guard each of you, particularly the sisters, from the cultist predators that have thrown His love out in exchange for temporal power and control. Yahweh bless you and lead you to His wisdom and truth.
The author grew up in a physically and emotionally violent home and was, in her first marriage, wed to an equally abusive husband, and had to deal with alcohol- and drug-abuse problems. You can learn more of her story in here.
Author: Świętosława Brzezinska Królewieca