Two Recent Blogs Worth Reading

I’m recovering from a heart operation, so I’m taking it slow right now.

In the meantime, here are two blogs with timely insight on two very different but important issues – but both with broader implications:

Depreciating Humanity: The Importance of Being Best at Being Right, by Thad Norvell

Despite multiple witnesses who’ve confirm a history of sex abuse and exploitation within Sovereign Grace Ministries under C.J. Mahaney, several of his friends and national leaders came out supporting him.

By way of disclosure, Nathan’s Voice (a ministry of our fellowships) – and Marianne and I – know and have been involved in helping some of the victims of leadership abuse at SGM, so we’ve seen the carnage up close and personal.

In his blog about the SGM scandal, Norvell says:

I fear those public statements [of support for C.J. Mahaney] reflect the private thoughts of men who, whether by will or ignorance, are clustering around the spoils of the proud when their calling is to be of a lowly spirit with the poor and oppressed. Even if Mahaney is a victim of some false accusations, his rush back to the platform and the efforts of his friends to protect his place at the head table ought to prompt some deep, Gospel-driven questions about how insulated some of these men seem to be from the thousands of sincere, Gospel-loving followers of Jesus they lead, formally and informally.

As our own fellowships have confronted the history of sex abuse by Frank Viola in the organic church community, and watched the desperate efforts by those who are “clustering around the spoils of the proud” by defending him to protect their “movement” and their own status, we see the same thing happening.

I wept as I read Norvell’s blog. Change the names, but the story’s the same. I’ve seen it time and time again.

When will we ever learn?

It’s sad. Very, very sad…

Why do Word of Faith Christians Become Jaded?, by Eric Hyde

“After years of involvement with [Word of Faith] thinking this is often what the believer is left with – a unidirectional love affair with God where God does all the active-loving (i.e. ‘works’) and the believer does all the receiving. The trouble, of course, is this simply doesn’t work (and, it’s incredibly boring). God is not in the unidirectional love business.”

Ditto, it seems to me, with the faddish hyper-grace movement.

~ Jim

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Elitist Racism

Elitism and racism in the Body of Christ are very ugly things. Lately, they’ve reared their ugly heads in some very nasty ways that hit close to home.

Over the last several months, we’ve been promoting Crossroad Junction through some very limited, non-targeted ads by Facebook on Facebook.

stop_racismDuring the same period, we also have received a high percentage of new followers from the Philippines and other overseas places. Whether it’s due to those ads or not, we don’t know.

Regardless, this heightened overseas interest is not due to any directed or targeted effort on our part, and Marianne and I are thrilled to connect with other believers from across the globe.

Now, however, our increasing readership is provoking a very elitist and racist series of attacks – directed against us, our fellowships, and our new Filipino followers.

Some of our Filipino brothers and sisters have seen those attacks, and have been deeply offended.

In the face of those attacks, I want welcome to you to our blog – and offer my apologies for the ugly efforts by some of my countrymen to discredit you by questioning your motives and capacity to follow the somewhat intellectual and substantive articles found here.

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Bart Breen and Frank Viola – Lies, Sex Abuse and Cover Up

Last updated 1/10/2015

Lately, some guy named Bart Breen has been attacking, with increasingly shrill and outlandish behavior, anyone who dares expose the history of sexual abuse and cover-up in a cult he’s involved with.

Bart Breen

Bart Breen: Stalker

That cult centers around author and so-called “apostolic worker” Frank Viola, who has used his position and influence to sexually prey upon and exploit teenagers and other young women.

Rather than protect folks from Frank Viola’s misconduct, Mr. Breen and their network of self-appointed “apostles” at House2House Ministries (including Felicity Dale, Jon Zens, Milt Rodriquez, Keith Giles and Ken Eastburn) have engaged in an ongoing campaign of intimidation and cover up.

Bogus Press Releases and Stalking My Wife

In all my years helping church abuse victims as an attorney (now retired) and as a local church elder, I have never seen anything as nasty or as vicious as the cultish efforts by House2House – and its mutual promotion network of self-appointed “apostles” – to attack and personally destroy anyone who dares reference their history of abuse and cover up.

It is ongoing and gotten so bad that Bart Breen, a frequent House2House Magazine co-contributor who is associated with a struggling Frank Viola affiliated “church” near us, has been stalking my wife while also putting out false blogs and press releases in a desperate attempt to silence me.

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Jon Zens and Frank Viola – A Public Response

May 15, 2013 (updated)

Re:     Author and “Apostolic Worker” Frank Viola

Dear Mr. Zens:

I am providing this preliminary response, both personally and on behalf of our fellowships, to your letter of May 10th and to your many related statements on Facebook. I thus write for myself and as an elder within those fellowships.

Your letter was co-signed by Bart Breen and sent on behalf of Christian author and “apostolic worker” Frank Viola and his mutual promotion network of other so-called “apostolic workers” who – like you – enjoy his repeated public endorsements, including Milt Rodriquez and Felicity Dale.

The context of this response are the facts and public warnings issued against Frank Viola for abuse and sexual exploitation by his former church.

To this day, those warnings have not been factually refuted and thus warrant an open response by Mr. Viola. Any such response should be at least as public as his own public claims of being a leader in, and to, the Body of Christ.

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When Ekklesia Matters

Everybody’s all for “ekklesia” (the Greek word in the New Testament often translated to mean a local “church”).

Folks blog about it, post on Facebook about it, create online groups about it, and write books about it.

Yup. They all love “ekklesia”….

Except when a particular “ekklesia” follows Biblical procedure and issues a pubic warning under the mandate of 1 Tim. 5:19-21 against some leader the “ekklesia” boosters have placed on an untouchable pedestal – but who had been part of that church, only to then immediately leave and refuse to be accountable when it tried to address his issues of abuse and exploitation.

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The Predators Among Us

The Alchemist in the Pulpit

A good article that provides much needed perspective on sexually exploitive church leaders. In Marianne and my experience with Nathan’s Voice, a ministry of our fellowships which has helped literally hundreds of abuse survivors over the years, this is spot on. It describes the typical personality, motives and means of predation by those who use their emotional and spiritual position of trust to sexually exploit others.

Sexual Exploitation by Church Leaders – How Do We Respond?

PhoneyAbusive Church Leaders – Mandatory Public Warnings

It is always painful when we learn that a beloved church leader has used his position of trust to sexually exploit those under his care. The recent disclosures about Frank Viola are no exception. But when it’s confirmed by multiple witnesses, how should we react? Fortunately, the New Testament provides clear instructions.

How to Become a Cult (Part 6)

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Create a fractured persona. Falsely project empathy, expertise and success as a trusted church leader – while covering up a pattern of infidelity, sexual predation and exploitation, persistent detachment from any accountable local fellowship, and failed churches. Appeal to unity and loyalty, personalize everything as hateful attacks against you by spiteful people, and turn on your well-rehearsed charm (and if that doesn’t work, fall back on lies, threats and intimidation) to silence those who dare ask troubling questions. Work behind the scenes and through others to purge all dissenting voices and any contrary information – both in your churches and on public forums like the Internet. As you then bamboozle folks with your enticing but fraudulent persona and fictitious history, they’ll became compliant pawns to your narcissistic deceptions.

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The pattern outlined above is something I have seen time and again with inflated church leaders who learn to manipulate people and then cross the line into sexual exploitation and predation with what eventually becomes a personality cult – which they sustain through outward charm and behind-the-scenes intimidation. The documents and multiple witness statements originally published by Frank Viola’s former church in Brandon, Florida, document yet another example of such behavior by Mr. Viola.

(Unfortunately, the Viola gang has succeeded in forcing those documents to be removed from various internet archives and also the church’s original web site through threats and intimidation as part of their ongoing cover up. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a full and complete copy of all the Brandon Church’s numerous published witness statements and documents about Frank Viola’s history of sexual predation, abuse  and false biographical claims before they were purged. Copies are available to anyone interested.)

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How to Become a Cult (Part 4)

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Create a fractured Holy Spirit. Tell folks that what we personally feel the Holy Spirit say today is higher revelation – and more trustworthy and authoritative – then His external Word of scripture. Mesmerize hurting people with your deeper life teachings, until they confuse their own need for meaning, significance and belonging with the voice of the Holy Spirit – while weaning them away from scripture as the external standard for judging the validity of what they feel He’s said. As they mistake your ability to charm, entice and inspire with the Holy Spirit’s authentic internal voice and authoritative external Word, they will come to believe that following your message means following Him.

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How to Become a Cult (Part 3)

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Create a fractured Jesus. Tell folks “Christ is All”, but make “all” your own existential perception of Christ to the exclusion of “all” He’s authoritatively revealed about Himself – including His scriptural imperatives, external commands, propositional truths and moral precepts. This allows you to create Jesus in your own image, so that your own sensibilities, objectives and idiosyncrasies then become normative for all.

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How to Become a Cult (Part 2)

cult_imageCreate fractured people. Tell them the “soul” (including our mind, will and emotions) is inherently bad and only our renewed “spirit” (as you conveniently get to define it) is good. Rather than becoming integrated, whole and healthy people, subordinate their minds, will and emotions to your fractured, “deeper life” revelation about their “spirit”. As you then invalidate individual thought, action and feelings, you ensure dependence on your own ministry and vision.

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How to Become A Cult (Part 1)

cult_imageTo insure that a “group think” mentality takes hold around your deeper-life revelation, and to avoid accountability, attract and validate wounded people by telling them that they (along with you) literally are the Body of Christ. Destroy all metaphor. As their beloved “apostle”, “worker” or whatever you want to call yourself, you and your revelation then become untouchable – and no one can question you – because that would be like challenging Christ Himself.

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Sexuality and the Church

I often have people send me links to articles and blogs, and here are several that deal with different aspects of sexuality in the Church.

Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University, by Brandon Ambrosino

A very candid personal story of a man who struggled over his homosexuality, yet found friendship as the Christian community at a leading conservative university expressed love and grace while remaining faithful to their Biblical convictions.

You Cannot Heal What You Cannot Talk About, by Survivor Girl

Survivor Girl is a frequent commenter here, and this is her very personal story about sexual predation in the church. Please, read this. When a leader uses his position and spiritual gifts to prey on women in the church, it is not an affair, it is sexual abuse. This article will help you understand how sexual predators groom their victims, and also provides links to good resources for dealing with these issues.

Predators in the Pulpit, by Susan McKenzie

Another first person account of sexual predation and grooming in our churches. This too provides good background on how this happens, so we can be on guard and protect others.

Sexual Sin is a Corporate Affair, by Harry Schaumburg

“When we take the gospel seriously we not only correctly understand the nature of sexual immorality, we must become proactive in taking corporate responsibility for the sexual maturity and sexual problems within our local church.”

~ Jim

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Predatory Grooming in Our Churches

I have been involved in dealing with a number of cases involving sexual predation and exploitation by church leaders – in all kinds of churches (including “organic” or “simple” churches which naively think they are immune from this kind of abuse).

liesMy wife and I have also done pastoral counseling, over the years, with literally hundreds of sex abuse survivors – as well as many abusers who seek help after truly confessing and openly repenting.

One thing I see over and over – especially by predatory church leaders – is the same kind of initial “grooming” behavior. It is amazing how sexually exploitive men in “ministry” all seem to use the same methods.

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The Cult of Giftedness

Steubenville and the Misplaced Sympathy for Jane Doe’s Rapists, by Megan Carpentier.

This article addresses a disturbing phenomenon: In America, we have a cultish worship of those who are charming, gifted and inspiring. They are given every benefit of the doubt, and then some.

So it always goes… sympathy and excuses by some for the gifted predator, shame for his “wayward” victim.

As an aside:

Thanks for bearing with us as we take a week or so to focus on these issues. In the Body of Christ, we should be better than this. Unfortunately, we often aren’t.

The Sin of Silence

Leaders who stand conveniently silent – or willfully ignorant – regarding the abuse and exploitation of God’s people by another leader, are idolaters.

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Your Silence Abuses The Abused

They sacrifice innocent men, women and children on the altar of their own ease and self interest, which they often justify by their own warped concept of unity and misguided sense of friendship.

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

When that happens, don’t get mad at me for doing what you were unwilling – but obligated – to do as one entrusted to protect His people.

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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.

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Frank Viola: Feed the Need

Sorry, Frank Viola, but when your “revelation” of Jesus looks a lot like your own sensibilities, I’m not impressed.

And when “deeper life” merely reinforces your own postmodern proclivities, I’m likewise not impressed.

Nor do I find a persistent failure to be a functional part of any healthy, local fellowship – despite all your books and blogs on organic church – to be a virtue.

Really, didn’t you get the memo? Postmodernism and existential angst just ain’t that compelling or counter-cultural anymore.

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Breaking Free

More than anyone else, a narcissist knows how to make you feel affirmed, needed and important.

It’s how they control and use you to feed their own need to feel affirmed, needed and important – at your own peril because ultimately they consume you to advance their own self-serving agenda.

Whether in your personal life, church, job or wherever …

Don’t be co-dependent. You deserve better.