We can all be deceived and fall into error, and we can do that though we have good character and the best of intentions.
So writes Cindy at the blog Under Much Grace. She is addressing a common misconception that an abusive environment = malicious leadership. In fact, that is not the case at all. Its very common for abusive Christian leaders to be nice people with wonderful intentions and lofty goals to impact the world for Christ.
So how does an organization that started out with such wonderful motives go so terribly, terribly wrong? How can a well intentioned person become so abusive?
Many also hold a false assumption that people who run such ministries could have only started out with some deliberate and conscious intent to harm people or use others for personal gain. I believe that in many cases, Christian groups that get off course and fall into patterns of spiritual abuse and thought reform do so because of the trappings of human nature as opposed to any deliberate choice to do harm or to be covertly manipulative. Those who have great aspirations very likely have great and lofty goals which are dripping with goodness and virtue. The problem is not one of intent or even in the desired end. The problem becomes one of the means one uses to achieve the desired end.
She goes on to describe how zeal and ambition can easily lead one into becoming gradually more and more controlling. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough to guarantee an abuse-free environment. Read the whole thing.
I can certainly identify with this piece – my time at the Honor Academy turned me into a spiritual abuser. I judged people based on how they measured up to an arbitrary legalistic standard and confronted them over meaningless and petty things – but I did all this because I thought it was how to be a good Christian. My motives were good but my behavior was terrible. And other people suffered because of it.
We all do things out of ignorance that hurt other people – the true test of your motives is how do you respond once you learn that you are hurting people? Do you villify them to protect yourself? Or do you grieve over the way you injured them and seek to make amends?