Preface and Acknowledgments
In the chapters that follow you will be introduced to many people: Carlos, Cecily, Steve and Bridget, Peter, and Alan among others. They are people who have experienced varying degrees of spiritual abuse and have achieved varying levels of recovery. Although I am a sociologist, the research for this book is not based on questionnaires or surveys. No statistics or percentiles are included. I do not even claim that the narratives found here are a "representative sample" in the technical, methodological sense even though I have tried to present typical accounts of spiritual and emotional abuse.
The information presented here is based on many informal, in-depth interviews, correspondence, and telephone conversations with dozens of former members of different churches that abuse. More than anything, I want to convey as well as I can the personal accounts of these people in the hope that I can persuade a few readers that some churches do hurt people and that it is possible to recover from such abuse.
In short, I hope to allow the victims of abuse to speak their own thoughts and tell their own stories, which I have edited and put into narrative form, interrupting
them from time to time with my comments and the insights of other writers. I have disguised names except in a few instances in which the respondents specifically requested that I use their actual names. With one or two exceptions, I use the real names of the churches involved. In some cases I have merged the experiences of several former members and present a composite picture.
My primary purpose in this book is to describe the processes of recovery, the obstacles encountered on the way, and the factors that inhibit or retard a satisfactory recovery. To that end I have tried to be selective in the details I relate about the abusive church experiences, choosing those that seem to me to have the most profound influence on the process of a victim's recovery. The kinds of experiences I relate are described in more detail in the forerunner to this book, Churches That Abuse.
Moreover, I do not attempt to suggest a one-two-three process of recovery. As you will see, the road to recovery is different for each person; there is no prescriptive formula to follow or predictable pattern. Some of the people you will meet are still traveling that hazardous road. Yet you will be able to discern recurring themes and problems, which I believe offer tangible clues about recovery to victims, their families, their friends, and their counselors.
People who have been abused are often not believed or taken seriously. One former member, Shawn Haugh, described the problem this way: "One of the most painful feelings I have had in the recovery process is the damage to my self-esteem caused by having what I say and think ignored. It feels like being erased as unimportant, like I don't matter or don't count. But I do.
I exist and I am real. These things happened to me, a person with a name, a face, feelings, and a life. My hope is that you will lend me and other ex-members your voice."1
In this book I seek to be the voice of the voiceless, and I hope that in listening, you will learn and be warned and find hope for recovery from churches that abuse.
1. Personal correspondence
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I am grateful to the many people who consented to be interviewed for this book. To many, I was a stranger and you trusted me. I hope that trust is rewarded in these pages. I wish it were possible to tell everyone's personal story, but in a sense this is everyone's story.
I am especially grateful to my daughter, Kara Bettencourt, without whose considerable editing and computer skills this book would not have been possible. And thanks to her husband, Jerome, for his understanding and suggestions.
Thanks to the administration of Westmont College for granting me a half-year's sabbatical to complete the manuscript.
To those who helped along the way, thanks to Betty Fleming, Ned Divelbiss, Herb and Louise Moeller, my student assistants, and most of all, my wife, Ruth-Anne.
Finally, thanks to Jim Ruark, Rachel Boers, Shauna Perez, and their associates at Zondervan Publishing House who patiently waited and then helped turn a manuscript and computer disks into a book. Thanks in advance to the marketing and media people at Zondervan for their outstanding work, and to Joyce Ondersma, always the author's friend. Extraordinary thanks to Zondervan's editor-in-chief, Stan Gundry, for his support and encouragement when I needed it most.
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