I came across this blog, Provender, and wanted to share the following article I saw there. I loved reading many of the articles on this website, but this particular one stuck out to me.
As I’ve been blogging, the old guilt from my dictator-pastors has been creeping in, and I’ve been wondering if speaking up has been the right thing to do.
Despite numerous “Thank you” emails and text messages I’ve received, a part of me felt exposed and vulnerable and I was mistaking that for being wrong.
What I realized was that I’d been in a cult for seven years, and I’d been taught that speaking out against your “spiritual authority” was wrong, rebellious, and Satanic.
I now know that that is wrong. Even the United States of America has given us Freedom of Speech–the First Amendment right.
What is that First Amendment? According to http://topics.law.cornell.edu/constitution/billofrights,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Now, think about this: If Congress shall not abridge the freedom of speech, the right of the people to peaceably assemble, or to petition the government for a redress of grievances, then why can’t a church member (or several) petition a pastor regarding their grievances?
The answer: Abusive pastors sway their congregations not to speak up against their teachings. They may even say they are open to criticism, but will rebuke, fire, or humiliate their patrons if they speak up.
Years ago, I worked for a senior pastor of a large church. I’ve already mentioned names, but this time it’s MY story, not his. As I came to work for this pastor, I sat down with his wife and him, and we talked about my former position as executive assistant, discipleship leader, conference planner and nanny for the pastor I worked for. I told him I was getting paid $100 a month and this senior pastor was shocked. He and his wife looked at each other and said, “We had no idea they were paying you that little!”
To which I wondered, How could you move our entire staff out here and not question the director of this group how much we were making?! Sounds like a lie to me…
I simply answered them that he was in fact paying me so little and that I survived by my parents paying off my credit card bills every month, and sending me checks and cash for spending money. Thankfully, my parents were business owners and their business was doing really well. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t know the type of the spiritual abuse I was putting up with, nor did they know the employment laws that the church I was working for was violating. Otherwise, my parents wouldn’t have let me stay out there. It was their financial contributions, which they gave “unto the Lord,” that kept me out there.
These senior pastors acted like the heroes and acted appalled at the way my director/mentor had treated me for years. He offered me $500 a month plus room and board. I graciously accepted. I’m sure I cried. He said that he could see that I was burnt out and exhausted and needed a break from ministry while I was rejuvenated. He made a promise to me that the year I worked for him would be refreshing and relaxing, and part-time.
It didn’t happen that way.
I ended up being on-call around the clock, every day of the week. I was called a live-in nanny, without the live-in part (just with the hours). I loved the children I worked with–and in fact, I still do. I have the best memories of reading them bedtime stories and going frog hunting with them in the Hundred Acre woods. They were the best children I’ve ever been a nanny to, and despite not being paid minimum wage (well under, in fact) and despite the fact that their parents were breaking the Federal Minimum Wage Law, I sure did love them dearly.
One afternoon, I decided that enough was enough, though. When I first got hired, the pastor said, “If you ever disagree with anything we do, please come talk to us. We’re more than open.”
I remembered that moment. I asked them for a meeting.
I was very humble, self-less, and sweet that day, as ever other, but I asked them for a raise. I told them that I needed to earn more than $500 a month for the over 60 hours a week I was working, and that I’d even get a job Mondays or a night job, if they let me take some hours off at night.
Not only did they refuse to pay me more, they refused my right to work a second job, and the worst part is…they called me UNGRATEFUL.
That hurt worse than anything. It came from the pastors wife, whom I’d had (up until that moment) nothing but respect and love for. She told me I was selfish and ungrateful and couldn’t believe I was asking them for that.
The pastor went on to say that my $500 a month was actually $1,000 a month, because of the room and board he included. I knew that wasn’t true. First of all, the barn I lived in could never be rented out for that amount of money and the food they fed us was donated from Albertson’s day-old meat and other local donations. Not to mention, it was incredibly unhealthy and inedible.
Later, though, I learned what would be the real clincher: the Federal Labor Laws deny the employer the right to add “room and board” into their wages. It is illegal!
The sad part is, though, that I was innocent enough to believe my pastors at one time. I thought that they were being honest when they said if I had a problem with something they did or taught, I could approach them.
Spiritually abusive pastors do not allow you to speak up–or when they do..watch out: You’re about to get yelled out, rebuked, or humiliated.
Various sources on spiritual abuse warn about the Can’t Talk rule (or the Don’t Talk rule) in abusive groups. In spiritually manipulative churches, pastors don’t usually come right out and tell you not to talk about concerns in the church. They are much more subtle.
They might hint at “the enemy” who incites people to gossip, or they may denounce weak Christians who whisper. They might blast the motives of anyone who brings a legitimate issue to the leadership, condemning them as self-centered, divisive or lazy.
They might emphasize grumbling and complaining as among the gravest of sins. They might compare those who raise issues to scoffers in Moses’ time, implying that if you dare mention a weakness of the church you are like the ungrateful Israelites that the good Moses ( read: church leader) had to put up with.
They might tell you to “get in line,” “submit to authority,” “don’t cause trouble,” shaming someone who brings honest questions and deflecting scrutiny. Some might tell you that you are not in harmony with “the mission” of the church, which often is just a high-sounding way of saying that the leader’s views are beyond question and accountability is not the business of a mere layperson.
By whatever means available, abusive pastors will shut down discussion and prevent accountability for suspect practices. The unspoken “don’t talk” rule makes this easy. Anyone who dares raise an issue to the light of day will be shut down, preached against, shunned, mistreated or shamed, either by open means or subtle means.
Perhaps some have left the church, and you have suspicions about why. Maybe the pastor has preached something that doesn’t line up with scripture. Maybe someone has been kicked out of church or removed from a ministry. Perhaps these uncomfortable practices have been increasing. Maybe the finances are not open to public view; or business meetings are closed or nonexistent. Perhaps teachers or musicians have complained about mistreatment and you are not sure who to believe.
Those living under a Can’t Talk or Don’t Talk rule know not to ask questions. They have been manipulated into remaining silent, even though their active conscience urges them to speak up. The reluctance to speak up is often disguised as virtue. You’re not a grumbler. You’re not a trouble maker. It’s someone else’s place to ask questions, not yours. You’re just a humble nobody. So the pastor or leader remains accountable to no one. He can do what he likes without opposition, no matter how questionable, unorthodox, ungodly — or in some cases, illegal.
If this describes the mechanism in place at your church, make sure to do a little research into spiritual abuse and see if other signs might not also be present in your group. The Can’t Talk rule is an unspoken rule meant to stifle and hide anything that challenges the control of a leader or that has the potential to put a leader in a bad light. It is often the tip of the iceburg.