Back in the day, when I had my heart set on pursuing investigative journalism, this is the article that I wanted to write.
And this is why:
“To understand how this systemic, widespread abuse could happen again and again, some former members say it is necessary to understand the cult-like power of many independent fundamental Baptist churches and the constant pressure not to question pastors — or ever leave the church.”
This four-part article is painful to read. But it’s a must read, for so many reasons — not the least of which, it answers, at least in part, the question — “Why didn’t you just leave?”
The answers to that question are varied, and subjective — but I would be bold enough and confident enough to bet next semester’s textbook money on this as a sure commonality: this “cult-like power . . . and the constant pressure not to question pastors — or ever leave the church”.
Make no mistake, the ellipses aren’t to save space. That wasn’t a design choice. Because this doesn’t just happen in “independent fundamental Baptist churches”. If so, they would be easy enough to avoid.
No, this is not only a mentality, it is a deliberate choice in setting up the structure of a church. Any church. And this set-up, this ‘the buck stops here’ situation where there is no higher authority than a local pastor, no organized governing body, no official body of oversight — this, in my opinion, is an almost-inevitable breeding ground for some nature of authoritarian abuse. Optimistically, not always abuse of the nature or extent of what is covered in this article . . . but then, life has not left me an optimist.
I have a childhood friend, one of the rare ones who is brave enough to look into my eyes and talk about the hard things of our growing-up days. Invariably, she encourages me to write, to put words to truth. She says in conversation, she writes on precious notes, over and over again . . . The truth will wreck this place.
It is terrifying to give voice to hard truth. The women who shared their stories for this article are women of incredible courage. There is no way to explain, really, the effects on the mind, soul, and spirit from living under this influence. For many years — too many — the only comfort for many was found, ironically, in the same Scriptures that were also used to enable and defend the abusers.
Because from the pulpits, over and over and over again, I heard, in thunderous tones,
“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (Psalm 105:15).
But quietly, we whispered to each other,
“[God] reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness.” (Daniel 2:22)
Even so, Lord Jesus. Let the truth wreck this place. Amen.