Escaping & Healing from Abusive Churches

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The Roys Report
The Roys Report
Escaping & Healing from Abusive Churches
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How do people get sucked into abusive churches? What are the tell-tale signs of an abusive church? And, after leaving one, how can you heal?

In this edition of The Roys Report, Pastor Ken Garrett, author of In the House of Friends, shares key insights on understanding and healing from spiritual abuse in Christian churches.

For 12 years, Ken and his family belonged to a cultic, abusive church in the Portland area. During those years, Ken sacrificed his career, wealth, and relationships to a church he believed had a monopoly on truth. He also later learned that his pastor had been sexually abusing Ken’s two daughters.

As Ken explains in this podcast, his former pastor may have been preaching correct doctrine, but he was a fraud abusing his flock spiritually, financially, and sexually.

Ken’s is a painful story—but it’s also redemptive.

Since leaving his cultic church, Ken and his family have experienced deep healing. He’s also become an expert on abuse in the church. And today, he not only pastors a church in the Portland area, he also leads a group for survivors of spiritual abuse.

In this podcast, Ken shares his profound understanding of abusive churches and how they operate. He also gives practical steps on how to pursue healing, or help someone heal, after spiritual abuse.

If you’re a survivor of an abusive church, or family or friend of a survivor—or maybe you just want to understand spiritual abuse better—this podcast is for you.

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Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of any amount to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive "In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches" by Kenneth Garrett.

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This Weeks Guests

Dr. Ken Garrett

Dr. Ken Garrett is the pastor of Grace Church, Portland, a diverse, historic downtown church, and author of In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches. Ken has spoken and written for the International Cultic Studies Association, and provides support and encouragement to many survivors of abusive churches, cults, and high-demand groups in the Portland area. He founded the Spiritual Abuse Forum for Education, an informal gathering for mutual encouragement and education that welcomes and supports survivors of religious abuse from all faiths.
Show Transcript

SPEAKERS
KEN GARRETT, JULIE ROYS

JULIE ROYS 00:04
How do people get sucked into abusive churches? What are the telltale signs of an abusive church? And after leaving one, how can you heal? Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys and joining me today is Ken Garrett, author of In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches. For 12 years, Ken and his family belong to an abusive cultic church in the Portland area called North Clackamas Bible Community. During those years Ken sacrificed his career his wealth and his relationships to a church he believed had a monopoly on truth, but over time can realize that though his pastor may have been preaching correct doctrine, he was a fraud who was abusing his flock spiritually financially and sexually.

Ken’s is a painful story, but it’s also redemptive. Since leaving his cultic church, Ken has experienced deep healing. He’s also become an expert on abuse in the church. And today, he not only pastors a church in the Portland area, he also leads a group for survivors of spiritual abuse. And if you’re a survivor of church abuse or family or friend of a survivor, or maybe you just want to understand spiritual abuse better, this podcast is for you.

We’ll get to my discussion with Ken in a minute. But first, I’d like to thank two sponsors of this podcast, Judson University and Marquardt Barrington. Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus the school offers more than 60 majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information just go to JUDSONU.EDU. Also if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity and transparency. That’s because the owners there Dan and Curt Marquardt, are men of integrity. To check them out, just go to BUYACAR123.COM.

Well again, joining me is Ken Garrett, author of In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches. Ken also is the senior pastor of Grace Church in Portland, Oregon. And he’s the founder of the spiritual abuse forum for education, a regular gathering to promote friendship and education for survivors of spiritual abuse. So Ken, welcome, and thanks so much for joining me.

KEN GARRETT 02:44
Thank you very much. Yeah.

JULIE ROYS 02:46
And before we dive in, I should probably mention that we’re offering your book, In the House of Friends to anyone who makes a donation to The Roys Report in the month of January. This is an outstanding primer on spiritual abuse and really helpful for anyone who’s experienced spiritual abuse or wants to help a survivor of abuse.

So if you’d like to support our work here at The Roys Report and get this outstanding resource, just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Or you can TEXT 22525 and the word REPORT.

Well, Ken, I think one of the reasons that your book is so good is that you know about spiritual abuse firsthand. You and your wife spent 12 years in an abusive controlling church in the Portland Oregon area. And you weave that story of your abuse throughout your book, which I think is a really effective way of telling that story. But I’d like to start with your story. How is it that a bright intelligent guy like you ends up in a cultic church like North Clackamas Bible community?

KEN GARRETT 03:55
Right, right. Good question. We were transitioning, I think, in many ways into being adults. And then me, of course, transitioning out of the military. We were somewhat vulnerable, and yet carried with us a very deep, and Sharon likes to say we were deeply pious people. We were very serious about pursuing the Christian life. We loved Keith Greene’s ministry although he had died by then, but the very impacting on us both in terms of our views of our faith and what we wanted. So, we were very impressionable and very vulnerable. We were respected, and we were loved for who we are right away. And we were drawn into intimacies of conversations and self-sharing that probably were not quite appropriate for our stage of membership at this church. But it promised some things that we deeply, deeply wanted. We wanted community, we wanted to raise our kids with other young people having kids and get along and trust each other. So, we were recruited into that through the members of the church that reached out to us.

JULIE ROYS 05:18
And you also describe how you began to change as a person, as you got deeper and deeper into this church. So describe that, how did you begin to change?

KEN GARRETT 05:30
I think I became kind of insufferable, you know? It’s funny because my church was in the neighborhood I was born and raised in, and I live in that neighborhood to this day. And so, my friends, some of whom, we were cradle buddies at our Lutheran Church we went to, they all got cut off by me when I joined my serious church. And I became, I would have described it as, at the time as being maybe a true Christian. But I also might have just said, an evangelical or something like that. But really, I was becoming a narrow-minded fundamentalist. And I was very dogmatic, and I just became a very difficult person to be around if you didn’t agree with me.
I alienated a lot of my co-workers, I was a paramedic. And I would, which means you spend much time in the cab of an ambulance with a partner. And you have to trust each other, and you have to get along. And that’s a very important relationship. And I’m so glad that they tolerated me because I drove a few of them to tears witnessing, drawing them out, exposing their vulnerabilities and whatnot.

And I became very dogmatic toward my wife in our marriage. The abuse of complementarianism and male domination and all of that which is rife, especially in fundamentalist religions, even other than Christianity. It’s candy for men. It’s just to be affirmed by a divine figure, God, or your text or whatever, that you really should be boss of just about everything.

JULIE ROYS 07:20
Yeah, and especially your wife.

KEN GARRETT 07:22
Oh, yeah, of course. It impoverishes a marriage. And so that was difficult on our marriage that I went down that road.

JULIE ROYS 07:33
And this is what’s so interesting, I think about your book, the idea that an Orthodox Christian church could be a cult. That you can have right doctrine and apply it in a wrong way. I mean, what did you see when you were in this cult? There being a line where, okay, this might be healthy, but this is how extreme it got? And where it just went way too far?

KEN GARRETT 07:56
Yeah, yeah. Where it crossed the line was in the belief that simply dumping the information on anybody, regardless of your behavior, character, or embarrassing absence of love for the person was somehow a secondary concern to God, because the big concern is get people into heaven. And in my cult, simply providing the information as skillfully as possible, was seen as pretty good work for evangelism. That was crossing the line. Because evangelism, or you know, sharing Christ outside of a context of Christian loving, humble character, is pretty empty. And you know, Paul talks about that in First Corinthians 13. It’s pretty empty without love.

Concerning the cult you mentioned, how can a church be a cult? Part of the problem is this; beginning in the 1960s, and onward from that, we needed a way as the Christian church to explain why other religious movements were wrong and not for us. We needed a way to differentiate ourselves from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, from the Mormons. And we couldn’t really do it morally because they were so moral. They were really good people. I mean, just wonderful, loving families and loving. And so we had to figure out a way to tell our people, hey, you’re on the right team here. And that became through examining their propositions and doctrinal statements. So, I grew up a Lutheran and Lutherans are just the sweetest people in the world around here. So we were never going after the cult people, but I grew up in that kind of an understanding of Christianity that was pretty, pretty non combative. But in considering these other groups, if they did not hold to the full divinity and humanity of Jesus, the hypostatic union, if they did not hold to that, they were a cult. And Dr. Walter Martin’s work emphasized that point. And so, the standard of judgment became, well, what are the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe about Jesus/ And it was eh! no! Well, what are the Mormons believe about Jesus? eh! no! Everybody was out which I believe you’re in through faith in Jesus Christ as he’s presented in the Bible. So it’s not like I’m waffly about that.

But calling people a cult based on doctrine has been proven to really give abusive churches a huge break. And the International Cultic Studies Association, I’m a member of that, and it’s not a Christian organization, but they really just pull their hair about this issue of cultic churches saying, well, at least we’re not a cult. We believe in this and that and the full Divinity of Jesus. So I wish we didn’t even have the word anymore to tell you the truth. But what it really comes down to is the behavior of the community itself. If there is those things I wrote about the isolationism, the elitism, the rewards, and the punishments, the painful exiting, the inappropriate sharing and confessing, the exacting of resources, be they monetary or sexual or just your time or whatever. The Christian church today still is dancing around the cult issue saying, well, not quite a cult, it was an abusive church, you know. I think the day is coming when we just go you know what, you can be a church and be a cult.

JULIE ROYS 12:11
I 100% agree with what you’re saying. And as I was reading your book, I was like this describes churches that I’ve reported on, to even step on some churches, their toes, when I hear the using truth as a club? I mean, tell me, Mark Driscoll didn’t do that? Tell me John MacArthur doesn’t do that. We are not known by our love. We’re known by our truth. And that becomes a real problem. And I don’t think truth and love are in conflict at all. But when they are in conflict in your church, that seems to be a huge red flag. And I don’t believe this anymore. I did when I was first reporting, that the church has to hold to some heresy to be a cult. I don’t believe that; it’s much more some of the hallmarks that you’ve said, and we’re going to unpack those. But before I do, I just want to know, what is it that made you say, huh, this isn’t right. After 12 years of thinking, you’ve got the corner on truth, right? And everybody else is wrong. And you’re right, and you’re going to enlighten the world. What made you realize this isn’t okay, and our pastor isn’t okay?

KEN GARRETT 13:26
Yeah, yeah. Well, emotionally, my life became such a train wreck emotionally, because of the breakdown of my marriage. My relationship with Sharon was just on the rocks. Also, I had begun to use drugs. I used cocaine and went down that road of dipping and dabbing on weekends. And this was all self-medicating is what it was, but at the time that just morally and emotionally destroyed me. So, it wasn’t really after 12 years. It was after about eight years.

JULIE ROYS 14:06
Oh, wow.

KEN GARRETT 14:06
And now I wasn’t an angel living amongst the Philistines or something, you know. I wasn’t at all like that. I was a desperate and troubled person. But I suddenly became very sure he wasn’t going to change as the pastor. He wasn’t going to change. A lot of people had no interest in him changing. He was impoverishing me. My wife was kind of lost to me in terms of our marriage and our family. It’s not like I was going to leave her or something, but it was empty.

And considering those things, the contract was broken. Once that contracts broken, it’s just a matter of time. The jig is up. And so when I’ve talked to people now from churches, you know who were telling me, here’s my experience with my pastor, here’s what happened. Here’s the way it is. A few of us women feel the same way. And here’s what’s going on. The last person I talked to, I said, you know, the contract is broken, in your mind, about what you believed about your life and your church. So don’t pressure yourself about, am I going to stay? Am I going to go? what’s going to happen? It’s done. It’s done, and it can’t be rebuilt. So that’s what happened with me. And it took about four years before I was walking out the door.

JULIE ROYS 15:41
Let’s talk first of all about the abusive pastor because you even write, every abuse of church is a communal expression and product of the dysfunction and narcissism of an abusive pastor, even if the pastor has died and others have taken his place. So, talk about the abusive pastor. How do you know if a pastor is abusive? What are the hallmarks?

KEN GARRETT 16:06
The main hallmarks are found in the experience of those around him, particularly those closest to him. For instance, at Mars Hill, if you were just attending a Mars Hill Church, and you love the music, and you love the preaching, and all that, you don’t feel like you were spiritually abused. You just you know, you might not think anything of it. If you were on the inner team?

JULIE ROYS 16:32
You knew.

KEN GARRETT 16:33
Oh, yeah. You knew what was out.

JULIE ROYS 16:35
Yeah, and that’s interesting you say that, because I remember talking to Dave Jones, who’s someone who used to write the sermons for James McDonald. And he has dozens, maybe hundreds of refugees from Harvest Bible Chapel here in the Chicago area where James McDonald pastored, for like over 30 years. And he said, the amount of your wounding is usually directly proportional to how close you were to James McDonald.

KEN GARRETT 17:02
BINGO, BINGO. Yeah, absolutely. The title of my book is In the House of Friends: Understanding and Healing from Spiritual Abuse in Christian Churches. Really, what we’re talking about is healing from predatory abusive leaders. I believe it’s in the lives of the victims that we determine the abuse and the extent of narcissism in the pastor and the leader. You don’t get to be a senior pastor and a leader of a congregation, small or large, unless you have a skill set that is a very unique thing. And you know, it can be used for such good and kindness in the world. But you do have some skills. You know, you do speak every week in front of a group of people. You do have power, the pastor’s power of time, his time and is so it’s a magnet for narcissistic leaders, that it’s through examining the effects that he has on the world and the people around him, that you can really start to suspect the suffering they cause and where they’re at.

JULIE ROYS 18:15
And I wish people would really look at the fruit. I mean, that’s what you’re saying, look at the fruit of this pastor. Not fruit as in how many books has he written? How many people you know are coming to the church? I mean, that’s what we look at as Americans right? No! Fruit in Scripture is love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, I mean, these things, is your pastor exhibiting that kind of fruit? And do those close to him exhibit it? And one other caveat, I’ve seen a lot of churches where you say a lot are impoverished around him. I’ve also seen the opposite where, you know, he basically is paying people off who are close to him. Yeah, hugely rewarded with salaries that are incommensurate with you know, that kind of position at other similar sized churches and giving them ministries but they know he can destroy your ministry too. He can destroy it with one word. He’s that powerful.

KEN GARRETT 19:11
Oh yeah. And that happens in you know, some of the names you’ve named. John MacArthur’s church to Mars Hill. Oh, yeah. You know, you’re not in a safe position by getting closer in. And it’s at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, by your fruits, you will know them, you know, and then he goes on and says many will say in that day, did we not blah, blah, blah.

And so I started thinking to myself, if the fruits are things like kindness and good works and sacrifice and all that, Julie, I can imitate all of those things. And you can look very closely at me and see me doing incredible things for people if I want. I mean, so what is Jesus saying there? By their fruits, you will know them. But these are people that are really good at, I mean, moral people, moral moral people. So, then I thought to myself, the examples that Jesus gave on that day, many will say, did we not? All of those examples are speech acts. Okay? I mean, you can act like you think it would look to cast out a demon, but you’re gonna say something. And prophesying in his name, these are speech actions.

Speech is the fruit of a teacher or a leader. It might be nice if I’m a good gardener, or whatever, you know. But really, what I’m called to do is to speak in certain ways to my church. And that was true of the leaders of Jesus’ day. So, I just got this idea that when we talk about the fruit of abusive leaders, it’s the fruit of their corrupted speech that is unChristlike, that is usually heard by their family, their children and those closest to them. When we hear stories of the boardroom of the Scientology people or any Christian abuser, when we hear stories from the survivors of the people that leave, we hear of just vile, angry, hateful, abusive speech spewing out of their mouths. So, it made sense to me, at the speech, in the words of a leader, his actions need to be observable, but hey, you can trick anybody by doing things a certain way. Trick them, you know? Jim Jones had wonderful social programs before he went off went really bad, but the speech that your wife hears, she knows, and your children in the car on the way to and fro, or your closest friends. What you say after that person leaves the room to the people still in the room, your speech. And I think the Lord’s basically saying in the end, and this is what he says at the end of this sermon on the mount is, you’ll be judged for your words as a false teacher. Or as a wolf, basically, you know, what does he say? Thorns don’t produce grapes or something like that. I think what he’s saying is, no matter how it looks, in the end, people betray themselves by what they say, it has to come out. You can’t live a lie.

My guy lived a lie for a few years preaching exegetical sermons, and, you know, preaching all kinds of great things. But eventually, he couldn’t live with the cognitive dissonance anymore. It had to come out. And so, he began to become more reckless in his humiliation and his criticisms and things that he’s ashamed of today and is held accountable to today. So that’s just my little thing there, when we’re trying to determine who is an abusive leader, you don’t always know because all you’re seeing is a great preacher who says good words, and good grief. Look at all the good things he’s doing.

JULIE ROYS 23:30
I think you’re right, that they’re con men. I mean, I always remember that somebody told me the Greek word that we get hypocrite from is actor. So, he’s an actor. But I think you’re absolutely right. I used to say this in radio, if you listen long enough to because I saw because I was 10 years in Christian radio. I saw the character of these men often and I’d be like, it eventually comes out if you’ve listen long enough. They’ll say all the right words, they’ll sound really good at certain times. They’ll eventually come out. James McDonald. He got fired when his hot mic recording got aired on local radio, you know? I mean, and people are like their jaws hit their chest, whereas everybody close to him goes, that’s how he talks all the time. It wasn’t anything surprising. You know when John MacArthur told Beth Moore to go home, some people are like, oh, my word, did he really say that? Those closest to him said talks like that all the time. He’s just a harsh human being.

KEN GARRETT 24:23
Yet people are clapping.

JULIE ROYS 24:24
Yeah, Mark Driscoll was known as the cussing pastor. It’s there folks. But we don’t want to see it. We don’t want to believe it. And so, we look the other way. And I think that’s a lot of the trouble.

But let’s move from the pastor, the hallmarks of the pastor, to the hallmarks of abuse of churches. You’ve named some of them, but I want to dig in a little bit more. One of them that you talked about is loss in demanding more and more. And this is something, you know, I was texting with a friend just this week as we were looking back on experience at a church and they were like, you know, one time It actually went through my mind to switch houses with the pastor, because he seemed like he needed a bigger house. And she’s like, why would I think that? You know, right? I mean, why would I think something like that? And I’m like, yeah, that is a little freaky. That’s not quite right. But you experienced in your church, those kinds of demands, I think a lot of people listening have experienced of demands on their time, or their money. Talk about that.

KEN GARRETT 25:24
Those are really good examples. And I think the word that I ended up with that put it to its surgical meaning was extraction. An abusive pastor and his team, they ultimately end up extracting the value from their congregation. They are the modern-day application of Ezekiel shepherds that were fattening certain sheep and slaughtering them to eat them themselves. There’s an extraction of resources, of emotional resources, and extraction of loyalties. Sexually certainly that’s always, always around, an extraction of finances, money commitments, and then a biggie is time. Getting vulnerable people, younger people who have a bit of control over their time, and really need to spend it with each other as a husband and wife or something kind of just settling into life, but instead keeping them busy four or five times a week. So, extraction is the way that I look at it.

And the way it works is that the flow of things of value, both public and private, the flow is always into the coffers of the abuser, never out. Now, what you mentioned earlier is absolutely relevant, that there is a reward system. People are rewarded mostly for their silence and support, but they do receive rewards got it. But generally of the church itself, these guys with their zillion dollar homes and planes, and all of this, these all represent the material extraction of resources from the people of God, into the coffers of the abuser. And I think that’s a very important indicator for when you’re thinking about your church. And maybe the abuse you’re experiencing is to ask yourself, well, like Sharon and I, we said, okay, we’re in our middle 30s now, and we don’t own a home, although I’ve been working for years as a paramedic, and we’d sold homes for our ministry, but we don’t own a home. Our credit is so terrible, we couldn’t even get a cell phone. We’d run all of our credit cards in you know, we were a wreck, just from the financial setting. Professionally, I had avoided going into management as a paramedic, because it would get in the way of ministry, and all of these things that could have enriched and valued our lives. As we started evaluating and thinking about it, we realized all of those opportunities had been either abandoned or our resources that we did have had been extracted into the value of the church and of the pastor. So that is a one-way street in these abusive groups. It never flows to you, simply never. You will never get back what you give.

JULIE ROYS 28:46
So good. Some of the other hallmarks that you talk about, we can’t go over all of them. That’s one of the reasons you get the book. The book is so good. But the elitism I have found that in every single abusive church that I have reported on., Not that they think no one else is a Christian, although in some of them they do. But it’s like we’ve got the most pure the most doctrinally correct, I’ll tell you which books you can read and which ones you can’t and you know, I will save you from those godless people out there that have wrong philosophies. I mean, the elitism is just it’s like a disease, isn’t it? that just infects everybody. Talk about that.

KEN GARRETT 29:34
Yeah, that’s a really good point. There’s an elitism that comes first off from the control of information within the abusive church. And that’s where we get down to saying things like, we only read this version of the Bible, we only follow these writers and educators, we only read this guy’s books, and Robert Lifton, who is the kind of the father of modern cult totaless studies, he called it the control of the milieu, the first step of controlling the environment and the information that a person has when they enter into an abusive group. So that has to be in place first, then the person needs to be convinced that the materials, the truth, the experience he or she is having is the best. This is how we’re going to save the world; this is what’s going to happen. And that elitism is very important. So that when you are leading people to cut off their families, cut off their friends, cut off their opportunities, everything, you provide them with the rationale that you are investing, you’re making an investment here into a better way of life, a higher level of living, an experience and practice of the faith, that is simply I mean, good grief, you should be living in Jerusalem in AD 34. I mean, we are that.

And that does a tremendously powerful thing to people, when they’ve made foolish and tragic decisions with their relationships in their life. It allows them to have a bit of dignity. And to say, Yeah, I know, my high school classmates all hate my guts. Now, my mom and dad think I’m crazy. And I mean, just all of these things we go through, but I can handle all of that, because I’m one of the best. Our church, I shouldn’t say this because it’s so silly, but I’m going to. Our church actually claimed to be training Christians that would be like Green beret Christians; to be dropped anywhere in the world and establish a church. They have never established one other church than themselves. And they don’t even need to jump out of an airplane, I mean. So, but that was the idea that you’re just getting such an education. In my old church, we learned Greek, Hebrew, church history. I mean, just all kinds of seminary level training and whatnot. And that was to build the perception of elitism that would keep us from straying over the fence and establishing good connections with other Christians and other institutions.

JULIE ROYS 32:32
Wow. Weird. It is weird. And then you combine that with fear. Yeah. Which of what the seven or so things that you mentioned, I would say fear is one. And it’s not fear of displeasing God. It might be coated like that, but it’s usually fear of displeasing the leadership.

KEN GARRETT 32:56
The leaders. Yeah, did I write that?

JULIE ROYS 33:00
I think you did. But I tell you what, I’ve seen it over and over. The difference between displeasing the leader and displeasing God is blurred. In fact, that almost becomes one in the same because the leader is the spokesperson for God.

KEN GARRETT 33:18
So tragic, because, cults, they don’t go out and try to find the weakest willed people they can to join their cult. They want people that have resources, intelligence, things that can contribute to the cult. And so what you find when you have people, competent, mature people, doctors and nurses and lawyers, and paramedics and everything, but you find them living in fear, it is just tragic. And they do live in the fear of displeasing the leader. And I think that might be one of the hard parts for people leaving the church to really come to terms with when people leave abusive churches, is to admit that their primary emotion around this person was fear, because he could with a snap of a finger, he could put you in a U-Haul, driving out of town to hopefully go live with your folks somewhere while you figure out what you’re going to do with your life. He could do that. Unofficially, he had that power. And you knew he had that power. So, you lived in fear of displeasing him. And it’s hard when you leave that experience of life. It’s a blow to your pride to have to admit it, you know, yeah, I was so scared of that guy, I did this, this and that and I thought this was the best thing for my life. So fear of the leader is a tremendous thing these guys carry out of these groups.

JULIE ROYS 33:33
It’s fear of being socially ostracized by the community which, you know, marches to his drum. And even now, I mean, this is what makes it so hard for me to report on these communities is because of the fear. Even after they’ve left, people are terrified of speaking. Yeah. That’s how strong the grip is. And when you start seeing that many people that afraid, folks, you know, this is part of a very, very unhealthy system. I want to talk about when you leave a church, and you’re trying to heal, and what these folks who are survivors of abuse, and, you know, I know so many of them, who have been through church hurt. They walk into churches, and you say in your book, that some of these studies put the number of people that have been abused in churches, somewhere the percentage like 2%. I think it’s way higher than that. I think a lot of the people who have been in abusive churches don’t even know it till years, years later. And so, the reporting on that, I mean, I think it’s way higher than that. And I think maybe it’s because the space I live in, I talked to so many people who have, but they do walk into churches where people think this church is the best thing since sliced bread. They’re happy people and happy churches, and you’re walking in the wounded, right? What do these people need? And if you’re someone who’s left an abusive church, what should you be looking for? Speak to both the person who’s there, and also the person who’s at a church and happy but maybe wants to help these folks who come in. It is very difficult, but it’s not impossible. And I think in helping people that leave these churches, it’s really important that we abandon using the tools that were used to hurt them. And that means the tool of expected church attendance, expected Bible study involvement, expected small group enrollment, expected mentoring relationships. The ways that we as Christians often think we can help people are actually offering them more of what hurt them.

KEN GARRETT 37:27
Okay. So where do we go with that? I mean, good grief. I live by the Bible. I’m a Bible preacher, and I believe in healthy mentoring and friendships and all that. What I believe is that we have to become experts in majoring in the one thing that is absent in every single abusive situation. And that is grace. Grace does not exist in the cult, it doesn’t exist in abusive churches. Nothing like it exists in Krishna, or yoga cults or anywhere where people are being abused. So as Christians, kind of seeing to our own house first, I think we need to explore and understand what grace means. But not so much theologically, because we’re all pretty, yeah, I mean, the worst churches in the world get up and preach grace on Sunday.

JULIE ROYS 38:32
Or they have it in their name.

KEN GARRETT 38:33
Or they have it in their name. Of course! Yeah, absolutely. I think it involves a very deep dive in understanding graciousness. And we don’t do that quite like we should. We’re awkward. We’re uncomfortable. It’s an easy thing. But it’s something we need to think about and work on. And that involves treating people graciously, not calling them out, not making them wear a name tag, not making sure they come back to church next week, not letting them just sit in a dark corner and come in late and leave early as they like. When we refuse to treat people with the kind of graciousness and respect that really exists in any good community, I think we fail in the biggest part of Christianity, and we become uncomfortable as Christians in churches. There’s so many of them, how can I speak for them all? But I think in churches broadly, we’ve not begun to understand and deal with the trauma of sexual abuse, particularly with women but men too, of course, and children.

I don’t think we’ve really begun to grapple with what it means to be a healing organization that protects people. We’re still in a bit of a hangover of years of being drunk on the leader’s success and excuses and pathetic behavior. We’re still hungover from it. And that’s where we need to get. And that involves being gracious and kind to people. It also involves understanding depression, trauma, it involves seeking somewhat of an acceptance of the anger and the dissociation a person feels with their faith and with church attendance. And the role of triggering in going into a church. That was kind of my big rhetorical thing I was trying to get to when I wrote that chapter on, when the walking wounded walk into church. I just wanted to point out the tremendous triggers that pop out at them that we don’t think is a trigger. But accepting and acknowledging that is very powerful in the life of an abused person. So, I had a family come to my church and our worship leader is saying, I surrender all.

JULIE ROYS 41:06
Oh no.

KEN GARRETT 41:07
I surrender all.

JULIE ROYS 41:11
It’s a great song. It’s like they haven’t been through this.

KEN GARRETT 41:15
Yeah. And they left the church crying. They left the church crying. Yeah. And, and it’s not because that’s a terrible song, or the worship leader was an abuser or anything. It’s just, it’s understanding the experience.

So I think in helping people, we have to take our religion off the table. Which means, okay, good grief, let’s meet for a beer and just talk about what happened. Or, hey, I get it. You can’t commit to coming to church. I don’t even think you should, if you feel this way. But if you want to do so, how about if you just make it every couple of months? I’d love to see you. And we can connect then see how you’re feeling? But how about if you not sign on any lines, and you just think through and heal from what’s happened to you? I believe a friendship and a relationship that expresses that kind of coloring over the lines to accept and affirm victims and survivors is the only hope of having a meaningful part in their healing. Otherwise, you’re just gonna miss the deep healing that needs to happen.

JULIE ROYS 42:37
Well, this concludes part one of my interview with Ken Garrett, author of In the House of Friends. In part two, Ken talks more about how to minister to survivors of spiritual abuse. And he tells of a powerful moment when he disclosed his daughter’s abuse by his former pastor, to the pastor of a new church, he had started attending.

KEN GARRETT 42:57
He just exploded like, not quite out of his chair, but he like kicked his leg out and his head snapped back, and he became visibly enraged. And I hadn’t let myself experience that. I was so ashamed to be a dad who was out there preaching to everybody at work and studying Greek all day and all of this and look what this wolf was doing to my children.

JULIE ROYS 43:31
In our next podcast, Ken also describes the legal battle to bring his former pastor to justice. And he offers insights for how friends and family should respond to people they love, who currently belong to an abusive or cultic church.

Thanks so much for joining me for this episode of The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And just a reminder that we’re able to do this podcast and all our investigative work at The Roys Report, because of support from people like you. And in the month of January, we’re offering Ken’s book, In the House of Friends, to anyone who gives a gift to The Roys Report. To give, just TEXT 22525 on your phones and the word REPORT. That’s 22525 and the word REPORT or go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcasts, Google podcasts or Spotify. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me. Hope you were blessed and encouraged.

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3 thoughts on “Escaping & Healing from Abusive Churches”

  1. Excellent podcast! Ken provides accurate definitions, examples of common cult behaviors, and practical advice for helping those abused at their former houses of worship. Thanks for explaining how a church can promote orthodox biblical doctrines while developing a cult-like social environment.

    1. Thanks Julie for your faithfulness in providing these podcasts. I learn a lot and reflect on where I need to grow in my faith.

  2. What I noted is that back about 1980 a friend of mine did his doctorate in psychology and established a recovery center for those from abusive organizations (some are missions groups, not churches) that are relatively orthodox in doctrine. He use the term TACO )totality aberrant Christian organization) to differentiate from cults which in his terminology were heterodox in doctrine. He asserted that TACO’s were harder to “call out” than cults (I will leave off examples). Second, I would look at family systems theory (and specifically the late Edwin Friedman’s center in Bethesda MD) for why new leaders of an abusive church tend to become abusive – even if they were no formerly abusive. I did see the opposite as well while studying at the center. Finally, although there is much more, the examples I have heard are conservative evangelical. There are reasons why the Episcopal and Catholic Churches have been able to clean up their acts relatively quickly, among them mandated abuse prevention and spotting training (1996 in the Episcopal Church; Catholic Dallas Accords in 2002). You still hear cases, but generally either old cases (the Catholic peak was in 1980’s – 1990’s) or cases spotted and reported quickly after ordination or hiring (both church communities run schools as well as youth ministries and social services). Again, there is more to say, but I will leave it with mentioning that the Southern Baptist or conservative Evangelical worlds have no one who can mandate anything. So the pastor is king.

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