Path of the Paraclete

david-ayliffeArticle by David Ayliffe, Good Sects
Melbourne, Australia
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As Christians how do we approach those who have been spiritually abused? We may feel that the Gospel provides all the answers for life’s problems or that our understanding of Salvation in Jesus is all that anyone needs for healing. The problem is that those who escape destructive cults and abusive ministries will tell you that the message they have left behind often sounds very much like the message you believe will bring them hope and wholeness.

Is it possible then to evangelise victims of cults and abusive controlling relationships?

Yes, but “Gently, Gently” is the answer I suggest. Such people don’t need “great evangelists” or people who can quote scripture verses verbatim on all aspects of life. No, most times what they need most is a loving friend.
Do you have the courage and patience to be Jesus to those who have lost Him in counterfeit religion? I hope so.

I love the Greek term for the Holy Spirit, “the Paraclete” which is generally translated as “counselor”, “helper”, “encourager”, “advocate”, or “comforter”. Lovely words. Perhaps “friend” could be added to the translations too.

There was once a pastor who had suffered a severe mental breakdown. In his recovery he spoke mostly of the non-believing friend who would simply call by and ask him to “come out to play”. Sometimes they would go for a walk or

hurting-people

maybe play golf. The friend, not perhaps the one you or I would have chosen, knew best that the pastor needed a friend most – someone who would come alongside him and just “be there” in a non judging way. Sadly you often have to move outside of your church circle to find such people but then Jesus left his throne on high to dwell amongst sinners.

A similar parable. In his book “The Holy Spirit” Billy Graham writes:

“Grammatically, the word ‘Paraclete’ is a ‘verbal adjective’: it comes from a Greek verb which means: “to call alongside”. I.e. the Paraclete is the one who has been “called alongside”. “But ‘called alongside’ to do what?”, Graham asks.

I love that expression “to call alongside or come alongside”. If you have ever had a deep valley in your life due to death or illness of a loved one or loss of any kind you know what value there is in someone just coming alongside you to listen to your pain, talk with you or just hang out with you. At times like this you don’t need a Job’s counselor, someone who comes with ready counsel and and advice in your ear. What you need most is time to heal. It’s interesting that the body has the capacity to heal itself. Sometimes a broken bone needs setting and sometimes there are other needs too but the best care is to help someone come to a place of safety where they can heal themselves and that, I believe, is a gift from God.
In answering the question “to do what?” Billy Graham writes about the word “comforter” used by the 17th Century King James Bible to translate the Greek “paraclete”.

“The word comforter is derived from the Latin “fortis”, which means brave. And in 17th Century English to “comfort” means to make brave, to strengthen.”

So, helping someone who is hurting emotionally or otherwise requires first that we come alongside them as a friend prepared to offer appropriate comfort – comfort that strengthens and that can be received, maybe in words, maybe in hugs, maybe in silence, maybe by just being there.

If you want to be a comfort for someone who has suffered spiritual abuse you need to be patient and you need to be strong because there are no easy answers. A pentecostal friend once told me that his response to those who come from cults is to exercise a ministry of healing and deliverance. “It’s always a demonic problem,” he said. Well, that’s not my response. When we have faith in the miraculous – and we should have – we always want a quick and easy answer to every problem and often those answers are just not there. Perhaps we want an easy answer like the Apostle Peter did when Jesus warned the disciples in Matthew 16 of his coming suffering and death at the hands of the chief priests and elders. Peter said: Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus rebuke was pretty direct: “Get behind me Satan, You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

There really are no easy answers in trying to help people who have been spiritually abused. In saying this I don’t want to ignore the suffering of people who have been physically abused in any kind of dysfunctional relationship whether in a community group or family, but spiritual abuse really deserves its own attention. It is quite different because the bruising it causes is not as easy to see and because of that it’s harder to find the comfort and support you need. Yet the symptoms of doubt, mistrust and isolation have great longevity – people will still struggle to deal with their memories and pain often for the rest of their lives.

Consider my story.
I think I’m a pretty well balanced fellow, who has a strong yet questioning Christian faith and I enjoy life, my family, church and career. Yet today in 2011, 20 years since 68 year old Violet Pryor died I still occasionally have nightmares about her. Violet was the one who said to me:

“If ever you leave me, I will kill you, and I will kill your wife and children first and you will see them die agonising deaths before your eyes and then I will kill you. I can do this, because I am God!”

As a follower of Pryor we had come to believe that she was indeed God, that we lived in the end time and that not only was Jesus coming back at any moment but we were an exclusive part of His Bride. In general we were prepared to think, act, and behave in absolute blind faith and obedience to her, as God.

Some reading this will think “Gee if only he was in my church I’m sure we could cast that out of him, or bring healing from Jesus to him…” Perhaps so, but you know I always remember the resurrected Christ stiIl bore the marks of His crucifixion when He appeared to the disciples. Sometimes our marks, our memories remain for a reason. The expression “Wounded Healer” as used by Carl Jung and later in Henri Nouwen’s classic by that name explains this best.

The fact that I still suffer occasional nightmares 20 years later is just part of the reason that I can empathise with the the depth of pain others who have been spiritually abused. Many good people find it hard to empathise with those who tell horrific stories of personal pain – simply because they haven’t also suffered and because the story seems too dark for them.

No wonder I love the term “Paraclete”. The image of someone coming alongside to another in pain means so much to me. Billy Graham was right to speak about the strength needed by any Comforter. You will need courage, strength and great love if you are going to come alongside those who have been spiritually abused.

Zion Full Salvation Ministry caused a lot of pain to families when Pryor instructed that fellowship with family and friends outside of the group was to be limited and only allowed with her express permission. Yet there were good aspects to Pryor’s Zion Full Salvation Ministry too. Remove aspects of cultic abuse and heresy from groups like this and you have the elements of a great church community because people are generally so passionate about their beliefs.

Sadly there are too many destructive cults and spiritually abusive groups operating in Australia today and many people with stories of pain much worse than mine. As one of the founding committee of CIFS Victoria (Cult Information and Family Support) we are working with CIFS NSW and CIFS Qld to help former cult members and their families find support and a resource for professional help. There are powerful stories and great resources on www.cifs.org.au.
Often people ask “why does someone join a destructive cult?” On this, there is a very simple answer. They don’t. No-one joins a destructive cult. They don’t know it is a cult when they join, or it hasn’t become one yet. The best way to understand this is in the words of Jeannie Mills, former member of The People’s Temple :

“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you’ve ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true-it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.”

Click on the links to read more about The People’s Temple and the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 and Jeannie Mills .
Cult Counselling Australia has on its homepage: “Ultimately, the real danger of the cult is the power and control which is vested in the leader and the image of omnipotence which he assumes. In turn their mind manipulated followers continue to surrender their independence and decision making abilities including their most precious possessions including their children, partners, privacy, money and ultimately their minds.”

So in responding with love to those affected let me suggest one word is more important than any other: EMPOWER. You may not like the word – it was used in many circles not long ago – nevertheless it explains best the greatest need of spiritually abused people. Spiritual abuse removes from people their God given freedom: Their power to decide for themselves what they do, where they go and how they live their lives. Don’t ever think that you have the answers for the person, rather help that person find those answers for him or herself. Don’t set yourself up for a co-dependent relationship where you replace the guru, the pastor, the anointed leader who has done so much harm in the person’s life. You’ll be sorry if you and you will cause more harm to the person who really needs your empowering friendship.

Then in summary:

  1. Pray and ask God to help you follow the Paraclete example – to come alongside as a compassionate friend
  2. Don’t counsel unless you are a professional counselor
  3. Be responsive – Listen first without judgement then respond appropriately
  4. Ask “what would you like me to do for you?”? Never presume the needs of the person nor answers to meet those needs
  5. Be humble – in different circumstances this could have been you! “There but for the grace of God go I”
  6. Be practical – try and help the person find answers to everyday life questions such as housing, jobs etc.
  7. Be patient & always empower the person to come to his/her own conclusions.

You can read more of my story through the pages of the book I wrote with my older brother John.“My Brother’s Eyes”, is available from the publisher John Garratt Publishing or you can contact me via the contact form on my website www.goodsects.com.au. You can read the first chapter of the book here.

I am also available to speak to interested groups about the story and dangers of spiritual abuse.

David Ayliffe is currently studying to be a Spiritual Director through the Living Well Centre at St George’s Anglican Church Malvern. He is a prayer guide with the Kilbride Centre in St Kilda and with his family attends St Paul’s Anglican Church Boronia. He works for Guide Dogs Victoria.