What the Church and Survivors Need from Each Other

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.

3. Challenges to the church helping RA and MC survivors

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.

Coronavirus comparison

Coronavirus has been the topic of a lot of media discussion lately. To help bring some balance into the input from media, I thought that I would show side-by-side the death rate from coronavirus as compared to regular flu in the United States over the past few years. While I am not at all dismissive of the concerns or need for health precautions, I do feel that it can be helpful to reduce fear levels to compare the infection and death rates from flu in previous years to the current pandemic.

Again, I am not saying not to take health precautions as advised. I am only saying that instead of fear, let us keep a focus on God while being wise with our health. Anyway, below is some of the data that I was able to find for comparison.

2020- Coronavirus2018-20192017
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html article online on 3/28/20 As of Saturday afternoon, at least 119,525 people across every state, plus Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories, have tested positive for the virus, according to a New York Times  database, and at least 1,989 patients with the virus have died.   As of March 16, a total of 4,226 COVID-19 cases in the United States had been reported to CDC, with multiple cases reported among older adults living in long-term care facilities (4). Overall, 31% of cases, 45% of hospitalizations, 53% of ICU admissions, and 80% of deaths associated with COVID-19 were among adults aged ≥65 years with the highest percentage of severe outcomes among persons aged ≥85 years. In contrast, no ICU admissions or deaths were reported among persons aged ≤19 years. Similar to reports from other countries, this finding suggests that the risk for serious disease and death from COVID-19 is higher in older age groups.CDC estimates that influenza was associated with more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations, and 34,200 deaths during the 2018–2019 influenza season https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2018-2019.html(New York Times article)Oct 1, 2018 – Over 80,000 Americans Died of Flu Last Winter, Highest Toll in … more than in any year since the C.D.C. began tracking pediatric deaths. … More than 80,000 Americans died of the flu in the winter of 2017-2018, the highest … https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5687497/ CDC tracks pneumonia and influenza (P&I)–attributed deaths through the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) Mortality Reporting System. The percentages of deaths attributed to P&I are released 2 weeks after the week of death to allow for collection of sufficient data to produce a stable P&I mortality percentage. Weekly mortality surveillance data include a combination of machine-coded and manually coded causes of death collected from death certificates. During the 2016–17 season, there was a backlog of data requiring manual coding within the NCHS mortality surveillance data. Work is underway to reduce and monitor the number of records awaiting manual coding. The percentages of deaths attributable to P&I are higher among manually coded records than the more rapidly available machine coded records and might result in initially reported P&I percentages that are lower than percentages calculated from final data. During the 2016–17 season, based on data from NCHS, the proportion of deaths attributed to P&I was at or above the epidemic threshold†††† for 12 consecutive weeks from the week ending December 31, 2016 through the week ending March 18, 2017 (weeks 52–11). Mortality attributed to P&I peaked twice, once at 8.2% of all deaths during the week ending January 21, 2017 (week 3) and once at 8.1% during the week ending February 25, 2017 (week 8). During the 2011–12 through 2015–16 seasons, the peak weekly percentages of deaths attributable to P&I ranged from 8.7% during the 2011–12 season to 11.1% during the 2012–13 season.