During the past few months, I have been helping to edit a book, Finding Freedom: Helping Survivors of Ritual Abuse and Mind Control to Heal. Below is an excerpt from one chapter (shared with permission) that I believe addresses an important issue.
What churches and survivors need from each other
What do survivors want and need from the church? The brief list below gathers a few things we have heard survivors share over the years:
- A place where their story can be heard, and not invalidated, ‘pre-judged’, ‘categorized’ or ‘evaluated’ before the survivor has had time to sort it out for himself or herself.
- A place where they can have any distortions, hurts or wrong beliefs about God, Christianity, themselves and the cults heard, sorted out, replaced with truth and comforted without shaming, judgment or condemnation.
- A place where the rhythms and stages of their healing journey, including times of discouragement, times when the survivor does not understand what is going on in his/her life, or times when the survivor feels like he or she ‘takes three steps forward then two steps back’, is heard, accepted and prayed for without others trying to inappropriately or insensitively analyze, explain or ‘fix’ quickly.
- A place where they can, together with others, mature in their true identities, persevere through trials, grow in their gifts and purposes, serve and bless others and enjoy life.
- Relationships, belonging and accountability without manipulation and control.
- Prayer, inner healing and deliverance provided in a sensitive and Spirit-led manner.
What do churches want and need from survivors? This second list describes a few things we have heard churches and supporters share over the years:
- Churches want survivors to help them understand what the survivor needs and is going through. Often, they wish that the survivor could explain better (which is very difficult with internal conflicts, dissociation and concerns about not being believed, seen as crazy or attention-seeking, and when the survivor really does not know how to explain what is going on himself or herself).
- Churches want survivors to be patient with them, to forgive them, and give them another chance to help when they honestly don’t understand, are not skilled to help or do not have enough resources to give, as they do sincerely want to help.
- Churches want survivors to know that they are human too, and often make mistakes and hurt without intending too, but this does not mean that they do not care or do not want to help.
In our thirty years of ministering to survivors and their supporters, we have found that many survivors run into all sorts of difficulties when they seek help, support or understanding from the church. In some of the most difficult situations we have seen, the church and the cult survivor (despite wanting the relationship to be a mutual blessing) end up deeply wounding each other to the point that the survivor never wants anything to do with any church ever again, and the church never wants anything to do with any cult survivor ever again. In many other situations, the church desires to follow through and persevere in helping the survivor and making him or her part of the community, but is completely perplexed by the survivor’s story, issues and behaviors. Churches and Christian individuals also often, honestly, do not know what on earth to think when they encounter a church member or seeker hinting at or openly disclosing a history of ritual abuse and mind control.
In general, we have never seen a church that does not want to be truly helpful, or a survivor who does not want to be helped and supported, and to contribute to his or her church life in every way he or she can. So what makes it hard? Many things do! In this section, we will briefly list several of these things that churches, prayer ministers, supporters and survivors have shared with us over the years:
1. Uncertainty regarding the very existence of ritual abuse and mind control. Church members and survivors may remember the “Satanic ritual abuse panic” of the late 1990s, where ritual abuse was publicly painted as “false memory syndrome” and ‘debunked’. Survivors were discredited and therapists and investigators trying to help survivors were sued or maligned. Since that time, there has been little public notice or education regarding ritual abuse and mind control, leaving behind the general impression that RA and MC are ‘nonsense’, or simply a pet topic of conspiracy theorists. Most people will need to take the time to learn more about these things before they can decide if they even exist (See Chapter 1 Do satanic ritual abuse and mind control really exist?). If the church does not know that RA and MC are real, then they may attempt to help the survivor instead as if he or she has personality or delusional disorders, or even view him/her as ‘attention-seeking’, ‘suggestible’, ‘deceived’ or ‘demonized’. Survivors themselves often struggle to know what to make of the truth of their own memories, which can be extremely confusing to church members who are trying to be helpful, and reinforce (mis)perceptions that the survivor’s primary issues are mental health-related.
2. Lack of understanding of how ritual abuse and mind control affects a person (i.e. extreme trauma, dissociation, strong attachments to the abuser group, being raised in an anti-Christian culture, etc.). The lack of understanding usually becomes a problem when the church and/or or the survivor are not aware that there is a lack of understanding. In these situations, deep hurt, confusion, shame and disappointment on all sides can erupt as the church’s practiced solutions or expectations are applied to the survivor’s needs, issues and behaviors without further context or education. For instance, if a church is used to doing deliverance ministry successfully with members who experience demonic harassment, they may be puzzled when the typical deliverance ministry does not ‘work’ with a member also dealing with ritual abuse-induced dissociation. In looking for the ‘roots’ or unconfessed sin still ‘giving ground’ to the enemy, the survivor may end up feeling shamed, unworthy, or very frustrated as he or she really does not know what else to ‘confess’ or ‘surrender to God’ (the information is still dissociated), and the minister may begin to wonder if the survivor is ‘not ready to heal yet’, ‘in rebellion’ or ‘wants attention’.
3. Lack of education, support and resources on ritual abuse, mind control and dissociation. Churches who want to help survivors may not know where to start learning how to help in a skilled manner based on godly principles. Educational resources and training on RA and MC, whether secular or Christian, tends to be sparse. If a church or survivor is wary of ‘secular knowledge’ and strongly prefers only Christian material, the amount of available resources drops. Ministries that focus on helping ritual abuse and mind control survivors are few in number, compared to ministries that focus on other needs. Many of the larger well-established schools of healing do not talk very much about ritual abuse, mind control or dissociation, and only start training their students in these areas, if at all, in the advanced training levels. Usually, only larger churches or individuals specializing in prayer ministry or Christian counseling would have members who have been through the advanced training).
4. Cultural or faith practices in the church that are difficult for or hurtful to survivors. Many churches are (unfortunately) a hotbed of gossip. It is especially hurtful to survivors when gossip is spread under the guise of ‘sharing prayer requests’. It can also be very hurtful to survivors if their ‘testimony’ or ‘answered prayers’ are shared without their permission, or if they are ‘encouraged’ to publicly share before they are ready. Church members who hurt survivors in these ways are often completely unaware of the hurt it would cause the survivor, and are usually well-intentioned! Also, many elements of church services (such as the corporate worship and reading aloud of scripture), Bible studies, Christian symbols (like the cross, dove, flames of fire) are extremely triggering for at least a few parts in many survivors, who may react with fear, confusion, contempt, anger, distractibility or numbness. These reactions are often misunderstood by the church. Often, the survivor does not understand these reactions himself/herself until later in their healing journey and so he or she is not able to help the church to understand. Many simple aspects of church life can also be hard, for instance, a survivor may be deeply ashamed that he/ she can’t ‘pull him/ herself together enough’ to volunteer at church when ‘everyone else does’. Other church members may sincerely invite the survivor to ‘participate more’ or ‘serve’ without realizing that the survivor is already at capacity.
5. Trauma responses and immaturity in both the church and the survivor. Basically, this means that the church and the survivor do want to get along and help each other, but both have ‘baggage’ that gets in the way. The problem with trauma responses and immature responses in the church is that often, the church is unaware of and unreflective of what is really driving their response to the survivor. Instead, scriptural or ethical reasons are given. For instance, a pastor may push a survivor to heal or change a certain behavior; the real reason is that pastor feels like he himself is a failure at taking care of his flock if a member is not ‘healing’ or ‘growing’. His response is rooted in his childhood experiences with a demanding father who expected high performance, but the pastor may not be aware of his own insecurity and sincerely think that he is just ‘holding the survivor accountable’. The survivor may struggle with similar issues which usually strains his or her relationships with church members. For instance, a survivor may persistently take offense where none is intended and react with aggression or withdrawal without exploring the issue with the other party. Parts in a survivor may deliberately sabotage relationships to ‘prove’ that the church can’t be trusted. Or, a survivor may not know how to tell when another church member is just having a bad day and needs grace, or when the other person is a bully so she or he needs to enforce stricter personal boundaries.
6. Fear. Churches and ministries may have concerns about being sued by the family members of survivors or have concerns about handling ethical and legal responsibilities when survivors start disclosing criminal activities occurring in their town or city. These concerns should be taken seriously, discussed by the leadership and where appropriate, addressed through consultation with legal professionals and other churches or ministries with experience dealing with these issues. In general, to address these issues responsibly, the church needs a clear understanding of what is reportable to the police (or not), the general attitude towards occult crime by the police and local government in their particular town or city, and what a citizen’s responsibility is regarding reporting of past crimes or suspicion of present crime, particularly when vulnerable victims may be involved and/or when the person disclosing these crimes is dissociative and often unsure about these disclosures.
The church should not react to these concerns by just silencing the survivor (e.g., telling him or her that they do not want to hear anything about ritual abuse or mind control and that he/she only talk about these issues with a mental health professional) or by asking the survivor to leave the church. Or, a church may expel or isolate a member disclosing a ritual abuse or mind control history out of fear of the occult realm, harassment by the cult, or the belief that the survivor is trying to harm the church. Yes, cult-active survivors typically receive assignments against a church, but it does not mean that the church has to bar its doors! The church has been given the love, power and authority to address any weapon of the cult. Excommunicating the survivor out of fear is an embarrassingly poor witness of God’s love and power.