Monday, May 18, 2015

When Is It OK To Criticize Your Pastor Or Church Leader?

We have all been reading the various comments on this blog lately as people react to the horrendous news coming out of the four biggest Church of God's: Living Church of God, United Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God and Restored Church of God.  Despite the stories of abuse directly from leaders of these various groups, some people willingly whitewash these stories and describe them all as "tests" that God is using to test their mettle.

Many of these people have witnessed this abuse for decades as they have jumped from one group to another seeking to find the "true" spiritual leader they long for.  They have witnessed horrible things happen yet will not say anything negative about the leader.  It is preferable to be blind, deaf and dumb to these things than it is to take a stand for what is right.

The common comment thrown out by the hyper-righteous is, "We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling."  In other words you are not responsible for the abusive minister because it might just be a test to see how well you follow the power structure of the church.  God's government is from the top down and it all might be a test to see how well you submit.
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians 2:12
The church has always thrown this around more as a threat than an idea of comfort.  The Message Bible says this:

Rejoicing Together

12-13 What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.
Pleasure is NOT something that most COG members have been told to experience.  It's one long list of "do and don't" with the "don't" list being 100 times larger than the "do" list.  Pleasure is not experienced when a minister tells a parent to kick their daughter to the curb, or abandon their disabled child at the mall so the government can take care of "it."  Pleasure is not watching a loved one die of a horrible and painful death because the leader of the church said not to use doctors.  Pleasure is not watching family members and friends shot to death in church because of a certain leaders sermon.

The other scripture that various COG's love to throw out is James 4:11 as an attempt quell any criticism.
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
Most COG members feel that they cannot "judge" or hold accountable abusive church leaders.  "God will handle it all in the end, I must endure and run the race" is the favorite belief of many COG members.  Is that really being truthful?  Covering up abusive pastors and leaders by sweeping it all under the rug with the "god will handle it excuse" is why so many have died at the hands of COG leaders.

One of the lessons from the Bible is that all men and women are fallible. Therefore, all people, especially leaders, need some form of accountability. Although pastors are called to lead their congregations, they are under the authority of God’s Word. When they act in a manner contrary to Scripture they need to be confronted, and improper behavior needs to be corrected. In 2 Samuel 22, the prophet Nathan confronted King David about his sin. In Galatians 2, Paul confronted Peter, the leader of the Apostles, for not acting in line with the truth. “Paul declared by this action that the truth always outranks position or title in the church. Truth and its authority are not rooted in personality or office. It is derived from the word of God and the truth it proclaims.”{8} Blue continues: “Paul taught that the body of Christ is a nonhierarchical living organism.”{9}  Abusive Churches: Leaving Them Behind
When will COG members ever hold their leaders accountable?

Here is an expert from the same article dealing with abusive pastors:
Philip Keller gave us a stern warning in his book, Predators in Our Pulpits: “The greatest threat to the church today is not from without but from our own leadership within.”{5} Often an abusive church is built around the leader who practices some unhealthy forms of shepherding. Many such leaders come from churches that were abusive or have an unmet need for significance. Many may have begun with noble intentions, but their unresolved personal issues cause them to become dependent on their ministry to meet their needs. In his book, Healing Spiritual Abuse, Ken Blue does an outstanding job identifying unhealthy leadership. Here are a few characteristics of an abusive leader.

Abusive leaders use their position to demand loyalty and submission. Ken Blue states, “I have heard many pastors say to their congregations, ‘Because I am the pastor, you must follow me.’ Their demand was not based on truth or the God-directedness of their leadership but on their title. That is a false basis of authority . . . any appeal to authority based on position, title, degree or office is false. The only authority God recognizes and to which we should submit to is truth.” {6} Other leaders use titles such as “God’s man” or “the Lord’s anointed” so that others will treat them with special reverence and keep themselves above accountability that others in the congregation are held to. “If by appealing to position, unique claims or special anointings, leaders succeed in creating a hierarchy in the church, they can more easily control those beneath them. They can also defend themselves against any who might challenge them.”{7} 
Instead of feeding and caring for the flock, these pastors feed off the flock and use them to meet their needs for significance. Ken Blue gives an example of a “pastor whose church has not grown numerically in twelve years. Frustrated by his manifest lack of success, he turned to the congregation to meet his need. He has laid on them a building program in hopes that a new, larger, more attractive facility will draw more people. The congregation has split over this issue. Many have left the church, and those who remain are saddled with the debt.”{10}
True spiritual leaders are defined by Christ’s example. “Whoever wants to be great among you must become the servant of all” (Matt. 20:26). Christ-like leadership is servanthood.

True leaders gain the loyalty of the sheep because of the quality of their character and their attitude of servanthood. The members freely submit to Christ-like leadership and do not have to be coerced to follow. Good shepherds lighten the load of the sheep while false leaders add to the load on the sheep.
Narcissism is one of the biggest problem in the Church of God and always has been.  There was no bigger narcissist in the church than Herbert Armstrong.  Flurry, Pack, Kubik, Webber, Meredith and all the rest are full time narcissists trained by the greatest narcissist of them all.

Narcissism. The reason that many Christians have a problem with developing empathy skills is because they have a problem with narcissism. Narcissists are not necessarily bad people. Narcissism simply means that, for whatever reason, the person's only point of reference in life is himself. For the narcissist only his thoughts, his feelings, his perceptions are fully real. For him the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of others are less real. In the religious context, narcissists simply assume that what they think God thinks, and what they believe is Bible-based. They take it for granted that any idea that jumps into their heads is from the Holy Spirit and that they are only following the promptings of the Holy Spirit whenever they decide to do anything. The fact that other people may see their words as being less than holy, their motives as being less than pure, and their actions as being hurtful and injurious never occurs to them. When you believe that you are right and righteous, then all that you say and do is right and righteous. Any thought to the contrary never enters the picture.  Spiritual Abuse
Dichotomous Thinking. Abusive Christians in abusive church fellowships generally exhibit dichotomous (either-or) thinking patterns. With them everything is black/white, this/that, either/or, us/them, good/bad, etc. There are never any weeds among the wheat. When something is good it is all good; when something is bad it is all bad. Of course, dichotomous thinking Christians put themselves in the all-good camp, while others who may not agree with them on some minute detail of theology or Bible interpretation are in the all-bad camp.

With abusive Christians there are no ambiguities, no unanswered questions, no gray areas, no doubts. Everything is sorted, classified, and properly labeled. They are right, others are wrong; they are spiritual, others are not; they truly believe the Scriptures, others do not; they are thoroughly committed to Jesus, others are not; etc., etc. To disagree with them is to disagree with God. They are, of course, the final judge and jury of what the Bible says, regardless of subject matter. They have the exact interpretation of any given particular Scripture text; any other nuance or shade of meaning is considered heresy. Dichotomous thinking Christians believe they have everything all figured out (when they do not) and that they have everything properly classified and labeled, which is often not the case. They have the definitive Bible-based answer for every question, even when they have not understood the question. Dichotomous thinking Christians have a one-size-fits-all hammer for every problem, even when what is needed for a particular problem is a screwdriver.
Does your COG have any of these things happening in it?  If it does, then the reality is it is an abusive group.

  1. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into power and control. Enroth writes, "The spiritual autocrat, the religious dictator, attempts to compel subordination; the true Christian leader can legitimately only elicit fellowership." Within a church context a legitimate leader promotes cooperation among church members, not dominate-submissive relationships. Legitimate church leaders have leadership rooted in trust. Enroth points out that legitimate Christian leaders lead with an entrusted authority.

  2. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into dichotomous thinking. With them everything is black-white, either-or, this-that, us-them. Dichotomous thinking is generally expressed in overt or implied terms such as "we the true followers of Jesus" versus those others "who are not as spiritual as we are." Of course, dichotomous abusive church leaders are the judge and jury on who is or who is not spiritual, who is or who is not fully walking with Jesus.

  3. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are into legalistic perfectionism and perfectionist legalism. Again, legalisms are not about holiness; they are about power and control. Naturally, activities like fasting, keeping away from worldly amusements, attending numerous prayer meetings may in fact be spiritual and wholesome activities. However, when these activities are extreme, rigid, or excessive then we are talking about addiction, not spirituality.

  4. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches have a tendency towards isolationism. Some of this isolationism may be more social than physical. Abusive groups will not mix with the impure or with the unholy. With them light has no fellowship with darkness, and they are very clear who is in the light and who is in the dark. Thus, they tend to isolate themselves from the world and even from other Christian groups.

  5. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches are obsessed with discipline and even excommunication. In some abusive Christian circles, to question the church leader(s) means questioning God Himself. Abusive Christians are so certain that they are right and that they have the mind of Christ that they can be extremely punitive if they are not obeyed.

  6. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches discourage church members' having contacts with people outside the fellowship, including family members. Obviously, church leaders that tell young people "Do not listen to your parents, listen only to us" should be suspected.

  7. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches install surveillance systems (read "pastoral care") within their fellowships. Of course, for abusive church leaders a surveillance system is all about a spiritual concern regarding people's souls and how to best pastorally and brotherly look after the sheep of the flock. However, these surveillance systems go way beyond pastoral care. They are about power and control.

  8. Abusive church leaders in abusive churches promote a Pied Piper mentality, especially among young people. For example, a youth leader who becomes a Pied Piper and has all the youth of the congregation running after him is a bad scene. A legitimate Christian youth leader should want the youngsters of the church fellowship to be forming positive and healthy relationships with a variety of people in the fellowship, not just with himself. There is no room for a personality cult in a legitimate non-abusing Christian fellowship. Spiritual Abuse

Church  of God members need to get over the fear that they are disobeying God by holding their leaders accountable. Non accountability lead to Rod Meredith preaching a sermon that led a member to shoot and kill LCG members.  Rod McNair claims that elderly are possessed by demons.  Gerald Flurry and Cal Culpepper's actions and words caused the suicide of a beautiful young woman.  Dave Pack has robbed his members blind financially, ripped marriages apart and turned sons against mothers.

How long must this go on?  How many more need to have their families ripped apart.  How many more need to abandon family members.  How many more need to die before anyone steps up and holds these men accountable?


Anonymous said...

The tendency among the COGs has historically been to refer to "King David" when their leaders stumble, as if, you know, God sat up there in the sky somewhere in 1934, or 1989, or 1993, etc., and said, "You know, that (insert name) is a man after my own heart."

They conveniently ignore the scriptures that suggest what Jesus was like, or what he advocated, or how pastors and elders and teachers in the church he said he would build should conduct themselves -- or, even more, how the need to go through leaders to get to God is a tad outdated.

No, no, we have to compare our guy to KING DAVID. It's only right, after all, since we're just like ISRAEL and we keep GOD'S LAWS.

It leaves them vulnerable to abusive men and actions. Doubtful that it will ever really end. P.T. Barnum had it right, after all.

Anonymous said...

I agree anon 2:18.
I have always liked what that Grander Brinder guy has said.
It's so simple. Humanity suffers from just 3 diseases.
The more one has of these 3 will always end up being the biggest asshole blazin' on down the highway to hell.

Anonymous said...

Or, on a related topic, when is it okay to criticize a representative of "god" who rapes children?

Yes, I know I'm failing to distinguish between one form of abuse and another.

Some abuse is "godly" abuse, I guess?

Anonymous said...

Well, you should have a couple beers with him, egg him on, and get him to farting. If it's a nice tight squeak, he passes muster. If it's a weak wooshing sound, then you should criticize him because most likely he shouldn't be a minister.

~Miguel de la Rodente