A Link Between Abusive Families and Abusive Churches?

If you haven’t been part of an abusive church, consider yourself blessed. Sadly, they are out there, and all too common. And possibly, you ARE a part of an abusive church but you have normalized the experience. That would be a problem. But how do abusive churches develop. Mostly they are created at the top by leaders who have become comfortable with abuse. There is certainly the possibility that certain members also get attracted to abusive churches because they provide a lack of ambiguity in an oft ambiguous world. So some members may actually find abusive churches appealing. But do church leaders enter a church with the conscious plan to be abusive? Probably not… but they develop the patter somewhere. On possibility is that they (and even some of the members) picked up the dysfunctional dynamics of an abusive church through the childhood experiences of dysfunctional dynamics of an abusive family. I support of this, here is an extended quote from Esther Schubert’s article “Current Issues in Screening and Selection.” (in the 1992 book Missionary Member Care: Counting the Cost for World Evangelism (Kelly O’Donnell editor)

In the quotes, an alternate word, added by myself not the original author, is used periodically put in parentheses. It follows for the most part a simple substitution:

Family —–> Church

Child —–> Member

Try reading the section normally, ignoring the parenthetical words. Then read it again with the word in the parentheses substituting the word prior.

Most family (church) systems that work effectively provide maintenance…. and guidance …. Healthy families (churches) provide safety, security, and stability. In contrast, dysfunctional families (churches) are ruled by rigidity, isolation, denial, and shame. They are unstable, and produce insecurity and pathology in their members. When children (members) of dysfunctional families (churches) become adults (older) they continue to see their world through the filter of dysfunction.

. Children (Members) in a dysfunctional family (church) grow up in a closed system, one that teaches rigidity of roles and rules that must be played out in order for the family (church) to survive. Beliefs about people and the outside world are distorted. The outside is viewed as an unsafe place. The child (member) learns “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust.”

The boundaries that form structure, certainty, and consistency within functional families (churches) are distorted or non-existent in dysfunctional families (churches). …

Individual boundaries are crossed when children (members) do not have privacy, when they are abused, or when they feel their only worth is based on what they can produce, not who they are. ….

Family (Church) boundaries can be extremely rigid in which no one in the family (church) is allowed to communicate with anyone outside the family (church) for fear that family (church) secrets and myths will be discovered …

Boundary violations in dysfunctional families (churches) damage children (members) , create a high tolerance for abnormal behavior among the victims, and decrease the inability to distinguish between healthy and dysfunctional behavior.

MacIntosh and Rima’s book “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership” arguably support a similar substitution. Abusive church leaders are abusive, in part, due to trauma and patterns experienced as children becoming unmet needs that demonstrate themselves in behavior that can be destructive in the church.

In essence, Abusive churches are created by Abusive families.

This post points out a correlation between abusive churches and abusive families, but correlation does not necessarily mean causation. What are your thoughts?

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