Must-Have Power

As David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen state in their book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, leaders in an abusive religious system “spend a lot of time focused on their own authority and reminding others of it, as well.”[i] Those with true spiritual power walk their talk. Their life is their message. Cain’s life is a lie, a sham, a charade. He must spend all his time telling you how great and powerful he is to cover up the farce.

The control issues in my cainistic church grew stronger and increasingly more destructive over the years. For example, before a person could teach classes in this church, it was mandatory that they complete a two year program to become a licensed instructor. One day Cain boldly announced to all the teachers that starting immediately it was mandatory that they attend every Sunday service, and if their attendance was not in agreement with his new ruling, he would revoke their privilege to teach classes at the church. Everyone must come underneath Cain.

That was the day my friend, Pam (name has been changed to protect her privacy), walked out. Although she had been a member and a licensed instructor for decades, she dropped out of the church never to return.  She did not quibble or protest but prudently walked out of the mire of control and misuse. There would have been no advantage in talking to Cain about his decree because once he made a decision, there was no turning back. Furthermore, nobody questions Cain without paying for it, and he never forgets a dissenter. Even if Pam believed God called her to be a teacher, Cain determined the conditions of that calling. If the instructors taught classes at the church, then they must pay the price of listening to his sermons each and every Sunday.

Likewise, the staff at the cainistic church was overworked and underpaid due to his autocratic leadership. He demanded long hours without complaints. Both burnout and turnover were vast. When fiscal deficit hit the roof, we learned that the staff had received one 3 percent raise in 5 years while the cainistic minister had received a 10 percent raise every year. The monies were unquestionably appropriated to the minister first, and the staff was considered if there was money left over. He also made sure he had a contract, not a salary—all of which exposed his lack of empathy. There was no feeling for others, only for him.

As long as the church board did nothing to prevent this distortion and unfairness, he got away with it. There were nine board members that made business assessments and decisions with Cain. Where were they during all this staff abuse? Why did they blindly follow his dictates without daring to go against his decisions? In short, they complied to avoid being shamed. The shame Cain doled out was so vindictive and nasty at times, it was akin to an emotional crucifixion.

While I was there, the cainistic minister harassed and lost six worship assistants in seven years. One of his dirty little control tricks was to ask where his assistant was during the middle of a Sunday service as if he suddenly needed her to check the thermostat or get him a bottle of water because his throat was dry and he was having trouble speaking.

If she was not in the sanctuary at that moment he called out her name, she caught hell later. I suspected he usually did that after he had already watched her leave the room. He was that devious. Destructive, malignant Cains find enjoyment in seeing others suffer. They are extremely mean-spirited and diabolical, always looking for a reason to lord their power over an Enabler and punish her. After one of the assistants quit, she quietly told me that nothing was ever good enough for him. No matter how hard she tried, he always criticized something about her.

I watched him move from assistant to assistant, heaping spiteful mistreatment on his targets who had once believed in him like I had believed in him, but who turned into nothing more than his battered toys. He picked at their flaws and just before they smacked the proverbial wall, he withdrew the abuse, feigning that he didn’t know what he had done to upset them. They must be supersensitive, he decided. He was always so blameless, so innocent of any wrongdoing.

If he did not know his crime, then he could not be held responsible for it, could he? Like the story of Cain and Abel, even when God tried to show Cain his mistakes by letting the straw smolder rather that burn, Cain refused to admit he made a mistake. Instead, he made one last attempt to deny everything. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he retorted to God. Heaven forbid that he should stand up and accept responsibility for killing Abel.

Hundreds of demoralized staff, speechless board members, disgruntled congregation and attendees fled when they caught on to the hypocrisy. I asked administration and board members, who were incessantly talking about “building the numbers” (which meant adding more members to the rolls) why they did not talk with the people who left to find out why they had left. It fell on deaf ears. When I left for almost a year, not one person ever contacted me to say they missed me or ask me why I had left the church. Cain knew why, and his administration and followers knew, too. As you might imagine, the numbers dwindled and the door was always swinging.

Volunteers were treated with the same perfunctory manner.  If the minister felt threatened by a volunteer, he would schedule a mandatory meetings at 9:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning when a volunteer, who was lovingly and willingly giving free time, might have personal activities scheduled or want to sleep in. I once retorted, “You’d think we worked here the way they treat us.”  There are no such thing as personal boundaries when Cain abuses his authority; They are routinely ignored or trampled on.

[i] Johnson, David, VanVonderen Jeff. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. Bethany House Publishers. MN 1991