The ‘Can’t Talk’ Rule – Red Flags in Abusive Churches

At a time when spiritual abuse in churches is epidemic, being able to spot it when it occurs is crucial. I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, and time and again, I am reminded of why understanding how abusive church leaders operate is important. Abusive leaders all tend to operate with the same play book. The difference between a secular abusive environment and one that is religious is that abusers in high places of a church have some extra tools in their control toolbox to bludgeon those under them into submission. Throughout history, on a grand scale or on a small scale, you can see how corrupt religious leaders make full use of speaking for God in order to consolidate and wield their power. It’s how they roll.

One of the hallmarks of this kind of corruption in churches is the application of the “Can’t Talk Rule.” This rule is best explained by authors David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen in their book, The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. (See image below.)

That book is just one of the many that spells out, in clearest terms, how these pastors and church boards operate. They fear exposure. More than anything else, these corrupt, prideful leaders fear having the harm they do to others laid bare to the public. The only recourse they see, like so many before them, is to try to crush talk. Spiritual manipulation of a congregation is easy enough. Call it gossip. Call it sin. Rebuke those who speak up for innocent people run off from the church and characterize the cries of those being injured as also being gossip and malicious undermining of church “authority.” It’s all so very easy to do.

Meanwhile, those members who value friendship, history and comfort over what is right and true smugly inform those who are deeply troubled over spiritual leadership that is biblically off the rails that they choose not to get involved. These are the abuse enablers who contribute to the destruction of reputations, faith and families.

The good news is that when a church engages in this conduct – a sign of desperation – they cannot succeed in their growth plans for very long. If churches looked to the political scene alone, they would see that corruption always becomes public eventually. Rot on the inside of any leadership always makes its way outward. It’s only a matter of time. Tick Tock. Those pastors and leaders who behave like crime families should not expect anything but a revolving door of members and staff. Anyone with an ounce of discernment should hit the road when they see this happening. There’s always a reason for it.

7 thoughts on “The ‘Can’t Talk’ Rule – Red Flags in Abusive Churches

  1. lynettedavis says:

    This is so very true. Most churches uses this tactic in one form or another. We need more people to recognize these tactics for what they are – strategies of the enemy.

  2. healinginhim says:

    Thank you, Ingrid for this post and for referencing the page from The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse. This abuse is one of the reasons I had to leave the local church scene … just too much that I “can’t talk” about. 😦

  3. Ingrid says:

    Churches and ministries become personal kingdoms. Someone either starts or rises to the top and then takes control. Untouchable royalty.. Congregations without elder rule can be the worst, although corruption can be anywhere, obviously. In congregational-style voters’ assemblies, politics become the norm, as even pastors have to be voted in by a majority, leading to every manner of underhanded manipulation to achieve this. Seen it. Been there. One deacon was even heard urging the church youth group to show up for an important vote that was controversial in nature. “Don’t forget to come and vote,” he urged the kids in the youth group who were members. Ah, yes. It’s really that bad.

    But then you have elder run places where they are essentially a personality cult anyway. Been there. Seen that. One church had a cloak and dagger situation where the three church elders shielded the corrupt Grand Cyclops at the helm from any scrutiny or biblical accountability. They were nothing but sycophant defenders. The man eventually took off with a counselee, another man’s wife, and left his own disabled wife in the dust. Last I heard the ex-wife was living in a car. Well done, men. Real Pastors of Wisconsin. Reality TV shows couldn’t even match it.

    This is why so many have left the “local church” completely. The corruption is so bad that is seems like a mockery to observe the Lord’s Supper in those walls, to hear the Holy Spirit invoked, in a place that is full of the stench of pride, filled with people hurting from the same people supposedly there to provide spiritual help.

    Note to pastors and deacons/elders of this sort: If Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would clear out your offices with a whip and make you get an honest job, quietly working with your hands. If Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would lead out the remnant believers (or find them by the side of the road) who are bewildered, exhausted and hurt beyond words from your reeking ambition, pride and corruption. The padded seats in your temples of doom would be overturned, your sound systems unplugged, and the wheels taken off your expensive late model vehicles. Walk home and rethink your lives, false shepherds and supporters.

  4. ninaswindow says:

    The pastor at the church we used to attend was an EXPERT at this. When we confronted a huge issue in the church we quickly began to see the no eye contact with us, no talking to us and pretty much everyone in leadership and staff stopped having anything to do with us. The pastor said to us (after months of trying to meet with him) you guys are very angry and you clearly need to find a church that meets your needs and I want to love you out the door!” Yeah…this is real stuff and tragic.

  5. Ingrid says:

    “I want to love you out the door.” LOL! Funny if not so tragic. Much easier to watch a car leave the parking lot with a family in it than to listen in humility and concern. That’s not love, pastor. Tell yourself lies all you want.

  6. Karen says:

    This is so true. My husband and I worked for a church for 11 years as facility/ maintenance team and toiled through their triple growth period only to be fired because the hard labor brought on health issues as we got older. We were told to tell people we quit and were threatened if we told my husband was fired and rather than them being patient as he healed from knee replacement they said they had no confidence he would heal.. We finally moved away because I couldn’t tell the lie.

  7. terriergal says:

    One of the favorite tools for enforcing the “don’t talk” or “can’t talk” rule:
    (in the Lutheran number of the commandments, you shall not bear false witness is the 8th commandment)
    “Lutheran Discussion Stopper
    8th commandment
    You’ve been served the 8th
    Do not make another point
    You immediately lose
    Your argument is invalid
    Be silent and leave.”

    It’s amazing how quickly the gossip card is played these days. It’s the ONLY sin anyone seems concerned about, usually when you are trying to figure out what to do about a real problem.

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