Exposing Abusive Church Leaders

Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church looks like it will be a good series by Rachel Evans on the need to expose abusive church leaders and those who hide the abuse. We need more such voices of courage and resolve.

The recent situation with Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) illustrates this need. Over the years, Marianne and I have seen lives destroyed by one of their churches near us. We tried to raise warnings locally, but they were lost among the outward images of “success” by that church and the charisma of its leading “apostle” and popular author and conference speaker.

Yet behind the scenes, the arrogance of leadership there, and their attitude of being untouchable, was astounding. Fortunately, however, God has a way of protecting His people by eventually exposing such sin, after all opportunities to first confess and repent have been ignored.

I’ve been involved in way too many of these kinds of cases – as a friend, a counselor, a church leader, and even as an attorney. Each one has deeply affected me as I had to come beside the victims and be strong for them, while also unflinchingly standing up to some narcissistic – but always charming yet manipulative – exploitive church leader.

But then I’d go home and literally be sick and cry in private over the devastation wrought by the arrogance of abusive leaders in the Body of Christ.

One massive case I helped put together against Christ Chapel, a local church with an alleged pattern of abuse, recently was successfully settled after charges were filed in Federal Court and the judge denied their motion to have the case dismissed. But it took more than two years of emotional wear and tear – on all involved – to get there.

Overall, I have zero tolerance for the narcissists among us – who use their positions of trust in the Body of Christ to exploit others – and the hypocrisy of those who defend and protect them.

A year ago, our fellowships directed me to investigate a situation that’s very similar to SGM, but has been going on within the organic church community.

It involves multiple accounts of a national organic church “leader” and his history of exploiting young women (including teenagers) half his age – along with a nasty campaign of manipulation, intimidation and cover up by his fellow band of “workers” who have tried to keep it hidden.

As I and others have asked questions, we’ve found many with the courage to step forward and bear witness to what went on, and the stories are heart wrenching. We now have more than enough facts to begin publicly addressing the situation – which others tried to do in the past based on the mandates of 1 Tim. 5:19-21, but were silenced.

Interestingly, rather than repenting, I got a thinly veiled threat of being sued in response to our investigation and resolve to expose them.

Anyone who knows me, knows that was the wrong reaction!

No doubt, there will be protests by some against exposing the disqualifying sins of their beloved and charming “man of God” and national leader. However, 1 Tim. 5:19-21 still stands – and it commands that we warn others of abusive leaders where there is no open confession and repentance. Exposure is not optional.

More to come…

~ Jim

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13 responses

  1. I pray you continue in your diligence and stubbornness and you support the victims and expose the sin. I understand how difficult it feels when private pleas to come clean are ignored and rebutted.

    May God be your strength and shield.

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  2. I found your blog early on in those dark, hellish days post-clergy sexual abuse at the hands of my pastor, and it, along with the encouragement and education I received from The Hope of Survivors, offered me my first glimmers of light. When I was finally mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, I filed a formal complaint against him, which was its own hellish process. The church has a built-in bias to conceal and to circle the wagons, even in the face of hard evidence of misconduct. I have had an opportunity to walk alongside two other victims of different pastors in two different denominations, and both women have been shamed and further victimized. Churches are extremely reluctant even to take proactive measures to educate the people in the pews on clergy sexual misconduct and abuse, and we know all too well that the measures they take post-abuse are simply further abusive.

    I follow Rachel Held Evans’ blog, as well, and I noticed that you commented and was glad for it.

    Thank you for your continued efforts to expose and educate, Jim. I’m thanking you for myself as well as for the increasing numbers of those who haven’t yet found their voice.

    God’s blessings on you.

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  3. What do I think WordPress? Well; I think Jim’s doing a good job! Keep it up sir

    8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
    9 Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.
    Proverbs 31:8-9

    Speak up Jim! No cow is too holy. Unless the Lord tells you to keep silent; don’t be.

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  4. It’s so good to hear this…we are..were members of the SGM church and formerly a member of what we would call a cult/IFB church. The cult/IFB church was EXTREMELY abusive…and it still has not been exposed. There were members there who went to jail for sexual abuse…but noone has been able to pin anything on the church…when it’s obvious to everyone who left what kind of abuses are still going on there. They (the media) tried to expose the church…but I think lawsuits were threatened. I just wish they could be exposed…

    Keep on speaking up…we need more folks like you.

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  5. Glad to see that you are keen to be a part of the solution to this distressing church ministry dysfunction. There is a huge need. It is important to continue to raise awareness about spiritual abuse and how people can recover.

    All the best as you continue to come alongside those who have been wounded so senselessly by church leaders.

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  6. It is a seemingly too rare thing when men, in particular, not only speak out against abuse of this nature but are also willing to bear the consequences for doing so. I firmly believe that if more had done so in the past, succeeding generations of men, in general, and leaders, specifically, would by now know for certain that they have little to no chance of getting away with unacceptable behaviour because they would find no-one to support their bad habits. We should consider it shameful when manipulative, abusive behaviour is conveniently ignored (in effect, condoned) by so many for so long. I fear too many of us are a part of the problem and not enough of us are a part of the solution when it comes to these matters. It’s ironic that Christ Himself, who had far more power than any of us could ever hope to attain, made Himself of no reputation and never misused His authority to abuse anyone, even though He had more than ample opportunity to do so.

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  7. Thanks, everyone.

    Leaders who stand conveniently silent – or willfully ignorant – regarding the abuse and exploitation of God’s people by another leader, are idolaters. They sacrifice innocent brothers and sisters on the alter of their own ease, which they often justify by their own warped concept of unity and misguided sense of friendship.

    Understand that eventually they will be forced to give an account of their silence – not only to God, but in the “here and now” to His people who they profess to serve.

    When that happens, don’t get mad at me for doing what you were unwilling – but obligated – to do as elders and watchmen. 1 Tim. 5:19-21.

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  8. I have just recently found your blog. 18 years ago I was sexually abused by a pastor. He was a narcissist and had a very fruitful ministry. I am among the voiceless many who are trying to find their way back to God after a heartbreaking encounter with those who say they represent Him. Thanks for your candor.

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  9. Jim…just a question. I am curious as to how you get around the prohibition against suing fellow believers in court before the ungodly (1 Corinthians 6:1-7).

    Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Carlos

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  10. Pingback: The Sin of Silence « Crossroad Junction

  11. Pingback: Rising Up as an Eagle | Team Family Online

  12. Just left an abusive so called church. Found out about true Salvation and I feel at a crossroads with regard to helping a journalist expose the corruption further or leave it. I was in it for 26 years. My adult life. Any sound Biblical advice welcome.

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