I was in college, living in an ex-fraternity house made over into a Christian boarding house for members of Maranatha Campus Ministries. It was 1983 or 84.
The leaders of Maranatha, Bob Weiner and Joe Smith, had come up with another new revelation that they said was from God. They took their text from John 15:8:
"By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples."
Bob Weiner and Joe Smith said that by "bearing fruit," Jesus meant "making converts." This meant, they said, that the more converts to Christ you made, the more you had "proved to be His disciple." Therefore, those of us who had never made a convert were not really disciples of Christ. Oh, we were saved all right, and we would go to heaven when we died, but were were all a sort of lesser follower of Jesus. Not bearing fruit. Not proving ourselves. Not quite measuring up.
I and some of my friends were very upset when we heard this new teaching. We were accustomed to taking every word uttered by Bob or Joe as the very truth of God. They had taught us "total commitment" to Jesus, to our leaders, and to our brothers and sisters in the church. To follow Jesus as He wanted, we must follow Him with our whole hearts, not being "lukewarm" like so many who claimed to be Christians were.
I had embraced total commitment and believed I was following with my whole heart. But suddenly now, even that wasn't quite good enough.
I began to search the Scriptures. Could the passage really mean what they said it did? On the other hand, should I be questioning my leaders? Feeling a little guilty, but also remembering that they had also taught us to read the Bible for ourselves, I looked at every passage where "fruit" was mentioned in the New Testament. It didn't seem to bear out what they were saying. Somewhat relieved (maybe I was a real disciple after all!), I determined to wait for Joe Smith's upcoming visit to our fellowship. Surely if I put my questions before him, he would see where I was coming from and maybe even get back together with Bob Weiner to discuss it again.
A few weeks later, Joe Smith arrived. We had spent the time before his arrival scrubbing the ex-frat house from top to bottom, preparing and handing out flyers for the meetings, and praying, praying, praying for lots of new people to come, be converted, and become members of Maranatha. Since I was also carrying a full course load of college credits and trying to keep up with my regular household chores, I hadn't had much time to think about what I would say to Joe Smith after the meeting.
I don't remember what he preached about. But afterwards, when other church members were clustering around the great man praising him for the sermon and receiving his blessings, I approached him, shaking inside, and asked if we could speak in private for a moment. With a kind, fatherly look, he agreed and we stepped apart a little from the meeting room, out into the foyer.
Nervously I asked him about the new revelation, about what "bearing fruit" meant. I told him that when I had looked it up in the New Testament, in all other passages where "fruit" was mentioned in terms of "bearing" it, it seemed to be talking character traits-- about the fruits of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, like love, joy, peace, patience, etc. I told him that in every other passage where "fruit" was mentioned in terms of converts to Christ, it was spoken of in terms of "gathering," not "bearing." I also asked if he thought "proving" to be a disciple really meant "proving to Jesus' satisfaction that you were a disciple" and not "proving to the world to be Jesus' disciple."
Joe Smith let me babble on for a few minutes. The look of kind, fatherly attention never left his face. Then, in just a few words, he let me know that I was wrong. "I discern that you are not letting Jesus' words into your heart," he said. "You are not responding to His words-- you are only reacting. You need to stop, listen to the truth of what we're teaching, and let it go deep inside you. Do you understand?"
Speechlessly I nodded. Joe Smith was telling me that not only was I wrong about what I thought the Bible said, but that I needed to stop fighting the truth that I was not a full, true disciple of Jesus. I needed to let this truth sink deep inside me. I felt myself letting it do so. And as I did, I began to weep uncontrollably.
Joe Smith smiled. "That's it. Let the Spirit of God touch you."
How could I tell him that I was weeping not because I felt the Spirit of God touching me, not because the truth was sinking in and changing me, but because I now believed I was a second-class follower of Jesus, a person Christ was not really satisfied with? That all my efforts to follow Him with my whole heart were in vain unless I could make a convert? That since I could never seem to speak the right words to make someone else want to follow Jesus, I probably never would be a real disciple?
My tears were tears of despair.
I couldn't tell him. Blindly I turned and stumbled up the two flights of stairs to my own room in the Maranatha house. I sank down onto the floor, and cried and cried.
After about 20 minutes of hard crying, I felt a stirring in my heart. Then four short words out of nowhere flooded into my mind, along with a deep warmth that filled my heart to the brim. "Daughter. He is wrong."
A wordless conviction filled me with assurance that I knew was not from myself. Jesus did absolutely consider me His disciple. He was fully satisfied with me. Joe Smith and Bob Weiner could be wrong. They were wrong.
My tears vanished, and joy welled up inside me as I wiped my face and blew my nose. I got up from the floor and went downstairs to help serve food. As I ran down the steps, the deep assurance filled me again. Joe Smith was wrong, and God had spoken to me. I was Christ's disciple no matter what any human being said. Even if they called themselves prophets.
But I told no one.
Not even my friends, who I knew were also upset by the new teaching. Not my pastor, or pastor's wife. Certainly not Joe Smith! A leader was never to be spoken against, in public or in private. To speak out would be to rebel against his God-given authority and to shame myself by showing a rebellious heart.
So I held my joy inside me, drinking of the certainty that my leaders could be wrong, in the privacy of my own heart. I never felt the same way about them again. I continued to read the Bible for myself, and if something they said didn't make sense to me, I no longer felt obligated to believe it.
I guess for me, it was the beginning of the end of Maranatha Campus Ministries. Years later, the group would dissolve under protests from some of the pastors of individual churches that the upper leadership was too authoritarian. But my own freedom began that night, and as I rested in the vine (as the actual context of Jesus' words about "bearing fruit" in John 15:8 said to do), I did indeed bear fruit. Fruit of strength in my own heart instead of dependence on others. Fruit of confidence in my relationship with Christ. Fruit of compassion for others who were being made miserable by destructive teachings.
And fruit of understanding-- first-hand understanding-- of what "spiritual abuse" meant.
Joe Smith was right and I was wrong, because Joe Smith was big and I was small. Because Joe Smith was a leader and I was an underling. Because Joe Smith was an authority, and I was a nobody.
No words against Joe Smith were ever to be spoken. If I spoke them, it was I-- not Joe-- who was in the wrong. Joe Smith could never be in the wrong, because he was in authority.
This last week, a prominent Christian leader was forced to resign amid allegations that he was having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, a prior victim of sexual abuse, who had come to him for pastoral care. Some blog sites devoted to exposing and helping victims of spiritual abuse have posted stories about it. And some of the comments on these sites have taken a page right out of Maranatha Campus Ministries' old book.
How dare you post something like this about a man of God? Who do you think you are?
This girl consented, didn't she? And anyway, no sin is worse than any other sin in God's eyes. We need to show mercy to this pastor. After all, "love covers a multitude of sins." [The fact that Jesus placed greater emphasis upon offending "one of these little ones" than on any other sin, is not taken into account. Matt. 18:6]
This pastor is a godly man! Don't contribute to the rumors! We shouldn't be judging him, we should be praying for him and his family! [No mention is made of possibly praying for the 17-year-old girl and her family.]
You don't know what you're talking about. God will be angry with you for bearing false witness.
This is an internal matter for the church involved. Stay out of it. You are casting stones at a man of God. You should just be quiet.
Counselors for adult children of alcoholics will say that one of the features of a dysfunctional, codependent family is the "don't talk about it" message.
Be quiet. This is family business and no one else's. How dare you talk like that about your father?
Keep the secret. Sweep it under the carpet. No one must see. No one must know.
But it isn't only families that can be dysfunctional. Churches can be, too. And when they are, they will tell their members this same thing. The result is what's called "enabling:"
An enabler is a person who by their actions make it easier for an addict to continue their self-destructive behavior.
It is possible to become addicted to authority. A person who is so addicted will uphold his or her authority at all costs, even at the expense of those whom their position of authority was created to serve. And the person who is addicted will encourage his or her followers in enabling behaviors, to make it easier to hold onto his or her authority. When religion, God or the Bible are used to encourage enabling, in ways that bring shame, harm or misery to the enablers, this is spiritual abuse.
I agree that this pastor needs help-- but not at the expense of his victim. And "don't talk about it" will help neither of them. It will only perpetuate the girl's shame and misery, and enable the pastor to continue in his abusive, dysfunctional behaviors. In Ephesians 5:1-13 Paul talks about relating to other professing Christians who commit heinous sins. He says in verse 11-13:
"And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them. For it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that is visible is light."
Paul is not saying, "The person who did the deed is a Christian, and therefore we need to keep this quiet." He is not saying, "The deed is disgraceful, therefore you will be disgraced if you speak of it." He is saying, "The disgraceful deed must be exposed in all its disgrace, precisely because it is so disgraceful even to speak about!"
Yes, it is disgraceful to speak of a pastor entering a sexual relationship with a vulnerable member of his flock whom he was supposed to be helping. But it is not disgraceful to the person speaking. It is disgraceful to the person doing the deed spoken of. However it also brings the deed out into the light, which is the only place where healing can happen.
I'm not saying it's ok to have a free-for-all of name-calling and abusive words about this pastor. Two wrongs don't make a right. But in the light is where the enabling stops. In the light is where the perpetrator must face himself and his deeds. In the light is where the victim can see that the shame is not hers to bear.
So to those who are saying, "Don't talk about it," I say this.
Do talk about it. Stop sweeping it under the carpet. The stories must be told. Stop shaming those who tell them. The person who is in the wrong is not above the rest of us. He needs the light just as much as anyone.
"For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth." Eph. 5:9.
Your experience of Maranatha resonated with me. the talk of 'reacting' rather than 'responding' (ie, disagreeing rather than agreeing). The talk of 'bearing fruit' meaning 'gaining converts'. Your feelings of being a second class Christian. The realisation that *shock* your leaders can be wrong and they don't necessarily know or understand the Bible better than you. That you can hear from God, too.
The pastor who abused that young girl is an exceptionally arrogant man; you can hear it in his preaching. I hope he's truly humbled by this but the truth is, he won't be if he is surrounded by people who minimise his responsibility for what he's done. And his followers have been trained to do just that. Chances are he'll make a show of repentance then bounce right back twice as arrogant as before now that he has proven through being disciplined to be one of God's anointed. His attitude may well be this: 'I'm so humble and contrite over what I did that I'm more holy and godly than any of you. So now I'm twice the man of God that I was and ought to have twice the power and respect that I did before'.
Anonymous, I'm glad the post resonated with you, but am sorry if it's because these kinds of things happened to you too.
I hope you turn out to be incorrect about this pastor, but sadly, what you are saying may very well be the case. I do know that anyone who says such disrespectful things from the pulpit about women (I've heard some of them) is not likely to treat women with respect in his personal life either. Including this poor girl. She the age of my own daughter. It makes me so angry to think about.
Wow. On one hand, I'm astonished at how unfair and illogical this is- nobody is allowed to question the authority- you're automatically wrong if you disagree- but on the other hand I can actually imagine that people do make that argument.
Thanks for writing about this- like you said, we have to bring the injustice out into the open.
So many churches are both breeding grounds for abuse and unsafe places for survivors......
Excellent post. Thank you.
Blaming those who are exposing the crime of the pastor who preyed on the underage girl sounds like a variation on the "blaming the victim" theme. That pastor needs to be exposed for the sake of the girl and for his own sake. Perhaps this will bring him to repentance.
The incident prompting this post has also exposed another damning heresy: the so-called "spoiled fruit/strange woman" idea that allows men to prey upon little girls and women they think are "damaged goods" and then to blame the girls and women for causing the rapes/molestations or to claim the victims wanted it, too. Disturbing to say the least. Sisters in the Lord: stay as far away from extra-biblical, patriarchy/complementarianism churches as you can.
And consider the irony: the Scriptures both old and new are laced with the metaphor of the "whore" figure "leading men astray" as the apostate Bride of Christ/people of God. Ironically, the very men who perpetrate the literal notion of damaged (female) goods that cause those same men to prey upon them are themselves part of the metaphorical "strange woman/apostate church". Because there is no hierarchical structure in the church. We are all one in Christ Jesus, no more separated by gender, race, or status. There may be different gifts and callings is all.
Regarding the authority some in Christendom purport to hold over others reminds me of growing up in Roman Catholicism, only the way that church is structured and the way the indoctrination has perpetrated the claim of a spiritual hierarchy has been so embedded in the religion's extra-biblical proclamations since about the third century the idea has become institutionalized. Until the Spirit of God frees an individual Catholic through the truth of God's Word, it never occurs to a Catholic to question the Pope's so-called infallibility and the rights of Cardinals, Bishops, and priests over the laity. However, once a person is exposed to the truth, whatever hold centuries-old Roman Catholic "traditions" might have on a Catholic fades quickly.
We need to continue to immerse ourselves in the Word of God.
Wow! Great insights!
Never ever let someone else convince you that you are less than another in the body of Christ.
Thank you for these wise words! I have had a similar experience where God's truth was suppressed in my life because of the words of an "authority." Thank God for healing.
Thanks for this. I have experienced this kind of thing first hand and it just leaves me with a creeped out feeling. Logic, scripture and compassion get thrown out the door, or worse, twisted to the one with authority's will. The good thing in this is that is has forced me to think deeply about what power does to a person and how best I can keep myself from doing this kind of thing myself.
I hope that people speaking out like you have here will slow and someday stop spiritual abuse.
But, I suspect that it won't. Unfortunately.
Hi, Kristen. How are you doing. I am JBsptfn.
I think that I saw you post on Metacrock's DOXA forums, right?
BTW, good post. Some of those Christian College groups can be a little weird. I know. I did attend meetings of this one called BASIC(Brothers and Sisters in Christ, formerly Chi Alpha) off and on when I was in college(I didn't get too involved because my dorky brother in-law was helping out there often because he wanted to re-live his college times when he thought he was cool).
For example, they had a local pastor come in one time to speak about dating and the opposite sex one time. He was using a verse in Timothy were it says to treat the women as sisters and the men as brothers(Paul was talking about advice for pastors and their congregation, not necessarily how you treat other people).
This pastor was overly fundy and strange with this topic. He said something about how this woman wanted to go horseback riding with him after he was saved, and that he ran the other way.
That crap can have an affect on young, impressionable 18-22 year old minds.
His church is sort-of peculiar. They seem to be clique-ish, and the people aren't the friendliest.
They made the kids in youth group use Joshua Harris's material(he wrote the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye). A former co-worker who goes to that church said that the girls were saying that they were "dating God".
I haven't read the book, but I did read the foreword by Christian Singer Rebecca St. James. She talked about how all her friends were hurt in the dating game. I was thinking "ah, poor babies". What their problem probably was, from my experience, was that they wanted an outcome(usually marriage in Christian circles), and they weren't having fun.
Hi! Yes, I post sometimes on Doxa.
It is interesting that Maranatha Campus Ministries had a no-dating policy and a whole set of doctrines they called "The Dating Revelation" 20 years or more before Josh Harris' book. Yes, I do think that a lot of the motivation behind things like this is a desire for security-- guarantee the outcome that you'll get God's perfect choice for your spouse, so you'll never suffer pain in dating or ever have to get a divorce. But God is not a vending-machine, and there are no buttons you can push to guarantee outcomes. Trust and certainty are opposites, I think, and trust is a necessary component of faith-- and certainty does away with the need for trust.
Phyllis -- you are so right about the "damaged goods" idea. It needs to be done away with.
Everyone -- thanks for your lovely comments!
To let you know, my name isn't Justin. My username is JBsptfn.
I also agree totally with that comment. Dating is a thing that young people can be insecure about. Books like Joshua Harris's and what Maranatha had only make things worse, not better.
One time, in my early-20's, when I told my Pastor that I liked a girl(she was in one of my classes, not in church), he told me I needed to be confident. That was it. That is better advice than some of those overly conservative books and programs can give you.
I wrote the first comment here. Back again!
I agree very strongly that the whole I Kissed Daing Goodbye thing is all about controlling th eoutcome, and it's so damaging. I went to a church that really emphasised a similar idea to the ones Josh Harris promotes in the book. It felt like when you dated someone it was almost as if you were engaged. Really stifling. Everything was super serious and no fun at all, and ultimately did not protect anyone's hearts, least of all mine. It's interesting that both atheists and some parts of Chritianity think of God as a vending machine. Some churches just want to set up lots of systems and lots of controls, but you can't contain the work of God or people's spirits that way.
I apologize. I guess it was that thing I've read about where when the brain doesn't recognize a pattern, it invents one!
Both of you: Very true. :)
That is okay, Kristen.
To Anonymous: This doesn't apply to women as much, but there are secular programs that can help guys out better than those Christian dating "aids".
Examples of these are David DeAngelo's Double Your Dating and Carlos Zuma's materials.
Now, they can be too worldly, and they seem to encourage sex too much(although in the Bible, the word Fornication doesn't really mean what people think it means).
However, their materials help guys get over their insecurities and help them be more confident around the opposite sex.
Also, in Carlos's case, he doesn't encourage the whole "pickup artist" thing. He encourages guys to go up and start conversations with women by being yourself, not putting on a show.
Wow, Kristen. Great post.
Fear is a very insidious thing, isn't it? If we don't talk about it then we won't have to admit the fact that even "men of God" can "fall in to sin." It's so much "easier" to be ignorant and believe the best about people, especially those in authority.
I think many people believe that talking about these types of things is gossip and is forbidden. When I went to church back in the 80s, the leaders allowed a child molester to work in the Sunday school. I think they were just ignorant, not malevolent. I had heard rumors but believed that the leaders would NEVER allow such a thing. But leaders are vulnerable too. They're not infallible and sometimes they're downright foolish. Jesus is the only infallible one.
Thank you for sharing your experiences with Maranatha. I was living in Portland at that time and vaguely remember the name. I'm so glad God's love broke through your leader's ignorance and supplied you with the comfort you were so desperate for.
I admire you for speaking with Mr. Smith directly. Your superb recounting here makes my blood boil. Spiritual abuse and emotional manipulation are so devastating, especially to someone young and impressionable. I can't help but feel angry for how you were abused.
You're a wonderful writer. Are you working on a memoir?
Thanks, Grace! I'm writing a number of things, but not a memoir. But I appreciate your kinds words very much!
Kristen, I have recently become a member of the SASBN and found your blog through that. I really appreciated your words and have re-posted this at my blog, Living Liminal http://livingliminal.blogspot.com.au/.
That's sweet of you, Living Liminal! Welcome to the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Blog Network-- your blog looks really interesting!
HI Kristen I was in MCM from 1978-1982 and became a minister before quoting in despair. I had a similar encounter (well three or four) with Joe Smith. Joe would be wearing a cardigan sweater and give you that warm Uncle Like Smile as he led one deeper into the spiritual "you must earn it" morass of MCM.
I remember after one such encounter with Bob Weiner and one of his minions where I questioned "why am I actively leading people into this" and then made the decision- I am out. And I never looked back. But your post is right on- idealistic young people can be easy prey...
Thank you for your post- look forward to reading the rest of your blog
I had the misfortune to be a part of MCM 1984-86. It certainly warped my thinking.
Surprisingly though I found the no dating policy a relief. Of course the policy is way to authoritarian but I didn't mind it at the time. As an immature 19 year old the burden of dating etc was taken out of my hands. I couldn't date even if I wanted to.
I know this is an older post but one thing that stood out to me when I re-read this. You indicate that Joe Smith immediately discounted your interpretation of what "bearing fruit" means. That this was immediate vs. say going back and doing some pondering including hopefully a Berean study speaks a lot. Apparently Joe Smith wasn't even considering your different view.
The immediate speaks volumes and perhaps shows the character of Maranatha where no type of input could go up "the chain" but was only allowed to go down.
That's correct, Steve. He didn't listen, he didn't try to listen. While I was nervously stammering out my viewpoint, it seemed he was already thinking about what sin or problem I was having that was causing me to approach him like this. I know I can't actually know what he was thinking, but his manner and the speed of his response-- the fact he interrupted me, the fact he didn't address at all what I actually said-- leads me to infer this.
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