As I’ve said before, many times, the journey out of Charismania seems to take longer than one would imagine. We’ve been gone from Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names in this post) for a year and a half, and yet I still keep coming to new realizations about things we experienced there. I’ll be going along, thinking that I am SO OVER Living Word, when suddenly I’ll remember something and be hit by a new understanding, a new interpretation, of it.
Like yesterday. For some reason, I suddenly remembered something that Pastor Smith would often say when talking about people who left Living Word.
(I’m going to interrupt myself before I even really get rolling, so that I can point out how odd it seems, in retrospect, that a pastor of a fairly large congregation – around 1,000 in attendance on a Sunday – would EVER comment from the pulpit about people who leave. But Smith did this on many occasions. He’d often joke about the “revolving door” of the church…and the evil vipers who would spread vicious lies about him…and sometimes he’d say, “If you don’t like it, LEAVE!”
But that would be fodder for another post.)
Anyway…back to what I remembered yesterday…
On many occasions, when Pastor Smith would go on these rants about people who left Living Word, he’d do so in a way that really couldn’t be called a “rant.” He’d use a very reasonable, borderline patronizing tone of voice, like he was a helpful preschool teacher explaining the obvious. And he’d say, “You know, I’ve seen so many families, they’re plugged in to this great church. Their kids are doing well. Their finances are doing well. Their marriage is great. But then they leave. And somehow, after that, their kids start having problems. Their finances get messed up. And their marriages fall apart…”
During that last bit, Smith would shrug dramatically at us and then, still in a very calm, reasonable, preschool teacher sort of voice, finish up with something to the effect of, “Now, I’m not sayin’ ANYTHING. But you can do the math!”
I got to thinking about this yesterday. The clear implication of Pastor Smith’s frequent mentions of people who leave, and how their lives basically fall apart after they do, was that attendance at Living Word Church was the thing that had helped these people remain successful in their finances and family life. Leaving Living Word, on the other hand, meant that you’d lose this magical touch on your life. You’d lose money, you’d lose your kids, you’d lose your marriage.
Something hit me yesterday about this. First of all, I need to say that Pastor Smith’s insinuations APPEARED to have some truth to them. We all knew folks who’d left Living Word, and several of them did get divorced after they left. Many of them did suffer through financial crack-ups. Many of them did have problems with their kids.
I think this is why a bunch of fairly educated, intelligent people could sit there and listen to Pastor Smith say these things and not get upset and walk out – because there SEEMED to be a bit of truth to what he was saying. It SEEMED like Living Word Church WAS good for a family’s success.
But…looking at it another way…
It’s fully possible that leaving Living Word Church DID lead to all sorts of problems for people. But NOT because they’d left Living Word’s protective “anointing.” Rather, people had problems after they left Living Word because of the natural implications of what it means to have been under the sway of a manipulative and abusive ministry!
Financially, people at Living Word strained themselves to give sacrificially. While I’ll never stop believing in the principle of honoring God first with one’s money, the truth of the matter is that Pastor Smith hammered away at the subject of giving, sometimes even taking up multiple collections in a single church service, to the point where many of the people I knew were jeopardizing their financial health to “sow seed” far above and beyond their tithe. Many people enjoyed the special attention they got from Pastor Smith when they did this, too. And a lot of us bought into the idea that we were essentially “investing” when we gave, since we were promised a “hundredfold harvest” from our giving.
So it’s far more likely that those who left suffered financial setbacks BECAUSE of financially harmful decisions they’d made while still attending Living Word.
Likewise Smith’s whole observation about marriages that broke up.
Discovering that you’ve been deceived and manipulated can put major strain on a marriage. Many people exit Charismania with little sense of what’s real and what’s fake about their Christianity. This can prompt a major life crisis. And husbands and wives often handle this crisis differently. Perhaps one spouse spends all his time reading and researching doctrine, while the other one grows apathetic about all things Christian. Losing one’s faith in the “Word of Faith” message is akin to losing a loved one. When you discover that it’s NOT necessarily true that you’ll always be victorious in precisely the way you declare victory…when you discover that miraculous healing is NOT necessarily “always God’s will” for every situation…when you discover that the “hundredfold harvest” is essentially a myth, a con, promoted by unscrupulous “men of Gawd” so that they can line their own pockets and pursue their own luxurious lifestyles even as they themselves do not “sow” all THEY have into OTHER ministries because they KNOW that they won’t receive a “hundredfold return”…
Well, these discoveries are like little deaths. At least they were for us. And as with any death, any loss, nothing will ever quite be the same again. There’s grief. There’s pain. There’s a keen sense of disappointment. And just as the grieving process over an actual physical death can take its toll on a marriage, so can this type of death, the death of one’s belief in the sort of “fairy tale God” taught and promoted at Charismaniac churches.
So yesterday, I suddenly realized that when Pastor Smith made mention of the way people’s lives seem to fall apart after they left Living Word Church, he was – as was so often the case – trying to manipulate his people. He was trying to control them through fear, by planting the idea in their minds that they somehow needed Living Word Church in order to hold their lives together.
And he was so often successful in his quest, as we all sat there and remembered the folks we knew who’d had their lives go south after leaving.
Yet – as was also often the case – Pastor Smith was only telling part of the story. He neglected to mention that the wrecked finances, the broken marriages, the rebellious kids, were far more likely the result of what happens when people have to pick through the reality of deception – deception at the hands of men like Pastor Smith, who promote a false gospel for financial gain.