Spiritual Abuse and Barometer People

Adapting the analogy of warning from mines to ministries—

survivors of spiritual abuse often become “barometer people.”



Earlier in the Industrial Era, before more technologies were available, the mining industry used a surprising signal to warn of toxic gases in the mine.  They used a caged canary.  The canary would only stop warbling if it were suffocating.  In that silence, the miners knew they had only minutes to escape, or face the same fate themselves.

Adapting that analogy of warning from mines to ministries–survivors of spiritual abuse often become “barometer people.” Just as the canaries were indictors of a deadly environment in the mines, spiritual abuse survivors are indicators of “spiritual storms” in our churches and ministries.


Barometer People

Barometers are weather instruments which are used to measure the atmospheric pressure.  These mechanisms are sensitive to the weight of the air in the atmosphere and to changes in the environment.  Christians who have experienced spiritual abuse and then have recovered from it get sensitized to what can go horribly wrong in churches and ministries that have ended up becoming toxic.

These Christ-followers can become a wealth of insight as they figure out what happened to them in their churches and why, and what made them susceptible–as well as what made the perpetrators suitable candidates for becoming spiritual abusers. These folks can potentially become some of the most valuable participants in new endeavors or existing ministries. They can aid intentional groups in practical ways to become healthier.

Here’s why:  The types of people who have lived through toxic environments have a unique sensitivity that others in the Body of Christ generally do not have.  Therefore, their ‘toxicity-meters’ are often far sharper than those who only have a theological or theoretical concept of what “healthy” and “safe” ministry means.

Also, it is important to keep in mind that, even before survivors figure out the what’s and why’s of their abuse and abusers, the very fact of their obvious spiritual disorientation and distress serve as warning indicators to those around them.  When those close to them see those signs, it should prod them to figure things out or perhaps even to flee as well.

The value that those who have recovered can provide for the Christian Church is worth exploring.  Furthermore, regarding these disastrous dynamics, those who have survived spiritually abusive ministers and their enablers stand as witnesses to their toxic personalities and methodologies.  Their lives and their insights serve as “weather reports” that can alert others to hazards ahead.

Their documented accounts are warnings of failure to create healthy ministry strategies and structures.  Case studies on real situations–along with hypothetical dysfunctional church settings–provide a safe “laboratory setting” for examining and discerning what we need to avoid if we are to construct social organizations that are righteous and reasonable.

It becomes of prime importance to understand that no organizational leader or ecclesiastical designer is qualified to serve in such an important role unless he or she: 

  1. Is already prepared and committed to prevent infliction of such trauma on God’s people, 

  1. Has the ability to intercept those at risk of abusing others,


  1. Makes it a policy to intervene and remove perpetrators of abuse.

These basics must be in place or the entire scenario will continue to be repeated.


What About Healthy Church Settings?

Some people are sure to ask, “What does healthy LOOK LIKE?” and rightly so.  Fundamentally, if people are equipped to serve and disciple those who are church exiters or spiritual abuse survivors, they’d likely be able to help just about anyone.

When it comes to church leadership ministry, the idea of a healthy model or a proto-type church is very intriguing.  It is the complementary side of setting up a checklist or assessment tool for how healthy a church is.


What Others Have Done

I am reminded of the group that started years ago through a church that Dr. Alan Jamieson pastored in New Zealand.  This group was called Spirited Exchanges.  People met once a week.  It had appeal for two types of people:  those harmed spiritually by church leadership and those with serious faith questions.

Those in the second group were people who needed a safe place to explore their faith questions in a non-judgmental environment. This was not the person who should be sharing their questions or concerns in just any church home group, but one who needed another place to work through issues, while not distressing others who needed a more optimistic weekly format.

Spirited Exchanges ran for about ten years.  The coordinator also started a similar group in the United Kingdom.  They had a dinner format and provided a welcoming place for individuals and couples to share and grow together with others on a similar path.  It was a very profitable endeavor.

I have always liked the name and the concept of this unique group.  I have been in contact with the coordinator of those groups.  I believe that churches who would take on this type of ministry  would find a unique dynamic happening in such a group that would spill over into the rest of the church in a positive way.



People who have experienced spiritual abuse and have reasonably recovered from it can be key people in their current church family as well as in the broader spectrum of Christian ministry today.  It would be wise to engage their sensitivity and their skill sets in various ministry efforts in the future.

As people of faith have been comforted by the Spirit of Christ through their experience of spiritual abuse, they now have comfort and wisdom to share with others who find themselves wounded in the same way in the church. Such people are a gift and can be a huge resource in a healthy church as well as in their extended local  community.


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For Further Reflection

One passage that comes to mind, when thinking about those who have received comfort in their troubles, is found in 2 Cor. 1.

Christians who have experienced the comfort of a loving God can be the first responders to people in need.  This passage gives direction to those who have received comfort from God’s Spirit—that they could be available as effective comforters to those who come to them in their distress.

What a rich opportunity for Christians to share life together and express how God has been there for each of them in their personal distresses in the past and that God will be there for this hurting person now.

2 Corinthians 1:1-5

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:

2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise to the God of All Comfort

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.


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The impetus for this article came through email correspondence with my colleague, Brad Sargent.  The majority of the ‘barometer people’ ideas are his.


© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Spiritual Abuse and Why Are Toxic Leaders Allowed to Remain in Power So Long?


The title to this article is one of the ‘Search Key Phrases’ that has come up when I have checked my website statistics.  This is a worthy question.  Why are toxic leaders permitted to remain in power in a church for an unobstructed season of time?  This question has plagued a number of people who have been alerted to the issue of maltreatment of church members through spiritual abuse.

To this compelling question, there are a few factors to consider in order to provide a suitable answer.


Basic Church Structures

The quick answer would be to look at church beliefs and governance issues.  Questions like the following need to be addressed:

  1. What are the beliefs and expectations of church leaders regarding how they feel that they ought to lead their church?

  1. What are the beliefs and expectations of the church members regarding church leadership?

  1. What are the beliefs and expectations of this church’s denominational organization regarding church leadership?

From these three initial considerations, there is one more item that must be added:  What is their priority order?  Basically, of the three points listed above, who has the most power or control–the church leadership (the pastor alone or the pastor and the church board), the congregants, and/or the denominational group that this church belongs to?

The old saying “You get what you pay for” may apply when it comes to thinking about power structures in a church.  If church congregants have the expectation that it is the lead pastor or the senior pastor of the church who holds the reins of power, then his word goes.

If it is felt that the pastor, as ‘the man of God’ has special powers beyond those of the average Christian, then those who buy into that type of belief and organizational structure will usually get exactly that type of leader.  Along the way, there may be church leaders who are generally caring pastors, but the tendency to create a church culture that expects this type of leader will, over time, find that they will ‘get’ leaders who will live up to this expectation.  The outcome, all too often, feeds into unhealthy leadership behaviors.  These patterns could affect the overall spiritual health of the church.

Some denominations may have far more involvement in the governance structure of the individual churches under their care, while other denominations leave governance issues up to the autonomous church structure found in their group.

Some churches allow much more involvement of church members in their decision making.  In some churches, however, even though the ordained pastor appears to be in charge, it becomes apparent that there are individuals or groups who ‘hold the power’ and their word, instead of the pastor’s, becomes final.


Allowed to Remain

When it comes to the issue of:  why are toxic church leaders allowed to remain so long—the simple answer would be that the church community simply allows it.

There is an intriguing passage of Scripture in the Book of Jeremiah that addresses God’s people then.  Jeremiah’s words arrest the attention of the Jews at that time with these thought-provoking words:

   “The prophets prophesy lies,

    the priests rule by their own authority,

    and my people love it this way.”

                                   Jeremiah 5:31-32

Something very unhealthy was going on in Israel at that time. These words reinforced the crippled thinking that was dominant among the people in his day.  It was painful but true and Jeremiah needed to declare the facts as he saw them.

It is unfortunate when no one challenges either the spiritual leader or the system that produces such leaders.  It may be assumed that God has ordained both the system and the leader, so anyone who sees things differently is considered to be tampering with Kingdom principles.

The question of why do they allow it, is something that needs to be examined more deeply.  First, it must be determined who they are in each church setting.  Once, the seat of power is determined, then these questions could be asked.

Consider the following:

  • Do the congregants know what may be happening or not?

  • Do only some of the congregants understand what seems to be going on?

  • Are the members of the board ‘Yes Men’?

  • Is the church board robust enough to challenge a controlling leader?

  • Are there church members who would take on the task of challenging the toxic leader or not?  Why or why not?

  • How is church conflict dealt with at this church?

  • Are Christians in this group seeing a disconnect between what this church leader believes, teaches, and how they behave, and the New Testament portrayal of godly leaders?

The bottom line is:  Who is seeing the disconnect with the biblical view of church leadership in this church and what can be done about it?


Time for Action

If there is room to express concern with one’s local church board, without creating a storm, then there may be a chance to consider this leader’s influence—whether it is helpful or harmful? The question then becomes:  Can this church board take on the task to review this leader’s lifestyle and leadership behaviors in a fair, yet reasonable way, or are they fearful and/or unwilling to take on this responsibility?

When individuals or groups approach the overseers within their denomination, are they met with a willingness to enquire into congregant concerns or with a feeling of inconvenience or even of disdain?  Will they go to bat for their members who have concerns or brush them aside and tell them:  not to bother, get over it, don’t be so picky, everyone makes mistakes, or comments like that?

All through these governance structural levels, if the church members are perceived as the problem and the leader as not having any problems which need to be addressed, then the church members are put in a very awkward position.

Many congregants find that their attempts to register valid leadership concerns with church boards and/or denominational overseers are not appreciated and are, all too often, disregarded. This creates a feeling that they are unwelcome and unsafe.  Under these types of circumstances, church members are put into a position of having to make a decision whether to remain in this church fellowship or not.


The Bigger Issue

To the question:  Why are toxic leaders allowed to remain so long in a church fellowship, one must consider if there are any checks and balances when it comes to making efforts to remove ‘questionable’ church leaders from a leadership position?  If there are no reasonable means for suspension and/or removal, then we have our answer.  There is nothing much in place in order for anything to change!

If pastors are regarded by churches and their denominations as being ‘men of God’ with no processes in place for dealing with potentially questionable leadership behaviors or ways of checking into genuine concerns, then it makes it very difficult for individuals, couples, or small groups to address deviant leadership behaviors with this group when they begin to show up.

Most conscientious church groups have things in place for gross moral failure in the leadership, which is usually immediate removal.  When it comes to issues of spiritual abuse and/or other problematic behaviors, most churches do not seem to have ways of recognizing and dealing with these more subtle and harder to define leadership problems.

If suitable policies are not in place, at both the local church and denominational levels, then things will pretty much continue to run the way that they have always been done in the past.


How to Create Healthy Change

As with other social and moral issues, when Christians are fed up with how things have been done in the past, when people are genuinely grieved over how things remain at a status quo, and when individuals are concerned about the future of the Church as a whole, then there will be a chance for some positive change.

  • If no one is willing to challenge specific problems in the system, then the systemic problems remain.

  • If no one feels that the pain of doing nothing

        is greater than the pain that they are experiencing,

        then nothing will change.


It takes courage to assess where problems lie, especially in spiritual communities.  Since we would rather believe that things are okay, that they will simply sort themselves out eventually, or that God will sovereignly intervene without our personal involvement, things will remain the same.

Avoidance and denial of issues has never been an answer.  Putting hope in ‘the eventual sorting out of things, on their own, over time,’ may really be an issue of procrastination, rather than of trust.

So often, when people look solely to God for sovereign intervention, without being prepared for any personal involvement, that too is a disappointing way of dealing with issues—since Kingdom issues invariably require an individual or a group to take up the cause and then to participate.  When people realize that God is looking for individuals to champion a cause and take godly action directed by his Holy Spirit, then change can begin.

One major problem is that people, Christians, in particular seem to be reluctant to change.  What a number of people are finding when it comes to the church, is that it is quite often better to start with a new structure, a fresh ecclesiastical frame, than to do renovation on existing structures.

Numbers of Christian leaders are making an effort to remain biblically sound while working though creative ways to engage believers in effective ministry in community outreach–without the encumbrances of previous ways of trying to do church.

There are enough people who have considered the issues of toxic leadership and unhealthy church settings who are pro-active in their approach to biblically-based Christian ministry today.  Joining forces with these folks may provide a refreshing answer to the long standing problems that seem to remain within certain church structures and provide some hope for the future.



The choice is up to you, as an individual or as a group of colleagues, to seek for appropriate change.  If situations grieve you tremendously, the question remains:

What are you going to do about it??!!

If the ferry is no longer working—who will build a bridge?  Maybe there is a need to build a new ferry, repair the dock, or hire  a better crew.  On the other hand, there may be a need to build a bridge instead.  At this point in time, what would be the best course of action for this situation?

So you get my point.  There is a need to think outside of the box, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and see what might work best for you in your circumstance!


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For Further Reflection

For those who are distressed and who do not know their way, there is comfort found in this passage in Isaiah. Yahweh assures his people that he will be their personal guide, directing them through unknown country.  He promises to keep them from falling into a ditch and to constantly be with them.

But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way,

who can’t see where they’re going.

I’ll be a personal guide to them,

directing them through unknown country.

I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,

make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.

These are the things I’ll be doing for them–

sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.

                                          Isaiah 42:15-16  The Message

People have always been comforted by the thought that God is a God of new things. In order to move on with God, there is a need to set aside and not dwell on things from the past.  Where the Spirit of Yahweh is, there is refreshing, even in desert places.

The Ancient Text reminded the Israelites to:

“Forget about what’s happened;

   don’t keep going over old history.

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.

   It’s bursting out!  Don’t you see it?

There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,

   rivers in the badlands.

Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’

   —the coyotes and the buzzards—

Because I provided water in the desert,

   rivers through the sun-baked earth,

Drinking water for the people I chose,

   the people I made especially for myself,

   a people custom-made to praise me.

                                      Isaiah 43:18-19  The Message


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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Spiritual Abuse and Pursuing Christ


I heard a sermon message awhile back about how Jesus passed by a blind man, named Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). What catches your attention about this man is that when he hears who is coming down the street, even with the crowd surrounding him, he quickly strategizes the situation in order to take a huge risk.

When he knows that it is Jesus of Nazareth who is coming, he must make a decision to go against the expected public protocols in order to get Christ’s attention. Bartimaeus began to call out loudly.  This was highly irregular behavior.  Those close to him in the crowd insisted that he be quiet, that he ‘can’ it!—that he just back off and shut up!

With all this commotion echoing in his ears, what should he do? As a blind man, he already had a weakened social rank in society. Bartimaeus could have acquiesced to their demands and just slid back into his routine place in the Jewish social strata.

Bartimaeus had heard about this Jesus.  It is no doubt that he would have had time to ponder all that he had heard about the activities of this rabbi.  Was he the One who would come?  If Jesus was reported to be the healer of multitudes of others, with severe physical and spiritual conditions, then maybe, just maybe, there might be something that this Jesus could do for him.

Bartimaeus had to think quickly or he might lose this moment. What would he decide to do?  He decided to take a chance, to go against what others had frowned on. He decided to go against what others had expected from him.  At this very intersection of time, it was crucial for Bartimaeus that his voice be heard.

Bartimaeus began to raise his voice with passion and intensity. The question remained:  Would this spiritual teacher, this healer in Israel, respond to this man’s compelling cry, or not?  Would the desperation found in his voice, the heart cry from within him, be heard or simply ignored—as just another voice, lost in the crowd?

Everyone watched to see what the busy teacher, enroute to Jerusalem, might do.  The story finds Jesus responding to this blind man with this curt enquiry:  “What do you want?”  The blind man, without hesitation, replied:  “That I might receive my sight!”

Each step that Bartimaeus took was one step closer to presenting his need to the Healer.  This Jesus was seen as a compassionate leader who was able to single out the desperate cry for help from one man from the many other voices among the crowd.  Christ’s response was:

“What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:51

Bartimaeus expressed his desire clearly:  “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus commanded him:  “Go, your faith has healed you.”  In that instant, Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

What About Us?

When I think about people who have suffered from spiritual abuse in their local church, I consider how often they are told to just be quiet, to get over it, and to not bother people about their concerns for their church and for the Church as a whole.  Frankly, it would be so easy to do—just to be quiet and not to allow one’s heart cry to be heard.

The one thing that this story reminds us is that even though people urge someone to be quiet and to slide back into the crowd, it may be the very time to take a risk and allow one’s voice to be heard instead.  Though difficult and though it may seem like it may not be worth the bother, maybe it is exactly the right time to take some distinctive action and make one’s voice heard.  There is inspiration and courage that can be gained by knowing the story of Bartimaeus.  This courage can propel each of us forward.


What Happens With Spiritual Abuse?

When trust has been shattered with church leadership after experiencing spiritual abuse under their care, then one’s personal relationship with Christ is so often affected. So many people have problems understanding why God allowed this to happen to them.

Many people have a crisis of faith through the whole situation. Their faith is crushed and the disillusionment, with everything that they have been taught, now comes into question.  It is a frightening and grievous time in someone’s spiritual life.

Others find that though a church leader and their own church has let them down horribly, they find that they can go to Christ for refuge.  Some find it much harder to include Christ in their church dilemma since this painful experience of spiritual abuse now confuses the relationship with deity and they find themselves deeply perplexed.

Recognizing how this harm has affected you, as an individual, will help you to consider what ways that you need to take in order to begin on the path towards recovery.



Recognizing that Christ always longs to respond to those who have been wounded and help those who don’t know which direction to take–has always brought comfort to his followers over the centuries.  The family of believers throughout history have a united witness that God has been with them when times are tough.

The story of Bartimaeus gives individuals hope—to take a risk with Christ, to cry out to him in one’s desperation, and to expect that he will hear and respond to their call.  Knowing that Christ is there for you, even when your emotions may be telling you that he is not, can provide a buffer in a dismal and heart-wrenching situation.

This situation can be an opportunity to understand, in a much deeper way, how the ‘cross of Christ’ more richly fits into one’s belief system in a much more meaningful way–even through this disheartening experience.

It is time for you to call out to Christ—to expect that he hears and understands your situation.  Though it may feel so difficult, it is time to pursue Christ, in fresh, new, and significant ways.

Cheering you on in this worthy pursuit.


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For Further Reflection

Some motivational thoughts:

  • Where can you make a change?
  • You are the change—therefore, be the change.
  • Take a risk to make a difference.
  • Use your voice to take a stand for justice.
  • Take a risk to follow Christ in deeper ways.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You Tube:  Healing of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus



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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.

Spiritual Abuse and Rest for the Weary

Being a victim of spiritual abuse clouds the perception of the care that the Living God gives to his children because church leaders, who are supposed to represent him, have not!  The whole ordeal of spiritual abuse is exhausting, to say the least, and devastating in ways that one could never imagine–unless it has happened to you.

When it comes to spiritual abuse in the church, God gets a bad rap.  Somehow, he gets lumped in with the perpetrators.  People reason that–if this is how church leaders treat them–then that kind of God is not the one that they are personally interested in.  God gets trashed with the abusers.

There is a need to go back to first principles—that God loves you, that he is a worthy care giver, and that you can fully trust him in spite of the fact that human leaders have let you down, big time.

The Scriptures have numerous passages that affirm that Yahweh would be there for his people when they found themselves in the dry and barren desert places.  Knowing that God is with his people through the tough times is one of the essential beliefs in the Christian faith.

Knowing that God’s arms are opened wide to those who are spiritually poor and needy and who may be experiencing a spiritual wilderness in their lives, brings much comfort when things are emotionally dismal.

The promise of refreshing after the heat and the desperation of the desert is not only a good thing, but it is a God-thing. Passages of Scripture give a glimpse into the nature of God during the bleak and hard times that the nation of Israel faced.

Since God is a Spirit, he pretty much inhabits everywhere.  One can be assured that this God was with his people in the desert places so long ago and is with his people and are for them in the barren places of life today.  God longs to give water to the thirsty and refresh the weary.  It is just a matter of boldly coming to him–since he is the Fountain of Life.

The following are a number of Scripture passages which demonstrated that God was a Loving Shepherd who was with those who were alone in the desert of circumstances at that time and that he was there to strengthen them.  People today can take comfort from these passages. 

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms

    and carries them close to his heart;

    he gently leads those that have young.

                                                      Isaiah 40:11


He gives strength to the weary

    and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

    and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

    will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

                                          Isaiah 40:11, 28-31

The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.

But I the Lord will answer them;

    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

I will make rivers flow on barren heights,

    and springs within the valleys.

I will turn the desert into pools of water,

    and the parched ground into springs.

                                                   Isaiah 41:17-18

For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:

I live in a high and holy place,

    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite.

                                                             Isaiah 57:15

When Moses conversed with Yahweh regarding the task of looking after the entire nation of Israel, Yahweh assured Moses that his Presence would go with him and the entire nation and they would experience his rest.

And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

                                                          Exodus 33:14


Jesus knew what it was like to be opposed and harassed by religious leaders:

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

                                                                Luke 11:53-54


In the New Testament Book of Matthew, we read that Jesus, simply beckoned people to ‘come’ to him for true rest:

Jesus Gives True Rest

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father.  No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for  I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

                                                             Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus clarified that he would give those who came to him the rest that they needed.  He assured them that they could learn from him since he was both gentle and humble in heart.  This draw toward his gentle and humble heart would certainly be unique to any other standing invitation out there.  No other appeal would even come close to this one.   It was, and always has been, the best option.



Though we instinctively know that ‘in this life we shall have tribulations,’ most of us did not factor in that some of our troubles would be found in the place of worship, in the place of Christian community, and under the watch care of church leaders.

Now that you can identify with so many others who have been wounded in the church by church leadership, you realize that you are not alone.  You can take comfort in this fact.

You can also take comfort in the fact that God is with you and that he will refresh you while you pass through the desert situation that you may now be facing.

Be assured that others have been through this barren place, that there is comfort in a Christian community that cares, and that you won’t always feel as low as you might be feeling right now.

Jesus is there with you and can carry you when your strength is weak.  There are brothers and sisters of common faith who can help you and remind you that God gives rest to the weary and refreshment during the desert times of life.


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For Further Reflection

While reading the Book of Isaiah recently, I came across a rather unknown passage that caught my attention.  See what you think.

Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?

Let the one who walks in the dark,

    who has no light,

trust in the name of the Lord

    and rely on their God.

                                            Isaiah 50:10

Considering the fact that we understand God to dwell in incomparable light and that Jesus said:  “I am the light of the world,” one could ponder what this passage about walking and trusting God in the darkness, with no light, might mean.

What it speaks to me is that even though someone may experience that they are walking in the dark, they should quietly continue to trust in God.  The message seems to be that:  it is far better to trust God in the dark when there is no visible light to guide them, than to be in danger of lighting a man-made torch in order to try to see things better.

This can be an encouraging message to those who feel devastated by spiritual abuse and seem to be in a very dark place spiritually.  The encouragement is to trust in God even in the dark because he, alone, is reliable.

In Isaiah 42:15-16 in The Message, we find this encouraging passage for those who feel that they don’t know the way:

 But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way,

who can’t see where they’re going.

I’ll be a personal guide to them,

directing them through unknown country.

I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,

make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.

These are the things I’ll be doing for them–

sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.

                             Isaiah 42:15-16  The Message


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Feedback Welcome!

I would love to have your feedback on this passage.

What does it mean to you?

How does it speak to you in your present situation?


If you have some thoughts, email me at:



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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.


Spiritual Abuse and Patriarchy


In Christian groups where Patriarchy is valued, as a main component of the Christian faith, spiritual abuse can be found.   The theological underpinnings of this flawed belief system need to be examined and exposed for the error that it brings to the Christian faith and the harm that it brings to God’s people.

People feel sorry for women and girls oppressed in other religions and cultures.  There is a need to take a hard look at what is being peddled as Christian in patriarchal circles and see if there are not some disturbing similarities.  Spiritual abuse runs quite high in Christian patriarchal churches.

A patriarchal belief system is far from the Gospel of Grace found in the New Testament Scriptures.  It is a convoluted weaving of Old Testament stipulations for the children of Israel and a present day patriarchal view for the Christian home and the church. It does not esteem the completed work of Christ in redemption and his pouring out of the Holy Spirit on men and women in this era.

The liberty that is to be found in Christ is twisted and frozen in a lifestyle that though it appears to honor God, does not.  It appeals to a perversion of Christian belief based on a flawed view that females are not on equal status before God with males.  It is an offense to the true Gospel of Christ.

So What Is Patriarchy?

According to Wikipedia, we read that “Patriarchy literally means “rule of fathers” . . . which was taken from the Greek culture of autocratic rule by the male head of a family.  Patriarchy is seen in many cultures.

When a culture puts greater value on males, as being:

Central, Superior, and Deserving,

the converse is that females are of lesser value in that society:

Peripheral, Inferior, and Servants.


“Patriarchy is a social system in which the male acts as the primary authority figure central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property.  It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege  . . .  Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.”*

(* Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy)

Stretching Numbers 30

Using the Numbers 30 passage, as a support for fathers or husbands to have the biblical right to exercise male supervision over a woman today, is unfounded.  The context of the passage was about making a vow to the Lord or taking an oath to obligate oneself by a pledge.  The end of Numbers chapter 29 talks about what the people vowed (or pledged) along with their freewill offerings that they were to offer to the Lord at their appointed festivals.

Though slightly different for females than males, the Numbers 30 passage rather supported the idea that Jewish fathers, with their unmarried daughters still living at home, and husbands, with their wives, could provide backing for women as a trustee or guarantor, who would act on her behalf, so that she could fulfill her offering pledge to Yahweh.

Patriarchs and Patriarchy Today

Julie Anne Smith looks at this term in Christian circles and makes this distinction, in order to bring clarity.

“I don’t think people really understand what is going on with this movement–even in Christian circles.  They think “Patriarch” — oh, that’s like Abraham.  Abraham was in the Bible, so it must be good.  They just do not understand what is going on.  Doug Phillips on Vision Forum has done a good job of CONvincing us that his ways are God’s ways. Who can argue with God?”*


Patriarchy has become a movement within the Christian faith.  It is important to understand this belief system.

An excellent article on this topic can be found on Julie Anne Smith’s blog:  Spiritual Sounding Board .com on Nov. 6, 2012 entitled:  “Fathers and Daughters: Who Owns a Daughter’s Heart?”

Link:  http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2012/11/page/3/

~ ~   The following article is used with permission.   ~ ~

November 6, 2012
Fathers and Daughters:  Who Owns a Daughter’s Heart? 

“Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out
independently and say, ‘I’m going to marry whoever I want.’  No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.’”            ~Doug Phillips

Earlier I discussed influences in the homeschooling movement *and mentioned that patriarchy has infiltrated the movement as well as in churches.  I was surprised at the accuracy of Wikipedia’s definition of Biblical patriarchy and, in particular, the men they identified who are associated with patriarchy:



“Biblical patriarchy (also known as Christian patriarchy) is a set of beliefs in evangelical Christianity concerning marriage, the family, and the home.  It sees the father as the head of the home, and responsible for the conduct of his family.  Notable adherents of biblical patriarchy include Douglas Wilson, R. C. Sproul, Jr., and Douglas Phillips.  Notable publications include Patriarch magazine and Above Rubies.  The biblical patriarchy movement has been said to be “flourishing among homeschoolers.”


The “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” published by Vision Forum advocates such beliefs as:

  • God reveals Himself as masculine, not feminine.
  • God ordained distinct gender roles for man and woman as part of the created order.
  • A husband and father is the head of his household, a family leader, provider, and protector.
  • Male leadership in the home carries over into the church: only men are permitted to hold the ruling office in the church.  A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres.
  • Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a “keeper at home,” the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home.
  • God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” still applies to married couples.
  • Christian parents must provide their children with a thoroughly Christian education, one that teaches the Bible and a biblical view of God and the world.
  • Both sons and daughters are under the command of their fathers as long as they are under his roof or otherwise the recipients of his provision and protection.

Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Ministries is probably the biggest proponent of the Patriarchal Movement that I have seen in my circles.  I remember when Doug Phillips was speaking at home-school conventions in the 90s.  He had packed out audiences promoting his brand of Christianity as “the” brand of Christianity. Some of his brand of Christianity included:  patriarchy, full-quiver, family-integrated churches, and homeschooling–as the only choice for educating one’s children, etc.

Don and Joy Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach examined Vision Forum’s stance on patriarchy and wrote an article on their conclusions.

I took a few screen shots from the pdf file.  The words in bold font are taken from Biblical Tenants of Patriarchy taken from Vision Forum. The words in normal font are Don and Joy Veinot’s words.

Don and Joy sum it up nicely here:

“A Patriarchal Gospel is patriarchy, as defined by Vision Forum, part of the “grand sweep of revelation” which Scripture requires to be believed, lieved and taught in order to be faithful to Christ?  Does Vision Forum practice patriarchy as it was practiced in Old Testament times, for we find no instruction on it in the New testament?  Are those who disagree with Vision Forum truly rebellious believers?  These answers have to be “no.”  Vision Forum asserts that patriarchy is “Gospel-centered doctrine.”  If Vision Forum’s claim about the practice of patriarchy being “Gospel-centered doctrine” is true; then according to this thining, if one rejects the Vision Forum view, one is rejecting the very Gospel!”

It is important to understand this teaching because it can infiltrate a church not only from the pulpit, but from church members on the inside. And of course there are varying degrees of patriarchy that I have noted from readers who have sent me their personal stories.

I have been shocked at the treatment of women from patriarchal homes.  If the church preaches a patriarchal lifestyle, an abused wife cannot only be abandoned physically, emotionally, and spiritually by her husband, but by her pastor as well.  It is a very difficult system to leave.

I want to focus specifically on the daughters of patriarchal homes. Below is a clip from the movie, Courageous, which includes some patriarchal themes.  Take a look and see if you can spot how the father uses his position as father to “own” his daughter’s heart.

(*To see this movie clip, go to Julie Anne’s blog:  http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2012/11/page/3/)

This scene involves the father explaining that he wants to be the guardian of his daughter’s heart and gives her a “purity” ring, symbolizing her virginity, which will later be replaced by her wedding ring when she gets married.  It is notable that the movie’s director and producer, Stephen and Alex Kendrick, have ties with Vision Forum.

Blogger, Cindy Kunsman, from Under Much Grace, discusses this particular movie scene shown above.

Dating Daddy and his Proposal
I found the daddy-daughter date scene to be disturbing. Essentially, the father proposes to his daughter, using language which indicates that he considers himself to be on equal footing and of the same order of person with his daughter’s potential mates. Consistent with the belief within this subculture, that young women remain married to the father through ownership until they marry another father-vetted and approved man, the father in the film uses the language of Vision Forum to reinforce the ideology of courtship. Such a system which Vision Forum promotes as Biblical was not even demanded under Judaism, a concept that they filter through their distorted version of Covenant Theology.

So to adapt and cope with the inherent risks of trusting a daughter to conduct herself with dignity, grace, and chastity, the father overcorrects for his legitimate concerns and fears through an extra-Biblical ritual which signifies ownership. I felt sick at the close of the father-daughter date scene as the daughter gazed at the father’s heart-shaped ring that he actually places on her finger after his proposal – a proposal that she was duty bound to accept as an obedient daughter. (With a suitor, she presumably has the liberty to decline such a proposal, that is, if her father decides to allow her that liberty. Not all do in patriarchy.)

This idea of dad owning his daughter’s heart is commonplace in families and churches which promote patriarchy.  We are now beginning to see young adults who have come out of this environ- ment, many times filled with negative emotions and a host of other issues as they come to grips with this type of control in their personal lives.  These young adults are blogging and telling their stories.  We will be discussing more on this topic.

If you are reading this and have a personal story to share, please contact me, Julie Anne at:   bgbcsurvivors@gmail.com.


It is imperative for believers who value the message of the Good News of Christ to ponder the inroads of flawed belief systems.  It is important to discern that which is biblically based and profitable to God’s people from that which is harmful and twisted.

When those who are misinformed try to regenerate and reinstitute beliefs and practices which are from a former era and which bring confusion and maltreatment today, those beliefs need to be discerned and jettisoned for the sake of spiritual health and well-being of believers in Christ—both in their homes and in their churches.

Taking time to investigate where Patriarchal beliefs are defective will give individuals their own answers regarding its inaccuracies.  Too much harm has come to too many in the Body of Christ by placing dedication in this faulty structure.

If Christian women and girls are daughters of the King of Kings, then why are they being treated in ways that are not God honoring?

A question you could ask yourself might be:

What can I do to be a part of the solution?


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With Thanks to Julie Anne Smith for use of this excellent article.



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For Further Reflection

This is how Wikipedia defines chattel marriage:

“Chattel marriage refers to a form of marriage in which the husband owned his wife, and any children of their union, in a legal relationship similar to that of slavery. The only meaningful difference was that there were a few legal restrictions to the husband’s right to physically abuse or sell his wife or child. The term refers to the root word ‘cattle’, from which comes ‘chattel’, which refers to personal property, as opposed to real property, such as land.

Most European noblewomen were party to chattel marriages, although if they brought money or property with them to the marriage, there were usually contracts involved, and “dower rights” were preserved to the wives. The only English wives who were neither wealthy nor chattels were princesses, the daughters of kings.”

If Christian women and girls are daughters of the King of Kings, then why are they being treated in ways that are not God honoring?


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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.