Friday, June 1, 2012

Commenter Asks: Is Church Safe Anymore?

A few admin notes first:

Lois from has graciously offered 5 (and possibly a few more) books of the book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, by David Johnson (not the same David who has commented here) and Jeff VanVonderen to my readers.  All she needs is your address (this offer is good for those in US only).  Here is where you can reach Lois:  Contact Page  Her e-mail address is at the bottom left of the page.   Learning about spiritual abuse is be so helpful in the recovery process.  Please contact Lois if you are interested.  I've read this book and it is good.   Thank you so much, Lois!!

When I first was served the subpoena, I reached out to people on the internet who had dealt with spiritual abuse for help.  One person was Barb Orlowski who reads and comments here.  Barb put me in contact with a group of people, some who have gone through tragic stories of abuse themselves, and others who have become experts in the field of spiritual abuse and are writing books, counseling, maintaining spiritual websites offering resources, etc.   I am so grateful that these people have reached out to me in my darkest days.   Lois found me when someone posted our story on her Facebook wall and then contacted me.  It's great to be a part of this wonderful caring and supportive network of friends who are trying to help people recover from the insanity that is going on in some churches.

I've read a lot of personal e-mails - some only a paragraph or two, others pages long.  I feel so honored that some of you have trusted me with your story - perhaps the story that you may not have told anyone before.  That is so powerful.  I make it my top priority to respond to each e-mail, but because of time constraints, I may not be the best support person for you.  

Please utilize this site in the comments section as well.  This really can be a virtual support group.  When you see someone reaching out and posting their painful story, be sure to respond and give encouragement.  Others will do the same for you.  I've said it before and now have witnessed it in my e-mail box - the most powerful thing someone who has gone through spiritual abuse is to tell their story.  It's interesting how someone will send me their story, intending it to be only a couple paragraphs, but then apologize at the end of the e-mail by saying they didn't mean for it to be so long and they haven't ever told anyone this before.  That's powerful - all of those emotions and stories had been penned up and now they are free.  Beautiful!  Keep talking, friends.

Oh, that brings me to another thing.  So many of you are using the Anonymous option when commenting.  That's fine.  I want you to feel completely safe without having to disclose your identity here.  But I want to let you know of another option.  You can remain anonymous in your comments by creating a pseudonym.   This way, we can attribute your story to you without you giving away your true identity, but you and your story won't be lost in the pool of "Anonymous" posters.  I'd greatly appreciate it if you could do this.  I don't care what you call yourself:  Fred Flinstone works :)  Here is what the comment screen looks like.  Just click on Name/URL.  

After you click on Name/URL, you will see this screen:

Just type your new name:  ie, "Fred Flinstone" and then leave the URL field blank.  Ta-da!  You now have an identity.  I have no way of knowing who you are.  Blogger does not disclose ISP or any kind of personal identifiers to me.

Ok, this is what I really want to discuss.  I read this comment from RB earlier this week and it's a comment that tugged at my heart:

Julie Anne: I have meditated on this post and the responses, as well as studying the Book of James as sets forth many benchmarks in this area.

The retaliatory actions by Beaverton Grace Bible Church against you and your family, and to significant numbers of members of other Christian churches who have been arbitrarily and harshly "disfellowshipped", "excommunicated", "shunned", sued for alleged defamation, and mentally abused by totalitarian-focused church leaders, have deeply troubled me.

I will not deny that your story, compounded by dozens of other stories of church abuse that I have begun learning about, has left me very worried about the possibility that my own church - which at this time seems to have a relatively "sane" approach to member relations - could at an unknown point in the future be "taken over" by devotees of ecclesiastical totalitarianism (which would be my polite characterization of the governance practiced at BGBC).

I have actually started losing sleep at night lately worrying about the proliferation of extremely radical, dogmatic, in-your-face theology in American churches that underscores the notion that the decisions and teachings of a pastor and church elders cannot under any circumstances be questioned or challenged.

Frankly, the whole topic of "abusive churches" is starting to raise some painfully difficult questions for myself, as to whether any Christian faith community is a "safe place" for learning and practicing basic discipleship skills as taught in the Bible.

Maybe I'm over-reacting, but just had to get this off of my chest. -RB
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Matthew 9:36

RB, I think you are raising valid questions and thank you for sharing what you've been thinking about and losing sleep over.  I get it and I know my friend Michelle does as well.  We've been talking a lot behind the scenes with others and we are wondering the same thing.    How can people find a good church?  It used to be that we primarily focused on doctrinal statement (true story, I did not read the doctrinal statement of my former church, but left that to my husband).  Having been a military wife with a lot of moves, we know that time is precious and always tried to settle in a new church quickly, so there were things I would look for.  Now, thinking back on that list, they were superficial issues - my I've learned much along the way.  I think we can all agree that there are no perfect churches.  But . . .

Are there any safe churches?  How can we find them? 
What do we look for when trying to find a good church?
How can you determine if the pastor is a godly shepherd?  
How do we know if our pastors are even aware of the problem of spiritual abuse?  
Are they concerned about it? 
Is there something we can do to help our current church be aware of this growing problem?  
Are their safeguards in place to keep pastors/elders accountable?  

Are you feeling the same way as RB?  How are you working this out in your life?

If you have more questions to add, please post a comment and I'll keep adding to this list of questions, but most importantly, let's talk.   

For the record, I currently have a church home.  My pastor is keenly aware of spiritual abuse (and told me some of his background and connections with a legalistic church) and my case.  I'm sure I will have more discussions with him.  I was dropping my kids off for their standardized testing this week and he came up to me and asked how things were going.   I'm liking him more each time we meet.  He has jokingly said that he is going to keep an eye on his church's Google reviews and I jokingly asked him if he had a hidden recording device in his plant on the bookshelf.  I didn't see any :)

* * * * *Last-Minute Update!!!!

It looks like my former church has done more changes on the church website - this time on the press release.   I didn't notice this change, but another blogger did.  Read about it at the FBC Jax Watchdog site.  Good detective work, Watchdog!


  1. Thanks, Julie Anne, for sharing the book offer with your readers. Five people have sent in requests, but I will still have more copies to give away. I will try and notify you when I can no longer supply copies.

    The link you gave to Amazon, what associate program is that linked to? In other words, if people purchase anything through that link, who gets a small percentage from the sales? I noticed it had a referring number in it. People might like to know.

    1. Ok, good. Thanks, Lois. I will remove the note when you say the word.

      I thought I just went to Amazon and looked up the book and provided the link. I know nothing about a referral number. How do I find this out? I mainly linked so that people could read the reviews. Hmm, reviews - here we go again . . . . lol

  2. Very interesting about Chuck O'Neal changing his press release. Very interesting indeed.

    I have never met the man, but the things he has written make him seem like a hothead.

  3. "How can people find a good church?"

    If I were looking for new church, there a few things to look for from day one:

    1. Ask the pastor for a financial statement for the church. This will give you an idea about the church's openess with regard to financial matters and who controls the purse. If you get anything other than an affirmative response, then be wary. When I asked the pastor from our last church for such an item he not only refused to provide such, but also tried to turn the subject around to make me seem to be the one with "accountability issues."

    2. Ask to have the elders of the church identified and ask how they become elders. If it has anything to do with the pastor having an overiding voice in the selection of other leaders in the church. Elders need to be chosen from amongst the local body - not out of state buddies of the pastor - which I ran into in the last church.

    These are the two "biggies" for me, and there may be more that others can bring to the table, but if these two are cloudy - then I would consider going elsewhere. Thanks and God Bless.

  4. There are plenty of good churches out there. No church is perfect because people are imperfect.

    Our faith should not be based on imperfections in churches but in a perfect and holy God. That's where our focus should be. Definitely find a good church, but keep your eyes on Jesus.

    Good churches are Bible-based and growing, both in numbers and in the spiritual maturity of the members. Things that aren't so important include whether the organ is played or the whether hymns are sung vs. praise songs or the dang color of the carpet in the sanctuary.

    Christians ought to be pushing each other to fresh faith. Instead, we sometimes eat our own. Rather than feel discouraged or grumpy about this, I resolved a couple of years ago to do the former and invite others to come along with me.

    To all of you struggling with your relationship with the Lord because of a bad relationship with a church, I want to encourage you that He loves you. God loves you more than you know.

    1. KB - You are so right - sometimes we can get caught up into the hymns only, or particular version of the Bible and perhaps even color of the carpet. These are secondary issues. We need to get back to our first love and the rest of the "stuff" seems to fall into place. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. The part about the press release deserves a blog entry of its own!!! WOW.

    1. FBC Jax Watchdog has a good handle on it. The comments are especially good. I don't think I have read anything that is off there.

  6. Just wanted to say that the book, "subtle power of spiriual abuse" is a really great book. I highly recommend it, as does my husband....

  7. Anyone that asks whether the "church" is a safe place to raise a family should watch this video. I agree that God seems to be calling His true church out of the institutional religious system. See why by watching this video. Very informative:

  8. I'm hardly an expert on this, but here goes:

    I would say that a mark of a healthy church is that it teaches *and actually acts upon* the concept of the priesthood of all believers. A church that believes that all of its members can hear and know God without a "professional" intermediary.

    I know there's a lot more to it than that, but it's a start.

  9. Find out how staff are hired -- by the pastor, or by a lay committee elected by congregation. Are the lay leaders selected by the congregation or by the staff. Zero staff involvement is ideal, although a pastor should have the ability to recommend the worship leader and in larger churches, upper level associate pastors.

    Does the pastor moderate any business meetings that are held and how ofter are they held. Lay moderator and frequent congregational meetings (quarterly at least) are signs of a participatory democracy wherein the congregants, hopefully led by the Holy Spirit, are making the decisions, and not a dictatorial pastor directly or through his appointed underlings.

  10. Acts 6:3
    Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

    The above verse was in regards to Stephen and others to be Overseer's (Superintendents) of feeding the widows. Notice part of the prerequisite, that they must be of HONEST REPORT?

  11. This is excellent advice, Ken! As the often lone atheist commenter on Julie Anne's blog, I just want to mention that I really think it's important for ALL of us, Christians, Jews, atheists, etc. to welcome and invite communication and even friendship with those whose beliefs differ from our own. To hide one's self and one's family within an enclave of people who believe the exact same thing you do -- and who actively and collectively reject those who are different -- does nothing at all to promote what Jesus preached -- love, community, and an open, learning spirit. I think that none of this would have happened to Julie Anne and that spiritual abuse would not even be possible if members of any church were encouraged to establish and nurture relationships with people of many different faiths. NOT to proselytize to them, but simply to connect with them on a human level, to find out what makes them tick, to try to understand their hearts, and to find a place of connection, in spite of different religious beliefs.

    Julie Anne and I share almost no religious beliefs, but we completely share the knowledge and experience of being wives and mothers, we share a similar interest in childbirth issues, and we have even lived in the same town. We have at least as much in common in so many ways, as we have differences.

    I'll bet that Chuck hates that Julie Anne and I are friends. I'll bet he thinks that being my friend makes her a "worse" Christian. But really, doesn't it make her MORE Christ-lie to welcome a friendship with "someone like me"?

    1. Carol, I assure you, you are not the lone atheist on this blog nor in my private e-mails :)

      hugs, friend!!

  12. Just something for all of us to remember: Trying to convert an atheist to Christianity is like trying to convert a Christian to believing that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is holy, the creator of the universe, and the purpose to everything in life. Either way, it's probably a grand waste of time... right?! That time is better spent, in my opinion, discussing and concentrating on the things that bind us and that touch everyone deeply, no matter their religious beliefs (or lack thereof): family, friendships, love, ideas, joys, sorrows, etc.

    The amount of energy Chuck is spending on being divisive and reclusive and judgmental could be spent getting to really know someone like me, to exploring our similarities, and to finding a place of shared purpose. If only he looked, I promise, a commonality COULD be found. But instead, he chooses to be oh, so UN-Christ-like and spread intolerance and rejection.


    1. Good evening Carol. I'm a christian and I wanted to answer your rhetorical question if I may.

      Carol said " Trying to convert an atheist to Christianity is like trying to convert a Christian to believing that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is holy, the creator of the universe, and the purpose to everything in life. Either way, it's probably a grand waste of time... right?!"

      I can totally see how the odds would look, Getting an atheist to convert to Christianity, or ANYONE to believe that message...right? (An impossible feat) The bible addresses this issue in the book of 1 Corinthians 1:18-21 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God For it is written:
      “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe."
      The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. Unless God draws someone, they are unable to believe such a message. In Ezekiel the 36 God tells us HE will give us a new heart. He will cause us to obey His statutes. But there is the other side of this beautiful coin, Jesus says in John 6 "He who comes to me I will in no way cast out." We have to cry out to God to save us. We would NEVER chose God, John 3:19 says And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world (Jesus is the Light), and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. God says "Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3 Carol, if what we as Christians believe is TRUE, that man is sinful and worthy of condemnation, and that God is HOLY HOLY HOLY and is a Just Judge who cannot pardon us sinners, that no amount of good could ever outweigh our crime against this Holy God. Also, that if a man doesn't repent from his sins and believe that Jesus, fully God, fully man, perfectly sinless, died a criminals death on the cross defeated death and rose again bodily. Believing that one day He will in fact return for those that call on His name, if he doesn't believe on THIS Lord Jesus Christ, he will receive the just punishment of eternal hell. Again Carol, if this is TRUE. Wouldn't you want to be warned? How UNLOVING, and un-Christ-like would I be if I just didn't tell you? Didn't warn you as snatching you from the fire. To be Christ-like is to share the truth in love. Christ himself commanded all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. I have friends and family who are not Christians, but as the Holy Spirit leads, I MUST share this with them, BECAUSE I love them too much not to.

    2. Larissa, you just concisely laid out the mystery of the gospel for us there. I believe everything you wrote is true. One more biblical piece of the mystery: "The person who has yet to be born of the Spirit does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). It's the Spirit that opens our eyes up to the reality of God. The initiative is with Him.

      We love him because He first loved us. We come to know and choose Him because He foreknew and chose us in Christ before He even created the universe. When we hear the invitation of the Father to be His Eternal Children, all we have to do is call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and we shall be saved, made whole, made one with the Eternal God of the universe. The Father initiates and seals the deal by giving us His Holy Spirit.

    3. Larissa, thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I know it comes from a good place in your heart.

      But please, allow me to speak for atheists for a moment here. To support your stance, you quote from a book that has NO meaning to me(except as historical literature. That is akin to me quoting the Koran to you and using it for why you should convert to Islam. If the book being used has NO meaning to me, why would you use it as "proof" for why I should believe anything in it?

      Second, there's no need to "snatch me from the fire." See, I don't believe in hell OR heaven. And to tell you the truth, I can't think of any worse way to spend eternity than among a group of people who believe that there way is the ONLY way and their truth is the ONLY truth. If there is an eternity, I'd rather spend it with Jews, atheists, gays, and all the many other groups who aren't welcome in "your" heaven without first converting to your beliefs. So, right from the beginning, your attempt to "save" me is futile and unnecessary. In fact, it's insulting to my intelligence and an infringement upon MY right to believe what *I* want to believe, thankyouverymuch.

      I am happy to have a respectful conversation here, but I really do get a bit peeved at the double standard. YOU want me to be a Christian and you believe it's your role to help me "see the light," but if *I* wanted you to become a Jew or an atheist, you'd want me to leave you alone to your own religious beliefs. That is all I ask of you. There is no "saving" for us atheists. Please stop trying. It's insulting.

      Instead, maybe try Julie Anne's approach: simply be our friend. Have coffee with us. Ask about our kids. Take a craft or a cooking class with us. Get to know us -- WITHOUT the mandate that you must convert us. Maybe god wants your "work" with us to be simply the act of being our friend. That's about the most Christ-like behavior I can think of.

      (PS: Jesus sounds like he was a great man. I think he's be royally pissed at the things -- like spiritual abuse... not to mention WARS -- that happen in his name.)

    4. Carol - this is why you are my friend. You have always shown respect (and I know you will understand me when I use the "spiritual" word) and "grace" in your responses. I, too, am sure that Larissa was genuine in her comment to you - she's doing what she was taught by her pastor/church, how she reads the Bible, etc.

      I have to tread carefully here because this is a topic where Christians disagree. You are right that if someone came to proselytize at our doors, most of us Christians (Jehovah's Witness, LDS, Muslim, atheist, etc), would not appreciate it. Some may try to "witness" to them, but most would probably say, "not interested".

      In our former church, people did go out and evangelize. I'm toying with the idea of posting about it. I've had people send me e-mails of copies of comments and links where people have said they did not appreciate the evangelizing efforts of our former church - they are posting about it online. It was not uncommon for the evangelism teams to go to the mall and be escorted out by security because it is not permitted there . . . yet they go back again and again knowing the rules. Is that respectful? It didn't matter whether there was a "no solicitors" sign on the door or outside an apartment complex, they knocked. I find that disrespectful, too. They would call that "being persecuted for Christ's sake". I have much more to say on this.

      Of course, Carol, I wish I could call you my sister in Christ. I hope that I always do represent Christ to you. However, I trust in a God who is Sovereign and who calls those He has chosen unto Himself (David beautifully addressed this aspect in his 2nd paragraph.) You know where to find me should that day come :)

      I'm proud to call you my friend, Carol, and although I am sad you are seeing some of the ugly side of Christianity as I share my story and you read the stories of others, I know, too, that you are seeing something beautiful here, too. You have always been able to see things very clearly.

  13. Regarding the questions:

    What do we look for when trying to find a healthy church?
    How can we determine if the pastor is a godly shepherd?

    I think as Spirit-filled believers we can trust our heart, trust that the Holy Spirit will direct us to the church He wants us call home, to the family we may regard as our own. For the sake of family, I’d probably encourage a person toward a smaller, rather than larger church. Or if it’s a larger church make sure they have small home groups with good soil where your roots might be nurtured and take hold. The larger churches in my experience impressed me with a sense of impersonal coldness.

    One thing I’d stress is: Don’t confuse grand effusions of love as a sign of a healthy church. The cults are known for their tactic of “love bombing.” Also, if you see a proud and dogmatic man in the pulpit, this should be evidence enough against the church being healthy. Move on. In fact, the Holy Spirit may direct us through a chain (notice how this word rings with the sound of bondage) of bad churches to help train our discernment toward appreciating what a healthy place of worship looks and feels like. Is there Joy there. Is there grace and peace and love there? How does my heart feel? Condemned? Goodness Christian, “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ.” But at the same time, Do you feel inspired and even at times convicted? `Cause there are many wishy-washy feel-good churches that do little to convict us toward the call of righteousness and holiness upon our lives. But How is this conviction effected? Does it come from a transparent, humble minister who is about building the body of Christ up, as opposed to tearing them down? Trying to control and dominate them?

    Here, earlier
    , Thy Peace, posted:

    Wade Burleson > Lessons in Dealing with a Disgruntled Member.

    I don’t know much of Pastor Wade or his church beyond his personal testimonial on how he handled a disgruntled member. But as I read it these were the thoughts that were exploding like fireworks inside my heart:

    What a model of true shepherding! What grace! What love! What humble transparency and affirmation! What a man? I thought of how I would measure him if I were a new Christian. I would think: Is Jesus like him? I want to be his friend. I definitely want to know more about this man and his church. My family may very well be blessed by supporting him as our pastor.

    Wade wrote (after discovering a dissent group within the church who were questioning his pastoral leadership): “I had to settle in my mind and heart that my goal could never be to prevent, control or dominate these people in any form or fashion. Jesus came to set people free, and that means disgruntled church members should be free to dissent and disagree with their pastor - and tell others of it! And, I should be free to accept it as from the Lord... As pastor, I see every event, even the difficult ones, as God refining my character.”

    One of the concluding things Wade said to his disgruntled brother: “Please know that your disagreement with the pastor of Emmanuel is not only all right, it is healthy. The main thing you should know is that you have every right to question me.”

    1. Thank you, David. I appreciate your comments. I was just speaking to someone today about our experience of being "love-bombed" and how it drew us into the church. So much of what you wrote about rings true to me.

      I, too, appreciate the intimacy and growth of small groups and if they are healthy, they can be wonderful. However, just like churches, I want to mention that there are some that are not so healthy. In some unhealthy small groups, there is emphasis on sin (or sin-sniffing - a term I learned about on blog) where group leaders discover (through self-disclosure or confrontation by others) the sins of members of the group and report them to pastors which can later be used against them in inappropriate and spiritually abusive ways. This is not right. Balance is key with grace, yet truth.

      I love Wade's post - such humility, gentleness, and even a willingness to accept disagreement.

    2. Here's a great quote from Mike Mason that serves to help me understand why grand effusions of love may not necessarily be a sign of a healthy church. Mike Mason:

      "Some Christians treat love as though it were an evangelistic strategy, a kind of gospel-bait. Love is seen as a useful tool for attracting or alluring people into the Kingdom. Naturally, once the fish has been hauled into the boat, the lure is cut from its mouth. But love is not a silver spoon or a jitterbug. Love is not bait for the gospel; love is the gospel. Love is not a means towards some other end; love is means and end together. The moment love is used as a tool, it ceases to be love. When people try to use love in this way, what they are really doing is using God. Instead of being used by God, they try to turn the tables and use Him. Religion becomes an instrument for the expansion of one’s own personal power. Love becomes a weapon of aggression. Little wonder that the person who is suffering comes to hate it. For true love is not aggression; true love is not concerned with gaining power over others. Rather, love is the humility in which self becomes subservient to relationship (The Gospel According to Job, p126)."

  14. Flying Spaghetti MonsterJune 2, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Was I summoned?

  15. Flying Spaghetti MonsterJune 2, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Does anyone have any fresh parmesan cheese? And NOT the kind that smells like it came from the bottom of Mark Driscoll’s sneakers neither!? Got cheese-us? Bless you. Amen. Parmesan Cheese Please.

  16. We His Children, Are We not the Laughter of God?

    1. Flying Spaghetti MonsterJune 2, 2012 at 5:10 PM


      True Story: One Advent at a church I was a member of at the time, well they were doing this live nativity thing, with camels and sheep and wisemen and shepherds and singing angels and real baby jesuses black and yellow red and white alternating in and out of marys laps, K? Well they had plenty of volunteers covering all the cast of nativity characters. So I volunteered, repeatedly, to play the Flying Spaghetti Monster, K? And this is how they answered me, “No! Don’t be weird. There is no such thing as a Flying Spaghetti Monster, and I’m very certain any type of Monster was NOT present at the birth of Christ.” My response was “How do you know? How do you know this to be true?”

    2. Concerning the question of truth, Flaubert, somewhere wrote: “Whatever you invent is true, even if the truth is beyond you.”

      Curious thing that little baby Jesus grew up and proclaimed Himself to be the Truth. He said, I AM—(which is the name of Yahweh)—I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

  17. I fully agree with and appreciate the folks' comments about being unable to trust the church, after being abused. My two cents? Give yourself time to heal, and when you start checking out other churches, you don't have to rush into a commitment. Sit back. Watch. Listen. Be honest about your concerns or your own jumpiness. Find someone wise (who attends another church) to bounce your concerns off of.

    Thing is, if you sense something is wrong, it'll reveal itself.

    There are a lot of good churches out there. Like anything good, it just takes time to find them. Hang in there!

    1. Good suggestions, Stalked! I think there is wisdom in taking things slowly - not only to just be still and learn to hear God again, but also to give more opportunities to observe. Thank you for sharing.

  18. On a serious note: I recognize that it’s the sovereign grace of God that enables us to get free and extricated from sick and abusive churches. As I was adopted at birth and raised in a sick fundamentalist world, I recognize that it was truely the Spirit’s work of grace in my life that kept me strong and alive through my childhood years, it was His Spirit within me that made me a fighter, and (Praise Jesus) for extricating us out of that controlling abusive environment while I was still a boy in my so-called formative years. It took the strength and courage of my mother to divorce my sick and abusive father (who was, himself, a pastor of a church), and it was only then, after she left my father, when we were set free of his sick and abusive world; it was only then when we were safe. [I know love covers a multitude of sins, and please know, that I love my adoptive father and he is not the man he was back then. My father and I have a good and healthy relationship today. I present this as a testimony of God’s power and grace in shaping us into the sanctified Children he desires us to be.]

    Just because a certain man or church is abusive, this does not mean that all men and churches are abusive, or continue to be so. Healing from spiritual abuse, I suspect, may only come by way of the love and understanding and grace of Spirit-filled believers.

    This is church: where two or more are gathered in His name. Whatever the unique constellation of personalities, every expression of the Body of Christ is different and true. But there will always be True Markers of a Healthy Church. Look for and be Them. And granted, it may be the healthiest thing for a time just meeting with some Christian believers on Tuesday nights at your own place, breaking bread and drinking wine and glorifying the God of the universe for his Peace and Joy and Righteousness in the Holy Spirit, for this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about (Rom 14:17).

    Just as God is a community of loving responsible persons, so is the Body of Christ a community of loving and responsible persons. We need each other, even the wounded lambs that have been trampled on by voracious swine, torn apart by vicious dogs. We need their presence of brokenness in our midst if only to realize the profound brokenness within our own hearts, and together we begin to heal and grow strong.

    (cont. below)

    1. David - this is beautiful. I was born into an abusive environment as well and my bio-dad abandoned me after the divorce. My adopted dad who raised me was abusive until the age of 19, when I moved out. When all you have known is difficult father situations, it's easy to translate that into "difficult" God and make a negative connection with Him. This is a struggle that so many face. I have to consciously tell myself, God is not any of my fathers. God is gracious, kind, loving, and He will never abandon me. The abandonment issue is huge. I am so thankful that God has brought godly men into my life at times to better reflect His character than what I experienced.

      Isn't that another reason why the community of Saints is so important - so we can help bear one another's burdens?

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. David requested that I delete his comment and a few responses. You're not going crazy if you thought something was here and now it is gone :)

  19. (cont. from above)

    Here is every believer’s responsibility: “not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25) for the ministry of grace we have all been called to. Scripture tells us, “As every believer has been given gifts, we are to minister those gifts to each another” (1 Peter 4:10). We are all ministers and we each have gifts and a calling. Find a church that will encourage you in your gifting and allow you to minister as God has created you to minister.

    Some are still injured by a church experience. How many times have I heard, “There’s no way in hell I’m every going back to a church again!” And this is perfectly understandable.

    If I remember correctly, Philip Yancey, author of What’s So Amazing About Grace?, also grew up in a fundamentalist world. He writes, “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.”

    Grace—What is it?

    An example of grace is what happened after Abraham’s servant was sent on a journey to find a bride for Abraham’s beloved son Isaac, a bride after his own blood. (We read the story in Genesis 24.) Abraham assured his servant, “Yahweh will send His angel before you,” and so the servant went. When he arrived at the place he was directed to go—he prayed, “O Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and demonstrate your grace by showing me the young woman You intend to be the bride of Isaac.”

    And guess what!? “Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah," the future bride of his Master's son Appeared!

    The word grace in the servants prayer is chesed, a Hebrew noun indicting kindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, love, and grace. God is faithful and will lead us all to find and be healthy churches. Sometimes are journeys are short and immediate like Abraham’s servant’s was. Sometimes God takes us through a few circuses and sound-and-light shows to show us, often in fairly tragicomic ways, the difference between what is righteous and what is wicked, between an unhealthy church and one that is sound. He guides us by prayer, by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and maybe even still today by His Holy Angels.

    1. David - I really appreciate you taking the time to post this. Great stuff. And, you will always get the credit for helping me learn an unfamiliar word: tragicomic = a play or novel containing elements of both comedy and tragedy.

  20. Now that you have spent 3 ½ years trying to tear down Chuck, his family, and BGBC, how has Christ been glorified in all of these efforts? I realize that you don’t agree with his views of modesty in the church, and that you are upset that your friend was asked to step down from his staff position at BGBC. However, how does spending 3 ½ years attacking an evangelical church and its pastor bring glory to Christ? From the responses on your blog, it looks like you have brought more strife and division, than unity in the body of Christ.

    I don’t go to BGBC, but I have known Chuck for about 8 years. He is a kind person, and he teaches what he believes the Bible to say. He doesn’t compromise on his understanding of the Word, and teaches true to his convictions, even it that offends some. You, and others might not agree with his view of modesty, but the last time I checked, that was not an essential doctrine of Christianity. Further, if you don’t agree with his view on this subject, why did you attend the church for 2 years? No one forced you to stay, but you did until you got to the point of such anger, that you had to dedicate 3 ½ years trying to bring down the very church you freely chose to attend. People change churches all the time, it is quite commonplace, but it is very rare for people to try and tear down the church they left, especially for such a long period of time.

    I know, you feel that it is up to the pastor to reach out and make peace with you, and that he needs to concede to your believes before you relent. However, he believes what he believes, and you believe what you believe when it comes to modesty. You are not going to come to an agreement on the subject, and nor should you have to. It is not an essential doctrine, and if you don’t agree, great, just go to a different church. You don’t need to try and destroy the pastor or his church just because you have a disagreement. Same thing with your friend being dismissed from his position at BGBC, that is unfortunate, but sometimes those things happen, whether in the church, or in the secular world.

    Look, you can’t control what Chuck does, and what he teaches, but you can choose your own actions. I know that it is difficult when you feel the other person is in the wrong, but you can choose to be the bigger person. You can choose to move on, and serve Christ, and the people He loves. You can choose to share the gospel, both in word, and in deed. You can choose to dedicate the remainder of your life to doing those activities that are positive, that make people, even secular people, have to give glory to God. Or, you can choose to continue down the path of bitterness you have taken for 3 ½ years, and dedicate the remainder of your life to bringing down another Christian, and the church he belongs to and teaches at. I know that it would be far easier to just continue down the same path, but truly, which path would bring more glory to Christ?
    There have been so many responses posted on this blog that have been pretty much cursing Chuck and his church. Most of those are made by people who have never met him, nor set foot in that church. I am sure it feels good to see other people cast insults and judgments at him, since you believe that he is in the wrong. It is part of human nature to want others to agree with us, even at the cost of others. But again, casting judgments and insults is not the most effective way to bring glory to Christ. The Apostle Paul said that out of faith, hope, and love, love is the greatest. I think that it is time to let love prevail. All of us are sinners, and deserve judgment, but God instead gives those who call on Jesus mercy and grace. We are called to go and do likewise, regardless of what others are doing to us. We weren’t told that it would be easy, but neither was dying on the cross easy for the Lord.

    Are you going to let someone else get between you, and your opportunity to serve the Lord, or are you going to choose to move forward, and run the race that Christ has called you to?

    1. Thank you for spending the time to comment. I think your heart is genuine, but I also think you are blinded by what is going on here on this blog. How can you be so sure that I am not running the race that Christ has called me? It's really not a battle against my former pastor/church, but a battle against spiritual abuse. I've been in other churches that had modesty rules and wouldn't have left for that. Please continue to read and I hope that your eyes will be opened to see the travesty that is going on in many churches around the world which is turning hearts away from God and the church.

      If you have not gone to the church and then subsequently left, then you would have no idea what goes on in people's lives after they leave. Keep reading. I have more to share.

    2. Anonymous one, whoever you are. .

      How does Julie Anne’s blog bring glory to Christ? Let me provide a somewhat cryptic response by quoting 2 Kings 6:17, “Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around them.”

      I can see the absolute brilliance and wisdom and glory of God from where I’m reading this blog, can’t you? Have you not eyes to see the angels? Also, just curious, Are you referring to my responses as bringing strife and division and disunity to the body of Christ? And if so can you unpack that for me?

      Please know: there is a healthy righteous anger, and Julie Anne doesn’t presently sound like a bitter woman at all. The issue of modesty you throw in there is but a red-herring, and not the real issue at all. The critical something that is destroying BGBC in my estimation is the abusive actions of it’s leadership, the way they are wielding their swords is spiritually abusive!

      So you might understand the gravity of the issue and the responsibilities of a watchman, which I believe my sister Julie Anne has been called by God to be, consider Ezekiel 33:6, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.”

    3. Anon 10:19 is suspiciously on the defense of Chuck and Beaverton Grace Bible Cult, and at the same time falsely accusing Julie Anne of several things she has never done. Let me distill these accusations from Anon's post:

      "spent 3 ½ years trying to tear down Chuck, his family, and BGBC"

      "spending 3 ½ years attacking an evangelical church and its pastor"

      "you got to the point of such anger, that you had to dedicate 3 ½ years trying to bring down the very church you freely chose to attend"

      "You don’t need to try and destroy the pastor or his church"

      "Or, you can choose to continue down the path of bitterness you have taken for 3 ½ years, and dedicate the remainder of your life to bringing down another Christian, and the church he belongs to and teaches at"

      "I am sure it feels good to see other people cast insults and judgments at him"

      "casting judgments and insults is not the most effective way to bring glory to Christ"

      Julie Anne has not committed a single one of these hateful acts Anon 10:19 accuses her of, nor has it been the response of the participants in this blog. Quite the opposite, truth is being told on this blog on which he/she spews falsehood.

      In addition, Anon 10:19 seems to be quite interested in the situation of the staff person that was asked to step down, which I'm not sure has been given that much attention here on Julie Anne's blog. I get the sense that Anon knows something of which only a BGBC member would have first hand knowledge. I also sense the vengeful spirit that is consistent with Chuck's position which has started this whole fiasco. Anon says he/she does not go to BGBC. Sorry, I think it's a lie and I'm calling B.S.

      And what's up with this nonsense -- "Are you going to let someone else get between you, and your opportunity to serve the Lord, or are you going to choose to move forward" ??? Excuse me, but who is the one who has strong-arm'ed his way into Julie Anne's life, breathing threats of the penalty of a half million dollars? Who is taking several Christians to court in defiance of Scripture in an attempt to injure the body of Christ? Your kind, beloved, Bible-twisting "pastor" Chuck.

    4. I just want to stand and applaud after that reply!

    5. Hannah I'm with you on the applause to that reply!


      From Michelle, the wife of the guy who was let go from Beaverton Grace Bible Church.

  21. @Neo, Thank you for answering anon! As a fellow shunned, de-fellowshipped member of bgbc who VOLUNTARILY left chuck's church nine months BEFORE my church discipline for the sin chuck couldn't name (so he just summed it up as me being a goat), I appreciate you calling attention again to the many of us that were not put out of this church, but were harassed, mocked, ridiculed, SLANDERED, sometimes stalked.How do you move on from that? Been trying to and chuck doesn't want to let go. Yes, Julie Anne put a google review on the church website, but the majority of us were trying to put distance between us and chuck, not have him try to continually cast stones at us. For many of us chuck actually went so far as to contact our new churches to further make it impossible to get away from him and his abuse. We didn't even put ourselves in a position where he should have known where we were attending because we weren't talking about him or the church, and per his pulpit mandate to his parishioners we were not in contact with friend and family we left behind. Chuck is the one chasing. We are the ones trying to put back the shattered pieces of our lives. Despite numerous fellow pastors who have contacted chuck to advise him to show christian love and not pursue a vindictive frivolous lawsuit. His so called 3 year war of www defamation consisted of 3 reviews he kept trying to remove. This blog was started this year in order to bring together the survivors. Anon should listen to some of chuck's sermons (since he/she claims they don't attend chuck's church) so that he/she can hear his dear friend use the same verbiage to describe others - the same words he is taking offense to having directed at him. If he doesn't like being the object of those words, maybe he shouldn't be teaching his flock to say those words against people. Maybe they don't like it either. Maybe they should be suing. Also, interesting anon thinks chuck's sermons are so spot on but doesn't attend his church......

    1. Same ol' story - we've read/heard about time and time again and people wonder why people "can't just leave quietly". Thank you for sharing.

  22. Anon 10:19~I find your comments interesting on how Julie Anne has been trying to tear down Chuck, his family and BGBC-
    you didn't attend this church, yet you have opinions on what a person should do about the treatment she and others have received at his hand/mouth. Shunning, without biblical explanation, letters written to pastors calling us viliest of sinners, half truths being given to the attenders/members at the church...the list goes on and on...and to end it all in a half a million dollar lawsuit.
    Who exactly is slandering and being malicious about it? I have heard from many people who have left in the last 3 and 1/2 years who were not speaking with us, that they left because of Chuck 'micromanaging' their lives...He is his own problem.
    I am grateful to have a venue where I can educate myself about spiritual abuse and give others hope.
    I am now at a church where once I thought they didn't teach the gospel, per Chuck's pulpit~yeah, not true!
    I feel sad for those who have been hoodwinked by his lies, grateful it isn't me anymore.

    1. More of the same - UGH!! And so many of us thought we were all alone and suffered alone and are now coming out years and years later sharing the same stories over and over again. Thank you, Ruth.

  23. I truly don't get how Chuck can tout himself as a Christian. I'm an atheist and I don't attend church, but I would never behave as he has. And the only "guide" I have for my behavior is The Golden Rule -- to be kind and loving to others, as I want them to be to me. Not because some god or pastor -- or a pastor who thinks he's god -- tells me to, but simply because it's caring and compassionate way to treat my fellow human. It's really strange to look into this world in which supposed Christ-like people who are all supposed to be believing the same basic doctrine and who follow the same Bible, are in-fighting. It's as if two completely religions were being represented and beyond weird to see such venom spewed to Christians from Christians. Makes me glad that all I am bound to is basic human kindness. Who can attack that? (Well, I guess the Chucks of the world can, because my "kindness" isn't of the Christian variety...)

    Julie Anne simply (and let me emphasize: SIMPLY) wrote a Google review of Chuck's church, just as she might have written a review of a bad professor. She had a negative experience, it impacted her, and she wrote about it on the Internet. There is NOTHING wrong with that. Chuck's desire to shut her down actually OPENED up an amazing dialog and revealed some horrible abuse (in his church and apparently MANY others) that has been hushed for far too long. If Chuck believes so deeply in God's role in one's life, he should take a really close look at what has transpired with that review and why. He didn't want those things said about his church (why? how much does he have to hide? what does he fear?), but "god" allowed them to be said anyway. He tried to cover it up and, look! "God" decided to not only allow them to be said, but for a HUGE megaphone, heard around the world through the words of one soft-spoken, sweet, red-headed woman, to be the vehicle for exposing Chuck and his extremely UN-Chist-like behavior. If there is a god, and if he is using this situation, he is most definitely using it to say to Chuck, "You have hurt too many people for too long and gone through too much effort to try to cloak your viciousness in my name. It's time for your evil to be revealed..."

    Oh, and "Flying Spaghetti Monster (June 2, PM)," you do nothing at all to help any of this.

  24. I have had trouble finding a church where I feel at home. I have never had a terrible experience, but I have just felt out-of-place. So I just don't go to church. But I do follow God. On my own. At home. On the phone with my friends. Reading books. Watching TV. I look for messages everywhere. I don't look to just one pastor or preacher who may be one-sided about one issue or another. I am very happy with my situation. I am not wanting anyone who reads this to think I am putting down churches because there are still some good churches out there - though they are hard to find. But I just want everyone to know that it is possible to live for God in a way that you do not "need" to go to church in order to be close to God. He will come close to you whether you are a member of a church or not. I feel very loved and accepted by God and by the people who God sends into my life. I just put the whole matter into God's hands and am at peace with how things have turned out. =)

  25. Thanks Julie Anne for your blog. As a Pastor I am reading it with the hope of improving my service, and you and your readers have helped me to ask myself many good questions.

    I wonder if our desire for safety might, almost paradoxically, open us to some of the very dangers we fear. I don't mean we should look for danger or a cult like church. That would be crazy. I do think, however, that attempts to control our environment in such a way that nothing can threaten us can themselves become threats. We, at least in my circles, don't trust our government, our schools and even other churches with suspect theology. We respond by withdrawing or setting up alternative "pure" institutions. The dangers are real. Our world is inherently dangerous. I suspect, sadly, that managing those dangers by letting fear and mistrust drive us to "perfect safety" can actually lead us to soil where cult like manipulation can thrive.

    1. Hi Craig: Thanks so much for stopping by and checking out the blog. It especially is meaningful to me that you are a pastor and wanting to read what's going on. I love that!

      You do raise a good point that looking for a safe church could backfire. No church is perfect. We cannot cushion ourselves from all the problems, but we can identify known problem areas, look for churches that seem to have a good balance.

      Trust is such a big issue with those who have been abused. It seems that the hurdle of trust must be crossed before there can be a feeling of safety and then growth can occur.

      So, Craig, now after reading some on the blog, I'm curious if you have found any ideas mentioned here to implement in your church? Do you think those who have gone through spiritual abuse would feel safe at your church? It's interesting that since the initiation of this blog and reading so many stories, I have been looking at my current church through new eyes and wondering if those who were abused would feel safe. I may discuss some of this with my pastor.

  26. I'm an assistant pastor, and part time, so I don't have any concrete things I'm thinking of implementing right now. As I read your blog what's underlined for me is I need to work harder at listening and at being patient. I believe those having gone through or going through abuse would find our church to be relatively safe, but I will no longer take that for granted. I'd love to know what sorts of things you see as you look at your church through new eyes. One thing that caught my attention is transparency about finances. Fortunately some very capable people oversee the finances at our church (not either of the pastors). Even so, I can see it's important for me to better understand and be able to communicate in this area.

    I've been thinking a lot about trust as I read accounts of spiritual abuse on your blog. For those looking for a safe place I'd recommend running away from any church or authority figure that wants 100% trust. It's the all or nothing approach that can land us into danger. I see trust as something that has to be grown and nurtured over time among flawed people. The question is not should I trust but how much should I trust at this point in our relationship. Tests of trust are a red flag. The same goes for a church. The question "Is this a safe church" can trap me into all or nothing thinking (it either is or isn't safe). It's like looking for Mr. (or Mrs.) right. Perhaps it's better to ask "How safe and how dangerous is this church?"

  27. Hi Craig: I love how you are wanting to be sensitive to others and are wanting you and your church to be safe place for all, including those who have been hurt in the past. Really, I'm thrilled that you are reading the blog and using it constructively in your own church. I don't want the blog to be continually ranting about problems, but to use problems to productively and find better solutions.

    Control is a big one. You mentioned transparency in finances and that is good. Others on the blog have mentioned "covenants". That puts congregants under much more control of leaders. I think church covenants are dangerous and would not sign one.

    I've also been thinking about the church we attended after the difficult one. It was elder led by 5 men, not any one pastor. (This concept was new to us, but it was also helpful to me to know that one man couldn't lord over me and try to be in control.) Now obviously a lot of churches aren't designed that way, but an interesting thing happened. When I met the elders, they didn't identify themselves as elders/pastors. Congregants actually had to point them out to us (and we had already met them without knowing they were elders.) It struck me later how much I appreciated this because they weren't flaunting their position whatsoever. They were so humble. I've seen in some churches where an elder might be doing announcements each and say, "I'm Elder Joe Schmoe", week after week and I want to say, "do I really need to be reminded of your eldership position every single week?" Why so much attention drawn to this person and his position? Where is the humility?

    Another issue: attendance. I have been to churches where they take attendance? Why? I understand it's nice to know who's there and people can give the excuse that they can connect with people who haven't shown up in a while, but there are also churches that could use that info in controlling ways: "You missed XX Sundays in the last quarter", etc. It's just one more thing to think about.

  28. Hi Julie Anne, Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comments. You've brought up some areas well worth examining. I think what's difficult for me is that almost any tool can be abused. So I need to balance the good a tool can do against how that same tool may be perceived by those who have been hurt with it.

    For example, taking attendance. When someone's facing a serious problem or challenge they don't always call me up and tell me what's going on. They do often stop attending church. It's a way of signaling that something is wrong. My practice (which you've made me rethink) is to call a member if they've missed three Sundays. I can see where this might be controlling (or seen as controlling). I suppose one key is to make sure I'm not using the missing Sundays as some kind of leverage. The tone of my conversation needs to be along the lines of "Is everything OK?" Perhaps this can become controlling if I don't accept a response that basically means "Mind your own business." Also, I don't keep a score, so that may be a little different than your example.

    The same could be said about covenants. I've never used these, but I can see how they could be good tools if used responsibly.

    Perhaps a key might be to make it clear that these tools are just tools so usage is optional.

    1. Hi Craig:

      I think you nailed it: it is the way in which the tools are presented. If presented as optional, the control issue would probably disappear entirely. Perfect solution!

      Maybe I'm skewed by stories I've read, but covenants seem to be an easy trap for abuse issues. Why do we need covenants? What purpose do they serve? Shouldn't our "yes" mean "yes"? Obviously speaking out loud since you acknowledged that you've never used them.

      Good discussion - thanks for bringing it up.

  29. Julie Anne;

    I marvel at how you continue to stand and speak so eloquently in the face of such a horrific experience. I too am a survivor of a terrible muddy tunnel of spiritual abuse. Even though it happened many years ago, I still carry wounds and scars that will likely never leave me. If my Jesus had not carried me through the tough times, forsaken by almost all my former friends and acquaintances, I would never have survived.

    Those in my church community who dared to side with me were also attacked and maligned. Lies were spewed from the pulpit, and a group in the churches leadership actively supported each other in this charade of lies. Weekly, "new information" regarding myself or my family were "leaked" into the church community by the leadership. I can not tell you how painful this continued slander was.

    I was lied to repeatedly, attacked Sunday after Sunday off the pulpit, slandered, shunned,and socially excommunicated. Because I dared to speak out against the injustice of what they were doing, I was called several times to appear alone, behind closed doors, before the church leadership. There I was yelled and screamed at, had fists swung in my face, and coffee cups swiped of the table in their rage. I can easily imagine the scene of the Apostle Stephen as he stood before the screaming Jewish council.

    At one point, when things got too hot, they actually invited me in to sit with them under the guise of wanting to make amends. They asked me to help them draft a letter which was to be read to the congregation which was supposedly meant to appease the multitudes. In a terribly deceptive manner, the leadership then changed the contents of this letter, which they refused to give me a copy of and told the congregation I had signed it. In it they painted themselves as the benevolent ones, and myself as the sinner. When I appealed this forgery to a higher level in the church, the letter somehow got "lost". Julie Anne, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

    One elder even shared publicly, that it was the goal of leadership to get me ten feet under.

    Despite engaging in such horrific, dishonest behavior, members who were most vocal in supporting this corrupt leadership were promoted in the church. It is still happening today!

    I struggle on, mostly alone, caring only to walk the margins or periphery of any church I attend. However, it was in the darkest hours, and in the dark nights of the soul, where I felt forsaken even by my Jesus, that I was most preciously comforted and visited by Him. My heart longs to again taste of these fruits of the Spirit. Fortunately, there were also a couple of pastors who showed me kindness during these months and years of struggle.

    Julie Anne, please continue to speak out against this killing, soul destroying, form of abuse. I know all too well the Chuck's of this world. Nothing will stop him, and he will stop at nothing to get his way. Rest comforted in the fact that his power is limited, and his time is short.

  30. Anouke - So much of your story reminded me of stories from our own church experience. I absolutely believe you and find it interesting how those who abuse use similar tactics to instill fear, control into the lives of those they are supposed to be caring for. It's a travesty. I want to scream: WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!!!

    I am so sorry that you went through this horrible abuse and pray that God will give you peace and comfort as you recover. I think you can recover and part of telling your story here, publicly, is probably helping countless others as you are helping them to realize they are not alone.

    The pastors who abuse like this are really very weak and heartless. I refuse to be afraid of them. The Bible says we are not to fear man. Sending big cyber hugs your way and praying for you to have peace, the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding, the Peace of God that surpasses all abuse. Much love to you, Anouke!

    I've added your story to the "personal stories" section of the blog. It needs to be read. I pray that God will use your powerful story in the life of someone who really needs to read it. ~ja


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