Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Exit Counselling

There are many topics that have been raised in the comments and most of them seem better addressed in posts. So I am asking for your patience. I will try to write about and link to resources on a variety of topics that have come up and are important to me.

I have recently been reading a few blogs on leaving church or leaving a relationship. Not long ago I had a conversation in which a pastor remarked rather disparagingly that it was no use helping a person leave an abusive relationship because that person, woman or man, would not appreciate the help and frankly would not take any advice. It was simply not worth the effort helping someone like that. This was my impression, I am not citing anyone exactly. But, actually we all know people who live in unhappy relationships or we are one of those people.

It is all the more difficult for those who attend a church which does not support the divorce process. Whether it is a woman held in a subordinate role, or a man tied to meeting unreasonable demands, there simply are people who need to leave. For some, this means leaving church or friends and family as well. Perhaps it has nothing to do with a relationship but one simply needs to leave a group which has gained disproportionate control over one's thinking.

Here are some blogs which are valuable reading if this is a concern. First, there is the excellent and researched blog by Cindy Kunsman, Under Much Grace, Danni Moss's blog, Because It Matters, and Jeff's blog, Church Discipline, especially this post. In church exiters, you can read about the future for people who leave church.

In addition to these blogs, I have been reading about exit counselling, or interventions, which has replaced "deprogramming." Here are some excerpts from an article on exit counselling.


[V]ictims of cults are not characteristically less intelligent than other people. If anything they are often the "cream of the crop," so to speak--the young, the intelligent, the idealistic, yet all too often naive ones. They are likely recruited during a transition time in their life, when they are more vulnerable to outside coercion and manipulation.

[The exit counsellor] may present Christianity as a historical religion, with doctrines that are to be understood in their original historical context, not according to some modern-day prophet. It is explained that interpretation is no mystery, nor is it exclusive to a chosen few. The exit-counselor also points out that there is life outside of the organization, and the ex-member present is proof of that; he or she is living a happy and fulfilled life.

It is necessary to follow up for several reasons:
  • The emotional ties in the organization (friends) are still very strong at this stage
  • Loneliness and disillusionment are strong factors causing a desire to go back to the cult
  • Lingering doubts about their new decision remain for awhile
  • Confusion and disorientation about the future haunts them
Healing of the ex-cultist is an ongoing process, and sometimes takes many years. But they are years well spent when it involves someone we truly love!

In summary, the person whom one is trying to convince to leave a relationship or community, needs to be told that they are not simply "weak" or "stupid." They need ongoing rational discussion about the issues involved. They need to see other people who have left as well, and see how they have fared. They need to accept that they may be dealing with loneliness, disorientation and confusion for several years.

This applies to someone leaving a marriage or a community in which the mind was unduly controlled by another person or other people. Anyone who attends a church with high boundaries is vulnerable. Some religious communities practice shunning, some excommunication, or disfellowshipping, as well as discipline or disparagement. These communities also need to convince the members to practice endogamy, marriage within the group, at least for the women. The men are expected to bring their wives into the group. In some communities this may work the other way around, I am not sure.

In mainline evangelical churches, many of these practices are not evident in the services or among the adults. However, young people may be deliberately recruited into certain commitments, either to gender roles, missions, rejection of normal youthful activities, or acceptance of certain doctrinal positions. I am not saying that a young woman should not get married and have children, or that one should not become a missionary, but I am saying that some youth groups and large conference organizations may use certain techniques to convince young people to make commitments that they would not otherwise make. One example of this would be the True Woman Conference and Manifesto.

Those who show concern about these things range from complementarians, on Under Much Grace, to agnotics on Church Discipline. I am not writing this to discourage proper belief. This is to help people understand that we, as humans, are vulnerable to joining cults, attending churches which control our behaviour, or marrying someone who is unsuitable.

Leaving any of these situations means experiencing nausea, vertigo, disorientation, meaninglessness, and loss of vision for the future. The only thing that helped me was ongoing support from people who said that they lived that way, they were not married, did not go to church, or whatever, but they were able to survive just fine, thank you very much. I was able to imagine and identify with a few key people in my life who lived alone or without a church and I just set myself to believe that I could do it too.

This leaves me free to attend a church from choice, to spend time with people because I want to, to develop a vision for my future. If you know someone in a bad situation do not give up on them. That's all I am asking.


Kevin Knox said...

Amen, Suzanne.

Leaving is a hard thing at so many levels, and nothing about it is appealing. There is no intoxicating joy, no pride, no anticipated freedom to draw you forward. There's only the uncertain whisper of cold logic suggesting maybe God doesn't really need you to destroy yourself by staying.

Encouragement from others is filed away in the questioning place the your heart, waiting until the will is ready to commit. One day, when everything is darkest, those little nuggets of encouragement teach the heart to risk defending itself, and you leave.

So, I stand with you in asking those who can help not to give up. Keep showing your friends who God meant for them to be, and that being driven out of that path is helping no one.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Suzanne. Pastors and "church people" take one of two routes. Either, as you said, they say it is not worth helping the person because they are "too stupid" to listen (my words, but their underlying meaning). These people who say they care cannot see the manipulation, belief system and mind control and safety behind the staying. (a woman is in 75% more danger if she decides to leave or leaves than if she stays). The other position is that divorce and separation are not options. They are to suffer for the sake of Christ. I had one client whose pastor told her that if her husband killed her, she should consider it joy because she was dying for the Lord and He had choisen this path for her. How ridiculous. Or, as in my case, I was kicked out of my church for leaving an abusive marriage after almost 20 years. Funny thing (or not so funny thing) was that he (my x) was allowed to stay a deacon because he did not file for the divorce, I did. Even though the pastor knew about his treatment of me and his alcoholism, he was allowed to remain in his position. These types of churches put the sanctity of the marriage bond over the sanctity of life, and in so doing cooperate with the evil of abuse. Yet they are the first to speak out against abortion!

Research shows that women with strong religious beliefs stay in abusive relationships longer because their staying and the abuse get wrapped together with their beliefs about God and who He is and what His desires are for them. The church does not help when it says stay, no matter what. Or teaches submission but does not teach loving husbandry.

Our ministry, Christian Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, was created to educate, equip and empower the church to BE the church to help those who are abused. Yet it is most difficult for us to even get in the church and for them to see the need. One church leader told me the congregation believed it was only the pastor’s job to deal with these issues. Yet when we scheduled a training seminar, the pastor did not attend! Lord, help us. I would appreciate all your prayers was we try to continue this ministry and reach the church to be the church to those hurting.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Thank you for mentioning your site, Kate. I read your posts and find a great deal of encouragement in them.

Oddly another unhelpful reaction on the part of a pastor is to say that the abusive husband cannot be a Christian. The wife is encouraged to leave and the man is excluded. In this scenario the implication is that Christian husband is always worthy of the submission of the wife but the non-Christian husband will abuse this power. I don't think that lines up with reality either although it may be more humane.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I pray our website is uplifting. One of these days I will get time to start a blog...

And yes, I agree (about husbands belief system). I have even had pastors remind women with non-believing husbands that they are to remember that a believing wife can win over her husband with her belief and then he will no longer be abusive! Of course this puts the responsibility for the abusive behavior right back on the wife. IF she wins him to the Lord, THEN he will not abuse. Heaven help us. And you are right. Christian men can be abusive just as much as non-Christian men. Research shows it. Only God knows the heart as to whether they are true believers, but if they say they are, then we must take them at their word and let God sort the wheat from the chaff. It is about relationship with the Lord, not believing that makes the difference.