Friday, May 31, 2013

An ugly example of a spiritually abusive system

I'm not usually one to speak out on things pertaining to church systems.
Certainly, I am not an authority on ecclesiastical matters.
But I do attend church.
I have attended several different church denominations in my lifetime.
From Evangelical Mennonite and Christian and Missionary Alliance in my childhood in Ohio to Independent Baptist and Bible churches in my early adult life.
Currently, my husband and I attend a wonderful Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in Texas.
Recently, in the last two or three years, we have been following a disturbing "sub-branch" of this denomination that I feel I cannot stay mute on any longer.

When you hear of something that you cannot believe, it's always best to research it and really get the facts before you feed the flame of rumors that can hurt many, many people.
I am not one to want to start a controversy either.
But I do feel strongly that when you become aware of something terribly stay silent is to be complicit.
And on this I cannot be.
Not any longer.

I want to speak out on the dangers of "man-worship" vs. God worship.
How this can create a culture, an environment, that fosters sexual, verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse.
I'm not speaking of having a deep respect and admiration for your pastor or church leader, but I'm referring to when a man becomes so revered that he has no accountability, and such tight control on people that they are intentionally manipulated to feed his selfish ego, and becomes a celebrity that can do no wrong.
No preacher, no shepherd, no pastor should ever allow himself to become that to his people.

I've been taught to believe that one red flag of a cult is when a man (or an entire organization)  is put in the position of God......
when that man (or organization) is allowed to be the ultimate authority in people's lives and makes the rules that people feel compelled to live by.

A pastor may be a cult leader if:
.....the church members feel they must ask his permission to go on vacation especially if it means they will be missing church services.
.....his family members are stopped in public places by other people and asked to sign their Bibles. members hear similar sermons over and over on the "fundamentalist trinity of hair, music and women in pants."
......sexual abuse allegations in the church or rumors of inappropriate behavior by the pastor result in "church discipline" where the alleged victim is often communicated as being "consenting" in the relationship or somehow brought it on by her "immodest dress or behavior."  The alleged perpetrator's "crime" is swept under the rug while the alleged victim is swept out of the church.  All to protect the image of this cult leader and his church.
.....he has an anger problem.
.....there is a statue of the pastor in front of the church.

Don't get me wrong here.
This can and does happen in all denominations across the board.
This is sin.
It's completely deviant from what the Lord laid out in scripture regarding church leadership.
But this is near and dear to my heart because there are churches in my own denomination who are full of well-meaning, God-fearing, kind people who have gotten entangled and starry-eyed, and ultimately brainwashed into this cultish sub-branch that takes on a culture of its own!

For many years I've been acquainted with the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana.
For years, there have been disconcerting and disturbing reports of immoral and even criminal behavior that has gone on unconfronted.
It all started when their pastor, Jack Hyles, got bit by the venomous snake of power and he began to abuse his authority, take advantage of those under his leadership, and manipulate everyone around him for his own benefit.
All in the name of the Lord.
With scripture verses to back up his every move.
And as his reign was drawing to a close, he began grooming his successor.
He hand-picked him.
The next Jack.
Even married him into the Hyles family.
Jack Schaap married Cindy Hyles.
And this Jack took up the crown with such charisma and talent that it was hard to deny his calling.

His rise to power was so flamboyant though that those around him barely noticed some very troubling things about this man.
The people of this church had become so accustomed to the culture set up by the previous Jack that these things didn't even seem off.

I mean......really.....NOBODY stood up and shouted from the rooftops "Foul" when this man preached a sermon to an enormous group of youth entitled "A Polished Shaft."
I personally have not watched it.
I don't need to.
If you do, google it.
But how can something like that NOT raise eyebrows?
Or his heretical, blasphemous book entitled, "Marriage: The Divine Intimacy."
You don't need a master's degree in theology to see how off this man's interpretation of scripture is!!
And somebody PUBLISHED this stuff?
How does this happen?

Here's how:
Plain and simple.
All the brainwashing, the manipulation, the deception, the power hungry egos, the lure of fame and prestige and ultimately the sexual abuse....can be traced back to the Garden of Eden and the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life."
But on a more practical level, it can be traced back to putting a man in a place that only our Holy God should be.
It can also be traced back to fear and silence.
When a church's system is fear-based as opposed to grace-based, you foster an atmosphere for man-worship on a cultish level.
It is spiritual abuse.

Fortunately, God is still on the throne and He intervened in a most powerful way at the First Baptist Church of Hammond.
Finally, Jack Schaap got caught.
It seems that some of those closest to him were indeed concerned about some of his behavior.
They saw a frightening pattern of deception that was spiraling out-of-control.
And providentially, by God, an image popped up on his cell-phone on the pulpit of his church and an associate of his found it.
And turned him in to the authorities.
And recently he was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for his crime.
I, personally, do not believe that this was his only victim either.
Typically, this type of criminal behavior is only the tip of the iceberg and the only one that was "caught."
He was so good at his manipulation and deception and planning that he clearly was a master that had perfected his craft over years of practice.

The most profound and moving public statement on this whole fiasco was penned by Linda Murphrey.
She is another daughter of Jack Hyles, sister to Cindy Schaap.
Listen to her tell her story here.
Then read her letter to the people of the church she clearly cared about:

My point in all of this is that I do not want to be among those who are silent about this type of leadership.
I cannot "join hands" or be "in fellowship" with brand of Christianity.
There is a big doctrine that Independent Fundamental Baptist churches stand on and that is the doctrine of separation.
Separation from those things of our society and world systems and philosophies that would confuse or possibly tarnish the image of Jesus Christ.
Separation from those things clearly spoken of as sin in scripture.
Separation from those things that would mar our presentation as the Bride of Christ when He returns for us.
Sexual abuse of any kind, lying, deception, manipulation, self-gratifying motivations.
I feel that I must be separate from that kind of behavior.
I don't want to be associated with it.
I don't want people confused in thinking that I might possibly condone that or be among those that cover it up!
I cannot stay silent any longer and by my silence, condone it.

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