by Cindy Kunsmans cross posted from her blog Under Much Grace
Originally published in 2010 and titled ‘To New or Disgruntled Readers’
For people who visit here for the first time and find themselves a bit “challenged,” I would like to address some of the common problems that people tend to have with the nature of the material that I post here. (I call it the “Gadfly Effect,” something echoing the “Gadfly of Athens” title attributed to Socrates because he asked pesky questions that no one wanted to think about.)
The subject of spiritual abuse is a difficult one for everyone. …But, if you have just happened upon this site and you also find it difficult because it concerns groups or belief systems that you support and admire, I would like you to consider a little bit about my intent and perspective. It is my hope that, though “disgruntled,” you will at least give the information here as much of a fair reading as possible. It is my hope that – in the future – if you should come to a place where you can no longer dismiss discrepancies in your own religious system, you will return to read here again.
Though I talk about spiritual abuse in Evangelical Christianity, I focus a great deal on the patriarchy movement. If you identify with this group, I suspect that most everything that you know about the group to be very favorable if not glowing. The material that I present here in good conscience stands in stark contrast to what you know and trust. Reading this material for the first time, I expect that you will feel stressed and very likely offended on some level. It makes more sense to doubt and criticize this new information in favor of the wealth of pleasant information that you already trust, and reasonable people should respond this way. This uncomfortable process of the “Gadfly Effect” is called “cognitive dissonance,” and you can read an introduction to this process HERE, if you’re interested.
To those who question my integrity and veracity of the information here, please note that I would not knowingly post false information on this blog for a host of reasons, the first and foremost of which concerns my Christian faith and testimony. I do not post unsubstantiated information here, so I am inclined to think we disagree concerning my opinion about certain facts or the causality about how fact, behavior, and belief come together. These are not “lies” but are my opinions which have been shaped by my perspective and presuppositions.
Sometimes people express concern that I suggest that those who follow patriarchy “are not good people.” Also, some assume that I must believe that those in patriarchy (1) have not thought about their beliefs, (2) are perhaps simpletons, or (3) lack good conscience. To the contrary, I believe that they show fine character and good conscience out of their earnest and fervent desire to honor God, identifying patriarchy as the wisest way to pursue these admirable ends. I do believe, however, that they have been surreptitiously manipulated by a system that seems to be virtuous but uses less than virtuous means (including exploitation of its own followers) to accomplish its objectives. I believe that those who follow the system aspire to do the right things selflessly for the right reasons but do not realize that they’ve been deceived.
I do hold a very different position regarding leadership in these groups, and I make no effort to soften my protests regarding their aberrant doctrines and their notably abusive behaviors. Some of these leaders are quite accomplished, are very good teachers, and are quite good at other aspects of their work. I believe that many of these leaders are good Christians who are enslaved within their own systems of belief which require more of them than God does Himself. But I believe they are preaching another gospel, and many of these leaders’ behaviors often fall far short of the higher level of Christian testimony that the Apostle Paul required of teachers and leaders. To warn and aid their unsuspecting followers (as I was once one of them), I voice my protests out of Christian duty in obedience to the Word and my own conscience.
Occasionally, I am told that if I only had an opportunity to meet some of these leaders in person, I would be so impressed by their kindness and good character that I would cease to protest their doctrine. Sadly, like many of my friends, when I have had personal and direct interactions with leaders in patriarchy, my experience was far from pleasant. Even if I had found them to be delightful, this would still not quell my concerns regarding their aberrant teachings. Doing so would be a logical error called a “red herring” through some genetic fallacy or some appeal to authority. My protests don’t arise from a personal issue but from doctrinal issues that produce fruit that results in harm to many. Because I follow doctrine and truth before personal alliance, those who share my concerns about patriarchy have even criticized my response to deceitful behavior of “people on our team.” (These are the ethics [?] of Gadamer.) Because it was “bad PR for the cause” of exposing the dark side of patriarchy, many of my own confidants have taken offense at me, expecting me to hold those “on our team” to a much lower standard of accountability than I expect of those in patriarchy. Because I believe that it is unethical to show partiality through double standards, I consider myself an “equal opportunity offender.” 😉
What makes discussion difficult with those in patriarchy or other Bible-based groups like them? It may not be readily apparent to the new reader that this blog follows after a history of patriarchy’s rising leaders’ refusal of respectful exchanges with their peers. Patriarchy’s authoritarian elitism makes productive discussion of its inherent problems difficult, and certain patriarchal groups even demonize, threaten, and retaliate against their critics.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: On this blog, I discuss spiritual abuse in general, specific Bible-based groups in particular, and I also discuss topics in Christian apologetics as a function of my personal faith. These topics overlap in my thinking as well as in my blog posts, but they may or may not for the reader which can be confusing. Please also note that I consider liberation from spiritual abuse as a separate objective from evangelism or apologetics which some fellow Evangelicals can find confusing. (After people emerge from manipulative Christianity, I believe that they should not be unduly influenced by a Christian agenda until they recover from certain effects of spiritual abuse, particularly if Christianity was used to exploit them.) I discuss this in more detail HERE.
Many in patriarchy also take ease in declaring those with different views to be marginally Christian, “non-elect,” or even heretics. This group has taken doctrines such as gender and human agency that have been traditionally considered intramural or “non-essential” (those unrelated directly to salvation) and have redefined them as “essential” doctrines of orthodoxy (those necessary for salvation). According to Michael Meiring, such groups actually broaden what is considered essential orthodoxy by redefining it, and in so doing, they make salvation accessible to fewer people. I consider those in patriarchy to be Christian in terms of the essentials, inviting productive discussion with them, even in academic settings. To say that it is my personal experience that they do not reciprocate is an understatement! This makes celebration of the unity we share in Christ nearly impossible, primarily because patriarchy insists upon uniformity through conformity instead of unity.
Meiring summarizes this quite well in his new book “Preserving Evangelical Unity: Welcoming Diversity in Non-Essentials”:
Contrary to popular belief, denominationalism is not the root cause of disunity; it is sectarianism or fundamentalism. And the evangelical church is not immune to this disease. Some Christians have in the past and up to now sown a sectarian attitude, believing that unity means conformity to all their views and “refusing to allow for diversity in others.” They have broadened Christian orthodoxy by breaking fellowship with any other Christian who disagrees with them on non-essential doctrines, which is fuelled by their belief that the Holy Spirit illumines their minds to understand everything written in the Bible. There is, however, a subtle danger that all of us must face in our effort for unity. We must be aware that when we apply principles of interpretation, we are approaching Scripture with our presuppositions, influenced by our environment and theological traditions (pg. 10, emphasis mine).
I recently read a book by Dr. William Knauss that may offer even more insight into my purposes on this blog (“Take Charge Now: Powerful Techniques for Breaking the Blame Habit”). Knauss defines criticism or blame as the process by which we hold someone responsible, possibly instituting censure as a consequence. Ideally, blame is then a matter of taking responsibility for our words and actions, a process that can be objective, hopefully working toward a productive and beneficial end. This process should rely upon rules of conduct, standards, evaluation of behavior, some degree of accountability, and possible penalties for violating those standards (pg 6). Knauss suggests that we should aim to look at criticism as descriptive rather than as a personal assessment, something to which I aspire and intend. I do admit, however, that when discussing matters or people that we admire passionately concerning matters of faith and how we live out that faith, the process of keeping things descriptive requires a great deal of maturity. We are all maturing!
If we each gave and accepted blame according to this more dispassionate view, blame would not be such an emotionally charged process. But as everyone knows, blame has extended meanings. Once we’ve established fault, when we extend this blame by adding condemnations, character assassinations, and unwarranted criticism, we go beyond what is necessary. Understanding and defusing these extensions of blame is, perhaps, the most important thing people can do to increase their happiness, establish positive relationships, and reduce stress. Predictably, eliminating extensions of blame should promote fewer hassles, and people will lead happier, saner lives (pg 6).
Extensions of blame add nothing constructive and detract from problem solving and positive human relationships. Alertness to extension-of blame thinking opens opportunities for avoiding it…
The more dangerous blame extensions involve a blanket condemnation of people themselves rather than their mistakes and faults. When you totally condemn someone, you can justify retaliatory action against the person. At the extreme, we see these global retaliatory extensions of blame in Adolf Hitler’s views toward….. His [Hitler’s] extension-of –blame fiction becomes obvious when we ask “How can a complex person be only one way or another?” (pg 7)
My husband and I spent four years in a Gothard and CGI church, additional years of experience in a church where a leader in patriarchy once attended, and years living in a communities wherein most Evangelicals followed some variation of aberrant patriarchy. For the better part of three years, I have studied patriarchy’s practices and doctrines, adding the personal accounts of others to my own understanding. I’ve read a number of theologians on both sides of these arguments. I’ve talked with people still in the belief system and those who have come out of it. I still find patriarchy to be a very cruel belief system that is aberrant or “cultic,” a system perpetuated by manipulation and control through a system of spiritual abuse. Like all sinners saved by grace, I make mistakes, though I aspire to be an agent of positive change in this discussion. I particularly hope to see the young women and mothers who pay the greatest price of suffering liberated from the cruel aspects of the ideology.
It is my highest hope that God will bring all Christians into the knowledge of the truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we grow together in unity. (I hope that this understanding helps somewhat to satisfy general questions and complaints you might have.) May we learn to rightly submit ourselves one to another, a willful choice to yield to one another, in a spirit of love. That spirit often seems to be miserably missing in this discussion. By grace, may we find mercy, meekness, and patience for one another according to the mercy we have been shown by our Loving Lord.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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