Time for Victims to be Heard and Not Silenced

Last weekend Ross and I flew home from Birmingham, AL and watched two movies on the flight. The Post and The Help. Both portrayed heroic courage in the shadow of intimidation, corruption and racism, and illustrated the power in speaking up, telling the truth, and exposing evil.

Scripture tells us in Ephesians 5:11:

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.

Too often we’ve seen the victims of sexual predators in the church dismissed, not believed, silenced, minimized and shamed. Some have spoken up time and time again and seen no change. Some have just plain given up.

The time has come for those who have been victimized in the church or in church related circles to tell their stories. To be seen. To be heard. To be believed, no matter how well respected the abuser is.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.
1 Peter 4:17a

I have not been the victim of sexual abuse within the church, but I have watched up close and personal the fallout of a respected “pastor” within a religious community (cult) turning out to be a sexual predator and pedophile. And I have watched those who were his “shills” (those loyal to him), defend the abuser and shame the victim.

I have experienced toxic spiritual leaders who used their power and authority to manipulate, silence, and abuse their flock. Using scripture out of context (no discipline seems pleasant at the time, don’t touch God’s anointed, ad nauseum) to justify the abuse.

Well people, this kind of behavior doesn’t just happen in legalistic and twisted Christian cults, it happens in plain sight at Christian writers’ conferences, in children’s church, in places God intended to be safe. Instead, those with evil intent have found it easy to blend in. Say the right words, quote the right scriptures, smile, serve, be caring, earn a position of leadership and power.

Calculating, cunning, and demonic, they take advantage of unsuspecting women and children.

I’m not trying to fear monger or turn us into cynical and suspicious followers of Christ. I’m saying wake up and learn to hear the warnings of the Holy Spirit. Beg God for His discernment. If someone makes you uncomfortable, stay away from them. If you see that creeper acting a little too chummy with someone, begin to dialogue with the possible victim. Ask if anyone asked them to do something they are not comfortable with and suggested they keep quiet about it. Watch their body language. Be a safe person for them to confide in. It just may be the conversation that leads to that predator being exposed.

Do not be shamed into silence if you’ve been the victim of a sexual predator, lest they continue in their shameless and destructive behavior and go on to harm others. Even if it happened a long time ago, it’s never too late to speak up and allow yourself the space to process the pain and humiliation.

I know the pain of being betrayed by those who was supposed to be trustworthy men and women of God. I’ve experienced the way they turned it back on me when I tried to confront the abuse and made me feel like I was the one in sin.

Just remember, the devil quoted scripture out of context to try to get what he wanted. And evil men (and yes, sometimes women) continue to do the same to this day.

Lord, Jesus, I ask that You continue to shine Your light on the deeds of darkness that have been going on for decades within Christian circles across this country. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear TRUTH and give us the courage to stand up and do what is right. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

And to the guilty ones, those predators who might be reading this, mark my words:

What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light. What you have said in a low voice in a closed room will be spoken with a loud voice from the top of houses. (Luke 12:3 NLV)

How Could I Have Missed It?

I have finally been connecting the dots on an issue that has caused me great distress since I first heard of it. Early this year I was on faculty at a Christian writer’s conference where they had faculty sign a document that outlined appropriate behavior. Some of the requirements were so extreme that I was shocked we had to be told not to do them.

Come to find out the reason the document was created was because each of the unacceptable behaviors had been displayed and conferees had been victimized at Christian writers’ conferences across the country.

What saddens me is that some of the sexual predators exposed have been those I’ve respected and even spoken highly of. How can that be? How could I be so blind to the true characters of some of these peers?

Chatting with another faculty member this morning who’s experienced some of this abusive behavior, she asked if I’d seen the similarity in the predatory behavior that’s coming to light with my own spiritual abuse and betrayal. I’m so glad she suggested the connection as it provided me an opportunity to see the parallel and begin to process.

The trait in these abusers is one that dates to my time in the cult with evil leaders who were cunningly adept at quoting scripture out of context to make sure you never questioned or challenged them. At the same time, they surrounded themselves with those who never saw their dark side. These “shills” were Christians who loved God and endeavored to walk out the Word of God. They gave the abusers credibility. And they defended them when they were exposed.

The definition of “shill” from Dictionary.com is:
A person who publicizes or praises something or someone for reasons of self-interest, personal profit, or friendship or loyalty.

Being manipulated in this way by someone with evil intent is the height of betrayal. To realize that I praised some of these abusers has been a real trigger for me and I’m still dealing with the emotions.

Lord, how can we protect ourselves against sexual predators who would hide within Christian circles, surround themselves with credible people, and take advantage of vulnerable women?

What red flags are there that we should watch out for?

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.