Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ronald Enroth about Wellspring

Ronald M. Enroth in Recovering from Churches that Abuse (in pdf), chapter 2, writes that some ex-members of abusive churches need counseling (p. 21):

Dr. Paul Martin, a Christian psychologist, believes that, although there may be obstacles such as a lack of finances standing in the way, a formal, systematic program of professional counseling is essential. A structured program enables victims of spiritual abuse to have a framework for dealing with their post-departure problems, thereby facilitating the recovery process. However, Martin points out, it is important that the counselor not be a secular mental health professional having a bias against religious beliefs, who would discourage the victim from giving any regard to religion whatsoever.

A Christian counselor is needed, whether a pastor or professional therapist. It must be someone who understands the dynamics of abusive systems and who, in a relationship of trust, can provide the warmth and caring necessary to support the victim. The survivor must be assured of God's unfailing grace and be able, in effect, to rediscover the gospel.

Then, in chapter 3, Enroth describes the rehabilitation program in the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (pp. 32-33):

According to Martin, the people he sees at Wellspring usually go through three stages of recovery after leaving a cult or authoritarian church.

The first stage of recovery involves "exit counseling" and confronting denial. Victims will tend to deny their experiences and blame themselves for what happened to them. They need to be shown that they were controlled by very clever, manipulative people.

Learning to trust others in authority without creating a new codependent relationship is one of the first issues that victims of spiritual abuse confront. They need to understand how the control mechanisms that were at work in the church continue to affect them even after they have left. They must experience true acceptance, love, and a sense of belonging. They need to understand what has happened to them emotionally and psychologically.

It is important to help victims experience positive fellowship. The intensity of relationships within an abusive group must be matched by intense relationships in a wholesome setting.

The first stage also must address the doctrines of the abusive church. It is important to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings. Most of the churches mentioned in this book are theologically orthodox, although nearly all would be guilty of distorting the Bible's message in some way. Peter Sommer observes, "These groups are rarely heretical in theory. They don't deny Christian basics; they tend to brush by them. Instead they focus on what makes them different from other churches or groups. They have lots of teaching, but it tends to be on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."

Stephen Martin, a staff member at Wellspring, considers instruction in sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible important. In abusive groups, twisted hermeneutics are often used to instill fear and guilt and thus become a form of spiritual intimidation. "Since leaders of abusive churches typically twist the Scriptures, education in hermeneutics would help the ex-member gain the right perspective on Scripture passages. In talking with former members at Wellspring, I have found a number of them who have difficulty with or even an aversion to reading the Bible because it has been misused by the group to abuse them. Learning the proper application and interpretation of Scripture goes a long way toward healing the wounds of abuse."

Sommer advises, "It may be wise not to read Scriptures that the group has emphasized; their interpretation may be deeply grooved into your thinking. Read instead the many texts that they did not teach you." I suggest that these people attempt to rediscover God's Word through the Psalms because those writings validate a person's individual spiritual life. Paul Martin feels it is wise for victims to use a different translation of the Bible from that commonly used in the group.

The second stage of recovery from Wellspring's perspective is both a time of grieving and a time for regaining a sense of purpose. Tears will be shed over wasted years, missed opportunities, and severed friendships. It helps to talk about the past. Colleen comments, "Talking to others about what has happened to me has really helped me." Former members need a safe place to tell their story fully and freely, even if they feel confused and embarrassed.

The abusive church experience is often a crisis of faith, as Paul Martin and others have pointed out. Victims must be able not only to rebuild self-esteem and purpose in life, but also renew a personal relationship with God. That can be difficult for those who have yet to resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" As Rachel, one former church member, puts it, "I had been taught that nothing was ever God's fault. The problem was that I was a true, believing Christian, but when I asked God for spiritual bread and water, look what I got. Was I praying to the wrong God? Was I dishonest? Secretly evil? Was I demonic, like the church kept telling me I was? How could an honest, sincere believer get tricked like this? How could God let this happen?"

People like Colleen and Rachel need the assurance that it is possible to have a rich relationship with God. In Sommer's words, the victim must be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him. Your break with the group is a step of obedience to the first commandment: No graven images!"

For Wellspring, victims of spiritual abuse have reached the third stage of recovery when they begin to talk less about the past and begin to focus on the future: career pursuits, new relationships, and family. It is a time for picking up the pieces that are worth retrieving from life as it was before the abusive church experience.

Paul Martin describes his experience of retrieval this way: "Without question, parts of me died during those years in this group. I have been able to take the discipline that I learned in the group into my current career. But I constantly try to recover the parts of me that died during that involvement."

One woman tells of her having been forced to discard all her prized record albums of a certain kind of music upon joining the Jesus People USA. During her recovery she searched second-hand shops so she could replace those lost albums. The third stage also means coping with re-socialization and the practical matters which it entails such as managing time and money, relating to public agencies and institutions, learning parenting and other special skills, and adjusting to making decisions for oneself. Establishing credit, preparing a job resume, and even opening a bank account may be new experiences.

Wellspring exists because recovering emotionally, restoring a loving relationship with God, and re-entering society are not easily accomplished on one's own. The accounts in this book reveal how tortuous the path to recovery can be without professional, caring help. The tragedy is that for the victims of spiritual abuse, the options are disappointingly few. Not many programs are especially equipped, as Wellspring is, to treat victims of spiritual abuse. Moreover, the costs can be out of reach for people upon leaving a control-oriented group because they have few financial resources. It is also the case that beyond the sphere of Christian counseling, some psychologists and psychiatrists are biased against all religious beliefs and may encourage clients to rid themselves of all religious entanglements, proverbially throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I think it is quite interesting how they combine psychological and spiritual counseling. There is no contradiction between psychology and theology in their program. In my opinion, a Christian psychologist can understand not only psychological, but also spiritual problems of ex-members of abusive churches. So, I tend to agree with Enroth and Paul Martin that for ex-members of abusive churches a counseling from a Christian psychologist is better than a counseling from an atheist psychologist. Unlike Hassan, Enroth and Martin do not say that this psychologist should be a cult expert.

Then, I agree with Enroth and Stephen Martin that proper Bible study and biblical hermeneutics are important for spiritual recovery. Abusive churches as well as cults of Christianity twist the Bible in order to justify their unbiblical teachings and practices. Probably, all the abusive churches twist the Bible in order to prove their authoritarianism. They emphasize that the spiritual leaders have God's given authority and the members have to submit to them as to God. Another teaching that abusive churches have is the concept that if the members are not submissive enough, not diligent enough, not spiritual enough, not good enough, and so on, God will punish them. In addition, the abuse by the spiritual leaders is presented as God's punishment or God's discipline. This causes members and ex-members of abusive churches to believe that God is cruel. Then, abusive churches often have a teaching that their leader has some new revelation. He is viewed as an apostle or a prophet having a special commission from God for this age. Thus, their church is considered to be unique and the only approved by God. Abusive churches usually require deep commitment and consecration from their members. Their doctrines emphasize commitment to their church in order to fulfill God's will. They encourage members to reject everything that can frustrate their full commitment. Abusive churches usually have many detailed regulations about members' behavior. They tend to be very legalistic. Probably, these doctrines are common in abusive churches and they cause spiritual problems of members and ex-members of abusive churches. They should be refuted through the proper interpretation of the Bible.

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