Last week I announced the upcoming release of my new book, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church (Zondervan, 2022). The book releases on November 1st.
As a lead up to the book release, I am launching a new blog series entitled, “5 Misconceptions about Spiritual Abuse.” In my research for the book, it became quite evident that people have a lot of misunderstandings of spiritual abuse, how it manifests itself in the church, and how it should be addressed. Some of these are rather innocent misunderstandings, and others perhaps less innocent. Either way, it is important that they be addressed for the health of the church.
We begin with perhaps the biggest misconception: “Loving the church means you don’t call out her problems.”
When it comes to the issue of abuse, it’s been a rough stretch for the church. The last decade has not only seen a rise in cases of spiritual abuse—Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, James MacDonald to name a few—but it seems we are hearing about more and more cases, including those of sexual abuse. Beyond the high-profile cases of Ravi Zacharias and Bill Hybels, we have the 6-part Houston Chronicle series, and now the newly released SBC report, showing the problem is much more extensive than anyone even knew.
Every time we think we’ve seen the full scope of the abuse problem, it seems we discover the iceberg just goes deeper below the surface than we even realized.
In light of such revelations, we might hope for the church to respond like Nehemiah, “Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses” (Neh 1:6-7).
And, some in the church have had precisely this response. For instance, I was so encouraged by those in the SBC who chose to waive attorney-client privilege and move toward full disclosure and full repentance.
But, strangely, there’s also been another reaction afoot. Rather than a move towards repentance, others have moved towards a posture of defensiveness. Rather than expressing concern about the abuse, concern is expressed about those who call out the abuse. To speak out against abuse in the church is seen as uncharitable, divisive, and even as evidence that a person doesn’t really love the church as they ought.
In other words, if you really love the church you don’t point out her problems.
Let me say that I understand the concern behind such an approach. We believe the church is vital in the life of every believer, so we don’t want to dissuade people from being involved. And, it’s easier than we think to become disillusioned and jaded about the church. We have to be careful we don’t slide, perhaps imperceptibly, from constructive critiques toward unbridled cynicism.
Yet, the opposite problem is a danger too. Fear over unbridled cynicism has caused some to put on the blinders, refusing to see and acknowledge the problems that are really there. We can convince ourselves that loving the church means we keep our mouths shut about her weaknesses.
But, I think that’s a deeply problematic approach. It falters in three ways: personally, biblically, and practically. [Continue reading]