I am so excited to present a guest post to you today from a good friend and man who Barry and I greatly respect. He is an author, teacher and has made a tremendous impact on our lives over the last two years. I read his book last year and tears hit each page as I realized he understood…he genuinely understood what we had experienced. This is by far the most eye-opening and insightful post yet…so hang on folks, you won’t want to miss what Jim Guerra has to say. He will be guest-posting for a while, so keep an eye out for his insights in the upcoming weeks.
And get ready because…WE NEED TO TALK!
Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Your Greatest Allies
In 1976, as a sophomore at Harvard, hungry for God and looking for a way to give myself radically to His work, I encountered two young men with the same passion. Dressed in long lab coats, untrimmed beards, and carrying backpacks and bedrolls, they were years ahead of me, having forsaken all to travel the country, flee Babylon, and pay the necessary price to be true disciples of Jesus.
Or so they seemed. Convinced by their long strings of Bible verses, I threw my glasses in a snow bank, forsook my school, dreams, family, and hitchhiked out of Boston with them in March of 1976. In the following ten years I was subject to the most devious type of scripture-twisting, legalism, peer-pressure, guilt, shame, and mind control that was ever served up with fava beans and a nice chianti.
Separated from my family, forbidden to marry, isolated from society, terrified to question my leader, I endured excessive spiritual abuse for almost a decade. Since leaving in August of 1986, I have learned that no one just walks away from an abusive experience and seamlessly reintegrates with family and life. We have to understand our spiritually abusive experiences and grow from them; otherwise, they live like gremlins on our aircraft wings, which only we can see, but who slowly drive us mad by trying to crash our lives.
Enough of the esoteric. Now some stuff you can use. Since I am going to guest blog here for awhile, (as long as Jana likes what I say!), I will focus on one thing that helped me tremendously: swapping war stories with other former members of your church or group.
These are your greatest resources. They know better than the most highly trained shrinks what you have gone through. When I left the Jim Roberts Group, the first thing I did was to contact those who had left the group before I did; (you know, those who had “fallen away” or “lost their understanding,” or who had “gone back to the world.”) While in the group, I saw some awful things, but I kept my mouth shut so that I would “stay humble,” and avoid “becoming rebellious” or “sowing discord.”
It is time no more to bury those experiences! Find a former member and talk, talk, talk! What lies were you told? What abuses did you observe? What does Scripture really say about spiritual leadership and was that exhibited in the group? What were your struggles as you reintegrated and separated yourself from your abusers? What convictions have you kept and which ones have you thrown in the trash? What things make you guilty and is that guilt really from God?
While I was in his group, Jim Roberts forbade us to speak with former members. They were “fowls” who would devour the seed of God’s word. Although I suspected that something was not quite right, I did not have the courage or confidence to trust my opinions. Once liberated from his control, however, I could compare my experiences with those of many former members, and their stories validated mine. “Yes, he did send unwanted members to distant cities and abandoned them.” “Yes, he did forbid marriage and had no right to take that liberty from us.” These true witnesses cleared my head, relieved my guilt of leaving and disarmed the lie that God had rejected me.
In all honesty, I was reluctant to speak to them at times because I was afraid they were still living under legalism, and the evil things Jim Roberts said about them still played like a script in my conscience. If you are lucky, you may find a loose network of former members who are supporting each other. They can help you find those who are safe to open your heart to. But if such a support system does not yet exist, then form one yourself!
One caveat: not everyone who has left or been damaged by the group is a good source of counsel. Some have put God on the back burner and have not processed their experience. Rather than reliving the pain, they feel that they were the problem, or that they were not worthy of being in this high-demand group, and their own hearts are feeling condemned. Such precious people need to be directed to God’s love, his grace, and the meaning of the cross. They need to be loved unconditionally and to return to God. But before they can return, they must learn from you how the God of their group is not the God of the Bible. I will write more on this next week. In the meantime, find your fellows and fellowship!
Jim Guerra: Author of From Dean’s List to Dumpsters: Why I Left Harvard to Join a Cult.
If you are interested in reading more about Jim’s story, you can order his book online here. It’s a very powerful read!
As always…comments are loved and appreciated! I will also make it possible for Jim to reply, so feel free to ask him any questions. If you don’t mind I would love for you to share this post on Twitter and Facebook so that others can rest assured that they don’t have to be silent any longer.
Thanks Everyone! Much Love – Jana