Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hope For Christians Who Have Been Spiritually Abused

Posted by Sola Sisters

 What Is Spiritual Abuse? 

According to David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen, authors of the classic book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, spiritual abuse occurs when those in spiritual leadership "twist Scripture to give more authority to the leadership and keep the members under their control. One example is the use of Hebrews 13:17 as a basis for demanding unquestioning loyalty and obedience to the leaders." Johnson and VanVonderen also make the compelling case that those who are being spiritually abused are often unaware of what is happening while the abuse is occurring. Why is this so? I'm not sure why, but if I had to guess, I would say that we sheep can be so desirous of solid teaching, and aware of the value of solid teaching, that we don't recognize spiritual abuse, if it is present or if it develops. Thus, spiritual abuse doesn't occur only among the weak-minded, the undiscerning, or in cults: it can also take place inside of doctrinally solid churches, and oftentimes those experiencing it are not even aware that it is taking place.

This issue is in the spotlight these days, of course, because Mark Driscoll, a high-profile pastor in Seattle, WA, has been charged by a number of former elders and members with spiritually abusive behavior. Driscoll, who was an unknown before he was a keynote speaker for John Piper's 2006 Desiring God Conference, has been hailed by his supporters as being perhaps a tad rough around the edges, but otherwise doctrinally solid. But is doctrine the only criteria for someone to bear in mind when evaluating a church? Keep that question in mind......we'll circle back to that one later.

 Where Does Spiritual Abuse Take Place? 

When you think of spiritual abuse, does your mind conjure up a rigid, stifling environment in which people are expected to dress in an extremely conservative way, and adhere to certain legalistic rules in order to be accepted? While it's true that these are sometimes the marks of a spiritually abusive environment, what about a church whose members are often in true fellowship with each other? Churches where members laugh together, eat meals together, study God's Word together, bowl and bike and hike together, and swap recipes and share coffee while the kids play together? As surprising as it may seem, spiritual abuse can happen in these environments just as much as in the obviously legalistic churches. So it should be noted that a church mustn't be evaluated solely on the basis of whether or not the people are welcoming to newcomers. Many Christians who have been spiritually abused in a church can recall, often with great sadness, how warm and fellowship-filled their early days were at the church where they were abused. Spiritually abusive environments are often described by those who have fled as once having been warm, loving and welcoming to new members. (For more on this, see Jonna Petry's account of her time at Mars Hill as a former elder's wife, and Stephen Martin's online e-book The Heresy of Mind Control.)

By many accounts, Mars Hill was a perfect storm in the making, with its brash young pastor who preached edgy but solid sermons in the largely unchurched Pacific Northwest, and its throngs of young members who felt welcomed and loved and encouraged in this exciting new start-up church. But Driscoll is not the only doctrinally solid, yet spiritually abusive, pastor around: he's just the one who's been in the headlines the most recently. Spiritual abuse can mark any church, anywhere. It can be a part of a church from its outset, or it can grow slowly and insidiously, unchecked over the years until it is full-blown. It can occur in obviously rigid, legalistic churches (like the one described above), but it can also occur in churches where there is often a warm, loving atmosphere. Accounts of spiritual abuse can range from the encouraging (a family flees an abusive church and draws closer to God in the process) to the heartbreaking (someone flees the abusive church and ends up walking away from the church, and God, entirely, never to return).

With all this in mind, here is a short checklist you can use when it comes to making an evaluation:
(1) Do you feel comfortable approaching your pastor/elders to ask a question about something? 
(2) Are your pastor/elders truly accountable to others, or have they surrounded themselves with only those who agree with them and rubber-stamp their plans? (i.e., family members, men who shy away from confrontation, etc.) 
(3) Does your pastor have "two faces"? In other words, does he present himself from the pulpit as humble, gentle, kind, loving, approachable, etc., but behind the scenes is domineering, angry, cold, withdrawn, etc.? 
(4) Do your pastor/elders become upset with you if you challenge or question anything they say, no matter how graciously, biblically or kindly you do so? 
(5) Do your pastor/elders label anyone who disagrees with them as "rebellious"? 
(6) Do your pastor/elders characterize those who have legitimate questions as being "gossips" or as being "divisive"?
(7) More seriously, if you are in a church that practices church discipline, do your pastor/elders threaten church discipline to those who disagree with them over non-doctrinal issues?
One or more 'yes' answers to the questions above doesn't automatically mean that you are in an abusive church. BUT, it could mean that, or it could mean that your church is subtly moving in that direction.

No-one is above being challenged, and certainly not our pastors or elders/leaders. Now obviously, we ought to have biblical guidelines in mind when challenging others, such as being respectful and kind and gracious, but questions and challenges, in and of themselves, are not sinful, and if the elders at your church regard them as such, I urge you to tread carefully and keep your eyes open for further abuses of spiritual power.

 Painful Exits and Smear Campaigns: Treatment of Those Who Leave 

Spiritually abusive pastors can't just let someone leave.....they have to destroy them. Pastor Mike Fehlauer, author of Exposing Spiritual Abuse, writes:
In a controlling church, it is impossible to leave on good terms. Because the pastor’s sense of worth is usually based on the control he is able to exert over the congregation, when someone leaves, this insecure leader considers it an affront to his leadership. Therefore he often takes it personally. As a result, when people do leave, they are labeled rebellious, or the rest of the congregation is given the explanation that they left because they had become offended. 
In an unhealthy church, there is never a good reason why anyone should leave. Regardless of the situation, the people who leave are always the “problem.” 
This truism present in abusive churches applies not only to members, but to church staff as well. In one particular church, each time a staff member left, the senior person did his best to cast a shadow over that person’s reputation in the hope that it would destroy any chance of that person succeeding without him someplace else. 
(Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse, Part 3)
Two former Mars Hill members, Chris Thrower (who served as a deacon) and Rob Smith (who served as an elder), recount how they were slandered when they tried to leave the church:
(Chris) Thrower left (Mars Hill Church) in 2011 after serving as a deacon. He wanted to join another church, and within hours after telling his boss, logged into his account with Mars Hill's social media service. His access was denied with a note that read, "account deactivated: left church, paedo-baptist - covenant - hyper calvanist." 
"It was slanderous," Thrower said. 
It's the same story resonating among tens of pastors who challenged Driscoll's leadership. 
"He tried to bully me," Rob Smith said. "He tried to bully me into submission." 
Rob Smith served as an elder for a short week, he says, before Driscoll forced him to resign when he challenged the senior pastor's decision to rewrite the bylaws, change the governing body, and give himself more power nearly seven years ago. 
"He slandered my name. He said, 'I will destroy you,'" Smith remembered. 
(online source)
The spiritually abusive pastor who won't let anyone disagree with him and leave quietly isn't always a celebrity pastor in a big megachurch: he can be anywhere, in any size church, of any denomination. Depending on the church environment, he can commit his slander brazenly and openly, or he can wage his campaign behind the scenes in a more subtle, charming way, or he can fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes. Have you ever been at a church where former members who had been in good standing were slandered after they left? If so, that should be a red flag to you that something is terribly wrong.
“Friends of ours left our church, and when they left, a statement was read to the church that made it clear that there was no sin issue or moral failing for this couple, who had faithfully served the church for 10 years as leaders. But shortly after they left, a smear campaign started behind the scenes, in which their character was called into question, and sin was implied. My husband and I went to our friends to hear their side, and after talking with them, we had the matter settled in our minds. However, it still bothered us that they had been gossiped about. When I went to the pastor and asked why the smear campaign was going on (which involved his wife and his mother), I was the one who was charged with gossip (with out of context Bible verses used), even though the only people I had talked about it with were the ones at our church who had come to me and gossiped, our pastor, and the couple who had left, in order to hear their side.  At one point, it was implied to me that unless I agreed with the pastor's assessment of my "gossip" that I would be disciplined. We eventually left the church, one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I would have never left, if not for the way our friends had been treated. Thankfully, God has been faithful, and has used this trial to strengthen my faith. But it's been hard, and it was also very sad to see our former pastor act in such a prideful way, a man I had had great respect for, and learned a great deal from.” (testimony from a Christian who suffered spiritual abuse)
 A "Can't Talk" Rule Is A Marker for Spiritual Abuse 

While it is clear from the Bible that gossip, talebearing and idle talk about others are sinful acts, there are certainly circumstances in which legitimate questions and challenges can and should be allowed. Spiritual abuse experts Johnson and VanVonderen have noted that one significant marker for spiritual abuse is when there is a "Can't Talk" rule that is enforced within a church. This occurs when someone with questions is labeled as being "gossipy" or "divisive," and oftentimes, church discipline is even threatened to ensure that questions aren't asked. These tactics are used in order to intimidate those with questions into silence. Thus, a system in which church leaders can state whatever they like from their positions of authority, and expect that it should never be challenged or questioned, is a mark of a spiritually unhealthy church climate. But as a church elder stated to us while in the course of researching this article, "If someone comes to you with a bad account of someone else who you both know, and who is not present, you not only have a right, you have a responsibility to the one not present to go to them and hear their side."
"The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." (Proverbs 18:17)
 Accountability Is the Key 

Whether your church is governed by the Pastor Rule model or the Elder Rule model, the key component for guarding against spiritual abuse, according to most spiritual abuse experts, is accountability. Think about it this way: pride is such a common snare among pastors who govern without accountability because it's far easier for Satan to deceive and confuse and mislead just one person, rather than an entire group of elders or a congregation. Accountability is important for all of us, but it is supremely important for pastors.

It should also be noted that being in a church that is Elder Rule is not a guarantee against abuse. As you can see from some of the questions posted above, it should be obvious that sometimes a pastor can work his way around the Elder Rule model, either through overt means (being domineering, cruel, cold, angry, etc.) or by more subtle means (being "two faced," using charm or manipulation, etc.).

 The Remedy 

So, what is the biblical remedy for those who have been spiritually abused? The Bible is rich with passages describing God and his mercies. Water was often used as a device for portraying God's mercy in the Old Testament. Doesn't sound very exciting? Perhaps not to the 21st century person who can simply turn on a tap and have fresh, filtered water at his or her disposal. But think about how important a fresh, clean source of water has been in centuries past, and throughout all of history, really. This was especially important for a people who lived in a desert culture, as God's chosen people the Israelites did. The Israelites literally lived, and died, by whether or not there was water available to them.
"God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water." (Psalm 63:1) 
"For this is what the high and exalted One says-- he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" (Isaiah 57:15) 
"Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:6) 
"The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them." (Isaiah 41:17) 
"The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." (Isaiah 58:11)
In a spiritual context, these rich descriptions of God and his mercies being likened to flowing, fresh, clean water means that for those who hold fast to Him in trials, the Lord promises, promises!, spiritual protection and care. God can and will use our past experiences with spiritual abuse to mature us, to sanctify us, and to equip us for encouraging others who have had the same struggles, IF that is, we hold fast to Him and his faithful promises never to leave us or forsake us. Spiritual abuse can be heartbreaking, but we need to remember that it is not the Lord who is abusing us: it is sinful men ensnared in pride or lust for power.
"Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isaiah 30:18) 
Jesus is also revealed as the Good Shepherd, who loves his sheep and watches over them, who understands their weaknesses and struggles, even to the point of becoming flesh in order to identify with them. How great is the love of the Shepherd for his flock? Let him be your Good Shepherd today.

Exposing Spiritual Abuse author Mike Fehlauer shares an encouraging account of a couple who left a church, and endured a smear campaign at the hands of their former pastor:
One couple went through the process of leaving an abusive church. The pastor did everything he could to discredit them and malign their character. Initially, they both were frightened that they would be blacklisted from every church in their community. At first, they wanted to defend their character. It seemed that this pastor continued to have control over their lives even after they left. They wondered if they would ever be able to escape his influence.
Finally, they realized that God was their defense and protection. Instead of defending themselves, they decided to pray for their former pastor. The more they prayed for him, the less threatening he became in their minds. The anger they first had toward the pastor was replaced with compassion. As time passed, they realized that he didn’t have as much influence as they had initially thought. Because they had kept their hearts pure, they were able to find another church and to continue to grow spiritually.
There is life after spiritual abuse. You may be tempted to feel that you will never escape the controlling grasp of an abusive leader. Satan will cause you to think that the controlling leader’s influence is greater than it really is. Don’t give in to Satan’s intimidation. Trust God to be your strength and your defense. Keep your heart tender. Pray for those who have used you, and bless those who have cursed you. If you will do these things, you will discover a sure path that God has prepared for you as well as His destiny for your life.
God has a healthy church for you. The Good Shepherd is fully able to lead you into a green pasture where you can grow in your relationship with Him (Ps. 23:2). As you allow Him to lead you, He will also anoint your head with oil, healing any wounds you encountered in an abusive environment. (online source)
 A Final Word 

A final word: pray for your pastors. Pray that the LORD will protect them from the common snares of "lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). Pray that they will genuinely desire, and set up, accountability for themselves. Even though they are in spiritual authority, your pastors are frail flesh, and fallible (as we all are), so don't expect perfection. But, if need be, lovingly and kindly bring your concerns to them, in the same manner that you would want someone to bring a concern to you. None of us are above the snare of pride, but pastors especially need our prayers because they are held to a higher standard than the flock, and will one day be judged more strictly.
"Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." (James 3:1)
In closing, if you have been spiritually abused, please avail yourself of the resources below, and let me encourage you that you are not alone and that the Lord knows your struggles. I urge you not to turn away from the LORD, but to cling to Him and pour out your heartbreak and your struggles to Him. He is the One who promises never to leave you or forsake you. He turns darkness into light, and makes the deserts into springs. He is the Almighty, the One who sits high and lifted up, and yet who hears the cries of his people. Run to Him, and be comforted.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The Lord is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'" (Lamentations 3:22-24)

photo credit: Barely via photopin cc
photo credit: 55Laney69 via photopin cc
photo credit: c.flessen via photopin cc


 ARTICLES 

What Is Spiritual Abuse? (Got Questions?)

Mark Driscoll, Spiritual Abuse and Cultish Ministries (Charisma News)

Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse - Part 1 (Pastor Mike Fehlauer)

Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse - Part 2 (Pastor Mike Fehlauer)

Warning Signs of Spiritual Abuse - Part 3 (Pastor Mike Fehlauer)

The Cult Church

What Do Some Churches and Cults Have In Common? Spiritually Abusive Systems

Confronting Abusive Church Leaders (Apprising Ministries)

Hurt, Betrayal and Spiritual Abuse (Stand Up For The Truth)


 BOOKS 

Churches That Abuse (Dr. Ronald M. Enroth)

Recovering From Churches That Abuse (Dr. Ronald M. Enroth)

Exposing Spiritual Abuse (Pastor Mike Fehlauer)

The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership (Stephen Martin)

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church (David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen)

 ONLINE GROUPS 

Recovery Grace (former Bill Gothard and IBLP/ATI adherents)

Dear Pastor Mark Driscoll and Mars Hil: We Are Not Anonymous (former Mars Hill elders and members)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Essential Oils Revisited

Posted by Sola Sisters

[NOTE and UPDATE: As of 9-22-14, Gary Young, president of Young Living Essential Oils, has been warned by the FDA that he must stop his distributors from diagnosing illness and prescribing essential oils as medicine for treating cancer and preventing Ebola contamination, among many other things, without being medically licensed to do so. The FDA letter, which falls under the category of "Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations" can be read in its entirety here. ]


Class is in, so put your thinking caps on, friends. Do essential oils stop cancer? Essential oils have been widely touted as being a "natural," and by implication, a completely safe way to fight cancer, and a protocol that can only help, and can never do harm.

So let's break it down.

Today we're going to look at 2 active components. These active components are derived from a number of different essential oils. The first component:

photo credit: Chris Gin via photopin cc
(1) PERILLYL ALCOHOL - Perillyl alcohol is derived from lavender, peppermint, cherries, sage, and lemongrass, and is the sciencey term of the active component in these products that you get after stripping away all the lovely imagery conjuring up dew-glistening fruit orchards and sun-dappled lavender fields. Let's put the pictures and romantic language about "nature" aside and look at the science. Perillyl alcohol has been tested in trials and shows no benefit in reducing tumors:
"Preliminary human trials have not demonstrated tumor regression at a four times daily dosage schedule. In addition, significant side-effects, mainly gastrointestinal, have been experienced." (online source)
And now for the second active component:

photo credit: cobalt123 via photopin cc
(2) P-MENTHA-1, 8-DIENE - P-mentha-1 and 8-diene are derived from orange peel oil, citrus peel oil, citrene and R-limonene. And again, if we dispense with the hyped up language and artfully photographed images of orange and lemon groves, and look at the science, this is what we find:
"An epidemiological study reported an inverse relationship between citrus peel consumption and squamous cell carcinoma, but an early clinical trial in breast cancer patients failed to support the observations. Further research is necessary to determine if D-limonene has a role in the prevention or treatment of cancer. Adverse Reactions: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Case Reports: Contact Dermatitis and asthma have been reported." (online source
__________________________________________________

OUR COMMENTS: We need to remember that clinical trials of a substance do not equate to efficacy/real benefit. If the oil in the petri dish kills the cancer cells, but also kills everything else, well, that's a problem. Some oils might kill cancer cells in a petri dish, but so might antifreeze and carbolic acid, and we're not going to be ingesting those things.God gave us minds with which to think. Let's use them.

Also, please understand that we are NOT saying that Christians who become ill with some kind of chronic or life-threatening illness should just wholesale place themselves in the hands of their doctors, and never have an opinion. Again, God gave us minds, let's use them. We need to be our own advocates and do our own research on all treatments prescribed. Also, doctors sometimes (often, even?) misdiagnose. My husband's chronic illness was misdiagnosed for two years. It happens. So we need to pray for wisdom, do our due diligence, look at all the evidence, and then make the best decisions we can.

On the other hand, we need to keep our wits about us, and not be taken in by flowery language, beautiful images, overstated promises, anecdotal evidence and mistaken ideas that "natural" always mean beneficial (after all, heroin, spider venom and ticks are all "natural").

Last thing: the alternative industry is an entirely unregulated industry, friends. No accountability. No oversight. And benefits claimed don't have to be backed up by legitimate scientific trials. Please, please, please bear that in mind.


 Additional Resources 

The Christian and Essential Oils: A Few Thoughts [UPDATED]

Aromatherapy: Biblical Path to Healing or Demonic Deception? (Chuck and Julie Cohen)

A Critique of David Stewart's Healing Oils of the Bible (Marcia Montenegro)

Organic Food, Essential Oils, and the Gospel of Grace (Desiring God)

The FDA Warns Young Living, doTERRA Essential Oils Companies To Stop Making Unsubstantiated Claims That The Oils Can Treat Cancer, Protect Against Ebola (Food and Drug Administration, 9-22-2014)

How To Use Essential Oils: A Step-By-Step Guide (satire, warning: some mild language)

A Warning for Christians About New Thought (Marcia Montenegro)

No Scientific Evidence For "Chi" or "Qi" (NYU Langone Medical Center)

A Warning To Christians About Homeopathy

Natural = Better?

Man left with an inch-wide HOLE in his head after using 'quack' ointment to treat skin cancer

Alternative Medicine: A Mind Blowing Magical Mystery Tour  (Free, online e-book exposing the unsubstantiated claims [both currently and historically] made about many "natural" remedies)

Wellness: The New Age Trojan Horse In Healthcare (Sola Sisters/Marcia Montenegro)

Update: Ingrid Schlueter Interviews Marcia Montenegro and Christine Pack (Crosstalk at VCY America 4/26/11) to Discuss The Wellness Article - you may listen here

The Scientific Method and Why It Matters

The Biblical Worldview Is The Foundation of Modern Science


 Warnings About Essential Oil Toxicity 


Be Suspicious of the Marketing For Essential Oils (Dr. Roy Benaroch)

Essential Oil Safety: Documented Side Effects, Injuries, and Deaths from Essential Oil Ingestion (Hub Pages)

Essential Oil Claims - The Dangers Keep On Coming (Skeptoid)

Eucalyptus Oil and Essential Oils Poisoning (The Royal Children's Hospital - Melbourne, AU)

Can Aromatherapy Oils Poison You? How Tiny Particles 'May Damage Liver and Kidneys' (Daily Mail, UK)

Hidden Dangers of Essential Oils: The Frightening Truth About Natural Remedies Such as Olbas Oil Which Can Cause Heart Problems, Convulsions and Eye Ulcers (Daily Mail, UK)

Danger for Cats: Essential Oils (Articulate Animals Blog)

Warning About Peppermint Oil Overdose (New York Times)

Shannon: Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose, 4th ed.

Toxic Effects of Essential Oils - Addresses Oils Taken Orally and Externally (The Research Pedia)


 Sola Sisters Facebook Wall Threads - Essential Oils 

Sola Sisters Facebook wall - February 23, 2014
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - April 24, 2014
Sola Sisters Facebook wall -April 26, 2014
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - June 28, 2014 (general warning about essential oils) 
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - June 30, 2014 (critique of essential oils/YL by Chuck and Julie Cohen)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - July 11, 2014 (should Christians partner with companies who market their products with unbiblical spiritual concepts?)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - July 28, 2014 (discussion re: Sola Sisters' concerns about YL/alternative)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 26, 2014 (FDA writes a warning letter to Young Living, doTerra essential oils companies)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 27, 2014 (essential oils not so "natural")
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 28, 2014 (documented cases, and warnings about essential oil toxicity)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 28, 2014 (discussion re: claims by essential oils distributors that essential oils cannot cause allergies)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 28, 2014 (discussion re: the dangers of essential oil ingestion)
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Sep 29, 2014 (challenging claims by essential oils distributors that adverse reactions are simply the body "detoxifying")
Sola Sisters Facebook wall - Jan 2, 2015 (warning about essential oil induced seizures in children)


 John Ankerberg Resources and Articles