Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Personal Story of Spiritual Abuse (A Glimpse inside The Agape Players)

I had been a Christian for just a few short months when I auditioned and was accepted to travel with a singing/drama group, The Agape Players. I knew nothing of the Bible, did not know how to study or articulate anything outside of my own experience, and even that was cloudy.

What I had done before going with the group was memorize Scripture and hear my pastor tell me over and over again that I didn't have to take anyone's word for anything the Bible said because I could look it up for myself.

Finding things out for myself was a completely new concept for me. For me to be considered as someone who could actually know something was a foreign idea to me. All my life I had few choices. I generally felt confused and alone, despite the fact that I had seven siblings. My dad was an alcoholic, very violent and reminded me often how stupid I was.

Finding out I could actually read the Bible for myself and make my own spiritual decisions was beyond my comprehension. But, I watched and listened and learned. And, unexpectedly to even myself, I grew in my faith.

When I got to Tampa, Florida to begin training with The Agape Players, the young man who had taken me to church to hear about Jesus, the young man to whom I was engaged by then, committed suicide by throwing himself off the town's water tower. I was in Florida; I could not travel back to Ohio for his funeral or for any comfort from home.

The leaders of The Agape Players, Rocky and Alice Adkins,  took me to their hotel suite that night and tried to comfort me. All I remember doing is sleeping and crying. The next day, it was practice and rehearsals as usual. But I was undone. Except for my grandpa when I was nine years old, no one I knew had ever died. I had no idea what to feel/say/do/react. I cried inconsolably at times without seeing it coming.

Later that day, the day after I found out he was dead, Alice came to get me and she sat me down and took my face in her hands and told me to stop crying right then and there. She got very close to my face and told me I had cried all night and enough was enough and I was to never, ever cry about this again, nor was I to speak of him ever again. She said I was being ridiculous and disruptive with all this crying and she wasn't going to have it. She said that if she ever caught me crying or talking about him, I would be sent home immediately.

And that was that, at least Alice thought so. But, I did cry, at night, alone. And in the shower. And in the bathroom. And whenever I was alone, (which was not often since we even showered together some of the time, in the name of saving water).

Then they put me on "The Diet." I weighed 98 pounds when I first arrived, but had gained 3 pounds and was now "grossly overweight" at 101 pounds. So, I was put on "The Diet" to lose all this gross weight. Because I had been, according to Rocky and Alice, so careless with my weight and gained those horrid three pounds, they decided I should then weigh 96 pounds, losing an additional two pounds in hopes that it would teach me my lesson, so suddenly I was an even worse five whole, gross pounds overweight. This would not do.

Alice took me aside and told me that I was out of God's will because God said that "a false balance is an abomination to the Lord," quoting Proverbs 11:1, and that "a just weight is his delight." and I was not pleasing God at all in being so overweight and He would deal with me if I didn't lose that five pounds and weigh 96 pounds. They had public weigh-ins where many times, the guys weighed the girls and announced the weight out loud for all to hear. Imagine my horror when this guy said, out loud, "Oh, wow, still at 101! C'mon, girl, you have to lose this!" I would hang my head in shame, then secretly eat chocolate.

But, something didn't feel right to me. I could not have told you what it was to save my life, but it just didn't feel right. I didn't know what else to do, so I questioned Alice. She and Rocky had set themselves up as the authorities in my life. They owned The Agape Players, they had all authority over my daily schedule, my diet and what I talked and grieved about. I simply asked Alice why God wanted me to weigh 96 pounds and where in the Bible I could find this information for myself.

And Alice, always filled with drama, began to sing. I felt awkward. She and I were the only people in the room, yet she was singing and that felt odd to me. After she sang, she looked at me very closely and said, "You will not, you cannot, understand these things. You are such a sinner. You are still a sinner. I am not a sinner any more. I have grown to the point of no more sin in my spiritual walk. This is why I am in charge here. This is why God gave me the leadership here. So, you cannot ask questions since you are still such a sinner. You do not get to question me."

Nothing of this felt right to me. I did not respond to Alice when she was in my face telling me all this. I simply sat and listened and quietly determined that I had to find out for myself. Somehow. I had to know if my 101 pounds was really an abomination to the Lord. I had to find out if Alice was no longer a sinner. I had to find out if it was right to only grieve for a day after such a loss as I had suffered.

I stayed with the group for that year, as I had signed on for a year and had to honor that contract. But, I was filled with inexplicable relief when my year was over and could not wait to leave.

Years later, Rocky and Alice had troubles of their own. While they were busy being in charge of us down to our diets and spiritual teachings, Rocky was busy raping some of the young men who had joined the group. He sexually abused countless young men, and Alice knew and hid this sin, all while they were holding themselves up as the righteous ones. The ones who were no longer sinners. The ones whom God had gifted with leadership.

They used their experience and leadership as proof of God's blessings on them, blessings they claimed came from their righteous living. Blessings they claim came as a reward for their obedience to God. Blessings they claim were a result of their own faithfulness.

They were able to keep this abuse quiet even after the group disbanded. A local newspaper in Lake Wales, FL announced their decision to disband, but said, "Officials for the group are not explaining the reasons for the action." Of course they are not going to explain the reasons for the action. They can't bring themselves to say that Rocky Adkins was a pedophile who sexually abused the young men in the group while his wife, Alice, watched and hid the actions.

So, this might be why, when I see people misuse my precious Scriptures and take things out of context to prove some human point or to sell a book, I speak up about it. To this day, others who were involved with The Agape Players are very quiet about what Rocky and Alice did.

I will continue to speak up about spiritual, physical, emotional and all kinds of abuse.
I will speak up.
I realize this is long. Thanks for hanging on to the end.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When Simplifying Gets Complicated

Bill Hybels, in his book, Simplify, talks about living a simplified life, paring down the "overscheduled and overwhelmed web" of our current lives and simplifying things for ourselves. The stated goal is to unclutter our souls. I'm sure Bill has some great ideas on getting organized and living more simply, but I take issue with his use of Scripture as his proof text.

He said, "In my experience, a handful of key practices are vital to keeping my soul clutter-free. These practices help me overcome the barriers that keep me from living the life "to the full"  that Jesus promised in John 10:10."

Oh, my. On this, Bill Hybels is wrong.

John 10:10. In this verse, Jesus said,

" The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." 

Jesus is not talking about an over-scheduled, overwhelmed life that has too many appointments going on. He's talking about quantity of life. The context of John 10 is the Good Shepherd. Jesus said He is the Good Shepherd and repeats in the context that He is the Door of the sheep....that anyone who enters by Him will be saved. He said that thieves come only to steal, and to kill and to destroy...and that's when He says He has come that they might have life and have it more abundantly. Abundantly here means quantity. He came that we might have full quantity of life. What is full quantity of life? What is abundant life? Eternal life. That's what Jesus is talking about. Eternal life.

No over-scheduling, overwhelming busyness or anything else can take this away from you. There is nothing that can keep you from living life "to the full" because life to the full is not something you can control. It is the gift of God. It is eternal life. It is the fullest quantity of life.

Life gets more complicated for me when someone misuses Scripture to prove their point. This is tantamount to spiritual abuse because

a) it teaches the reader that they might not get what Jesus promised. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus promised abundant life with no strings attached. It is His gift.

b) it teaches that Jesus is inconsistent in His gift because simplifying life is really a first world issue and my brothers and sisters in Christ who barely make it through the day because they live in a refugee camp also have abundant life.

c) it minimizes Christ's accomplishment on the cross because it reduces Him to Someone Who is there to make our lives uncomplicated.

d) it minimizes the suffering and persecution going on around the world today. Look at our brothers and sisters losing their heads for their faith right now! If you think they can simplify their lives on earth, you are wrong, yet they have abundant life because even once they lose their heads, they are still alive.

In Christ, you have abundant life. Period. No exceptions. But, believe me, if you truly live for Him, your life will not be uncomplicated. Living for Him means you will have conflict in life, will be pushed to the edge of your faith, will be tried and tested and made to stand against others if you're going to follow Him. It means you're going to have enemies and a drive to tell others about Him so they can avoid hell, and, believe me, that's complicated. Living for Him means you put others first, even if that means you have to fill your calendar.

Look at the lives of Jesus' disciples in the New Testament. Not one of them got away with an uncluttered, uncomplicated life once they began to follow Christ. Most of them were martyred. Many others were threatened. Many others were imprisoned. Others risked their lives again and again for the sake of the Gospel. Yet they had abundant life....because they are still alive. Their lives are still abundant, more than 2,000 years later. That is life to the full. That is life abundant.

So, please don't fall for this lie that an uncluttered life is an abundant life. Bill Hybels has no business redefining a portion of Scripture to sell another book. If he had left my God out of it, left my precious Scriptures out of it, it might be a good book on organization and simplification. But, instead, he misused Scripture, redefined God's own Words and used them in an absolute wrong way. This makes his teachings null and void. This is spiritual abuse.

In Christ, our souls are not going to be clutter-free, either. Clutter-free living is not the route to peace. Jesus is the only Route to peace. He will give peace because He is peace. You cannot earn His peace or bring it on yourself by following some man-made steps until you feel it. It is there. It is Him. He earned it on that cross. You cannot earn it or get it any other way.  John 14:27; 16:33 and Ephesians 2:14 are just a few verses that tell of His peace. There are so very many more.

Just reading Amazon's 20% free portion of this book complicated my life because I became driven to set it straight and point out this gross error.

Don't allow yourself to be sucked into the idea that you can live a more abundant life through simplification. Instead, throw yourself headlong onto the Savior and watch His peace rule in your heart through His eternal promises. You will stand amazed.

Stop reading "Bible study books" and start reading, really reading, your Bible.