A Critical Mass is Born: Paul Coughlin
A private Facebook group, Applegate Christian Survivors, had 40 or so members just a few weeks ago. Now, it’s close to 170. Members of the group are speaking out, which is often a process, much like how forgiveness is often a process. They are gaining courage and insight from one another. Some are posting documents and related information that is very hard to dismiss.
A critical mass is born.
This is a time for celebration, since freedom is always worth a party. But it’s also a sobering and defining moment.
Having come alongside members of Mark Driscoll’s Trinity Church in Scottsdale, AZ, another church reeling from spiritual abuse, I’ve seen how a critical mass of support is essential to bring what has been in the dark into the light of truth. Yet this critical mass doesn’t last forever. It’s like a window that eventually starts closing. Then eventually shuts.
This is because people just run out of juice. They have other lives to live. Kids to bring to practice. Homework. People eventually lose interest, including witnesses with really important information that they should have shared, and later regret they didn’t.
Notable people, like Pastor Guy Gray, have already gone on the record to state their deep concerns as to how the church operates, and who it harms. And notable people are going on the record, such as former Assisting Pastor Steve Hopkins and former Music Leader Demian Norvell. At least three women are seriously considering coming forward as well. Others will most certainly be coming forward, too.
Now’s the time to talk since this critical mass bestows a huge blessing: support for the abused, manipulated and dominated. There’s a community of people who speak your language. Who know the confusion rattling around in your head. The fear you’re feeling. The fear that’s trying to dominate you.
I speak from experience. I’ve had my share of being kicked around. It’s one reason why I started The Protectors. The first time you speak out and tell your truth, feels hard. But then you look back and think, “That wasn’t that hard at all.”
I know how our mind can play tricks on us, telling us we didn’t see or experience things we did. There were many events that made us go “hmm…” at ACF.
Here’s one of mine that I pretended not to see.
Remember Bicep Bible Studies? You know, the time when father Courson, in skin tight jeans and skin-tight shirt, held his weathered Bible in his extended left hand, flexing his shoulder, bicep and tricep? He didn’t do that before, hold his Bible afar, like Hamlet holding dear Yorick’s skull. Or more to the point, like a narcissist staring into a mirror, pleased.
Bible Study or photo shoot? You decide.
He sought adulation through the syringe of a well-lit church service. My spirit told me this, but my mind, and want for popularity, said it couldn’t be true. But then I grew up some. Then some more. And with this courage came a more unifying relationship with truth and its sister, wisdom.
What I saw then, and stopped telling myself I didn’t see, was a dangerous want for excessive admiration, and a dangerous degree of self-importance. Then I finally acknowledged what Steve Hopkins observed: “Jon is narcissistic, and who only sees two kinds of people: those beneath him and those who are a threat.”
I don’t like the truth of this statement (I wish it weren’t true). But I adore its liberation (once I acknowledged it is true). My point is, there’s freedom for you and others when you finally curate the truth you witnessed.
We play a role in our own happiness. Our own freedom, and the freedom of others. For the abused, it starts with getting your voice back, which puts steel in your character and resolve in your heart. Those who have been abused, once you get your first taste of this new life, you’ll never let another person take your voice away again.
Part of the difficulty of finding freedom and getting your voice back is that the very place (the church) where one would expect to find this kind of healing is the very place where abuse occurs. This is so hard and adds to the trauma. I don’t know the Courson’s personally, but I’m familiar enough with the Narcissistic model of church government that it is necessarily first step to remove yourself from this type of environment. Calvary Chapel is a breading ground and I would say ground zero for this kind of of abuse. If everything centers around the pastor it’s not healthy.
Holding a Bible is now a sin? You are sure about his motives? You are jumping to conclusions from your own mind! This represents a new low for this blog.
Steve, indeed. A lot of people have taken this first step, and need help with the other steps along the way. Stunned, you may want to read it again. Holding the Bible wasn’t the problem. I’m confident as to the motive, as others were as well.
in skin tight jeans and skin-tight shirt<<<
Cassocks prevent this. Even vestments, which are fancier, prevent this, because all priests/pastors are dressed the same are are very well covered up.
Having attended Calvary Chapel for over 30 years, a question I’ve often asked myself is ” when does a church become a cult?” I’m beginning to think a church is a cult when the members are willing to pretend ( to themselves) and deny reality. Gas lighting another person is one thing ( narcissists do it all the time) but when a person lies to themself and fools themself he/she is essentially giving themselves a lobotomy. This is when a person basically becomes a dysfunctional person. I suppose the pressures exerted on the individual that causes them to behave this way is the mechanics of a cult. Some people can’t escape a cult and others do eventually get healthy and leave. Just ad I did.
“What I saw then, and stopped telling myself I didn’t see, was a dangerous want for excessive admiration, and a dangerous degree of self-importance.”
I did not see the clip you mentioned here Paul, but I will respond in a general sense to what you wrote.
As I said on another thread, I really wanted to be a part of the Calvary Chapel movement (it had a strong impact on me during the Jesus Movement) so those areas that became red flags were things that I chose to ignore. There were a lot of reasons why I did so, one being that I wanted my two teenagers to be established in a community of faith (including the larger community of the CC Movement), and I didn’t want them to learn that the answer is always to leave. But through the years I think there are fewer congregations and pastors that are actually safe, and it saddens me to see what the church—not just CC, has become. Perhaps it has always been that way, I just didn’t want to acknowledge it as such.
Some of these excesses—the interject of the [false] self, seizing the moment as an opportunity for attention could be thwarted if a adherence to a formal liturgy was observed.
I’ve seen various forms of such with every pastor and every church I’ve ever attended. Regrettably, I’ve done it myself on occasion and had to repent of doing so. I try to keep my personality and preference out of our time together when we worship. I had one pastor who I felt purposed to keep his personality out of the mix during our worship services, and he came across rather bland. I think at times I do the same. That is not what many within evangelicalism want today. We would never admit it, but we want a king. In some ways, the masses bear some responsibility for contributing to the formation of a monster in a man who started out simply wanting to be their pastor.
I have a long coat that might qualify as a cassock, but it is too warm for indoor use 😉
What is the diffrence between these churches and a cult like scientology? God is bringing all the fakes out now to usher in revival. I never liked applegate. It always had a reputation for having a bunch of fake Christians attending. Cars piling in to watch the great man of God preach in the garden of heaven then the race to get out first before traffic was backed up like leaving a concert. I was never moved by the messages and had no godly encounter while going as a kid/teen. Hated the youth group. Never felt loved just judged. Something in me said this is not what church is supposed to be. Something big missing. I met a real man of God full of the spirit who showed me who Jesus was. Never did applegate or other churches around do that. God is showing who is his and who isn’t. Look and see who God is and choose. The end is here and grace is fading. You have to make a choice now.
Truly after reading the preceding page of self important, poor, abused, wanna be Christians I am afraid that the balance of having a relationship with Christ is just too much for them to handle. Hopkins included. The need to put others down who work hard to bring the gospel to those in the community in a way that will prepare them to be those workmen not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ and able to give an account for the hope that is within them, is disturbing. Passing on the ability to be ready to speak to the heart of a hurting person or a lost person is the reason that we have church. Learning that it is the Holy Spirit that leads men (and women) to repentance is the first lesson we must understand. The we need to understand the whole word of God so that we are able to correct ourselves when we get off base. The need to look at others for solving your problems or to blame others for everything is really a fools errand.
Seach my heart oh God and see if there be any wicked way in me. Worrying about the physique of a pastor or how he dresses or holds a Bible is just not a very useful activity !
In all the years that I have been at Applegate I found that the studies and retreats brought me into a warm and trusting relationship with Christ. I have had disaster and heartbreak hit me during that time and my faith that had been matured with the word got me through it all with the perspective that I am just passing through and that Heaven is my real destination. My position is that I need to get others into that perspective and what happens is that you can survive and enjoy the trials and tribulations that the world dishes out and actually thrive.
As for the sad commentary of Damien Norville on the topic of his tribulations at Applegate, all I can say is that Damien has a problem that only looking at others with problems and growing up will cure. Music is not the Gospel but it aids in the presenting of the Gospel and it sets the tone to receive the message. A pastors desire that it be good and trying to make it better is not and should not be a burden on the musicians it should be a challenge. If you are not up to the challenge then move on down the line with work that suits your temperament . Blaming the pastor for working to obtain a level of worship that does what is needed does not make sense.
Some things will always be the same until we get on the other side of the veil and that is that we are not perfect. Pastors are not perfect and only the Lord is perfect and He will guide and direct our steps. Getting your feelings hurt because you aren’t being recognized enough is a sign that you are not a very mature person or Christian.
I for one and I know my family has been blessed and encouraged by the teaching and sweet fellowship that we received at the Applegate Christian Fellowship. I have seen the results of the ministry from far parts of the world (Africa, Europe and all over the U.S.) That is what matters and you best be getting into the mode of searching yourself for sin instead of pointing at others who are doing something to advance the Kingdom of God.