Spiritually Abusive Leaders In The Church

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Spiritual abuse is ravaging the church. But how do you spot spiritual abuse? And once you’ve been wounded by a church leader, how do you recover? This week on The Roys Report, Dr. Wade Mullen, an expert on spiritual abuse, will join me to deepen our understanding of abuse and toxic systems. We’ll also discuss weaknesses in us that attract us to bad leaders. Find hope and understanding, as well as important steps to recovery. I really hope you can join us for The Roys Report, this Saturday morning at 11 on AM 1160 Hope for Your Life and on Sunday night at 7 on AM 560 The Answer!

This Weeks Guests

Wade Mullen

Wade Mullen is a passionate abuse advocate and the director of the M.Div. program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, PA. Wade has done extensive research on the tactics used by abusive individuals and organizations, primarily within religious contexts, and is currently writing a book with Tyndale House Publishers on recognizing the language of abuse. He also authors a blog aimed at helping those in abusive situations find understanding and freedom.

Show Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited slightly for continuity.

JULIE ROYS: Well, spiritual abuse. It’s become a popular buzz word following the recent scandals in the church. But what is it? And how can you tell if you’re a victim of spiritual abuse? Welcome to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re going to be exploring a topic that rarely gets discussed in Christian circles. And yet spiritual abuse has become this huge issue, with some Christian leaders abusing their power. But they often cloak their abuse in spiritual language. And they take Scripture out of context. And many of us, instead of being able to name what’s happening, we find ourselves in a kind of spiritual and relational vertigo. We’re confused, we’re hurt, manipulated. And by the time we figure out what’s going on, we’re in so deep, that we don’t know how to get out. Well, some of you right now are probably thinking, “Hey, that’s me.” I know a little bit about this because I’ve spent the past 12 to 18 months reporting about spiritually abusive churches and megachurch pastors who have engaged in spiritual abuse. And yet, spiritual abuse really can happen at churches and Christian institutions of any size. And I truly believe, that the best way to battle it is education—not just for lay people like me. But also, for pastors, and Christian leaders. Some of us may resort spiritual abuse without even knowing it. And that’s why I’m so excited about today’s program. And I’m thrilled that Dr. Wade Mullen, the head of the D-Min program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is joining me. Wade is a passionate abuse advocate. And he’s someone who actually did his entire doctoral thesis on how evangelical organizations use impression management strategies—often spiritually abusive strategies—when they’re faced with a crisis. Wade also will be a keynote speaker at a conference I’m hosting Saturday, November 2nd, at Judson University called Restore Chicago. And I’ll be talking more about that later—but Wade, welcome! I’m just so glad that you could join us this morning! 

DR. WADE MULLEN: Thank you, Julie. It’s great to be on the show.

JULIE ROYS: So, Wade, let’s just start with a definition. Because I think a lot of people have maybe heard, maybe, spiritual abuse. But they’re not really sure what it is. And some of you listening have probably never heard this term. So, what is Spiritual abuse? 

DR. WADE MULLEN: I define it as an attempt by a person to use all that encompasses another person’s spiritual life—their beliefs, their faith, their experiences, their hopes—the person uses that to coerce and control, manipulate that other person, their victim, so that that person ends up serving the abusers agenda. 

JULIE ROYS: And this is something that isn’t just an academic issue to you. Although it is an academic issue. You’ve done incredible research on this. But this is personal to isn’t it?

DR. WADE MULLEN: It is. Yeah, I went through a very difficult period of time in which I found myself surrounded by those who were using spiritual abuse to control me. And the nature of spiritual abuse is such that you often don’t see it. I use the image of a garden. That the abusive person often will build a garden and then invite people into that Garden to explore and to enjoy it. And then once they settle down—once trust has been established—all of a sudden, the flowery surface is released. And below that surface is a pit the abuser has built below that garden. And so, in that moment, you find yourself suddenly confused. You know, “What’s happening? What’s happening to the world around me?” And at the same time, you find yourself trapped. And this sense of captivity suddenly envelops you. And so we often think the abusive person, perhaps as, you know, carrying around chains. And dragging people into those pits. But more often the case is, especially with spiritual abuse, is that that religious leader—that spiritual abuser—has created a garden, has laid a foundation of trust. And then, before you know it you look up and you’re surrounded by walls. And so, I went through that. And it’s very difficult. And the leaders in my life were attempting to control my behavior. I remember once sitting across from someone who had power over me. And I was attempting to shine a light on some behavior. And I was asked the question, “When did this root of bitterness begin in you? Where did this anger come from?” And I recall speaking to this individual in the way that I’m speaking to you now. And so, that was a very confusing moment for me because that person was using something that I believe in. I do believe that we need to guard our language and guard our heart and to speak with a gentleness and a love. And so, I went back thinking to myself, “Am I this angry person? And am I acting out of out of anger?” And so, I decided, I remember, that night leaving that meeting to write down all of the things that have angered me over the course of 7 years. And I didn’t realize how much was there. And I spent an entire night writing simply the words, “I was angry when . . .”  and then I listed it. “I was angry when . . .”  And 7 pages later, I realized that I had every right to be angry. But there are so many people that were being mistreated. So many people who were trapped who were being victimized by this oppressive and abusive power. But I was a target of that spiritual abuse myself. So yes, I approached this as a researcher, but also as someone who has experienced many of these tactics myself.

JULIE ROYS: And you mentioned just now, and this is one of the main hallmarks of spiritual abuse, as I understand it, is that if you highlight a problem if you raise a problem then either says, “There is no problem. You’re the problem,” right? And I think that’s why it becomes just something where we feel sort of this spiritual vertigo, like we don’t know which way is up. Or like, “is it me?” And as Christians, I mean, if you’re a conscientious Christian, and this is what I think is so insidious about it, if you’re a conscientious Christian, you always know that you need to examine your heart first, right? You take the plank out of your own eye before you can remove the speck in somebody else’s. And so the more conscientious you are, the more you want to please Jesus. Almost in some ways the more susceptible you are to being abused and manipulated by somebody who knows how to take those scriptures and use them against you and you’re like, “wait is there sin in my heart? Well I mean who of us is without sin?” Right? And so, it does kind of get this does vertigo. How do you know when you’re in this? I mean it sounds like you did this exercise I think would be healthy for a lot of people. But how do you know when you’re in this if it’s you or somebody else or, you know, maybe it’s both of you? 

DR. WADE MULLEN: I think one of the questions that you can ask yourself is, “What is true?”  I’m hearing this message and I want to ask this question, “Is this message true?” And also tune into your own response to that.  So often, the abusive person—the person who has dark secrets to hide, sees truth as a threat—is going to immediately react with defensiveness, often with intimidation. What you described earlier, you know, when you speak up and you name a concern. 

And you often, you become the problem. That’s a tactic called condemning the condemner. And so, if you respond in that way, then perhaps there is something there. But you’re somebody say to say to you, “I’ve noticed this in you.” I think the authentic normal response is to ask the question, “Is that true? Are there other people who see this in me?” And to even go before the Lord and say, “Lord, search my heart.” And so it often requires going through this process of talking to the Lord, talking to other people, and asking the question, “Is what this person said about me true?” 

JULIE ROYS: And even if it is about that person isn’t true too and needs to be addressed.

DR. WADE MULLEN: Oh, exactly. And what’s happening then is that person is using something against you in order to silence you or to harm you in some way. Whereas you might be bringing your concern because you actually care about that person you care about the effects that behavior is having on other people. 

JULIE ROYS: Well that’s Dr. Wade Mullen, head of the D-Min program at Capital Seminary and graduate school. We’re talking about spiritual abuse today. And coming up next, what we’re going to do is sort of a case study on spiritual abuse concerning a leader and an organization that I wrote about this week. It concerns preserving the image of a Christian football coach after he’s been embroiled in a sex scandal. True story. You’re going to want to stay tuned. I think it’s going to be really instructive. We’ll be right back after short break.

Segment 2:

JULIE ROYS: What do you do when someone has done something absolutely reprehensible—and he gets up and says, “Hey, we all make mistakes. I’m sorry for mine. Will you forgive me and welcome me back into leadership?”  Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing spiritual abuse—and how Christian leaders can sometimes use good-sounding phrases and even scripture to cover their sin and manipulate others. And sometimes get us to overlook the reprehensible things that they do. Joining me today to discuss this issue of spiritual abuse is Dr. Wade Mullen, head of the M-Div program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School. And you can join our discussion online by going to Facebook.com/ReachJulieRoys. Or on Twitter, my handle is @ReachJulieRoys. 

So, Wade, we’re going to do sort of a case study of spiritual abuse. And actually, this is how I became aware of your work. You published something shortly after I published my WORLD Magazine exposé on Harvest Bible Chapel and James MacDonald. Harvest responded with a statement to my WORLD Magazine piece. And then you published something really exposing the manipulative tactics that were in that statement. And that was just, I mean, I read that. And it was one of those things, Wade, where you kind of sensed things but you don’t really get it until you see it in print. And you just so brilliantly exposed those tactics. So, what I wanted to do—and by the way, you can read on my website JulieRoys.com. I have that piece that Wade wrote up on the website. But rather than go to that, which is kind of old news, I just wrote a story this week that’s an incredible example of what we’re talking about. And it involves a coach—Hugh Freeze. Now, Freeze is the head football coach at Liberty University. But two years ago, he resigned as the football coach at Ole Miss in disgrace after it was discovered that he had repeatedly called escort services on his university-issued phone. Now Freeze is an outspoken Christian who was constantly tweeting Scripture and praying with his team. So, this was just a horrible scandal. And as Freeze, how do you come back from something like that? Well, Freeze actually went dark for about six months. And then suddenly, he appears as the featured speaker at a convocation service at Liberty University. And he gets up, and after alluding cryptically to “a private sin” that Freeze claimed he had confessed to his wife and two others before it became public, Freeze told the audience that he was sorry. And he asked them for forgiveness. 

The student body audibly responds with, “We forgive you.” And then, sort of cast as a model of contrition, Freeze gets hired a few months later by Liberty as their new head coach. Now, there are a lot of things about this story that raise red flags for me. Some of it stems from my conversation with Freeze this week. I had a DM conversation with him on Twitter. And I write about that in the article I published. And during that conversation, I pressed Freeze about some of the details concerning the scandal he was involved in. And there were things that he said that simply don’t match the facts. And again, you can read that at JulieRoys.com. But what I want to do right now is unpack what happened at this Liberty convocation service. Because there’s so much here that appears—at least as I’m hearing it—seems to be some spiritual manipulation there. And I think it’s instructive for us. And I want to start by playing a clip from the convocation. And what you’re going to hear is David Nasser. He’s the senior vice president for spiritual development at Liberty. And he’s introducing Hugh Freeze, this college coach who has again, been disgraced, 6 months he’s gone dark, this is the first time we hear publicly from him. And this is how David Nasser introduces him:

DAVID NASSER: (Playback from Youtube Video at 10:04)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII

If you are a football fan, especially a college football fan, you are no stranger to what most people believe is one of the great offensive minds of the game, Coach Hugh Freeze. And I want to say this to you. I’ve had an opportunity in the last month and a half to get to know the Freeze family a little bit, not just in a couple of meals that we’ve had together, but just conversations. And I’ve been so impressed with their authentic love for the Lord and their passion, their, honestly, commitment to see God glorified through every bit of their story. 

JULIE ROYS: Okay, again, that’s David Nasser of Liberty University introducing Hugh Freeze, who’s speaking for the first time after resigning from Ole Miss in disgrace. Wade, you’re the expert. What do you hear in that introduction?

DR. WADE MULLEN:  Yeah, I hear at least two things, listening to it. First, I hear what is called in the research exemplification, where a spokesperson is speaking to establish somebody else as an exemplar. You know, so Hugh is one of the brightest minds, one of the best offensive minds in all of college football.  And then the second is an attempt to polish the positive attributes of Hugh. So, he’s saying, hey, you know, I’ve gotten to know this guy. We’ve had a couple meals together. And so, I can vouch for his commitment to the Lord, the strength of his faith. And so, that’s a tactic that I call polishing. Here’s somebody that we might be associated with. So, what we’re going to do is we’re going to spotlight what the audience might perceive as positive attributes in order to strengthen the endorsement of that’s happening right here. So that’s what’s happening at a broad level. What’s happening before Hugh is about to get up and speak is David is serving as an endorser of Hugh. And so that’s one of the steps in an attempt to come back from a scandal is to receive endorsements from other people.

JULIE ROYS: And these are, you talk about macro-level and sort of micro-level of spiritual abuse. Part of the macro-level is defining the narrative. So, all of this is sort of defining the narrative. But then you talk about sort of using excuses to manage perception. And there is a clip I want to play. And this is where Hugh is speaking. And he’s talking about what happened with this whole scandal that happened at Ole Miss.

HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 17:24)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII

And then my world got rocked in 2017. And all the walls came crumbling down. When what I thought was a private sin that I had struggled with, confessed to my wife, to two of my friends in 2016, what I thought was private and I was dealing with and was in my rear view mirror in the past, when it became public knowledge in July of 2017, and my world crumbled, and the questions started being asked, “Man, Is his faith real? Is his faith genuine?” I began to ask, “Is it possible that you can have a genuine faith and also have a season in your life that you struggle with a sin?” And I start studying scripture. And I find out that it’s true for every single believer. Every single one of us are broken. 

JULIE ROYS: “Every single one of us are broken.” Okay, so Wade, what are you hearing there with Hugh Freeze speaking? 

DR. WADE MULLEN:  It’s an ongoing attempt to define the situation for the audience. And that’s one of the primary goals of somebody who’s trying to control what people are thinking is to define a scandal, something wrong, some kind of offense, for them so they don’t define it themselves. And so, then they can go back to the macro-level of what happens after a scandal. Typically, the first step is the person will seek to distance themselves from the details that might disrupt that definition. And so, calling it a “mistake,” calling it something vague, something ambiguous. There’s a strategic ambiguity that has taken place. Once that definition is established, then the second step is to manage people’s impressions of that. And so, there’s this on-going need to offer up excuses and justifications anytime that definition is challenged, to manage people’s perceptions.  And then the third step is to claim some kind of forgiveness or status that person now feels entitled to. And the last step is to receive endorsements from other people. And that’s sort of the macro-level of those steps that we’re seeing here. The micro level here is just an example regarding this clip is of an attempt to blur those lines of reality. And so, this isn’t something that he’s, from my perspective, that he’s speaking with great, not naming specifically what happened. And so you . . .

JULIE ROYS: And that for me is the big issue. Here he’s been a part of this huge scandal. He’s never spoken publicly. Here, he gets up for the first time to speak publicly. I’m expecting him to own publicly. Not say some private sin and vaguely put it out there and say, “hey, we all make mistakes.” Well, we don’t all call escort services. And we don’t all say when we’re confronted about the escort services, “Oh, I must have misdialed. That’s how that number got on my phone records.” I’m Julie Roys. I’m talking with Dr. Wade Mullen. We’ll be right back. We need to go to a break. But when we do, we’ll be discussing more spiritual abuse, the language of abuse, and how you can detect it. We will be right back after a short break.

3rd Segment

JULIE ROYS: Welcome back to The Roys Report, brought to you in part by Judson University.  I’m Julie Roys.  And today, we’re discussing spiritual abuse, which is just abuse, an abuse of power by someone in spiritual authority. And often that power is expressed through spiritual language. Even Scripture. But instead of using Scripture in context to edify someone, it’s often used to manipulate or even victimize. It’s horribly insidious. And often, it’s quite difficult to identify when it’s happening. And that’s why I’m thrilled to have Dr. Wade Mullen with me today. Wade is an expert on spiritual abuse and the head of the M-Div. program at Capital Seminary and Graduate School. He’s also a keynote speaker at a conference I’m hosting on Saturday, November 2nd, at Judson University called RESTORE Chicago. This entire conference is designed to be a time of healing and restoration for people who have been victims of toxic spiritual systems. It’s also a time of gathering people together who are passionate about restoring the purity of God’s church. So, I hope you’ll consider joining us. For more information on that, just go to RESTOREChicagoConference.com. Also, I want to mention, if you’re just joining the program and want to listen to the entire broadcast, or just want to share it with friends—the entire audio will be available shortly after this broadcast at JulieRoys.com.  Well Wade, before the break, you mentioned that one of the tactics used in spiritual abuse is claiming entitlement. And we were playing some clips from a convocation message that Hugh Freeze, who is this disgraced former Ole Miss football coach who was caught contacting escort services. And here he is, an outspoken Christian. But he comes to Liberty University and is the main speaker at the convocation service, and gives a message that’s very compelling, but has some of these elements that we’ve been looking at. And after sort of vaguely talking, referring to a private sin in his life, then he asks for forgiveness. Listen up. 

HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 23:05)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII

In this room we’re gathered from all different cultures, backgrounds, religions and man, it’s different. You put a team in a room, it’s different. And love is the ability to handle all of those inconveniences. And there’s two sides to that coin. And I found myself on one side where I had to say to the people that I love, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” And today’s really the first day that I can tell the faith family I am sorry. Please forgive me. 

JULIE ROYS: Again, that’s Hugh Freeze. And Wade, I’m just going to throw that to you. What are you hearing there in what Hugh says? 

DR. WADE MULLEN:  Well, this is such a typical moment for anybody who is on the receiving end of a request for forgiveness or a demand for forgiveness. And what I tell people is that you have to go back to the definition itself. Has this person named the wrong? Healing is impossible until the person who has committed the offense is willing and able to rightly name what that offense is. And so, forgiveness is often exploited in an effort to prevent people from going back to that definition or to ask questions about that definition. Because the next step is, once you’re forgiven, is to then say, “Let’s move on. Let’s forget about this. Forgiveness has been granted.” So, I call this the forgiveness credit. So, any time someone that brings something like this up, the person claims that credit. “Forgiveness has been credited to me from God, therefore, you ought to accept that as well.” And it’s such a powerful tactic. And what often people miss is that fact that the wrong has not yet been defined. That truth has not yet been revealed and confessed and discovered. And many times, forgiveness is being used to prevent that discovery of truth. Or to rush past the acknowledgement of that truth that forgiveness is being exploited. 

JULIE ROYS: And that was my issue here. And it was interesting. I went back just this week and had a DM conversation with Hugh Freeze. And asking him—because he’s never said what he exactly did—and he said, for example, he said “I didn’t call escort services. It was something else.” Well, what was it? “Well it was a massage service.” Well that’s interesting, ‘cause all the news reports say, “these are escort services.” And then also asking him, “Why, when you were first confronted for this, why did you say, ‘Oh, I must have misdialed?’” You know, you’re saying that you confessed it. In fact, he does, during this convocation, say that he confessed it actually a year and a half before it became public. Well, if that’s the case, why, when you’re confronted, do you tell reporters something that’s misleading? Why do you tell your own administration something that’s misleading? So, real problem with this. And these poor students at Liberty. They have no idea, probably. I mean, some of them are football fans. But this happened at Ole Miss, you know, in Mississippi. We’re in Virginia. Lynchburg, Virginia. And he’s asking them for forgiveness. They’re not even the ones that he offended. It just seemed like a bizarre setup.  Let me go to another clip where he says, well, let me just play it and I’ll have you comment on it.

HUGH FREEZE: (Playback from Youtube Video at 28:07)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII
I cannot control what people say, what people think, nor can you. But I can make up my mind. And my mind is set. It is settled. My eyes are clear. My heart is full. My feet are pointed forward. And I am looking forward with thanksgiving to what God has for me and my family next because of His great love. And His great forgiveness. 

JULIE ROYS: Wow. I mean, he sounds like a preacher. What’s happening there?

 

DR. WADE MULLEN:  Well, what might be happening, and I see this all the time where somebody is trying to, what he’s trying to do is draw this positive connection to God so that people see him as being positively associated with God. The spiritually abusive person becomes a masterful at drawing these connections. So, I’m connected to God. And often, at the same time they’re saying, you, or those who are talking about me or those who are tweeting about me, those who are raising concerns, they’re connected to something negative. Perhaps evil intent or hatred or even demonic forces. And so, that’s not necessarily what Hugh is doing here, but what he’s doing is he’s drawing these connections to the supernatural. And he’s saying, “I am a recipient of God’s grace, of His forgiveness, I’m a messenger of God to your life.” You know, so this is a powerful tactic within spiritual abuse that’s often used to control people. So, he’s using these different connections. And even shortly after that, he draws a connection between himself and David and Paul. See, what he’s attempting to do is he’s attempting to align himself with those that the audience, he knows that the audience perceives in a positive light.

JULIE ROYS: Well, and I’m sure as you’re listening right now, you’re thinking, “Wow, I’ve heard that before. I’ve seen Christian leaders do that before.” Maybe somebody you know right now who’s in spiritual authority over you is doing that right now. And so, that’s part of the reason why we’re playing these—why we’re going through it—is so that you can identify these things when it happens to you. But this is just an incredible example of what happened, of spiritual abuse, I think. But you’ve gotta stay tuned. Coming up next, you’re going to hear what Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, gets up and says after Hugh Freeze talks. Absolutely stunning. Again, you’re listening to The Roys Report.  I’m Julie Roys speaking today with Wade Mullen. We’ll be right back.

4th Segment:

JULIE ROYS: What do you do when you’ve been the victim of spiritual abuse? Welcome back to The Roys Report. I’m Julie Roys. And today, we’re discussing abuse from those in spiritual authority—and the devastating impact it has on people. And sadly, there are those who love Jesus, but have vowed never to darken the doors of a church again because a pastor, or a priest, somebody who is a Christian leader has abused or  manipulated them. And that’s why this is so damaging. And I’m so glad to have joining me today Dr. Wade Mullen, an expert in spiritual abuse, and the head of the MDiv program at Capital University and Graduate school. Wade also is a keynote speaker at my upcoming conference, RESTORE Chicago. And I urge you, if you haven’t already, think about registering for this event. It’s going to be a powerful day of encouragement, education, and just Holy Spirit-anointed worship. I’m so excited Josh Caterer, someone who used to be a worship leader at Harvest Bible Chapel—this guy knows about spiritual abuse first-hand—he’s going to be joining us and leading worship along with Anne Green, who’s a former worship leader at Harvest as well. She bravely spoke up about some of the abuse happening by pastor, or former Pastor James MacDonald. Also, joining me, Nancy Beach, former teaching pastor at Willow Creek, who was one of several women who spoke out about some of the stuff that was happening with Bill Hybels. It’s just going to be a unique, one-of-a-kind gathering. And I really, really hope that you’re going to be there. It’s incredibly needed right now. So, to get more information, just go to RestoreChicagoConference.com. 

But Wade, before the break, I said I was going to play a clip by Jerry Falwell Jr. And Jerry Falwell got up after Hugh Freeze, again, this disgraced former coach at Ole Miss, who had been found calling escort, multiple escort services, over several years, has to resign because of that. Also, was involved in recruiting violations. He goes dark for six months, gets up and speaks at a Liberty convocation. And you’ve just so beautifully, Wade, outlined what he did and how he did it—to kind of set himself up as a very sympathetic figure that everybody should forgive even though he never names the sin that he did. Never specifically names anything. But at the end of this, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty, gets up and makes what I think is just a stunning statement. So, let me play that and then I’ll allow you to comment on it.

JERRY FALWELL, JR.:  (Playback from Youtube Video at 50:50)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4zq1KO7qII

Dave, I don’t usually chime in. I’m not a pastor on things like this. But I just want to say convocations like this is what makes me so proud of Liberty students. Because so many Christians today, or so-called Christians, read Twitter comments, read any, they’re the most judgmental, unforgiving group of people in the world. And Jesus, Jesus said that, when the crowd wanted to stone the sinner, He said, “Let he who was without sin cast the first stone.” And He said, he said-uh, when He talked about the religious elite, those were the ones that he wasn’t so charitable towards. He said, “they’re a generation of vipers. They’re hypocrites. They may clean the outside of the platter, but inside are ravenous wolves.” And he said, “all of us are sinners.” And he said that if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as if you’ve committed adultery. So, none of us can claim to be any better than the other. But so many so-called Christians, and it get so m- I get so mad reading those comments on Twitter. 

JULIE ROYS: So, Wade, I mean, it sounds to me like if you don’t forgive Hugh Freeze for what he did, even though he hasn’t really offered any specific confession, you’re a brood of viper, right?

DR. WADE MULLEN: Yes. And if you do forgive, then you’re like Jesus.

JULIE ROYS: (Laughter)

DR. WADE MULLEN: Yeah, and that’s where these connections are happening. And so, it’s not just that he’s going after those who might go online and voice their concerns. But he’s also addressing the students there. The students are the audience. So, you have to remember the setting here. So, the students are the audience. So, there’s something that they want from that student body. They want, what I’m hearing, is their support. They want their endorsements. So, this is about endorsement. They want the endorsement of the student body. Hugh is about to become the football coach. They need their endorsement. And so, what they’re putting on is what Erving Goffman, the late Canadian sociologist calls, a team performance. So, you have multiple voice here, which is interesting. So now Jerry Falwell is lending his voice. And so together, they are putting forth a definition. And he’s really now putting the students into one of two camps. And they have, there’s no middle ground. There’s no room for critical thinking even—ironically—in a place of higher learning. And you must either forgive and extend love and grace—and if you do, then you’re the object of my pride, I’m proud of you, you are like Jesus—and if you don’t, you are like the religious leaders who wanted to pick up a stone and kill the woman who was caught in adultery. And this is a powerful, powerful attempt to draw these connections. Again, this is what’s happening. What often people don’t see are these threads. You’ll see, think of the whole thing as like a spider web. And people are weaving this thread, this web. And people find themselves caught in these threads as these connections are being established. Connecting those who are on their side to God, to Jesus, to all the things they might view as positive. And then viewing everybody who might be still uncomfortable with it—is on defense, is still wanting to ask questions—it connects them to everything that is perceived to be wrong in that. And in fact, they might not even be Christians. And so, this is just very effective. And imagine being in that room. Imagine being a student. Imagine being an employee, even, hearing this. What do you do if you have a problem with this? 

JULIE ROYS: You can’t do anything!

DR. WADE MULLEN: You can’t say anything. It’s a setup. Yeah. It’s a setup. So, if you say anything, then you are immediately associated with the religious leaders. Or perhaps even not really a Christian. Someone who’s unforgiving. Someone who has a stone in their hand and simply wants to punish this person.

JULIE ROYS: Well, and I see this on social media anytime I publish a story that, you know, reveals something negative about a Christian leader or institution. I get this stuff all the time. I’m so used to it now. It doesn’t really have any impact. When I heard this to, it reminded me of James MacDonald, the former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel. Back in 2013 he excommunicated a whole bunch of elders for the “sin” of actually coming to the elder board and saying James MacDonald has 12 different characteristics that disqualify him from ministry. And for that, within 24 hours, they were excommunicated. James MacDonald, after a year of trying to do damage control for excommunicating them and calling them, you know, “Satanic to the core,” you know, the things the elders said were just unbelievable. And it’s not working. So, a year later, he gets up and he does what was sort of, as I talked to the 3 elders that he had kind of negotiated this apology, and for them to accept. And he gets up and he does a faux apology. He says, you know, we were kind of wrong, we were kind of too harsh on them when we had discipline, but you know, it was necessary, but the way we did it was wrong. It’s kind of like we were wrong in the way we were right. But then when he was done, it was like, okay, I’m done, I’ve asked for forgiveness and it’s all good now. And it’s the same thing, you know, I’ve see this happen with disgraced pastor after disgraced pastor who should be disqualified for what they did. But instead they come out, they cry crocodile tears, or they say some—and now, we’re supposed to allow them back into ministry. And that’s not biblical, is it Wade?

DR. WADE MULLEN: No, it isn’t. Because, because again, you go back to the definition here. I would say, go back to the definition. And when you look at the details, the details often disrupt that definition. And so, what is often revealed is that this isn’t simply a personal matter. This is a community matter. And so, it’s not just about what this person deserves or what even would be good for this person. It’s about what the community needs and what is good for the protection of this group of people. And so often, we miss some of that because the abuse of people are defining everything for us.

JULIE ROYS: Hmm. I want to spend our last few minutes talking about how to recover from this. Because I know that there are people listening who have been on the receiving end of this. And maybe they’re still at the church, or Christian organization. They’re still under it. But some of them have left. And now they’re—and I’ve heard this from so many people who say, “Man, I just feel so stupid. Like, I don’t even trust my spiritual discernment anymore. I was for years at this place where somebody was lying to me where somebody was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I didn’t even get it. So, I don’t even trust myself to go back to a church, to pick a church.” And a lot of them choose—and ad this is what’s so sad—they choose isolation. And I get it. But that’s not a place of healing either, is it?

DR. WADE MULLEN: It’s not. And to go back to the image that I used at the beginning of our time together of the garden, it would be very normal and natural for someone who’s experienced that pit open up and eat them, to never want to enter into a garden again. Not every garden has a pit below it, so to speak. And however, there are places, there are people, there are communities that are healthy, that are life-giving, that are for your good. And how do you enter back into that? And at the same time, you’re wrestling with the memory of what happened when you last did that. And so, I think we need to give space for that and appreciate how difficult that is. But it’s helping people begin to see the signs. And so often, evil is going to use language, words of coercion. And sometimes that shows up as flattery. Sometimes that shows up in offers to help. Sometimes that shows up in favors and gifts. So, and sometimes we call these kinds of behaviors, “grooming behaviors.” And so, you can learn to identify these signs and be wary of what is happening when you see that. And one of my favorite quotes to help us understand this comes from a man named Joseph Brodsky who was exiled by the Soviet Union. And I don’t have the quote in front of me, but he said something of the effect—to a group of students—that we think evil is going to come through our doors wearing big black boots. He says it doesn’t come like that—it shows up on the language—look at the language. And so, I think people can learn to identify indicators of abusive behavior (inaudible) in other people’s language, through charming behavior, through flattering speech, that kind of thing. And can listen to that, when you hear that, and wonder, “Is something off here?” And so, I think somebody can enter into a new community and have eyes to see. And they can use that as a way to protect them. But hopefully, they’ll find that there are people out there who aren’t objectifying them, aren’t seeing them as a target to be used, but actually want to love them in a sacrificial way. And so, as a person begins to trust again and begins to experience that, I think that can have a powerful healing effect on them.

JULIE ROYS: Yeah, absolutely. And Wade, I want to thank you for helping us do that today—identify the language and be able to identify what’s going on. And I just want to remind us Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” And I know it’s so hard when someone in spiritual authority abuses us. Because for many of us, that person was a father figure—or even represented Christ and the church to us. And now, we’re left reeling and alienated from the very people and institutions that can help us. And even though God’s heart, it breaks for us, sometimes we’re afraid to trust again. We’re afraid to even trust God. I think God gets that. And I think He says today He wants to gather you into His arms. I hope you’ll be open to that. Again, thanks again to Dr. Wade Mullen for joining me today. And just a reminder, if you missed any part of this show, you can get the full audio at JulieRoys.com. Hope you have a great weekend and God bless!  

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