She Threw Her Bible Across the Church Office: Paul Coughlin
I produced and co-hosted a talk show in southern Oregon. More than 20 years ago, I lined up an author named Ron Enroth who wrote, “Churches That Abuse.” I found his work so compelling that I lined him up for an entire week. One of the longest weeks of my life.
It’s hard to explain how hated he and his topic were back then, so let me put it in perspective: Think lining up a spokesperson for the Taliban. For five hours.
After the first show, a small parade of worried-faced pastors came into our station and begged us to stop. By the end of the week, a longer parade of angry-faced pastors forbade us to continue.
Enroth cut to the bone, cracking it. We helped a lot of abused churchgoers realize why they were so angry, that they weren’t crazy, and they were far from alone.
One person who came into our station said she once worked at Applegate Christian Fellowship, where she said a pastor pressured her for sex. Over and over and over. After his umpteenth hard sell, she said she threw her Bible across the church office, yelled inside and wept. She said she couldn’t understand how a good God could allow this to happen in His church.
That pastor, she said, was Jon Courson, father of disgraced pastor Ben Courson, who’s accused of similar behavior. Both are the subject of this illuminating article where I provide an interview.
When bullied in the workplace, men tend to get angry and leave. Women, statistically, stay and medicate. I have thought about her from time to time. If what she said were true, I wonder if she medicated and if so, how, and what it did to her marriage. I wonder if she still medicates to keep the demons from hollering too late into the night.
I wonder if she still believes.
I think about her well-being because back then, as today, women weren’t believed. They were blamed. Big time. For what they wore. How they walked. For, as one woman lamented to me after an anti-bullying parent night presentation, eating a banana at her desk. Men then, as today, knew it, and some church leaders use this prejudice against women with the resounding power of Samson, or a three-point sermon.
I attended Applegate in my twenties, those years when I mistook charisma for wisdom. Simplistic for simple. I was also there when the church bought our radio station. On Sundays I heard very gentle sermons presented in kind language and in a buttery and winsome tone. But on Monday, I witnessed aggressive behavior and harsh and accusatory tones. I remember one conversation with Courson that didn’t last long because he was dismissive and demeaning. Then he hung up on me.
While there, I was told that there were secret messages found in the Bible that few pastors, circled by God, were gifted enough to discern. Courson was one of those few, the anointed, who could tell us how the world is going to end, according to the Bible. For those who don’t know what all this means, it’s called Bible prophecy, or so-called prophecy. This is where a kind of witch’s brew of numbers, signs and evil entities are stirred together from both the New and Old Testaments. Or to mix metaphors, where numbers, signs and evil entities are layered upon one another like paper mache, creating a clumsy and lop-sided orb that can’t really spin, so that’s where faith comes in. Faith keeps their spectacular, end-of-the-world conspiracy theories spinning.
I met a couple who stopped having kiddos because of this message, which isn’t as popular as it used to be. But it sticks around. Like a cold, and mutates like a delta virus. It fueled the church’s regrettable and embarrassing Y2K fiasco. It fuels today’s QAnon. I wrote a book where I exposed these connections and their dangers. Some called me evil. Some went to Applegate. I received death threats.
I bring up this prophecy connection because it points to a larger problem that fuels bullying and spiritual abuse in church. You have to think you’re amazing to believe you can decipher divine clues within the world’s most read book that had yet to be discovered until Big You came along. If your neighbor told you that he had this ability, you’d think he’s whacked, full of himself, even dangerous. But we don’t when it comes to pastors, which should cause us to pause.
People with low self-esteem don’t think they’re all that. People with low self-esteem avoid conflict, exposure, and all forms of criticism. They abhor public speaking. They don’t pressure women for sex because they might get rejected, lose their job, or both. It’s excessive self-esteem, degrees of narcissism, which causes most abusers to abuse others. To harangue, lie to, gaslight, and blame others (as Ben Courson did to his ex-wife in one of the most deplorable Sunday services ever, and with the approval of his father) and witnesses alike.
If we ignore this truth, then we’re destined to keep repeating these sad examples of religion gone bad, which are stacking up like body bags now. Pride, arrogance and hubris go before a fall. And spiritual abuse. Theologians have labeled pride the most deadly sin because it elevates self above all authority, including God’s authority. This is one reason why spiritual abuse can be so devastating. The proud are a law unto themselves.
And when we lavish adulation upon such church leaders, we feed an ego machine that chews up even more and more people, some of whom don’t recover.
So stop the adulation. Only God is amazing.