More on Toxic Leaders and How to Identify Them

Brad Sargent aka Futuristguy has cheered me on for years now, ever since I started blogging about my spiritual abuse experience at the hands of Timothy Shelby Williams, founder of Sound Doctrine Institute.

What an honor it was to spend time with him yesterday discussing the possible publishing of his life work. The overall series is for both survivors of spiritual abuse (and their support networks) and organizational developers (social activists, church planters, church and non-profit leaders), and is about deconstructing systems that damage and constructing systems that are healthy.

As we discussed the content and I scanned through some of the charts, I was stunned to see such accurate descriptions of the toxic leadership roles common in unhealthy organizations. Yep, there’s nothing new under the sun… evil men who are puppets of the evil one use the same tactics to control and manipulate those under their influence.

I’m sharing 2 charts that were particularly meaningful to me. You can view the articles on these particular topics on Brad’s blog here.

The two that captured my attention were the comparison of organizations run by agents of damage vs. agents of healing and the pyramid of responsibility. So telling. If you’ve ever been involved in a toxic organization, you’ll be able to identify the roles your leaders played pretty easily. I know I did.

agents-of-damage-vs-agents-of-healing-chart

the-pyramid-of-responsibility

My experience may have been the extreme end of the spectrum, but there are so many other examples of this type of abuse in the church today. I hear from people all the time who’ve survived abuse in the church. Sadly, many of them lose their faith and never return. Just what the enemy was hoping for.

As you read these charts, does any of it resonate with you?

I’d love to hear your comments.

Freedom in the New Year

Tonight marks the 5th New Year’s Eve I’ve celebrated since God opened my eyes to the deception I believed was truth for 12 years.

It must be difficult for the handful still left in Sound Doctrine to ask themselves the question…could it be true…that what you’ve believed is a lie? That someone you trusted and believed in could actually be guilty of the crime he was convicted of? That it really is a destructive cult? That the leader you follow does not speak for God? That you’ve been led astray?

Being willing to ask those hard questions takes courage, and a humble heart.

I commit this New Year to continue praying for those still blinded by the enemy’s lies.

At the same time I rejoice in my growing ability to ignore those who, as a result of believing those lies, call evil good and good evil.

I choose healthy boundaries, and I say “no” to:

  • The bullying.
  • The name calling.
  • The fury.
  • The intimidation.

Here’s the deal…those tactics don’t work on me anymore.

And that’s healthy.

And I praise God for that.

To all who’ve been led astray and to those who’ve found true freedom in Christ outside of the cult of Sound Doctrine, I pray that He continues to draw you to Himself and heal every wound caused by the enemy of our souls.

Happy New Year!

My Independence Day

Perspectives-personal-independence

It’s been 44 months since I gained my independence from toxic leadership.

As I thought through the characteristics of this type of destructive leadership and what I am no longer dependent on, I could only praise God for opening my eyes, delivering me from deception, and giving me the courage to warn the rest of the body of Christ.

There are many red flags we MUST be aware of that characterize a toxic church. At the same time, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of us as Bereans understanding scripture IN CONTEXT, being willing to respectfully question and search out the truth, not just believing what someone says because they are a persuasive communicator who quotes a lot of scripture.

Here’s the full post that illustrates what to watch for in leadership, and may we be ever thankful for the independence that Jesus has given us by giving up His life for us.

Nothing New Under the Sun When it Comes to Cults

If you’ve ever heard my story, you know that I come from a New Age background and was involved in Scientology back in the ‘70s before I ever heard the gospel. This last Sunday evening, we watched the HBO documentary on Scientology, called “Going Clear” which included a number of people who have had the courage to leave the cult, and stand up and tell their stories. They spoke out even though each one experienced tremendous backlash and ongoing harassment by the “church” and their loyal followers.

There were so many similarities in how Scientology deals with criticism and former members who speak up and how Sound Doctrine behaves it was chilling.

I sat stunned as the video footage of L.Ron Hubbard spilled across the screen, giving me a glimpse of what a nut case he was. I realized as I was watching the documentary that, for the seven years I was involved and on staff at the Celebrity Centre, I never saw even one of those interviews with him. The only thing I was ever exposed to was the headshot of him in his skipper’s hat where he looks pretty normal and credible.

Ding, ding, ding!

First parallel

LIMIT ACCESS TO TRUTH

Limit what the loyal members of the organization see and hear about the leader and his activities. Only let them see and read what makes him look good. It’s much easier to play word games with a printed document than it is to edit a video. And words can be quoted completely out of context and end up looking and sounding completely different than when they were originally spoken. Those who are intent on keeping others controlled and in bondage will twist words like a pretzel if it gets them what they want.

THREATS & BLACKMAIL

Using private information against a potential threat (or as Scientology calls it, a Potential Trouble Source) in an attempt to shut them up is the order of the day in cults. The church of Scientology amasses intimate information about each member’s life through their process of counseling (called auditing), and threatens to use it to destroy a person’s reputation if they happen to question the abuses they see or show in any way that they may be thinking about leaving the organization. Because of this, many high profile people have stayed in the organization against their better judgment because of the promised threat of humiliation. And everyone involved in speaking out on this documentary had smear campaigns launched with dedicated websites and all manner of lies spread all over the internet.

Tim Williams was a master at this. He would have me put my repentance and confession into writing to document whenever he got me to a point of turning everything back onto myself and believing I was wrong for questioning his integrity or actions. These situations would always turn inward to search my heart and repent for my accusations, which were surely of the devil. I would have to apologize in writing and admit that I had a bitter root, and that I was focusing on the speck in his eye instead of the log in my own.

I was persuaded using scripture to say that Tim was the man of God that He put in my life and I was in sin to question his authority. I would then be required to list all the sinful aspects of my character and personality and grovel in order to prove my repentance, (this was supposed to show that I was walking in the light and the only way I could be healed by the Lord). He would then file these documents away to use at a later date to disprove that any criticism I could ever possibly make if I ever left Sound Doctrine. These documents would be used to try to prove that anything I say that is negative is a lie since I have apologized in the past for the same behavior.

More specifically with the fraudulent sale of WinePress, he made sure I wrote up a statement saying I was selling the company of my own free will, that it was my desire to do so, that I was unfit to run the company, and that if any of my children say otherwise not to listen to them. I was made to feel that I would be in rebellion if I did not declare my allegiance in writing and that was the last thing I wanted to be. As is fitting with this characteristic of a cult, he has some of those very documents I penned posted on the website he created to destroy my reputation!

FEAR OF PUNISHMENT

One of the long time Scientologists in the documentary talked about how he never read any of the stuff online about Scientology. That he was loyal and was convinced that anything negative online was put on there by suppressive people who’d left the church and been excommunicated, so their words could not be trusted. It was actually only after 35 years and a nagging inside that he finally started reading what others were saying and realized they were speaking truth, and it really was abuse that he was experiencing, and it was wrong!

The more I thought about it, I realized how the Scientology leadership is able to keep people from looking at what people are saying or doing any kind of research on criticism. And it’s amazing how similar it is to what Sound Doctrine did! During the course of a Scientologist’s auditing, the question would always be asked by the counselor “Did I miss a withhold?” A withhold being something you don’t want them to know about. Actually, I just looked it up on a site that exposes the cult:

A Withhold is an unspoken, unannounced transgression against a moral code by which the person was bound.

As a loyal member, dedicated to the moral code of Scientology, if you read any of the critical analyses of the organization, you knew good and well that, if you admitted it, you would be in big trouble, disciplined and abused in horrific ways. But of course, you believed that you would have deserved that kind of discipline for your bad behavior. That’s all part of the brain washing and mind control.

WOW.

Tim Williams did the same thing. We were convinced early on, with lots of scripture, that anyone saying anything negative about Tim or Sound Doctrine was in sin, a “wide road Christian” with a bitter root, a false witness, a Judas, and generally just someone who is selfish and doesn’t really want God but just wants their own way so we should have nothing to do with them. I can’t even find the scripture now, but Tim always used to quote “Whoever listens to a false witness will be destroyed.” So of course, if you ever read anything critical about Tim’s handling of scripture or the doctrine he pushes, you’d feel incredibly guilty (even if you wondered if they were right in the criticism). So guilty, in fact, that you’d be compelled to confess it as sin, and would then be disciplined for your rebellion, your bitter root and for becoming a Judas. You would be cut off from fellowship from the rest of the body, and likely put “outside the camp” like Miriam was when she rebelled against Moses. If that happens a time or two, you definitely determine to avoid reading anything that could bring Tim or Sound Doctrine into question…out of self-preservation!

INTIMIDATION THROUGH ATTORNEYS

The last huge parallel I will mention today is the standard practice of Scientology utilizing lawsuits to bully others into giving them what they want. The documentary talked about them taking on the IRS to get their 501©3 status, and how they had members file lawsuits against IRS tax auditors INDIVIDUALLLY, to the tune of thousands of individual lawsuits. It was a tidal wave of intimidation that the IRS finally caved under and gave them what they wanted to get all the lawsuits to go away.

That reminds me of Tim Williams having all the cult members write letters to the Insurance Commissioner to try to get State Farm Agent Tony Truax’s license suspended. All because he was willing to stand against them and their bullying.

Tony had told me that 3 single women from Sound Doctrine had tried to purchase million dollar policies and put Tim down as the beneficiary. All three of the ladies came into his office at different times and used the same reason and story as to why there was an insurable interest. He was so troubled by this when it happened that he reported it to the Enumclaw Police. When Tim got wind that I’d been told about this he demanded an apology from Tony and Tony would not offer one, on any terms. When Tim couldn’t get what he wanted, he had all the members cancel their insurance policies. When that didn’t work he had them all call State Farm and complain and try to get him fired. When that didn’t work, he had them all write letters to the Insurance Commissioner and filed a formal complaint to get his license revoked. When all was said and done, Sound Doctrine LOST the suit they filed with the state agency. Praise God they didn’t cave like the IRS did!

With today being April 1, 2015, exactly 5 years from when Tim Williams and Sound Doctrine got legal possession of WinePress Publishing (albeit fraudulently), I thought it timely to have seen the documentary of a secular cult and discover how similar the tactics were in a conservative Christian cult, both organizations originating from the pit of hell….hmmmmm…. nothing new under the sun, huh?

This Saturday, 10/9 – Detour into Deception – on AM 630 KSLR

I’ve been waiting for just the right time to share my story on my weekly radio show, and this Saturday seems to be the time God has ordained for me to do so.

This weekend marks the 2 year anniversary of my deliverance from deception. November 10, 2011 was the day I realized everything I thought was true for 12 long years was actually a lie. Not only a lie, but an extremely abusive, destructive, graceless and legalistic “Christianity.”

How amazing it will be to look back at God’s hand on my life, and see His enduring faithfulness…even during the darkest times of my life, even through losing everything I once held dear, even when I came to terms with the fact that I had been deceived, He was, and is, always faithful.

Image

How fitting it was for me to spend this morning with Mike Sharpe and his wife, Marna. Mike led me to the Lord 27 years ago and has watched my life take many twists and turns. As I share this Saturday, I’ll start from that point 27 years ago and bring you all up to speed on the mountains and the valleys of my Christian walk, and all that God has done to restore what the enemy attempted to steal from me.

I look forward to sharing my life with my Always Faithful Radio listeners, and hope you’ll be able to join me for Always Faithful this Saturday, November 9, from 11AM to Noon CST on AM 630 KSLR, or streaming live on www.kslr.com or iheartradio.com.

Your Great Name

I sat through 3 church services this weekend. One Saturday night and 2 on Sunday morning. I was recruiting volunteers for the Enumclaw Street Fair coming up this weekend and we had some slots to fill in the schedule so I wanted to get my church involved.

As I walked to church the bright sunshine warmed my face. It just felt good.

I am really beginning to feel at home at The Summit, and am developing some wonderful relationships there. It didn’t really hit me until talking about it with my friend last week, that building new friendships is an important piece of my healing.

If I just stay in my little circle of friends who also escaped the cult, then conversation always tends to drift to that subject, and it’s just too much looking back. I can see how God needed to move my best friend out of the area so I would make a journey into the unknown of other people’s lives.

When someone from the church texted me this morning and almost apologetically said that “sitting through 3 services is a ton of work” I had to praise God for the way I felt. It was an honor to get to sit through 3 sessions of worship that touched my heart in a way that is hard to describe. One of the songs, Your Great Name, has been camped out in my brain ever since the first service and just continues to minister to me.

Your Great Name (click here to hear my favorite version)

Lost are saved; find their way; at the sound of Your Great Name
All condemned; feel no shame; at the sound of Your Great Name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of Your Great Name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of Your Great Name

Chorus
Jesus, worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us
Son of God and man you are high and lifted up;
that all the world will praise Your Great Name

Verse 2
All the weak; find their strength; at the sound of Your Great Name
Hungry souls; receive grace; at the sound of Your Great Name
The fatherless; they find their rest; at the sound of Your Great Name
Sick are healed, and the dead are raised. At the sound of Your Great Name

Chorus
Jesus, worthy is the Lamb; that was slain for us
Son of God and man; you are high and lifted up
that all the world will praise Your Great Name.
Your Great Name.

Redeemer, my Healer; Lord Almighty
Defender; my Savior;  you are my King
Redeemer; my Healer; Lord Almighty
Defender; my Savior; you are my King

Jesus, the Name of Jesus, you are high and lifted up;
that all the world will praise your Great Name.
Savior, Son of God and man; you are high and lifted up;
all the world will praise Your Great Name.
Your Great Name. Your Great Name

I guess it struck me because I am all those things…

The weak who has found strength, the hungry soul who has received grace, the fatherless who has found my rest, the sick who has been healed and the dead who has been raised.

And He, too, is all those things…

Redeemer, Healer, Defender, and Savior.

What was a life trashed by deception and hate has now been redeemed, healed, defended…with love and mercy.

Sitting through 3 services this weekend wasn’t a chore in the least. It was filled with a profound peace and was something I treasure as a blessing from God.

Freedom

Really good sermon today on FREEDOM. In light of the 4th of July, Pastor Ross asked the pointed question…why do we get so excited about physical, political and financial freedom, setting off fireworks and all manner of pyrotechnics, yet the freedom we have been given as believers in Christ is rather ho-hum in comparison?

He made the statement that freedom is not free…it always has a cost. I thought about the cost for me…the price I paid to walk away from what I had given my life and my heart and everything I owned to for 12 years. Walking away from all of that was extremely costly, but the resulting freedom was completely worth it.

I looked up freedom and definition number 5 really jumped off the page at me.

free·dom

[free-duhm]  Show IPA

noun

5.personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery

Being a believer in Christ sets us free from:

  • Sin (Romans 6:18)
  • The Law (Galatians 2:4)
  • Death (Romans 6:21-22, Romans 8:21)

As Pastor Ross elaborated on being set free from the law, I found myself so thankful for the truth of that statement. For 12 years I tried living up to every part of the scripture and continually failed. It got to the point where there was no joy, no hope, and absolutely no fireworks in my heart for what God had done for me. I had become a slave, in bondage to the law, when, in reality, I had already been set free from it.

The statement was also made that “liberty is not free…it produces responsibility.” The freedom I gained in 1986 carried with it the responsibility to learn what scripture says, discover more fully what God had done for me through the atoning sacrifice of His only Son, and grow in the knowledge and understanding of the Word, learning to rightly divide it.

Last night, when a new acquaintance asked me why I never joined Bible Study Fellowship or another program like that when I first came to Christ I really had to think about that. I realized that less than 6 months after accepting the Lord, Chuck and I were thrust into full time ministry when Point Man Ministries was given to him.

At that point it was a 501(C)3 with no activity after the founder  went home to be with Jesus. We were to take it from nothing and develop into an international ministry with outposts (outreaches in churches ministering to Vietnam Veterans and their wives) all across the country. I immediately dived in to help Chuck develop the infrastructure, the ministry administration, the veteran wives ministry, and a host of other tasks. I went from being a babe in Christ to teaching veterans and their loved ones about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and how wounds become our idols. I was on the fast track to burn out, and it came many years down the road, without me even realizing it.

That must be why scripture admonishes us not to lay hands on too quickly. I never took the responsibility of my new found freedom in Christ to heart and so became vulnerable down the road when bondage came knocking at my door.

How thankful I am to be able to look back and see those vulnerabilities and weaknesses and understand how I ended up in slavery. I know hindsight is 20/20, but I believe the more I can learn from my mistakes and blunders, sins and failures, and learn the truth of the Word, in context and in all its fullness, I can truly begin to see clearly through the glasses of true freedom in Christ and embrace the responsibility that comes with it.

Feeling very grateful right now to be free.