Spiritual abuse of children -adult memories

Jesus CampAs a non-evangelical, I have often had serious concerns about the so-called ‘conversion’ process. When I have attended big rallies led by evangelists, it has always worried me that some people make decisions, supposedly for Christ, in an atmosphere of high emotion. It would appear that this kind of manipulative emotion was used extensively at Peniel church, notably with children at a summer camp when they were away from their parents and also in the church school. The testimonies given to the Langlois report are evidence of the way that extreme emotional manipulation was experienced by these children and then recalled by them as adults. I think my reader will agree that what is being described is simply emotional and spiritual abuse. The leader, Carolyn Linnecar had presumably been using these methods at summer camps for Peniel children for many years. It did not appear to have given her wisdom or any kind of insight into the emotional issues involved when piling pressure on children to be converted. I have taken a number of sections from the report which demonstrate that the writers were a people of considerable stamina and independent spirit. Our hearts go out to those who were never able to process the horrors of these abusive acts. But even the strongest among them found it difficult to resist the enormous pressure put on them by these particular evangelical conversion techniques. These accounts are enormously valuable because I am unaware of any published material of this kind in Christian literature. We must hope that some of those who use these pressure techniques will read these accounts and discover what it feels like to be at the receiving end of this kind of emotional and spiritual rape. I can think of no other word with which to describe the combination of violence and degradation with which these children were treated.

From the Langlois report 2015

810. After four or five meetings in a row like this you would feel like a total wretch, utterly worthless, totally destroyed, and you would have done anything to be saved. Right at the very end of the last meeting there would be an altar call, and the children would flood to the front, weeping, desperate to be cleansed from the rot inside. It was such a ridiculous show. I was one of them, year after year, driven to the point of hysteria and begging God to save me. Each time I would think, this is the one that will make a difference, this is the time that I’ll finally be saved. Sometimes I’d be shaking a bit and I would think maybe that was the Holy Spirit running through me, I’d think if I cried enough I might be saved, I’d desperately listen out for any sign that it had worked. But every time, once I finally stopped crying, I had to admit to myself that nothing had changed. All the children would go round asking the people who’d answered the call, did you get saved? Did it work? And I would have to confess, shamefully, that again I felt no different. It was a horrible rejection, I had felt terrible, I had reached rock bottom, I had answered the call despite it being extremely difficult to make the move up to the platform in front of everyone, I had put my hands up in the air, I had sung as loud as I could, I had done everything I could, and I was still not wanted.

811. By my last camp I was so fed up with this same old routine that I decided I would not be pressured into answering the altar call. This turned out to be the most emotion-driven meeting I had seen yet, and when Carolyn asked people to come to the front, everyone but about ten of us responded. She completely ignored the children who had responded, and stared at me and the other children who had stayed in their seats for a long time, repeating over and over that it wasn’t too late to come down, but in a very threatening tone. She spoke as if we were defying her by not moving, it was almost a standoff to see who would give in first.

848. As well as being prone to preaching at individuals from the platform, Carolyn also took a large proportion of the responsibility for preaching at school camp. Her preaching was mostly very condemnatory and would terrify or guilt trip most of the girls into a very emotionally-fraught
‘conversion’ experience. This would be repeated every year. Having been denied proper sleep or food for a week (because we were looking after so many small children), we were subjected to an emotionally-charged last meeting of camp, where Carolyn would often turn on the tears to elicit a hysterical response. Most of us felt forced to stay in the meeting and react in the expected manner, otherwise we felt that we would be in rebellion against God’s will for our lives and we might never get another chance to be saved. We believe that Carolyn and Peter must have understood the power that they held over us in that setting, as Peter even said that school camp was the opportunity to take children away from their parents and their normal routine in order to get them to meet with God.

866. The fallout from our time at Peniel is ongoing. I have several close friends who have struggled with severe mental illness, induced largely by the stress and manipulation of growing up in the controlling environment of Peniel. I do what I can to support them and to be a friend to them, but I find it heartbreaking to watch them struggle. Especially as one friend feels like there is no forgiveness for her and that she has to ‘fix’ everything. An apology can’t fix them, but it can reassure them that they aren’t to blame for their own difficulties. As it is, there’s been a deafening silence from the ministry. One of these friends started to suffer with mental illness when we were at school. We reported her strange behaviour on several occasions, but it wasn’t until the second time that she said she wanted to kill herself that the school decided to act. The ministry team never even bothered to offer her prayer. Many other friends have sought therapy to help them to deal with issues from their past and many of us have suffered from bouts of depression, with some even considering suicide. Given that many of us spent our entire childhoods in Peniel, we have no prior experience. One of my friends put it well when he said that, “It’s like everything we’ve ever known is a lie”.

905. Assemblies with Sammy Mansewitsch. What felt like hour upon hour of being screamed at, and then of having to scream out loud to God – being told that I wasn’t God’s, being told that all I wanted was for a ‘big black man to have sex with me behind a bush in Southend’, being told that there was nothing I could do to stop going to hell. I could go on and on. I had horrendous nightmares during these years. It was very harmful. Michael Reid was just as bad. Being stood up in assemblies and being publicly humiliated for perceived wrongs. Being told over and over again that you have a bad attitude, that you have a ‘foul spirit’. I’m sure I wasn’t perfect at school, just a normal unregenerate child. However, it wasn’t just Michael Reid, teachers seemed very quick to pick up on which child was out of favour, then treating them harshly to back up what was coming from the top.

907. Church services were an ordeal too. Hour upon hour of seeking God, so much time wasted in prayer lines asking for healing that never came, trying so desperately to summon up some emotion, listening to destructive sermons, hearing people being torn down. I could go on. Spiritually and emotionally I felt destroyed there. Never once did I really feel loved, not by God, and certainly not by any of the staff! It is very hard for a child to accept God loves them when they feel rejected by the people who are meant to represent God.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

One thought on “Spiritual abuse of children -adult memories

  1. You’re right, you need a strong stomach. I’ve experienced something like it, but not to this extent. The church I was brought up in was not like this at all, and the Baptist church into which I was baptised wasn’t either. But they did accept preaching from people who were a bit far out. And then there’s the evangelical wing of the CofE. Over-emphasising the thought that we are all sinful does enormous harm. Incidentally, I doubt that these two characters did understand the pressures they were bringing to bear. Most people who rant and rave and use stock phrases straight from certain books without thinking about what they mean are pretty thick. What horrifies me, is how many stupid and not very well educated people are let loose on churches! The CofE, too. And this is a good example of how much harm stupid people can do.

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