Unfolding My Story: Propaganda

By Tim Butler | Posted at 17:17

Once people started to learn what was happening to me and my family at our old church, some people stepped up to try to help. This did not serve to cause the pastor to rethink his actions, but to annoy him — he complained to me, and, in fact, to the councils one night, about how he was having to waste time “explaining” things to people who were concerned about what he was doing to me. By “explaining,” it turned out, he meant convincing people that the things they were doing to me were not happening at all. If someone questioned an action that was harder to conceal, such as why the church would go to my seminary and jeopardize my work there, the questioner was told, for example, that the church was really trying to “help” me by getting “counsel” for me.

Like the word abuse I discussed earlier, at first I hesitated to call what the pastor was doing “propaganda.” But to call it something else, I have realized, is to help conceal really ugly actions that are continuing to be deployed to abuse more people at that church and churches like it.

A digression is worthwhile at this point. Let's dissect this particular example of propaganda — that the church went to my seminary so I would be provided with wise counsel — which demonstrates the level of misinformation that was distributed. The church leadership knew I had already sought the counsel of mentors; faculty from both my college and seminary; pastors; elders and the like on the increasingly intense situation. They just did not like the unanimous opinion of that wise counsel. Any time I received counsel that questioned the pastor and his supportive leaders, those leaders attempted to attack the faith and character of those who advised me.

Amazingly, these vicious ad hominem attacks were fired against those who advised such non-confrontational things as “signing those papers sounds like a bad idea” and “just tell them you're not interested in further mediation.” I can only imagine how they would have reacted if they heard what these people concluded about the situation itself. The most common response from those giving me advice was, “This sounds like the Gestapo” (the Salem Witch Hunts were also mentioned). The followup was typically along the lines of, “You are describing a cult. Get out.” Even the advisers most sympathetic to the pastor suggested, and I quote, “this [the pastor's actions] is 'CYA' on the pastor's part.”

Keep in mind I sought advice from people who are happy to tell me when I am wrong and are not quick to jump to conclusions. No doubt that is why it became so important for the church to try to discredit them.

In any case, the church did not go to the seminary to get wise counsel for me, that much is clear. The real reason the church went to the seminary was that it was the place where they could hit me the hardest, because I had the most at stake there. They knew what an damaging situation it would create to have a seminarian's church leadership come to the seminary and suggest something was wrong with the seminarian. If it took committing slander against me and my family, that was OK. The pastor tipped his hand as to his motivation when he uttered a surprisingly mafia-esque phrase to me — “there's an easy way and a hard way” — the first time he threatened going to my seminary if I didn't do what he wanted (e.g. submit to additional mediation after I had refused to give a false confession).

It was a power play. The sheer ferocity of the deed, combined with the fact that it came from someone I had long respected, trusted and cared about, was indescribably devastating.

For those who took time to understand the situation, the excuse that the church wanted to get me “counsel” rang quite hollow. Those who saw that and continued to question the pastor's actions were told, “You don't know the whole story.” If only the person did know the whole story, the answer continued, the questioner would surely agree with the pastor.

Notably, the pastor did not stop at merely trying to convince people he was innocent. Over the summer he tried to get my friends to talk to me and secretly report back to him information. He continues to try to “flip” friends, attempting to convince them to utilize their friendships with his victims to give him information he can later use against those he is abusing.

Add “espionage” to “propaganda.”

It is ever so effective on multiple levels. First, the pastor can gain insider information. While there are well over a dozen “Peacemaking Team” members intended to watch congregants very much like the aforementioned Gestapo, having a victim's friend share information will likely yield more valuable information. Moreover, if someone like me who was going through the abuse learns of these attempts, it only further isolates that victim.

It was a horrible realization when I found out he was trying to turn my friends into informants against me. Who can I trust? Who will betray my friendship to secretly report back to the pastor? As isolation becomes more and more intense, the victim's susceptibility to the propaganda assault rises.

If all of this sounds diabolical and hard to believe, I agree — too much of what I have seen I only believe because I experienced it. I do not expect everyone to believe what I write. I just pray people remember my story I am relaying here well enough that if the sort of scenario I describe becomes a reality at their own churches they can detect it and thereby protect themselves, their families and their friends.

Remember: ask hard questions when you suspect the pastor is abusing people. Demand real answers. Test answers against reality, against others' reports and — most importantly — the Word of God.

To fight this sort of abuse and stop it, one must be prepared and ready to take action, because it is diabolical. This is not a playtime. This is not a game. But, Christians can and must stand up against this abuse that turns the Gospel of Grace and freedom into a web of chains and fear.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. —Matthew 10.16 (ESV)

Re: Unfolding My Story: Propaganda

You are right Tim. The whole stuff is diabolical. Satan is portraed as “the accuser of our brothers” (cf. Rev. 12:10).

Posted by Eduardo - Feb 10, 2010 | 10:40

Re: Unfolding My Story: Propaganda

Thanks, Eduardo. That's a very good point.

Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Feb 12, 2010 | 5:13

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