Churches That Abuse,by Ronald M. Enroth (Zondervan, 231 pp.; $15.95, hardcover). Reviewed by Robert W. Patterson, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in America and free-lance writer from Wheaton, Illinois.
A subtle myth operates within evangelicalism: We tend to think the problems within the church are mostly outside of us—that is, in mainline, liberal, Catholic, or heretical churches. “They” have the problems; “we” have the solutions. That myth, however, is challenged by Westmont College sociologist and cult expert Ronald M. Enroth in Churches That Abuse.
The book explores the dark side of some American churches that would otherwise be described as “evangelical.” These are authoritarian churches and organizations that inflict spiritual, emotional, and, in some cases, physical abuse upon members. While these churches do not represent the “mainstream evangelical subculture,” their leaders and members nonetheless identify themselves as born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist. They also claim the Bible as their source of authority.
Not an examination of theology. Churches That Abuse looks at the behavioral pathology associated with authoritarian churches, based on interviews with several hundred individuals who have been abused by their churches and pastors. Readers may wonder if the victims of abuse are the most reliable sources for getting an objective account of church dynamics, but Enroth allows them to speak for themselves as they relate their painful experiences in authoritarian churches.
With representative case studies in each chapter, the book identifies the basic patterns of ecclesiastical exploitation, enabling those who are involved or who know people trapped in abusive churches to discern the red flags before it is too late. “The perversion of power that we see in abusive churches,” warns Enroth, “disrupts and divides families, fosters an unhealthy dependence of members on leadership, and creates, ultimately, spiritual confusion in the lives of victims.”
On The Fringe
The case studies touch on more than 25 churches and organizations in every region of the country. The most bizarre include Set Free Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, and Community Chapel, a large Pentecostal congregation in Seattle. At the Anaheim congregation, Enroth reports, a married couple who moved into the church’s housing project were told to live in separate units, then advised to divorce so that the assistant pastor could marry the wife. Once married, the assistant, with the blessing of the senior pastor, took her money, possessions, and left town, leaving her pregnant and with four children. The Seattle church encourages “intimate dancing” during public worship with anyone but one’s spouse. Also at the church, a member drowned her five-year-old in a bathtub because she feared the child would incur the same demon possession from which she was told she suffered.
Other organizations featured in the book include the Community of Jesus on Cape Cod, Massachusetts; University Bible Fellowship, a Korean-based campus ministry; the Church of Bible Understanding, located in the northeast U.S.; and the Boston “Crossroads” Church of Christ movement (not to be confused with the Restorationist “churches of Christ”). The book also blows the whistle on the shepherding or discipleship movement in independent charismatic circles, expressed by groups such as the Fellowship of Covenant Ministries and Churches, based in Mobile, Alabama, and until their recent reforms, the Maranatha Christian Ministries and Christian Growth Ministries, both based in Florida. In addition, Enroth identifies as potentially abusive John Wimber’s Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a group seeking closer ties to the evangelical mainstream.
What identifies a church as abusive, says Enroth, is “first and foremost” a strong, control-oriented leadership that uses “guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line.” These churches are also highly critical of other churches, emphasize subjective experience, and discourage dissent of any kind. Members are forced into a highly regimented lifestyle. In many cases, leaving an abusive church is difficult and painful, emotionally and socially. Often members cannot leave on their own accord, but only through the severity of excommunication.
Breaking The Spell
Enroth breaks new ground in exposing the dangers of authoritarian churches; however, the professor could have progressed one step further and examined how these traits are expressed in more conventional evangelical circles. While the problem is more acute and more easily discerned on the fringes, the problem also haunts the mainstream.
More than a few observers have noted that even the most respectable forms of evangelical Christianity in modern America are characterized by strong personalities, many of whom exercise extensive control over large organizations, whether a megachurch or parachurch ministry. Many of those personalities, like their counterparts on the fringe, are either functionally or essentially independent of ecclesiastical review and control. Enroth could easily interview hundreds of families and individuals who could also share painful experiences they encountered in such churches and organizations.
Enroth also avoids the hard, theological question: Are these abusive churches really Christian? The answer may lie beyond his sociological expertise, but the question needs to be raised. Enroth seems to give these churches the benefit of the doubt, assuming they are Christian because they claim to be. But is a claim of Christian orthodoxy enough to demonstrate that these churches are indeed valid expressions of the church of Jesus Christ? How do they measure up to the Reformation standard of pure preaching of the Word, right administration of the sacraments, and proper exercise of discipline? If these churches do not measure up, then the abuse they lay upon their members is even more troubling in that they are leading people away from Christ and toward something else.
Whether true Christian churches or not, these peculiar groups off the beaten track, Enroth suggests, exist in part because something is lacking in more conventional congregations. At the same time, given the American context of religious liberty and the human craving for power, Enroth believes manipulative churches will always exist. Fortunately, by equipping readers with the very discernment skills for which Enroth pleads, Churches That Abuse may help break the spell of abusive ministers and churches.
Waiting for the Weekend,by Witold Rybczynski (Penguin, 288 pp.; $10.00, paper). Reviewed by Reed Jolley, pastor of Santa Barbara Community Church in California.
“On the sixth day God said, ‘Let’s take a break and relax.’ By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” That is what the Bible says, right? Well, not exactly. But one might think this is what happened given the Western world’s consecration of the weekend. Witold Rybczynski ponders the history and purpose of “the end of the week” in his charming book-length essay Waiting for the Weekend.
The two-day weekend is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Hebrews inaugurated the idea of observing a seven-day week punctuated by a day of rest. It was not until the fourth century that a seven-day week was adopted by the Roman Empire. The two-day weekend gradually emerged in the twentieth century. “The week is an artificial manmade interval,” according to Rybczynski, that pays no attention to the phases of the moon or the position of the planets.
The book reveals how the weekend was a reaction to the industrialization of work. The line between work and play was blurred for preindustrial workers. “Work was engaged in with a certain amount of playfulness, and play was always given serious attention.” Factory work created a sharp distinction between the two. The absence of play in an industrial setting led British workers to observe “Saint Monday,” a day to recover from the alcoholic excesses of Sunday. The modern weekend was born.
In 1926, Henry Ford, without union pressure, closed his factories on Saturday, hoping others would follow his lead. His motive was far from altruistic. He hoped an increase in leisure time would lead to the sale of more cars. Ford’s factory closure both defined and commercialized the weekend. The five-day workweek followed by the weekend was soon to be the nearly worldwide norm.
Working Hard At Play
Rybczynski explains the weekend while pondering the place of leisure in modern life. The Canadian author does not scold readers for being too busy. Instead, he asks, pointedly, what the meaning of leisure is in the 1990s. Why is it that we used to “play tennis” but now we “work on our backhand”? Sunday, once a day of rest, has become “one of two days of what is often strenuous activity.” The author recalls G. K. Chesterton’s insight that “leisure” can refer to three things. “The first is being allowed to do something. The second is being allowed to do anything. And the third (and perhaps most rare and precious) is being allowed to do nothing.” We rarely, if ever, allow ourselves to do nothing. We tend to be task-oriented people who are driven (literally and figuratively) to the next activity.
Waiting for the Weekend concludes with a commendable chapter that makes the book worth reading. “The Problem of Leisure” suggests that the increase of time off from work “has imposed a rigid schedule on our free time, which can result in a sense of urgency that is at odds with relaxation.… The weekly rush to the cottage is hardly leisurely, nor is the compression of various recreational activities into the two-day break.” The modern weekend is characterized by a sense of obligation. We feel compelled to use our time to the fullest because Monday is coming soon.
Christians who attempt to “keep” some sort of Sabbath will utter a hearty “I told you so!” while reading Ryczynski’s work. His findings confirm that rest is a part of God’s design for his children. If reading Waiting for the Weekend represents another chore, skip it. On the other hand, why not make yourself a hot cup of tea and settle down into your most comfortable chair and enjoy “doing nothing” while reading this provocative essay?
Christianity in Japan, 1970–90,compiled and edited by Kumazawa Yoshinobu and David L. Swain (Kyo Bun Kwan/ The Christian Literature Society of Japan; distributed in the U.S. by Friendship Press; 369 + xx pp., $35.00, paper). Reviewed by Stephen T. Franklin, professor of philosophy and theology at Tokyo Christian University.
Christianity in Japan is a book of facts. There is no better source of information on the Christian movement in Japan. The introduction provides some startling statistics. During 1970–90, Bible sales averaged more than 1 million per year in Japan, with more than 10 million Bible portions distributed annually. The introduction also states that, nonetheless, the number of Protestants during that same period decreased from 722,942 to 638,850. The 1970 figure, however, includes groups such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Unification Church, while the 1990 figure excludes them. Since these excluded groups have rather large numbers of followers, did the number of traditional Protestants actually grow during those 20 years? A careful reading of the appendix indicates that the Protestant community did substantially increase. Who, then, were these new Japanese Christians?
The increase in Protestant strength in Japan in the last 20 years primarily came from the evangelical groups, most of which, we are told, grew by 200 to 400 percent. Professor Furuya of International Christian University adds that the largest mainline Protestant denomination in Japan counts about 200,000 members, with 60,000 attending church on a typical Sunday. The evangelical churches currently register 170,000 members, with 140,000 in attendance on a typical Sunday.
Christianity in Japan details the ministries that Christians have undertaken in Japan. The variety is breathtaking and reveals that Japanese Christians have keenly critiqued their own culture. Wherever Japanese society has degraded the helpless and wherever the Japanese economic miracle has bypassed some minority, Japanese Christians have created a ministry to serve their need. As a result, the book, perhaps unintentionally, provides a remarkable tour of the shadow side of contemporary Japan. We learn in detail about the plight of day laborers; prostitution and the traffic in Asian women; the harm to the environment; the dangers of nuclear energy; discrimination against the Koreans, Burakumin (minority outcastes in Japan), the handicapped, and other minorities; the decline of rural Japan; the peace movement; and many other issues.
Many Westerners living in Japan naïvely understand the emperor system by analogy with European monarchies. The chapter on “Yasukuni Shrine and the Emperor System” provides a remarkably lucid explanation of why Japanese Christians (and Communists, some Buddhists, and many of the new religions) see the emperor system as a threat to freedom of religion and conscience. This chapter may become increasingly important as Japanese court decisions continue to whittle away at the constitutional guarantees of the separation of church and state.
Some of the asides are as fascinating as the main topics. For instance, in the chapter covering ministries to the sick and dying, we learn that in many hospitals in Japan, clergy of any sort, whether Christian, Buddhist, or anything else, are not welcome. Apparently their presence reminds the patients that the doctors are not always successful, and that is more than the delicate egos of the physicians can accept. Elsewhere, we learn how the two large book-distribution agencies, in cooperation with the major publishing houses, are structured so that they exclude small-scale, specialized publishers. Christians had to establish their own distribution system, which makes the number of Bible sales even more astonishing. We also learn that there are about 300 Japanese evangelicals serving as missionaries outside Japan, and that Roman Catholic monks in Europe have an exchange program with Buddhist monks in Japan.
Christianity in Japan is now the standard reference on contemporary Christianity in Japan and should be essential reading for those interested both in modern Japan and in modern Christianity.
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