An Interview with Cliff Tadema, Pastor, *Christ the King - Skagit by Linda M. Kurth
I had the privilege a couple of weeks ago, of sitting down with my pastor, Cliff Tadema, and discussing his sermon series on Church Hurt. I feel dialoguing with church leaders on this subject is important, and I wanted to share our conversation with you, dear readers.
Linda to Cliff: As you know, I’m concerned about “church hurt" and “spiritual abuse” in regards to Christian marriage and divorce. You titled your three-part sermon series, “Church Hurt,” so I was particularly attentive. Thank you for finding the time in your busy schedule to discuss this issue further. Cliff: You’re most welcome.
Linda: I Googled the terms, and these are the definitions that seem to fit:
“Church Hurt” is any sort of emotional or physical pain felt because of something done or said by another professing Christian. “Spiritual Abuse” is when Christians use the Bible to exert some kind of control over other Christians. I call it “hitting someone over the head with the Bible," and seems to be a more specific form of church hurt. The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service United Kingdom defines Spiritual Abuse this way:
Spiritual abuse is coercion and control of one individual by another in a spiritual context. The target experiences spiritual abuse as a deeply emotional personal attack. This abuse may include: manipulation and exploitation, enforced accountability, censorship of decision making, requirements for secrecy and silence, pressure to conform, misuse of scripture or the pulpit to control behaviour, requirement of obedience to the abuser, the suggestion that the abuser has a ‘divine’ position, isolation from others, especially those external to the abusive context.
Would you agree with these definitions of “church hurt” and “spiritual abuse”?
Cliff: I would say spiritual abuse is consistently using a position of authority to impose something on somebody or to exert control over them through misapplying scripture. “Church hurt” doesn’t necessarily involve biblical interpretation and may be only a one-time event.
Linda: In your sermon, you mentioned two sources of church hurt, organizational and personal. Would you please explain the differences?
Cliff: Organizational means the message is coming from the top down. It permeates the entire church from the leaders, down on through the congregation. It’s often unspoken. Personal use of church hurt comes from an individual who might not reflect the attitude of church hierarchy or the majority of its members. In both cases, the hurt often comes from a lack of grace extended.
Linda: You laid out Four Steps for Dealing with Church Hurt:
Linda: I confess I’m bothered by step one. People in abusive situations are already prone to questioning themselves. I’m thinking of, say, a woman who is in an abusive marriage, and her pastor insists she needs to stay in her marriage and that she is the cause of the abuse. I would think that asking her to examine herself might not go over so well.
Cliff: I’m not talking about “abusive self-examination.” I’m talking about understanding what you can control … that’s you and only you. Ask the Lord to show you how to go through this. Ask Him, what do you want me to learn?” Forget about the person who hurt you. That person is responsible before God. You have no control over his or her behavior.
For example, I spent a year obsessing over the terrible lies spread about me by someone who had been close. It hurt me personally and professionally. My counselor told me to stop thinking about that person and just look at myself. I asked the Lord,” Is there any part of this that’s true? If there is, show me, because I know you love me and you’ll help me correct whatever it is.”
Linda: Are the four steps are applicable to both personal and organizational hurts?
Cliff: The first step for sure; look at yourself and how you respond to the situation. The second one, no. The Matthew passage is about restoring a personal relationship. Confronting the institution is quite different. I imagine it would take several people who have suffered spiritual abuse by the leaders to confront them. It might be best to “dust your feet off’ and find people who love Jesus.
Linda: What about steps three and four?
Cliff: We need to offer grace where we would want grace.
Personally, I struggled with Step Three. That situation I mentioned … I couldn’t let go of it. Finally, God asked me if I wanted judgment or mercy. Of course I wanted mercy. The Lord impressed on me that I needed to ask the same for that person who hurt me. I realized that was the right thing to do. It took me a while, but once I did, the burden was lifted. Unforgiveness creates bitterness, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us choose grace in all situations.
Step Four, fix your eyes on Jesus, speaks for itself.
Linda: In your second sermon, you spoke of “Man’s Church” versus “God’s Church.” “Man’s church looks at the External instead of Internal. Man’s church is all about what it looks like and what you do to look right. It’s about conformity. Man’s church uses fear as a calling card. God’s church is from the Holy Spirit and focuses on what’s in our hearts, on our love for God and mankind.”
You say we should not judge, but isn’t the act of determining which kind of church you are in a matter of judgment? And isn’t the act of deciding that certain actions by church leaders are of God or of man an act of judgment?
Cliff: Interesting question. So the Bible talks about two kinds of judging. Holding someone up to a standard that you yourself can’t meet is one kind. The Bible talks about how foolish it is to point to a sliver in another’s eye when you have a plank in your own eye. On the other hand, we are told to discern the spirits. We can ask where the spirit is coming from. Is it the Holy Spirit or some other spirit? That’s where judging comes in.
Here’s my own judgment about the churches in America today: I fear that over seventy percent of them are operating with the wrong spirit. Whether it’s said or not said, they believe that the good news of the gospel is to accept Jesus Christ and then be bound by all these laws you must obey. I don’t believe that’s what the Bible says. I think the Bible is very clear, and Paul goes at great lengths in his letters to Christians in different places to not mix the law with the spirit.
Linda: Our home group is studying the chronological journeys of the apostle Paul. He had quite a time with the Judaizers mucking things up, didn’t he?
Cliff: Yep, this has been going on since the beginning of the church. The reason Paul was so upset about it … even the Gentiles took on the law, though the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross was to free us from the law. The simplicity of the gospel is that you trust the Holy Spirit that is within you.
There are only two commands - love God, and love people. Trust the Spirit to lead you. When the Spirit is inside you, it manifests in the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We can’t generate these things on our own. When you allow the Holy Spirit to lead you, you automatically become joyful. You don’t have to strive to fake it. That’s why we focus at Christ the King on keeping the main thing the main thing, having as few rules and conditions as possible. We want to be a grace-filled church, not a law-focused church.
Jesus said, “I didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” What does fulfill mean? It’s done! It’s complete! There’s no more to do! Now, let us walk with the Spirit. But that’s challenging because it means we give up our desire to be in control. We have to walk with the Spirit.
It’s a scary place for a church to step into. We should be supporting and encouraging one another. With divorce, for instance, instead of relying on the law to steer people, we have heart-to-heart discussions and soul-searching. I can only counsel people and trust in the Holy Spirit to convict them of the right way to go. If they choose to take a different path from where God wants them, He can still forgive them when they recognize the error of their ways. In the meantime, we can love them while being honest with them.
Linda: The fruits, or lack of them, certainly give us clues as to what kind of person or church organization we’re dealing with, don’t they?
Interview to be continued next week: "Spiritual Abuse by the Church: A Response"
Do you have a divorce experience to share? Have you been shamed by a church because of your divorce? There are hurting people who need to hear your story, who need to know they are not alone, and who need to be encouraged. If you are interested in sharing your story, email Linda for guidelines: Linda@LindaMKurth.com
Linda M. Kurth is a writer and a divorced and remarried Christian. In going through the divorce, she experienced a dichotomy of responses from the Christian community. After sharing some of those experiences in her upcoming memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, she's heard many stories of divorced Christians who have struggled with the same issue. This blog invites divorced Christians to tell their stories with the goal of encouraging churches to resist condemnation and become a source of healing and grace.