Thursday, July 12, 2012

False Teachers Who Mark and Avoid Church Members

  I received an e-mail from a missionary today who was involved in a church whose pastor used similar tactics with church members as my former pastor.  He sent me a link to look at and I realized I could easily replace his pastor's name with my former pastor's name;  he said the same thing to me after reading some of my blog.   We need to be able to see these characteristics and get our creepo-meters engaged so we won't get caught in the trap again.

Did they all graduate from Creepy Spiritual Abuse School (CSAS)?  With so many abusive pastors using the similar tactics, it makes it seem they come from the same school.  They take advantage of people, attempt to gain control of them and their private lives, use powerful words to shame, confuse people in their faith, twist Bible verses to their advantage, belittle the sheep, tear relationships apart, etc.  The pattern is very disturbing.

This next creepy control tactic pattern to discuss is a biggie.  This is one that separates families and friends,  possibly forever.   If you haven't personally experienced this, please think about it carefully.  Imagine going to church with your best friend of 20 years.  With a 20-year history, you may have gone to each other's weddings, may have started families at the same time, gone on family outings together, shared meals and had many hours of fun, fellowship, trials, and joys.   

And then imagine, out of the blue, you are told you are no longer to have any contact or relationship with this person, in an instant, just like that.  Zilch.  NO RELATIONSHIP.  You may not call,  you may not connect via Facebook (in fact, you have to "unfriend on FB), no e-mails, etc.  All relational ties are severed immediately.  You do not even get a chance to say good-bye, it is OVER.  BAM!  DONE!  FINISHED!  This is happening all over the world in creepy abusive churches and it is done in my former church.  It is disgusting.   It is an abuse of power over church members, controlling their personal relationships and destroying them in an INSTANT.

The sheep of this pastor's church who remain are in the system pretty good by now and are convinced that this is a man of God whom God has placed over their care.  They are convinced that he has their best interest at heart, even though this "trial" is burdensome, they may be told God uses this to purify His remnant; they are being refined in this trial.  They follow without question, like good obedient sheep.  The pastor convinces them that this is for the best for you, for the other person, and for God's church.  Other scriptures are to be used to show how good it is to keep the church pure, and clear from divisive people, people with Korah-like behavior who wage war with God and His church.

Ok, sorry, my brain can't stop at this severing-relationship thing yet.  People who have been involved in your life in intimate ways for years and years have become part of your primary support system.  They know you inside and out.  They can read you like a book, tell when you are up or down with just one look.  They challenge you.  They are there for you when you are sick or when your car is broken down and you are stranded.  They are the first ones you call when tragedy strikes or when news of happiness comes your way:  a new job, new house, a new pregnancy, your child's new faith in Christ, etc.  God created these relationships and gives them to us for our pleasure.  He is the author of relationships.  Who has this right to sever relationships in such a way?

I've said it before, but after these several crazy lawsuit-filled months, I would be in the nuthouse if I did not have friends.  I've mentioned Michelle.  I have relied on her a lot because we went through this experience together.  Her husband was on staff and was fired.    They have been through much and understand what I'm going through.  When you read the pastor's "review" where he talks about Julie Anne and "those with her", Michelle is one of "those".   She has put up with my ranting, my tears, my yelling, my questioning, my crazy forgetfulness.  She has challenged me spiritually, questioned my heart motives, rebuked me in love and been a true friend to me.  I cannot fathom what my life would be like right now if someone had decided that this relationship must be severed.  Oh no. . . . I can't let my brain go there . . . . that's a scary place.

Yet look at what some CSAS graduates are doing.  They isolate people from their primary places of support, comfort, love, and friendship.  They twist Bible verses to aid in their abuse of authority and control over their congregations.

This was not in effect when we were there (at least to my knowledge).   I have heard from several people that it did indeed take place even a decade ago, but for some reason, we never saw it, heard of it.  It may have been taking place behind the scenes, we just did not know about it.

Let me explain it.  Evidently "it" can be called a number of things, but one of the common phrases I heard was, "Mark and Avoid".  Evidently, people who are divisive, in church discipline, or causing conflict in the church or with the pastor are put on the Mark and Avoid list.  The Mark and Avoid list is based on Romans 16:17.  I will post the NKJV - my former pastor's favorite version so that we can all be on the same page, his page, just in case there are current members reading this.  The King James Version uses the actual words "mark" and "avoid"..   All of the next shots are from  Romans 16:17  and easily accessible in mere seconds.  Check for yourself.

Ok, here we go.  In reading this verse, one can easily see how CSAS graduates might think this verse would be a great one to apply to people in his congregation or  :::::cough, cough ::::::: former members like me who are waging war with God, with His Church, with mothers and their children.  Or perhaps it could be used with people currently in the church who might have questions that the pastor feels are threatening or divisive.  Regardless, this is a powerful verse.  What does it say we are to do with divisive people?  Yes, avoid them.  Ouch!  Many pastors are saying we need to be marking and avoiding divisive people.  

But digging a little deeper and looking at references for this verse, we can see the following topics are discussed.  Take special note of "8749 false teachers" and "8750 false teachings":

I don't see anything about church members there, do you?  And here we read more about false teachers/teachings:

Here is more reference to this verse with the original intent:  false teachers.

False teachers?  Or divisive congregants?  It seems pretty clear from the above that this verse is about false teachers.   

Commentary and more commentary shows once again that this verse is not about divisive church members, but divisive false teachers.  

I have been told by multiple sources that my former pastor used this particular verse to justify shunning people. Not only that, he had a Mark and Avoid list.  Because I think it is one of the most destructive aspects of an abusive church, it is important to discuss here.  

A quick side note, if you do a quick Google search on "Mark and Avoid", you can see the top entries have to do with the group some say is a cult, The Way International, because they use the Mark and Avoid practice.   The Poisoning of Families article was one of the top entries on my search and discusses how The Way International marked and avoided people:

The Way’s current practice of “purge, mark and avoid” (which are Way terms) is another means The Way uses to put wedges between children and a parent who is no longer in The Way. The Way has taken great pains in the last 10 years to “purge” its ranks of those who do not give Way leadership their complete allegiance and obedience. Confrontation of followers considered to be weak or in error often includes verbal abuse. This aggressive confrontation has been strongly promoted in leader training, Sunday services and The Way Magazine, which is distributed to all of its followers.
However, when followers do not immediately obey leaders and respond to every one of their demands, leaders “mark and avoid” them. In other words, leaders tell them to stay away from all Way activities, and tell all “faithful” followers to have nothing to do with them — not even to speak to them. Therefore, the ex-spouse avoids the non-Way parent as much as possible and teaches the children to do the same. The Way pressures children to choose obedience to Way leadership (which to them is obeying God Himself) rather than (not in addition to) developing a relationship with the non-Way parent. “M & A” is often a factor causing divorce between spouses, and becomes a factor in children “divorcing” the non-Way parent.

The Smith, Miller, and Varela families have been on this Mark and Avoid list for a long time.  We didn't know we were on the list, but were told by those who  left the church after us.  None of us has ever been in any kind of church discipline process (we've read the church by-laws on church discipline - that process was never executed).  We've only heard by word of mouth or publicly on Google reviews that we are in church discipline.   Isn't it interesting that we were in church discipline weeks after we left the church without being notified by the pastor or elders?  

When do you suppose this Mark and Avoid list is read to church members?  Multiple sources have confirmed that this list has been read at Communion services.  The list was read as a reminder for everyone to remember exactly who was on the M&A list and to avoid them.  Can you imagine this list being read at Communion - at a time where we reflect on Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection for us?  What is this insanity?

The M&A list is a list of people in "church discipline" or who left the church unfavorably (which is pretty much everybody unless your job moved you out of the area).  What it means is that you (congregant) must never associate, communicate with anyone on the M&A list.  You must "unfriend" from Facebook anyone who is on the M&A list, never telephone, e-mail, or make any contact whatsoever.  Guess what happens if you are caught communicating with someone on the M&A list?  Yup - your name will be added.  Guess what happens if you talk to the person who was just added to the M&A list?  You got it!

Now here is where the rubber meets the road.  Let's say you have a wayward adult child.  Let's say your wayward adult child does not repent of his/her ways.  This adult child is added to the M&A list after being confronted with sins.  If you are the parent of this adult child, you are not allowed to communicate with your adult child after being placed on the M&A list.  The siblings are not allowed to associate with this child.   Not only that, members of family outside the church are also told to not associate with them as well.  

So basically, the wayward adult child is abandoned, thrown to the outside world, never allowed to have any relationship with parents/siblings who love and adore them, who could encourage, guide, and show unconditional love.   This adult child now has no contact with anyone in the church and very few relationships outside the church (remember this church keeps you so busy that there is very little time for any outside relationships).  Is that love?   How can love be demonstrated to this person when relationships are cut off?

Surely God is not happy with using His Holy Word in such a manipulative fashion to destroy precious lives and relationships.  This only serves the pastor who is in control.  There is no love here.  There is a place where people are shunned and the stories I describe do not cut it.  I have waited a long time to post this story and I am fired up about it.  This is wrong.  This is not only happening in our former church, but all over the world as my e-mails attest.

I would like to address this part to people who are currently in a church as I have described  - where a pastor is twisting scripture and tearing relationships from you.  Please read the verse again.  The first time, we looked through the eyes of a controlling pastor who is assuming that those who cause divisions are people from within the church or perhaps outside the church.  This time, let's look at the verse in the context of false teachers, not divisive church members or former members.

What are we supposed to do with false teachers?  Avoid them.  

Friends, do  you see what I see?  The Mark and Avoid list with church members listed is a fraud, a hoax, it is invalid.  It is a tool used by pastors who abuse their authority to control.  Church members and former members do not belong on this list; false teachers belong on the Mark and Avoid list!!!

If your pastor is using this verse and has a Mark and Avoid list to validate shunning in your church, your pastor is twisting scripture.  What else is he twisting?  Please leave that church at once.  You are being deceived.  Take your family someplace else and do not look back.

Do you know of a pastor whose name should be listed here?   


  1. Wow! That commentary on false teachers is super helpful. I didn't know that!

    Also, I'm seeing a trend moving in this direction. I believe the American church is getting more authoritarian because of rock-star pastors like Mark Driscoll or C.J. Mahaney. Why congregations blindly follow their teachings I don't know, but I do believe that things are painted in such a light that people are afraid of displeasing God. The Church was never meant to live in fear! But that's what this authoritarian movement is doing - making us live as scared sheep with abusive shepherds. I'm just really grateful the Lord took me away from this sort of Christianity.

    1. I totally agree. The problem is there seems to be a culture of fear in churches influenced by such men as you mention- a fear of speaking out honestly about those guys' faults and possible disqualifying characteristics. It's like people think they are the pope, when I thought we were only under God together. This misbegotten idea of clergy and laity was what the Reformation endeavored to reform, and now Protestants are going back under the authority of man rather than standing up under God as a mutually submissive and supportive Body! I am so sad for the state of the church right now; I grew up not understanding what I was being hurt by, and now I see it, I certainly can not sign on the dotted line to become a member of any local community connected to such authoritarianism- and it's everywhere. I am just content to be part of the Body of Christ and accountable to people in a variety of local communities, whilst attending a local church regularly,- because if you get too enmeshed in ONE local church these days you might not come out seeing straight. :( Sick of cults- I want Christ!

    2. TBBBTTB (love your pseudonym!!) - I just want to add a hearty AMEN!!!

  2. Thanks for writing this Julie Anne. Who shuns people? How is that showing Christ like love? Even if one is in terrible sin how will they be influenced by the truth and love of Christ if you have no contact with them?

    Matthew 18:17 "if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

    My MacArthur note says, "...The idea is not merely to punish the offender, or to shun him completely, but to remove him as a detrimental influence from the fellowship of the church, and henceforth to regard him as an evangelistic prospect rather than as a brother."

    The goal of us Christians is to love as Christ has loved us. We are commanded to love our neighbors AND to love our enemies.

    1 John 2:9-11. "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes."

  3. May I suggest that you add spaces for Elder ______ and/or Deacon _______?

    1. Ha! I wish I could change that. I'm on my way to Portland now.

  4. This post is so true. I can remember so many "rules" that were laid out when I told my parents that I was going to be moving out and that I doubted my faith. Rules such as: "You have to ask before you come over" "You will never be allowed to have time alone with any of your siblings." "Your siblings will never be allowed to come over to where you live." "Anything of yours that you don't take with you (when you leave) we are putting in the garbage". Those rules weren't how my parents really were, that was Chuck's (I won't even give him the honor of putting Pastor in front of his name because he doesn't deserve it) teaching coming out. None of those rules apply today, which I am so grateful for. I knew my parents were hurting, I accepted that, and I still had to be okay with leaving them COMPLETELY (or at least until my siblings turned 18 ;).

    When my family and I originally started attending there, one of my friend's family also started attending the church around the same time. This girlfriend and I had been friends for years (before BGBC), our families had gone on camping trips together, I used to ride my bike to her house all the time, she would come over and cook apple pie with me. I guess because I had "left the faith" people still felt that I was "okay" to talk to, because we still hung out for a cup of coffee occasionally. I still remember going with my mother to where she worked at a plant nursery (my mom had a gift card she had gotten) and my mom felt weird about going up and talking to her. If you have never had this... it's so weird to see your friend's face when she sees someone that she's supposed to "avoid" (my mother) and almost burst into tears when we share our concern over a major accident her brother was in. "Mark and Avoid" is NOT NATURAL. It should not be done. How can you avoid the mother of one of your high school friends, a woman who had you in her choir, a mom who gave you rides places??

    Later, I went to her house for a mutual friend's baby shower. This mutual friend had NO connection with BGBC, yet her mother didn't allow my mother to come. My mother had coached both of these young women in choir. My mother knew both of them and their mothers for YEARS before we went to BGBC.

    Mark and Avoid the churches that practice Marking and Avoiding.

    1. Hannah, what happened to you grieves me; it was so very wrong. I am glad that you have a restored relationship with your family and have been able to demonstrate such grace in what must have been a terrible time for you. You are a remarkable woman.

      Praying for God's grace for all of you.

    2. Hannah, reading that story in your words even tho I remember it so clearly brings all of those sad feelings flooding back. Even tho that family is no longer there, the relationship was broken and remains broken. You can't take back those lost years and now that so much time has gone by and we have moved, it's surely gone. So sad!! What a waste. It didn't have to be this way.

    3. Not to minimize your heartache, Julie Anne, I wonder whether your relationship with that family is really gone for good. It might not be dead, but only sleeping. I'm reminded of a lovely hymn (which I actually learned in Japanese before learning it in English):

      In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
      In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
      In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
      Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

      Hoping for the best for you and many families, on your court date and beyond.

  5. Jullie Anne--

    I think you're onto something there. In the Lindsell Study Bible (The Living Bible) - Tyndale-

    Romans 16:17-18 17- And now there is one more thing to say before I end this letter. Stay away from those who cause divisions and are upsetting people's faith, teaching things about Christ that are contrary to what you have been taught. 18- Such teachers are not working for our Lord Jesus, but only want gain for themselves. They are good speakers and simple-minded people are often fooled by them.

    Pretty clear to me that you are correct. Paul was talking about FALSE TEACHERS, not the Christians in general.

  6. Dear Sister,

    You are on the right track with this - (I have more to share from a little further down the track), but we're on the same train - to FREEDOM.

    I played Mexican Train Dominoes with older Baptist Ladies today - LOL!
    But I'm learning SO MANY THINGS, and I'm TAKING UP KNITTING, but it's a different kind - knitting HEARTS TOGETHER. MIRACLES are happening for my friend - we are walking on a new path = LOVE

    We had tambourines back in the day. (Oh, tell Hannah I have family in Beaverton visiting the next 3 days - one is a special girl to me who has been through a lot...She'll be praying and watching the news. I told her Hannah's story. (She's on Farmville with the kids and doesn't read much news, but she is a gem - and she "gets it"!)

    Here's a special tune from back before I became a Christian - and I am posting this in HONOR OF HANNAH - Hannah is one story in the Bible with a special personal meaning to this mom. But we can't waste time with that "girl talk" now - maybe later some other day.

    THIS IS YOUR SONG LADIES - I got my old home school tambourine I used for music out - I couldn't help it.

    The Seekers We Shall Not Be Moved 1966

    Oh, I sent this to my BFF too - and she is MUCH BETTER! We found out a happy secret about a wedding and another church. She's going with her lovely gentleman. I know the dress code at this church - and they will be looking elegant. She tells me she is going to HOLD HER HEAD UP HIGH!

    She's been reading here - and discovered a couple of pseudonyms had posted her story - found it herself. Must've been God's will, eh? She was shocked - in a good way. So sing the chorus with SISTERS TOGETHER for the girls here and the girlfriends out in OR, OK?

    Good Night, Sleep Tight. Jesus and the Father have you in their GRIP - you won't slip out no matter how hard you try. REST IN HIM.

    1. You know, knitting can be very healing and useful. I'm visiting family right now and had to listen to my Southern Baptist aunt drone on and on about all the wonderful deeds their good little church does. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they do wonderful things, but it was only about doing things. Nothing about seeking the Lord. Anyway, while she went on and on and on, I just sat there knitting. In my head I was singing Dori's song, "Just keep swimming," but it was "Just keep knitting." I got a lot of knitting done!

  7. Well said, Julie Anne.
    And yes....I do have some 'pastors' whose names should be on that list...

  8. Portland peeps- I just did an interview with KPTV 12 News which will air at 10 pm tonight in case you're interested.

  9. Looking forward to seeing you and Hannah tomorrow. Just saw the coverage on KPTV and you were awesome!
    Everything you posted here is spot on, I am grateful that God answers prayers however. The families and individuals who have left due to the behavior of Chuck himself these last almost 4 years have come to me and apologized for their part in shunning me. This is truly the love of God. Forgiveness and reparation of relationships I had with people for over 15 years, are being repaired by God's very hand.
    I am so very sad about tomorrow, because really there will be no winners. The people who have been opening up and sharing their pain is deep and takes a long time to work through. How does one man cause so much havoc in so many peoples lives?
    I know that I am a very blessed woman to have my eyes opened 4 years ago. Very disgusting things were happening and in retrospect another blessing I was being shunned. God opened eyes for others through prayer~to God be the glory great things He has done. None of the people who have left in the last 4 years had spoken to me or the others on the mark and avoid list.
    I am grateful the Word of God is living and real...exposing the things and people who would rather 'protect' their 'reputation' than love through trials and grow in faith.
    Last Sunday at my new church, two of the women who had shunned me for three years prayed with me about the upcoming trial. Such blessed sweetness and restoration. Many of the people who have left bgbc are now fellowshipping with me at the new church. Truly growing faith in each of our lives, to trust God not men.
    I am heading to bed for a restful sweet sleep. Looking forward to seeing the people who I have been praying for these last 4 years...and that goes for the O'Neals and Weavers as well.

    1. Sweet story to hear about the two women praying with you in church, Meaghan. And you're right about there being no real winners.

  10. KPTV 12 News Link

    Watching Live Streaming Video here - this is link. Check here for video

    Not a Rebel, Friend of Jesus and Julie Anne, Hannah ET. AL.


    Promised husband to get to sleep - 5 Min to 1 AM here - YIKES!

    But this is worth it = he will understand this.

    He has Christian character and Emotional Intelligence.

    Have you read on that, Jeanette Altes?

    Interesting concept I've recently read about.

  11. Great interview - got up to watch live online with wife. Praying 7/13.

    Parachuting back into bed. Get up early @ 6am for work, but this was worth it. I have gotten up @ night for astronomy views for home school.
    It's reasonable.

    Ostrich signing off.

    1. LOL - are you one of "those" kinds of home schooling dads? :) Thanks for watching.

      BTW, I added the interview to the top of the list on the right sidebar.

  12. I have always enjoyed astronomy, birds, aviation, writing, engineering. Wife and I looked at stars too - long before home school. :)

    I let the wife go back to college to finish a psychology degree - she only had 12 classes left. Never used it much, except for a job helping people with Alzheimer's, but it made her feel like she had "finished something". Now she knits. Pinterest? I think that's it.

    On my way to work now. (Thanks for the link to send to my friend.)

    1. Ostrich - I have a hunch your wife does a little more than knitting and Pinterest. Come on, now ;)

      My husband is an engineer and loves astronomy, too. I think engineers are wired the same way.

  13. It is incredibly painful to have fellowship and support ripped away from you, and to be told that it's your own fault - that you're causing division, or (as my family was told) that you're spiritually toxic. It doesn't matter that you're just hurting or that you're actually trying to challenge and build up the body through exhortation. I felt so guilty and for the longest time because I thought I deserved to be marked and avoided. After all, I hadn't had the best attitude and had even lashed out at people from time to time.

    The biggest thing from that time of my life that I cannot forget is that I am spiritually toxic. And you avoid toxic things. Even on my best days this lingers in the back of my mind - I shouldn't be here, at this church, enjoying this fellowship, not because they could hurt me, but because I could hurt them. If people want to be around me, it's because they don't know me that well. If they did, surely they would run in the other direction.

    I have to battle these lies every day, and I grow less and less confident that I will ever fully defeat them.

    Oh yes. Good old M&A lists. No love, no compassion (as there would be in genuine church discipline) - just let's see how badly we can make this person hurt, how low we can bring them, how we can destroy them.

    I am praying for you and Hannah and Meaghan and all of your families today - for peace regarding the outcome of the lawsuit, for comfort in your pain.

    1. Great contribution to this topic, Lydia - of course I wish you never had this experience so you could contribute, but you know . . .

      See, those messages that were sent to you were LIES and in your 2nd paragraph you get caught in the trap of believing THEIR LIES. That shows how powerful and destructive they not only were in your life, but still are in your life. I wish you could just grab all of those ridiculous lies and dump them in a heap. Essentially, that's what you need to do - replace the lies that you replay in your mind with the truth.

      I think we all believe lies about ourselves to some extent or another and it especially happens in abusive environments. Here's something that has helped me with that: when I acknowledge a lie has slipped in my brain and is sucking me in, I try to bring a truth from God's word to hush it up.

      I think I would keep a running list of those lies and then find as many verses that you can find to counter them and keep reading them over and over again. Ask God to help solidify the truth in your mind.

      I would not be one bit surprised if what you shared here has resonated with other readers, so thank you for sharing it.

      Thank you for your support and prayers - and for our families. They are being dragged along, too.

    2. "I think I would keep a running list of those lies and then find as many verses that you can find to counter them and keep reading them over and over again. Ask God to help solidify the truth in your mind."

      Good advice. I certainly try to get rid of these lies (and I understand that they ARE lies), but it's definitely a battle.


      You say: "It's impossible"
      God says: All things are possible
      (Luke 18:27)

      You say: "I'm too tired"
      God says: I will give you rest

      You say: "Nobody really loves me"
      God says: I love you
      (John 3:16 & John 3:34)

      You say: "I can't go on"
      God says: My grace is sufficient
      (II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15)

      You say: "I can't figure things out"
      God says: I will direct your steps
      (Proverbs 3:5-6)

      You say: "I can't do it"
      God says: You can do all things
      (Philippians 4:13)

      You say: "I'm not able"
      God says: I am able
      (II Corinthians 9:8)

      You say: "It's not worth it"
      God says: It will be worth it
      (Roman 8:2)

      You say: "I can't forgive myself"
      God says: I Forgive you
      (I John 1:9 & Romans 8:1)

      You say: "I can't manage"
      God says: I will supply all your needs
      (Philippians 4:19)

      You say: "I'm afraid"
      God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear
      (II Timothy 1:7)

      You say: "I'm always worried and frustrated"
      God says: Cast all your cares on ME
      (I Peter 5:7)

      You say: "I don't have enough faith"
      God says: I've given everyone a measure of faith
      (Romans 12:3)

      You say: "I'm not smart enough"
      God says: I give you wisdom
      (I Corinthians 1:30)

      You say: "I feel all alone"
      God says: I will never leave you or forsake you
      (Hebrews 13:5)

      Believe God is there just for you..


  14. Replies
    1. Thanks for posting this. Julie Anne gave a great interview.

  15. I am thinking and praying for you all today!

  16. Forgive my naivete, my cynicism, my individuality, or perhaps simply my atheism, BUT... I don't understand how or why anyone would simply heed, no questions asked, said pastor's directive to un-friend someone on FB or to just stop communicating with someone with whom they've had a very close relationship for 20+ years. I assume the pastor isn't looking over one's shoulder 24/7, so why do something that in your heart of hearts you know is wrong and comes from an evil place? (And I believe that those who are victims of spiritual abuse DO know this at their true core... but they've been taught for so long to ignore their innermost heart and their instincts regarding personal/spiritual safety by those who are abusing them.) To shun someone you love and have loved forever... does anyone outside that relationship truly have the power to sever that deep bond? And if so, do the people in the relationship not realize that they're being brainwashed? That they are now sheep? Lemmings? Is it because, when raised in the church to the extent that you describe, one loses all sense of self and surrenders all individual and rational thought to the church? Isn't it our responsibility to ourselves and our children to teach them to think rationally, to ask questions, to say NO when something feels wrong -- whether it's physical, emotional, sexual, OR spiritual?

    Forgive me, but I am constantly befuddled by the lack of something that I guess I take for granted -- the ability to see when I'm being manipulated, when someone's attempting to control me and my thoughts, and when someone's motives are evil. Maybe it's precisely because of my atheism that I question any bill of goods that someone wants to sell me, be it tangible or intangible.

    I wish you the very best today, Julie Anne. Religion may be a huge part of this blog, but it will be kept out of the court -- as it should be. I believe that you will be released of any and all wrongdoing because in the eyes of the law, you did nothing more sinister than posting a bad restaurant review. I might not be praying for you, but I am sending lots of positive thoughts your way all day long, wishing you strength, peace, and a moral and legal VICTORY!

    1. Carol - it doesn't happen overnight. Think Jim Jones and his followers. How in the world did he get them to drink the kool-aid? When you study cults, you see that so many of the people are highly educated and they get sucked in. Fascinating study on this, but the same techniques work in spiritual abuse. You've known me for years. I got sucked in, too, maybe not as much as other as I seemed to have one foot in and one foot out. Crazy stuff that is for sure. Thank you for your support, Carol.

    2. Dear Carol,

      Pardon my bargeing in, but Christians aren't called upon to "lose all sense of self" or "surrender all rational thought". However, in order to know the Living God, we do have to learn self-surrender. We have to trust in His wisdom even things don't make perfect sense to us, and in His love even when we don't get everything we want. We are allowed to question Him, and express our fears and confusion, but we can't demand answers from Him. God is not accountable to us.

      Having read a lot about spiritual abuse, I can see how a controlling or unscrupulous leader could take this essential part of Christian faith, and twist it into something it shouldn't be. If he's clever enough, and charming enough, and takes his time, he can eventually set himself up as someone untouchable, unassailable -- getting Christians to put total trust in him, rather than in God. Now, if he came right out of the gate acting this way, he probably wouldn't get much of hearing in most churches. But as Julie Anne said, it doesn't happen overnight. The "wolf" bides his time.

      As one survivor of Jonestown famously said, "no one joins a 'cult'". It's a mark of the shrewdness of such leaders that they are able to manipulate even very intelligent people, and turn the best parts of us into poison.

      P.S. to Julie Anne: If you think I'm getting off topic for this post, please let me know.

    3. Serving: You are not off topic whatsoever :)

    4. I also found your blog through the news coverage. Having experienced and become a survivor of spiritual abuse at the hands of someone I considered a close friend, I thought I might also try to answer part of Carol's question. And as a side note, I am very strong in my faith in God and Jesus Christ despite this experience. This is just to offer up a little anatomy of how someone can fall prey to a spiritual abuser. This definately does not happen over night. It takes time and a lot of psychological charisma on the part of the abuser(s). They are a spiritual confidence man/woman who will key on your personal or spiritual weaknesses. Then they use these weaknesses to gain your trust by offering their guidance, in the name of God of course, in a way that leads you to believe that they are your best friend and confidant. (In my case this person quoted scripture and EVERY opportunity to try to support his skewed way of thinking and when challenged or called out, used only selected parts of scripture as a weapon.) After a while, you begin to lose your own sense of wisdom and rely on theirs. It is a gradual breaking down of ones self. In your spirit, you will sometimes get a sense that something isn't quite right, red flags so to speak, but you ignore it because the in your mind you have put your trust in this person and they "would never steer me wrong." You become dependent on this person(s) and stop THINKING FOR YOURSELF. Then you end up joining forces with them. For the perpetrators of this, it is all about mind control and gaining power over others. . it has nothing to do with the love of God. . .only the love of themselves. Those who know what the Bible says about the TRUE love of God are able to take a stand and say ENOUGH! Those who have become dependent on others to TELL them what the Bible says will accept and join forces with them and help perpetrate the abuse further.
      God Bless and I will be praying for you.

    5. Anonymous, 4:03 - I hope you hang around for a while. You definitely get it! You explained the process beautifully!

  17. Wow. I found this blog because of the news coverage and I can't stop reading it. So very sad...God intends for us to love each other, forgive each other, respect each other...and your church did none of this. Hannah is a strong and amazing daughter to glad you found your way back to each other and you took on this cause. Prayers to all of you.

    1. Thank you, Maura. Hannah is an amazing daughter.

  18. Hey Julie Anne,

    Excellent post--with clarity, accuracy, and passion!!

    You Go Girl!

    You have hit a nerve in the Body of Christ!

  19. I was reading this and felt led to add, that I do believe that both the pastors and others like them do in fact go to the same school.
    Ephesians 6:12
    New International Version (NIV)
    12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
    Because satan and his demons tend to use the same play book over and over, they are teaching the same types of things to those that are learning from them. We need to remember to look for the fruits, because that is how we know who is who.


    I've never hear of such weirdness - While most churches are trying to gain new membership, this one seems to have a FIXATION on those who have left. What possible business is it of theirs now?

    If I were a contractor and found a something inferior about a product at Home Cheapo, I might leave and go to Lowers. I don't have to fear some huckster from Home Cheapo will make a list with my name on it, tell all their other customers what a bad guy I am, and not to do business with me.. In the REAL world it is not that way. (Except for politics.) -lol- I'm not so sure politicians live in the REAL world either. But they slam one-another and don't sue. Why not?

    Pastor Wolfe should crawl back under the rock he came out from under. This kind of behavior should not be excused even if it were not in a 'so-called' church setting. This is not even civil. It seems like such a waste of time and energy to be concerned about people who choose NOT to attend a particular church, regardless which church it might be.

    For those in other venues (blogs etc.) who tell JA to 'just move on' maybe they should be talking to the Wolfe family / Wolfe church and tell THEM to move on, get over it, some people WILL leave. And that's a fact.

    If people are put out of the church, doesn't that seem counterproductive? Just looking at it from an economical standpoint, less membership = less money for the church = less money for Pastor Wolfe. He is shooting himself in the foot. IMO (I think that was mentioned here before.)

    Great blog post, JA

    PS: You're not just making this up as you go, are ya? -- lol --

    1. Sheep-Dog - I couldn't make up this insanity. It would hurt my head.

  21. Yes!!

    When my husband and I got married, I joined the church he'd grown up in and I felt I'd found a home. We raised our children in the church and they were all dedicated there.

    I eventually became the director of a mom's group, I sang in the choir, and was the director of the Drama Ministry. My husband played in the church orchestra and travelled with a ministry music team.

    A terrible man was hired to be an assistant pastor and everything changed. His wife was a prolific gossip, and God help anyone who became her target. Somehow I became the object of her lies. When I tried to defend myself, I was called a "liar" and was eventually told I was a "danger" to the church's reputation. We were forced to leave our church family and NO ONE stuck with us. We lost all our "friends" and our community. Our kids were forced to walk away from all the friends they'd had since they were babies in the church nursery.

    Our kids were about Junior High age at the time and every one of them were at a spiritual crossroad. Ten years of HELL followed. People who watched our kids rebel told us it was because "you left the church". We NEVER left the church - the church abandoned us and when we were in crisis, they separated themselves from us even further.

    The corrupt pastor is STILL in leadership, as is the assistant and his wife. The abuse continues.

    1. Such a sad story :( How are you doing now, EMS? and your children?


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