Mike & Linda Ventura's UPC Experience
The following was taken from a Christian radio broadcast entitled "Nightsearch," which was a ministry of Praise Tabernacle Church. Their subject on this particular broadcast was spiritual abuse and two former members of my church gave an account of their experience. A copy of this broadcast was later obtained by my pastor and he devoted an entire Thursday evening service to play this recording to the congregation. The intent was to show the members what others were saying about the church. (No location or name was mentioned, but if you knew this couple, you would have known what church they were speaking about.) This caused quite a stir amongst the congregation. Many became angry or upset, developing an attitude of, "How dare you say that about my church and pastor!" I did not like what I was seeing.
Fortunately, I was away on vacation when this happened and almost immediately heard about it upon my returning. I was able to borrow the tape and listen to it in the privacy of my own home. Though I felt areas were somewhat exaggerated, I did not have the same intense reaction as the other members. At this point I was already questioning some things that had happened and were happening at my church. When returning the cassette tape, one woman at the church held it by the tips of her fingers, as if it were something contagious or dirty.
I knew both of these people who were interviewed on the broadcast. Linda had joined the church before I became a member. Mike, if I correctly recall, came after me. Both left well before I did and I have not seen or heard from them since.
Though I do not agree with everything that was said, there was definitely a problem in my church. This transcript has been used with the permission of Pastor Tom Sappie of Praise Tabernacle Church. I believe it was originally broadcast in 1993. A few words may have been missed as sometimes more than one individual spoke at the same time. I also may have neglected to include an 'uh' or repeated word here or there. But other than these, the following transcript is in order and has not been taken out of context, nor have any parts of the interview itself been omitted to give it any particular slant. Further comment is made after the interview.
Tom: "We're back on Nightsearch. I'm Tom Sappie. Of course every Sunday night we join you here from 8 until 10 for live call-in talk. If you'd like to join us our numbers are (this part is being omitted).
Another man: Glad to see you got it right, Tom.
Tom: Thank you. (laughing) I have to... Well, practice makes perfect on this. Joining us now, Jeff VanVonderen, and , uh, the book is called "The Subtle Powers of Spiritual Abuse." It's on Bethany House and, uh, Jeff thanks for joining us tonight.
Another man: Are you sure of that, Tom?
Tom: I hope, I hope he's there.
Another man: I don't think we got a confirmation.
Another man: On the phones here, so.
Tom: OK, well we may want to check on that. If Jeff, uh, joins us, hopefully he's supposed to be joining us this hour, but uh, while we're waiting for that, we have in the studio Mike and Linda Ventura and they, uh, are here to kind of add their insight and wisdom to this whole area of, uh, spiritual abuse and because they were in a system that, uh, in some ways kind of, uh, promoted some of these ideas that we really want to talk about tonight. And, first of all, thanks for joining us, both of you.
Mike: Thanks for having us.
Tom: (Part omitted about microphone trouble.) Uh, first of all, let's talk a little bit about, uh, some of the, some of the things that you experienced and, and maybe what we can do is just talk about, uh, the early beginnings of when you became aware that there was something going on that wasn't quite right in the particular, uh, group that you were involved in. When did you begin to see some warning signs that you said, "I'm not sure this is quite right." That's either for you, Linda, or Michael, whatever one wants to take that one.
Linda: I think that I believed to, uh, notice a change in their consistency that they laid down a standard and this standard began to change according to their convenience sometimes. Myself and my past life before I had gotten involved with this particular organization I was raised in a household that my grandfather was a pastor of a church, had pastored 5 churches and I had a, uh, stable background in, in a Methodist-Baptist type of an organization. Becoming involved in a, uh, the uh, second church, I began to conform to their rules that they laid down and it was a form of, uh, standard of godliness that they felt that should be upheld by the saints in the church.
Tom: OK, so let's back up a little bit. You were in a Baptist and Methodist type of a church...
Linda: Yes. It was Methodist.
Tom: ...and then all of a sudden, you come over to the, this new type of church, we'll use that terminology, and all of a sudden there's this, this great emphasis on a standard, uh, that you need to live up to. Which isn't bad in itself, really, because most churches have certain standards. What made this bad?
Linda: Sure. OK. They did use Scriptures that would back up certain standard type living. And, uh, through the course of about seven years I saw the standard would change or be altered.
Tom: Uhm hum.
Linda: From time to time, concerning events.
Tom: So it was kind of just to suit the, the particular experience, I mean this particular situation.
Linda: Or the ministry. Or the betterment of the motive of the ministry, um, certain, uh, individuals who would, uh, get involved in the ministry if they had different views they would be tolerated and accepted, um, the laws would be lifted for one particular one who would maybe have a relationship in marriage or family or maybe the pastor's daughter, uh, wouldn't receive the chastisement, they called it, of disobedience that others would have to receive. So then I began to think, um, also they demanded , um, certain kinds of participation from myself and, um, in work activities such as bake sales, uh, help here, nursery attendants, Sunday School teaching, etc., cleaning the church, etc., any need that they had, uh, I was asked to fulfill with a strict obedience.
Tom: Did they use any fear tactics on you about conforming to the standard?
Linda: Yes. Absolutely.
Tom: And what kind of fear tactics were they?
Linda: Well that I am not, uh, keeping my salvation. And by my works, I should keep my salvation.
Tom: So in other words, if you don't do what the church requires, you were in, you could lose your salvation?
Linda: Yes, because of the disobedience is as a form of witchcraft and they would actually consider witchcraft disobedience and rebellion.
Tom: So if you don't do what the pastor says, then you're practicing witchcraft and therefore you should be, you know, totally ostracized, excommunicated, and...
Tom: And did they used those types of tactics, like we're not going to have anything to do with you if you don't conform to this?
Linda: Yes. Absolutely. For women more so. Uh, however, when the standard was changed to their daughter, or maybe someone who that was closer to kin, and she was given certain privileges, then I began to question whether or not, uh, it was, uh, a good operation to be in. Also with myself contributing to their needs, when I had, had a tragedy happen to my, my own life, that they were not really there to help me as much as I thought they would and as much as they had promised to come to my aide in my time of need. Because that's how they motivated me to come to their aide in their time of need. They say we all work together as a body and if the body of Christ is in pain in one area, the rest of the body will go and tend to need to that other area of pain and suffering.
Tom: Now, we need to separate, I guess, this from just human, uh, frailties. Ministers and churches aren't perfect and some people do feel even ignored in a normal church, you know that's not uncommon, because, you know, people forget or whatever. Uh, but what made this, uh, I guess I'm trying to get to the point, what made this more abusive? Uh, than your normal situation.
Mike: Well, let me give you an example of, uh, a fear tactic that might be used, uh, in the normal course of, uh, uh, a message coming forth. They would use an example of maybe a gentleman who, uh, who didn't agree with what the pastor said in some other church and then that night he went out and was hit by a car and he died and God killed him and they're blaming that God did this to him because he didn't listen to what they had to say at that time.
Mike: And that would be, they would use little examples like that...
Tom: And, obviously that's a great manipulator, everybody sitting there listening think I don't want to get hit by a car, so I better listen to what he's telling me.
Mike: Well you know that, that if you stepped out of line, that God was going to strike you down. And it gave you a perception of God, totally altered from what he's really like. So you pictured God that if you stepped out of line, that if you weren't perfect, that God was going to just strike you down, he was going to bring evil in your life, he was going to teach you a lesson, and he would use different examples like the gentleman who got hit by a car, or somebody else who, uh, had a disease and it was their fault and, uh, they must be in sin somehow and, uh,...
Tom: Those are classic earmarks and classic signs that a spiritual abusive system is going on. Was there a lot of shame? Were they trying to put shame on you, and guilt on you, uh, in situations?
Mike: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Um, because in a whatchacallit, legalistic environment where there's a lot of laws, um, you can never quite live up to all the laws. You never could. Nobody ever could. And the more you'd try and live up, the more you'd feel condemned and the more that if you did make a mistake they would totally bring condemnation down to bring, uh, make you feel so guilty, and so shamed, and so unworthy. Like Linda said, you never knew of your security and your salvation. You never knew of your security, so every week they would have that control and that power by, by just making you feel so unworthy and then, and then you felt so ashamed and then what that would bring the people who, say, would live up to the standards, who would somehow achieve it in themselves, uh, they would almost judge other people, like, look I've made it look at me, I am great now and look down at others, which would then cause jealousy in the ones who, well, I can't, I can't live up to that and would almost drive them away from God, rather than driving them to God. It made them very discouraged and very shamed and what happened was they created almost an environment of an emotionalism where the service be a lot of hype and things like that where people's emotions would get worked up a little bit and they would, uh, classify that as spiritual.
Mike: So they thought they were getting a blessing of God, when actually it was just being worked up in their own life.
Tom: Hmm. Now these things that we're kind of dealing with, uh, never being sure of your salvation, did that kind of keep you hooked into the church? I mean, if they've got your salvation, they're waiting for you someplace if you kind of conform to these rules and jump through the hoop, that kind of keeps you in the system, doesn't it?
Linda: It was an outward holiness standard, uh, there was a list of oughts. And after the fulfillment of the oughts, a virtuous feeling, a false virtuous feeling, would, uh, appear. And then that person would become accepted and greatly used in the ministry, see? And to keep their ministry, they would have to continue the, the works. However if that person fell,...
Tom: Fell from that, just the group...
Linda: ...from the works, from if they, uh, made a mistake or an error in some way and they actually, uh, maybe forgot to keep one of the rules, they were all of a sudden cut off. So this fear tactic also was, was an example to the others that were watching. They had something called, uh, the dis-, the walk of the righteous shall condemn the disobedient sinful ones. And that we should be set apart and a peculiar people.
Tom: OK, so it sets some people up as being...
Tom: ...you know, the judges, I guess, of everyone else.
Mike: Better then others, that if you can somehow obtain all these rules, and it was easier for men then it was for women. Uh, because the rules were less for men. Uh, women they, they were, uh, had a lot more so a lot more control, and, uh, I guess some people found security in a sense of, uh, the walls of law that they said, well I, if I can fulfill this then I'm OK, that I'm secure in that and they found security in it, you know, in conforming to the laws that, uh, in (can't get a word here) with God outside. And there was that, that conformity.
Tom: When we come back here on Nightsearch, we're talking to Mike and Linda Ventura, we want to talk to you a little bit about what's going on in Waco, Texas and how maybe you can draw some similarities of why those people were sticking in that system. More to come on Nightsearch after these messages. (These are omitted.)
Tom: We're back on Nightsearch, and I'm Tom Sappie. Of course we come your way every Sunday night 8 until 10. Joining us in the studio, Mike and Linda Ventura. They're telling their stories about how they were involved in a abusive religious system and before we went to break, we were talking about the fact that what's going on in Waco, Texas is sort of hard to believe, I guess, for the average person, that 80 or 90 people could be kind of sucked in by this guy, and, and stay in it even though these terrible things are taking place. In your opinion, being in a system that was hard to break free from, what do you think's keeping them there?
Mike: Uh, in the very, you've got to go back to the very beginning, that, uh, when, uh, I feel like I'm not in here (laughter).
Tom: Is he plugged in - there he goes, OK.
Mike: That, uh, in the very beginning it seems like when you're looking at it from this perspective where they are right now, it says how could they ever believe such a thing. But you've got to go back to the very beginning when they first got into it. It's, uh, it's very subtle that they'll tell you a lot of truth mixed in with a little lie and then the lie is what, is what they start believing as truth. And as they progress in time, they become secure in the system, they become secure in the leader and through the control and manipulation tactics, they feel so obligated and they feel that there's no way out. And they tell them that everybody else is wrong, that if they do step out, that, uh, that they're only going to go into falsehood and all these people will tell them all these things that makes it look like that they were right. Just take for example in the very beginning, they'll say everybody, that your family, your friends will say, "Well, you're in a cult." And they'll say that you're wrong and they'll say that, uh, what you're believing is wrong.
Tom: Who will say that?
Mike: Uh, friends and family.
Tom: Right, friends and family will try to help you in this.
Mike: Right. But then they'll tell you that they're, your friends and family are against you. So that when your friends and family try and help you out of it, they look at the leadership and say, "Oh, they must be prophets of God. They're absolutely right in what happened."
Mike: So they believe a little bit of a lie at a time, plus as through time a lot of, uh, cultish practices they indoctrinate them with the same message over and over and over and over. So it's almost a brainwashing technique, that if you hear something over and over and over, that after awhile you tend to believe in it and it becomes such a part of you that it's hard to break away from it. That anything else you hear besides what's been sown into you so many times, uh, it's hard to break away. So they get to a place where they're so loyal and they don't believe anything else because all they've heard is, is one particular thing or a couple things that have been sown into them so much that it just becomes a part of them.
Tom: So it's the, uh, frog in the kettle technique. You turn up the heat slowly, little by little, and the frog doesn't even realize it's, uh, it's being turned up until he boils.
Mike: Yes. Absolutely.
Tom: Uh, in your particular situation it, it was sort of identical wasn't it, that you were told that if you went to another church or went to another Christian organization outside of this one, that you were going to be in danger of slipping into, uh, you know, danger of being a heretic, I guess, of some sort.
Linda: Well, actually, uh, how I began in the organization was even more so subtle. I was, uh, actively involved in my Methodist church and I had been raised in a Christian household. My grandfather was the pastor, um, I saw and met some of these church attendants, uh, attendees, saints, we'll call them, that were involved in this false organization in high-school. And they had such a sense of warmth and peace and love. They displayed all the fruits of the Spirit that we need to see. They had such a genuine love for Jesus Christ. They also obeyed very difficult rules and laws and loved doing so because they were rejoicing in his sufferings, they said. And they did pray for healing in certain circumstances and were healed. I did see the work of the Holy Spirit in their life and in their walk. I was convinced by a Christian walk that they had and displayed before me, that they were, they had to have, a real, uh, sense of a meaning further and much more than I have ever experienced.
Tom: So you saw the commitment of these people towards the Bible, toward Jesus, toward things that sounded good to you, that these people were really living it.
Linda: Yes, from their heart.
Tom: Yeah and so that kind of said, "Well, I don't care exactly what they teach, I'm not going to look too much at that, I look at their life and it seems to be...
Linda: Well, I did look at what they teached very closely and the Scriptures were all in the Bible that they actually used. They did speak to me about what they did believe that was in the Bible, however they over-emphasized certain aspects in the Bible to mean more than it actually was meant for. And, uh, they exalted certain aspects as far as how to be saved and how to keep your salvation and they also exalted different forms of disobedience, too, and iniquity. Now once I became involved there was a love time that they, uh, romanced me, if we can say that. They, uh, just attended to my aide. I felt like a, a princess. They, uh, they , they drove me to college. They went out of their way to do such unseemingly wonderful gestures to me. This went on for a good year. After I, I pertained myself to their rules, and I conformed to their teaching, I would hear the teaching over and over again and also begin to do the same thing because they had a motive and to reach other souls for the Kingdom of God. And if you were a soul winner, you were counted blessed. So we were advancing their faith. Now, uh,...
Tom: Their particular faith.
Linda: Their particular faith.
Tom: Not necessarily just getting people, uh, indoctrinated to Christianity, but that type of belief system.
Linda: That belief system, that's absolutely true. So therefore if I, uh, made a mistake in the rules there would be strict judgment and chastisement. Strict. And, uh, this, this fear would keep you basically in line. And then they would use other tactics like Mike, Michael mentioned before, that God would strike you dead if you leave this church. They would call it sometimes the covering. That word was mentioned. Uh, they would also say that you would not be under the blood anymore if you didn't have the prayers of the saints and they also said you must obey them that have rule over you, for we watch in, in fear for your souls.
Tom: Could anybody challenge the pastor or the minister?
Tom: Could they challenge him on anything?
Mike: No, not at all. He, uh, as Linda said, that, uh, said obey those that have authority, obey them no matter what. That they, they were God's representative no matter what, right or wrong.
Tom: So to disobey the leader is to disobey God.
Mike: Absolutely, that was there and they would be very strong about you could not question, um, what they, what they believed and what they said. It was, it was an absolute rule.
Tom: It puts you in a trap, doesn't it? I mean, to disobey the leader is to disobey God and to get out of relationship with Him is, is the very thing you dread, to be out of relationship with God, so I can see why it would be manipulative in that way.
Linda: I, I had written down some, a list of Scriptures that we, we as Christians are familiar with and also maybe statements that we hear often. And I thought it would be interesting to read them because these are Scriptures that are in the Bible and have been taken out of context. Obey them who have rule over you for they watch in fear for your souls. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Independent thinking is a form of rebellion and selfish pride and witchcraft.
Tom: Let me, let me stop you right there. That is a statement that, that, that they would teach?
Linda: Yes. Especially for women.
Tom: OK, so independent thinking is, is rebellion?
Linda: Right. Rebellion, pride, selfish pride and witchcraft. It was more so for women because the woman must answer to the man, because the man has, has, uh, head over her. He is her authority. So therefore as a husband is an authority over a wife, she is to be completely submissive to him. Now if she is single, then she must be completely submissive to the pastor. And also the pastor is the head of the entire church, just like Jesus is, and head of our...
Tom: OK. And he'll do your thinking for you. Concerning the Scriptures.
Linda: Exactly. He'll make decisions for you. Of course. And if you disagree or, or, or disobey what he says, you can be under the wrath of God. And you will not have God's blessing, because obedience is far greater than sacrifice, remember, that they believe. Uh, don't give heed to other doctrines as many will do so in the last days. Blessed is he who rejoices in the sufferings of the Lord. We are a peculiar people, set apart. Do not be conformed to the ways of the world. In the last days mother will leave daughter, daughter will leave mother, father against son. Blessed is he that picks up his cross and follows after me. But he who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom. Have you ever, uh, heard of Scriptures yourself even in this form of control and...
Tom: Right. The Scriptures themselves, obviously what you're reading there is purely out of the Bible but when taken in a manipulative way, I mean, they can be used to suit the leaders and...
Linda: Improperly applied.
Tom: Our guest is Michael and Linda Ventura. We're talking about the subtle traps of spiritual abuse. When we come back we'll have more conversation and hopefully your calls. Remember those numbers (omitted). More after these messages. Stay tuned.
Tom: We're back on Nightsearch. The numbers for live call-in talk, once again (omitted). We're inviting your response to this whole subject of spiritual abuse and especially if you have a comment on, uh, any spiritual hypocrisy, especially, or false authority that has changed your view of God in any way, shape, or form. We invite you to call us and tell us what you, uh, what you've discovered in your own experience. Mike and Linda have joined us. They were part of a religious system that practiced abuse and some tactics that we would consider less than, uh, than honorable and borderlining on, on cultic techniques, I guess we could say that. Uh, let's talk a little bit about when you finally decided that you wanted out of this. Was that difficult and how did you make the break?
Mike: Yes, it was very difficult because you've, you've uh, spent so many years with developing relationships with people, um. I was involved with this one organization for nine years, so I'd put my time and my money and, uh, all of myself into it, uh, for a very long time. So you built relationships, uh, you put your whole life into it. So to break away, yes it was very difficult because you had just established a lot of roots in there and they grew very deep. And because you've been so indoctrinated in a certain way, it was very hard to break away from that doctrine. And how we first started to break away was just really started searching for ourselves in the Word of God. That had the only truth and what really spoke to my heart was in the book of Romans, where God started talking about where sin abounds, grace does much more abound, that we are acquitted, totally absolved from all guilt before God and it was not based on anything that, that we have done. That it was totally based on what God has done.
Tom: Now why was it so important for you to understand that particular principal?
Mike: Because in a, uh, a law centered environment where you had to do, you had to do, you had to do all the time, and you had to conform, you had to follow a whole list of rules. You were always, it was almost like performance religion, that if I do this God will bless me. It's like putting a quarter in the slot machine. If I put my quarter in, in what I did, God would turn around and give me the jackpot. Rather than, uh, so what that did to me was that I just kept doing and doing and doing and it brought a self-righteous attitude, that, hey, I'm secure in what I do, look what I do, and look what you do. You know, it was, uh, it almost made you judgmental.
Tom: Do you find that people in, in this type of system, see themselves as superior to others?
Mike: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Linda: Yes. There are certain ones that would be recognized as being, let's say being more spiritual than others, because of their walk. They believed that you would prove your faith by your works. Meaning that fleshly outward appearance and this is, this is the virtue that you would uphold. Uh, and if the time that you put in, let's say, well one of the rules that the women did not believe that they could cut their hair. So if a, if a saint came into the church and her hair was below her hips, her knees, you knew that she had been in the church for quite awhile. (Laughter) And if she had shoulder length hair...
Tom: (Can't make out most of the words here.)
Mike: And, and when she was talking about works, the works weren't good deeds, they weren't things of the heart, they were things of the outward, of what you put on, of what you ate, how you, uh,
Tom: What you ate and what you put on were more important than, than doing, uh, a charitable act?
Mike: Yes, it was, it was more focused...
Linda: It was recognized highly. It, it, the charitable act was good, too, but they believed that, uhm, uh, the outward would show the inward and if the inward was pure, then of course the outward would be pure. So if the outward was extremely pure, the inside must be more pure.
Tom: Was there a lot of hypocrisy and people looking right, dressing right,...
Tom: ...and yet on the outside they kind of get a weird value system of what's important and what's not?
Mike: Yes, absolutely. If, if they came and dressed the way you're supposed to dress, following all the rules, they were quote unquote holy. And they lived up to the holiness standard that they were holy before God, because they did this, they did this, did this, but inside they were full of envy, jealousy, hatred, strife, and those things just seemed to be OK.
Linda: They were tolerated. I, I, I, they were just tolerated, they, they figured that that sister had her outward appearance just right, so therefore if she suffered any judgment then she must be chastising or rebuking someone who needed it.
Tom: So you got grace from works, in other words, grace wasn't a free gift to you, it was something that you worked for.
Tom: Which is totally opposed to the whole idea of grace.
Mike: Yes. And you always had to work for it. Like, uh, we were talking about earlier about unsure of, um, your salvation, unsure of eternal life. You weren't sure every week because if, if you were doing OK one week then all of a sudden you just fell, you were out of touch with God, God was done with you for that week until you came back and got saved all over again, uh, the next week at the altar, just repented. You, you always felt that if, uh, if Jesus Christ came back, and you were in a sin, you weren't going to make it. So that fear was over your, your head all the time, so the only thing that brought, that started giving us light to bring it out was the truth of God's Word. So they always, uh, so that they had the truth and the only truth and nobody else had any truth that all. Uh, but we realize that that's false because Jesus said I am the way and the truth and the life and only truth comes from him. So as the Word of God just opened up that, um, that we are saved by grace, through faith, that it is a gift of God, that there was nothing I could do to earn it, to deserve it, or to merit it in any way. That it was totally free, given to me, that I didn't have to try and work for God's approval, work for God's acceptance, uh, it was, it was totally free and then when God opened my eyes to see that, it was just such a release because I felt like my whole salvation was on my shoulders and based on what I did. And it was very, it was very depressing, it was very oppressing on your life because your, you always felt sure because we're only human and we will make mistakes and we will fall and we will come short. But it was only by his grace and his love that says, yes, you are forgiven, that it was God that chose me, that it was God that called me out, it was all God. And this whole walk with God is all him, it's not, it's not man in anyway at all. He chose us, he called us out, he forgave us. He gave us his love, he died for us, and then he says now that, uh, I've given you assurance of eternal life, I will walk with you from this point on. And he knows that we'll fall in the future and he's made that provision.
Tom: Let's talk a little bit about true spiritual authority or true spiritual leadership. There is such a thing, we can't totally ignore it and say, well you know, we just all, we're all off doing our own things, that's all. We're not really advocating that, I guess, by what we're saying here. We're saying there's an abuse, there's manipulation. But talk about true spiritual authority and what you see that to be now.
Linda: I feel that, uh, true spiritual authority would not be based upon our own works, but God's in us and, uh, what happened with me is I began to notice that the ones that were called so spiritual had the workings of iniquity in their life. I felt that I was a victim of many workings of iniquity. I began to question the fruits of the Spirit and what are they and study them and I found to my surprise that even other churches have fruits of the Spirit and the joy and the love and the, uh, the fresh anointings of the love of the Gospel, our first love. The, the belief of faith in Jesus Christ- that alone. God showed me a Scripture, meaning that our salvation is by grace, not by works lest any man shall boast. And that's exactly what these people were doing was boasting in their own works. And also it wasn't added to, it's just faith in Jesus Christ alone. There's many Scriptures through the Bible that says that you're saved by your faith in Jesus Christ- period.
Tom: And that alone.
Linda: And that's it. Another thing is the fruits of the Spirit themselves, uh, were, uh, nothing self-merited or self-will, or of selfish gain and it was ministry to set free the captives and heal the broken, etc. And, um, and I began to feel sorry for the ones who were abused and, uh, hurt in this type of, uh, body. And when I began to help the ones that were wounded by the other, um, saints in the church, I found that I, myself, was also shunned and, uh, these people, the tragedy was, that these people believed that they could not possibly walk this walk, therefore they were never called or chosen.
Tom: Wow. So some people actually looked at all the laws, all the regulations, and say God must not love me, I must not be chosen because I can't do this.
Mike: Right. They always believed that they could never live up, so a lot of people, uh, would leave the church but just feeling frustrated and feeling that God was so far away from them, that they could never quite live up. But, uh,..
Linda: And you would accept that lie. So the true authority would be Jesus Christ. Anything that would set free, anything that would love and heal and fix and God is a restorer and he hears his people and loves them. In my prayers I had one consistent goal, that God would never leave me, nor forsake me, and be with me and keep me in the truth. At the time, I thought that was the truth. I didn't want God to ever have me walk away and be astray and if I did, I wanted him to keep me in the flock of his called. And, um, following and hearing God's voice, the Scriptures that were, were given, my sheep hear my voice and the voice of another they shall not follow.
Tom: Yes, absolutely. You know, it reminds me of what Jesus said to the Pharisees, he said, you know, they keep putting laws and burdens on the people and they will not lift a finger to, to, to help them in any way, shape, or form. It sounds like the same system.
Mike: Yeah, there's a, what really opened our eyes also, getting back to the word of God, was in Ezekiel, um, I'm just going to read this.
Tom: Sure, go ahead.
Mike: Ezekiel 34, and this is a good guideline for spiritual leadership, and it said, "The word of the Lord came to me saying, Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophecy, and say to them even to the spiritual shepherds, thus says the Lord God, woe to the spiritual shepherds of Israel who feed themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, ye clothe yourselves with the wool, you kill the fatlings but you do not feed the sheep. The diseased and weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the hurt and crippled you have not bandaged, those gone astray you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought to find, but with force and hard-heartedness, harshness, you have ruled them. And they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they were scattered they became food for all the wild beasts of the field." And this is a good guideline for, uh, a false shepherd. All right, what are, what is their motive, and what are they after? Are they feeding themselves? Are they really after the best interests of their congregation or are they really in it for themselves, what, what's their heart motive? And this is a good guideline, to see, those that are weak and diseased, are they strengthening them, are they feeding them? Those that are lost, do they have a compassion for them, to go out and help them and bring them back? Um, like Linda said, God is a restorer, and those that do fall, we, we see Jesus our example always going, doing good, healing all that were oppressed of the enemy. And false leaders only, uh, bring hard-heartedness, their heart is hard and they bring harshness over the people and they rule them with a rod of iron, rather than lead them, day by day, and feed them and clothe them and strengthen them. So this, this really opened our eyes to see what a leader should not be.
Mike: And we look to Jesus as what a leader should be. He was always helping, he was always encouraging, he was always strengthening. He was never exposing faults and failures. He would, he would, he might expose them, but only in his love to bring, to get them out of peoples lives, so that they can walk in the fullness of what God had for them.
Tom: You touched on such an important point. I heard somebody describe effective leadership, or spiritual authority, as being the person who had the most to offer or give. You know that's a good way to, somebody who wants to give back and, and the one who has the most to give or the most to offer, the most hope to offer, is the one who really has, uh, some sort of sense of spiritual maturity because it's not for, that he bought himself, it's the, it's just to give out, that's all he cares about.
Tom: And that, that's something that all of us need to be mindful of, even those that are in churches that are good, you can slip into some of the subtleties of these things. Mike and Linda, thank you so much for being with us. It has been a delight and a, uh, wonderful learning experience and I hope that the listeners feel the same way. I'm sure they do. Be back with more after these messages. You're on Nightsearch. (This was the end of the interview.)
Standards would sometimes change, or certain ones would not be rebuked as others might. There were several members who were a part of the pastor's family. This did cause some difficulties. However, family was not always given preferential treatment. One granddaughter was removed from a position, not because she cut her hair, but because she allowed her daughter to do so and had voiced her opinion, privately to the pastor, that she did not feel it was wrong. Then another granddaughter, who did cut her hair, was allowed to take her place.
Though television was taught against, there was a time when the television used for the day care was hooked up to cable and we watched as the tragedy of Waco, Texas unfolded...from the church dining room. The television was used mainly for showing videos to the day care children, yet secular video use is not approved of in the UPC. They have only allowed it for certain types of videos, such as home movies and Christian productions.
Pants on women were preached against, however they would be allowed under certain circumstances if worn under a skirt. There would almost always be a stir among some of the members if someone let down on one of the standards. And there were also self-appointed correction officers, so to speak, who would try and correct those that were felt to be doing wrong. One woman went up to another, after noticing she had a very little make-up on, and informed her that God could not see her countenance anymore, that she had hidden it. Some couldn't wait to tell the pastor if they saw someone not adhering to a standard or doing something they felt was wrong.
It was constantly taught that rebellion was as witchcraft, and rebellion was sometimes equated with not falling in line with standards and what the pastor wanted. He could be questioned on some issues, but it would depend on the person questioning and how they went about it. For instance, he would not shun or chastise someone new in the church if they had doctrinal questions. But the longer you were a member, the more that was required of you, and the more it was expected that you would follow the standards. (For an example on this, submitting to the pastor, being obedient, etc. read the sermon on hair, posted elsewhere on this site.) It was also often taught that we were not to rebuke an elder, meaning the pastor. We were taught that if the ministry did anything wrong, we were to let God handle it. Questions dealing with finances or how certain things in the church were run- these were not usually taken well.
We also did, indeed, hear stories of things allegedly happening to people who were disobedient or went against a minister. I do recall a story of a car accident, though it allegedly happened at another church & I believe it had to do with something other than disobedience. We also would be told that one of our church members had a debilitating brain tumor because he had not answered a call of God to the ministry. It was said that one woman became a lesbian when she left our church. Stories were told of others who became ill or had some other tragedy happen in their life after leaving. It was even stated that nobody in the UPC had AIDS. Manipulation through fear was most definitely used to keep members in line with doctrine and from leaving the church.
There were people in our church that would constantly question their spiritual status, feeling they'd messed up if they let down on one of the standards. There was a tendency to beat yourself over the head when you made a mistake or sinned or thought you had sinned. You were also encouraged to seek advice from the pastor in making important decisions. In fact, I recall the pastor commenting one time that some people were suffering things because they had not bothered to speak with him first before making a decision. Some members would always be going to him over one matter or another. He sometimes forbade a person to do something. I know for a certainty that he forbid a woman to go on vacation.
Since my experience has not yet been written or posted, I just wanted to make a few comments on this interview since we left the same church and I personally knew this couple.
Posted November 29, 1997 by permission
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August 23, 1997
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