It is well known that dysfunctional systems adhere to three rules: Don’t Talk; Don’t Trust; Don’t Feel. The Cain Church circumnavigates around the “Don’t Talk” rule.
The gag order in a cainistic church is not just a rule but also a commandment. How things look and what people think–not truth–are the gods of the system. It is not so much a house of worship as a house of secrets. If the secrets were exposed, then the minister, elders, board members, staff, and all those involved in the dysfunction would need to change. There is a saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” The church run by Cain is shrouded in secrets.
For instance, in a spiritually abusive church, no one would ever say, “I think the minister lied” or “The office manager took money from Cash Reserves and put it into the TV ministry fund without approval.” No one would dare speak that aloud. If you did, this shame-based system would find various ways to humiliate you, making you feel so flawed, you would never speak secrets aloud again. You might even be told to leave.
In the church I attended, hundreds of people left. It was like a revolving door all the time. But no one in authority ever attempted to find out why congregants left. I left for almost a year, and not one person ever contacted me to see why, after 6 years of intense service, I had left the church. They did not want to hear it. If you are not 100% in agreement with Cain, you cannot be trusted. He is more at ease if you leave.
You might not know the “Don’t Talk” rule exists until you speak out about some incongruous or dysfunctional pattern or behavior or the cognitive dissonance becomes unpalatable. Suddenly the powers to be are on you like an electric bug zapper on a mosquito. People who break the “no talk rule”—that is, people who talk—need to be silenced immediately. Rather than tell the truth and change the system, those in authority step into high gear to control your behavior. In short, if you break the “Don’t Talk” rule, you become the problem and must be punished.
According to David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen, authors of The Subtle Power of spiritual Abuse, this punishment will take place through such means as neglect, being ignored, overlooked, or shunned, or aggressive legalism, such as being questioned, confronted, censured, blacklisted, condemned or ask to leave.
In the other direction, the punishment can be extremely petty. I will never forget the time I was punished in a cheesy way for speaking out. I was scheduled to usher in the front section of the church. When I reported for duty, my station had been changed to a position at the side of the church. All ushers were always seated on the end of the aisles, as we had to get up and down for various duties, such as collecting the offering and such. Instead of being seated on the end, my designated seat was three seats from the end of the aisle which meant each time I had to perform a duty, I had to crawl over others to get out of the row. I knew the minister had purposely made these changes to show me he was in control and to make my life difficult that night because I had spoken out about a situation earlier. It was far from the first time I had been punished for breaking the “Don’t Talk” rule but I made sure it was the last time.
The problem with these punishments is that it obliterates people’s willingness to give their god-given gifts and talents in service to God and the church, not to mention how it leaves a person in emotional and spiritual shambles. I had ushered hundreds of times, but as I crawled over people to get out of the aisle to perform my duties, I made a decision that that was the last time I would ever allow myself to be chastised for speaking the truth. I left the church soon after.
In a spiritually abusive system, you must deny and reject all thoughts, opinions or feelings that differ from those in authority. There was a double whammy at the cainistic church I attended. One of its core principles was that words held power. Negative words would come back to bite you, so you must never speak negatively about anything at any time. How convenient for a spiritually abusive church. It fulfilled the “Don’t Talk” rule under the guise of spiritual maturity. What you see in a cainistic church is not what you get.
It is true that words hold power, but in this church, this principle was used to manipulate its attendees into keeping the “no talk rule” at all cost. Moreover, I found it was difficult to get to know very many people on a personal level due to this abusive principle. Whenever I asked one guy how he was, his pat answer was “I couldn’t be better if I were twins.” When I inquired about others, it was common to hear, “Great, just great” or “Everything’s beautiful.” End of conversation. Relationships in that church often felt as empty as a boneless coffin. The fear of speaking the truth was palatable on all levels from the grounds keeper to those at the top. Staff members were hesitant, seemingly terrified to engage in any meaningful conversation because they were under pressure to keep the secrets. Most every conversation was trite.
According to Jeff VanVonderen, the pastor in an abusive church has a condescending view of the laity. It is a closed system with rigid borders. What’s more, it is common for attendees to come from other dysfunctional systems, such as those raised in drug or alcoholic homes where individuals were brought up with the “No Talk” rule. They do not realize the cainistic church is spiritually abusive because keeping secrets, denying the truth and stuffing their feelings has been a lifelong pattern. It is sickeningly familiar, so they do not see how unhealthy it is.
As Jeff VanVonderen explains, “Just as spouses in violent relationships sometimes return again and again to be abused people who are in spiritually abusive relationships often find it very difficult to leave.” Ironically, Cain and the cainistic church are the betrayers. Yet, the attendees feel they are betraying the minister and church when they speak out or get out. It is a very warped sense of devotion.
Most people who have been in a cainistic church are confused which is a direct result of the “unspoken rules.” Those who leave wonder what happened to them. Were they really maligned? Or where they imagining it? Cain is a charismatic leader with many devoted followers who are quick to denounce you if you speak out. It is difficult to find someone who will listen and agree with your experience because the group is under the pressure of the “Don’t Talk” rule. You are very alone in a cainistic church, and even more so when you leave it.
Of course, the answer to breaking the “Don’t Talk” dysfunctional rule is to talk. Talk until you have nothing more to say. You must talk about the abuse. It will help you sort out and clarify what happened. Talk about the grief you felt when the secrets came to the fore and when you left. Talk about how sad it was when your dream died, and your relationships within the church ended. Talk about the fact that your house of worship was a lie, and how it felt to be betrayed. Talk about the fact that the minister was not who he pretended to be. Cains are con artists, and it is OK to admit that. It is not gossip. The words will not come back to bite you. It is truth. The only way to break the dysfunction of a cainistic church and the emotional pain you feel is to talk about the experience. To tell the truth. It is the only way you will heal.
“The truth is,” points out VanVonderen, “when people talk about problems out loud, they don’t cause them, they simply expose them.
As it says in the scriptures, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25).