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.