It was recently suggested that this blog does not address the issue of how to help people move on from the experience of being abused in a Christian setting. I want, in this post, to address this problem and suggest that every post which analyses and discusses this topic is, in fact, a potential tool for healing. I feel that Chris will agree with the statement that it is of vital importance to have a traumatic experience interpreted and understood as the first stage on its way to being healed.
My role as an Anglican clergyman over forty years has left me with competent pastoral skills but I am, of course, aware of the specialist training that is needed by therapists to help the thousands of people who want to recover from cults and cultic experiences. Such training is more likely to be offered in the States than in the UK. Of the people that I spoke to at the Washington cultic conference last July, almost all of them appeared to be therapists who had themselves been former members of abusive groups. Being able to offer therapy to other sufferers appeared, for this group, to be a help in dealing with the trauma of their own cultic involvement. I am probably over-estimating this preponderance of therapists, but there seemed very few who, like myself, were concerned simply to understand more about these issues without a background of former cult membership. Whatever my reason for being involved in this whole area, I have been made me realise that my own role is different from the therapist role. My path, and I believe the task of this blog is, first of all, to try to make people in the wider church aware that this is an important issue. It has to be addressed theologically, pastorally and politically (in a church context). This can be done in a very small way by feeding relevant information and opinion into this blog. I also have a role, in a very small way, to help sufferers that I encounter to know that their pain is understood and normally falls into a recognisable pattern. This is the stage in the healing process that this blog addresses. The various therapists that I have met at my conferences would be, I believe, grateful for any help they can receive in offering their clients fresh levels of interpretation and understanding. What I offer and have offered, is not therapeutic in the ordinary psychological sense, but it is therapeutic in that it offers, hopefully, fresh understanding and insight – the first stage in the healing process..
In writing this, I am reminded of a phone call that came to me in a roundabout way from someone who wanted to come to terms with a bad experience in a cultic church in Sussex. At the time I was in the process of writing an article about the way that the charismatic culture is often infected by leaders who have what is known as a narcissistic personality disorder. As my caller began to describe the antics of the minister of his church, I interrupted in a way that would be totally inappropriate for a professional therapist. I said to him, ‘let me try and complete this description’. I then reflected back to him the classic description of a narcissist in charge of a congregation that I was putting on to the page. You could hear the excitement and pleasure in his voice as I, without being told, seemed to know exactly what was going on in his church. The further comments that I went to make were practical ones and the whole conversation probably had little formal therapeutic content. My caller was, however, enormously empowered by realising two things. First I understood what he was describing about his experiences in his church. Secondly the dynamics of the church he was describing fitted into a predictable pattern. I remember him describing the way the minister of his church had an inner circle of ‘groupies’ who surrounded the minister and had special access to him. These inner circle members then became distant to the ordinary members of the congregation. I was able to indicate that this was merely a method of enhancing control by the leader. The inner circle group were given privileges and in return they protected the leader from having to engage with the mundane day to day matters of the congregation. His messianic status needed by his narcissistic personality could thus remain undisturbed.
Empowerment through understanding is, I believe, one – indeed the first – part of healing. What comes after that will depend very much on the situation that the abused sufferer finds himself in. Some will need intensive therapy, others will gradually recover through being part of a middle of the road congregation where one or other of the abusive practices that we have identified in previous posts do not occur. While being part of ‘ordinary’ non abusive churches, one hope is that the abused individual may meet a pastorally competent minister who will be able to teach once again the basic attitudes required of a Christian. These would include the ability to love, the capacity to forgive and the readiness to grow in prayer and to learn. The most important thing is that none of the experiences of abuse are repeated in this place of safety. English Athena referred to parishes for abused clergy where they were safe. Finding a safe place ranks alongside the acquiring of new insight and relevant information as the vital prerequisite to real healing.
I would like to think that this blog is one place of safety for those who have been through bad experiences of Christian abuse somewhere in the past. It cannot by definition provide a personal place of safely as my readers do not necessarily make themselves known. The most vulnerable and battered are probably the least likely to comment publically. But it is my hope that the task of healing can begin through reading material that shows understanding of the issues. If the intellect can make sense of events that have taken place in the past, then the emotions have a better chance to recover. In the past, my small part in the process of healing for abused individuals has been to say to them after a conversation. ‘This event that has left you demoralised and damaged, does fit into a predictable pattern. It makes a lot of sense. Now that you have some handle on what has happened to you, you can draw on this new insight. When you go to a pastorally competent person or a professional therapist, you can explain to them coherently what has happened to you. They will understand and they should be able to take you on to the next stage in your healing.’
The healing needed after an encounter with Christian abuse can never happen through a web-site or a blog. What a blog can do is to suggest patterns of understanding and interpretative tools to make sense of things that used to make no sense. That is what this blog tries to do. In these posts, based on my reading and my experience, some clarity may possibly be found which may be of use not only to the abused but to those who want to help them. That is my earnest hope.