Monday, December 19, 2016

HOPE for Michelle Obama (And you, too!)

If you listen to any news reports at all, you've no doubt heard that last week, Michelle Obama said, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, "We are feeling what not having hope feels like."

I thought that was a very sad comment from someone who has just had the rare privilege of living in The White House for the past eight years. How can she be without hope? How can she think there is no hope? Why is her hope gone? Because her preferred candidate didn't win The White House?

If that is what we base our hope on, we are all without hope. We do not, however, place our hope in any man or woman who occupies The White House.

Last night, my fabulous hubby took us to a concert in downtown Baltimore. Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Jordan Smith all sang and entertained us royally and it was wonderful. Jordan Smith sang, "All is Well," and received a standing ovation. I leaned over to my husband and said, "Take that, Michelle Obama!" I didn't mean it in a mean way.....

The lyrics to the chorus say it all.

All is well all is well
Lift up your voice and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

There is hope for everyone on this planet. There is hope.
Emmanuel has come.
This is the only reason anyone can ever have hope.
No matter who sits in The White House, Emmanuel has come and there is hope.
I'm sad for Michelle Obama. She needs to know Emmanuel so she can have hope.
She needs the hope that doesn't make anyone ashamed.

All is well.
Emmanuel has come.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Is Your Church a Cult? (Or do You Just Act Like One?)

I just finished reading Beyond Belief: My Secret Life inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige and Lisa Pulitzer. I have to say, this one kept me awake for a while after I finished it the other night. What an amazing story! Certain things struck me about this story in surprising ways.

I don't know any Scientologists personally, but I am aware of some of the teachings of Scientology. In that way, much of what the book's authors wrote about did not surprise me. What surprised me was my realization that some practices within Scientology are very similar to what I see in other churches...... not just churches that are considered cults. I'm talking about mainstream evangelical churches. The teachings of the Church of Scientology are indisputably false, wracked with bizarre doctrines which can only be maintained through brainwashing. The teachings are not the main issue in my opinion; I think most Bible-teaching churches would not consider them a threat to true doctrine.. Their methods, however, are startlingly familiar.

Their methods are eerily similar to what I see in the vast majority of evangelical churches. Some methods used to keep Scientologists in line are guilt, forced confessions, manipulation, suppression, oppression, peer pressure, peer watching (people telling on each other), submission, rank, shame, control, misuse of perceived authority, uneven balance of power within genders, etc. There are more.

I find these methods frighteningly similar to practices I see in fundamental, evangelical churches. I see pastors trying to motivate the people through guilt. I see people being suppressed in the name of God. I see a clone-like attitude permeating the church, disallowing for individuality. This is highly evident in larger groups like the Quiverful movement where the girls all have the same hair (long and wavy) and wear dresses or skirts no matter what activity they're doing, etc. They all look and act the same. This is not producing disciples, this is producing clones.

I've seen deacons act as though they have authority over people's lives and pull rank. I've heard church ladies try to put people to shame, as though being motivated by shame would be a good thing.
I've seen, and experienced, oppression within the church repeatedly. People stalked our lives when we lived in a parsonage in Minnesota. We had very little privacy. I caught people going through our mail more than once. One man went through garbage I had tossed out and gave things from it to other people.

So, when I read similar things in this book, I had to come face to face with the abuse we suffered all over again. I have not healed but am on the road to healing. And who would have thought that some of my healing would come through the exposure of abuse in a cult I am not associated with?

In addition to reading this book, I've been watching Leah Remini's documentary series on Scientology, learning why she and others left. This week's episode featured one of the highest ranking members, Mike Rinder, who left after 46 years with the Church of Scientology. His story is remarkable. He's regularly stalked, even now. Church members placed cameras near his home, one hidden in a bird house in his neighborhood, to monitor his activity. They stole his garbage, paying a garbage man to do so. They followed him to the doctor when he took his wife and disrupted her appointment.

It all sounded so familiar to me - because we lived it - in a Baptist church! They stalked us, several openly admitting it right to our faces, but not as a confession, oh, no. They admitted it because they were proud of it and they continued doing it even after admitting to it. A man took some garbage I had thrown away and gave it to another man in the church. No one apologized for this; they acted as though they were justified to go through my garbage. Who does that?

We began to talk to previous pastors of the church. (We had tried to talk to the most recent, but he would not tell us anything.) One had died, but we talked to his wife. She told us how they were stalked. Before the parsonage was built, they were followed home by several church members on a regular basis. They were later told they were followed because people wanted to make sure they went home and not to visit other members, which they thought would mean they were showing them favor.

This same previous pastor's wife told me, "They are watching. They are always watching. Hang out your undies to give them something to talk about!" I was stunned, even though we both laughed. My laugh was uneasy, nervous. Apparently, according to these previous pastors and their wives, this stalking had been going on for decades.

Just as it is with the leadership of Scientology, it wasn't enough for us to leave; they followed us to the east coast when we moved on. They used family members to find out where we were, which church we had moved east to help and where we lived. They involved other family members, people who had never even one time been involved in any of our ministries, to call church leadership in our new state and slander my husband with unfounded accusations he was not guilty of. But, they were guilty of them all! This action could have left us homeless, but, even though we parted ways with the pastor of that church over doctrine, he did not believe the slander, to his credit, and showed us all their communication. It was unsettling.

And they wondered why we blocked them all on social media. One said, "Me? They blocked me? Me, of all people?" Yes. You.

While we still keep these members and their associates blocked on social media, they have, fortunately done themselves in. Their church imploded, leaving them with less than 30 people and they were subsequently absorbed (not merged) with another church in town....a church they detested....a church whose members they freely gossiped about for the seven years we were there. Suddenly, they were best friends. This is what defines caustic relationships. They mutually use one another for gain and approval, then discard one another when they are finished. Then, a few years later, they use them again, feigning friendship. This is a destructive cycle. They should know this now since it destroyed their church, but they do not. They continue feigning friendship with people they told us they "couldn't stand," "don't trust," "would never work with," "think are horrible," and who they "detest."

But, wait, there's more. While all this was going on, just a few short months before we packed up and moved east, God did a most wonderful thing. While these members and their leaders were passing around the caustic poison, fueling each other with gossip and pretenses of godliness and talking out of both sides of their mouths, God planted three real churches.....real, as in the people in these churches really love Jesus, really minister to their community, really preach the full counsel of God. Three new churches. The one in that same town is now an independent, thriving work, no longer a mission work. My husband was honored to preach there at their first service four years ago. God turned the curse into blessing. This is the God we serve.

The leaders of Scientology have no Redeemer to save them from themselves. They have no whispering Holy Spirit telling them they are wrong, to make things right, to look to the Savior. This explains why they have to resort to manipulation, abuse and guilt to accomplish their plan. But, what about so-called evangelical churches? Most of them would say they are Bible-preaching, yet they use guilt, abuse and manipulation to try to control people, much like Scientology does. How can it be that the same tactics used by a totally ungodly organization can be the same ones used by a church filled with people professing Christ?

Could it be that their profession of Christ is their real problem?
Could it be that they don't know the Savior at all, so they have to resort to abuse, guilt, manipulation and other sorts of control tactics?
Could it be that they're only giving lip service to the One, True God?

If your church uses guilt, manipulation and other control tactics, look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith and have nothing to do with such a church. I would go so far as to say if your church leadership resorts to any "tactic" whatsoever, they are leading the congregation in the wrong direction. Do not follow such leadership. Do not stay in or support such a church. The Holy Spirit needs no tactics to accomplish His will within His church. Resist tactics.

If your church resembles a cult, you need a new church.