I recently had the honor of spending some time talking to Jack Watts the author of
Recovering from Religious Abuse, 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom. The following is the transcript of that interview. We had a good deal of conversation prior to the interview starting regarding my own experiences and the process of me working through the book. I especially appreciated the willingness of Jack to help me in that process. In that we spoke about the process of recovery and while I am trained as a social worker/mental health professional, I found his comments positive and helpful. The spirit of how the book is written was mirrored in the experience of speaking with him. Now to the interview:
Mike Furches (MF) - Hey Jack, can you tell us some about your new release of Recovering from Religious Abuse, 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom.
Jack Watts (JW) - If people who are wounded and recognize that they are, God’s people who are living essentially below the radar, living in times where they are eating, spending, drinking too much, watching pornography or anything that can numb the pain because they are alienated from God because of a religious experience where someone has abused them, if they work these 11 steps and go through them, take the time to do the work, they can experience a spiritual renewal and reconnect with God in a new and powerful way. They can rid themselves of all of the debris, filth, and low self esteem that they have had that’s come from the abuse and become the people they were created to be. That’s what they can get from this.
One can go to a Zig Ziegler or Tony Robinson conference or something of the like and most of the people that go there are functioning real well and if they do everything they are told their lives can improve 1 or 2 percent. The people who do these steps are living in negative numbers. They can go from that negativity all the way to profound positive numbers. This can be a dramatic change. This is a huge problem in America, not a little one. Interestingly, there was some research just done by the Barna Group in February. They categorized Americans on their religiosity, and approximately 1/3 is what they call unchurched. When you multiply the numbers including kids; that comes out to a little over 100 million. Of those, 37%, or close to forty-million people are now considered unchurched because they have had such a negative experience with it that they have dropped out completely to the point where they aren’t even marginal, they are just gone from the church. Goodbye! Totally out! Those who have been religiously abused are a large part of those forty-million people, when you think about forty-million people, that is like every man, woman and child in the state of California, or the entire country of Canada. That’s a lot of people. Then you recall Jesus said, to leave the 99 that are saved and to go after the 1 that is lost, and the one that is lost is a sheep. These are sheep, these are people, who have a relationship with the Lord, and yet, they represent 12% of the entire population. That’s a big problem. It’s a huge problem. You want to know something interesting?
MF – What’s that?
JW – The Huffington Post recognized how profound some of this stuff was and they are running articles that I’m writing. The book can be found in every Barnes and Noble in America, but you can’t find it in Lifeway or at Parables, or in Family Bookstores what was the Zondervan chain. It isn’t there because there is such a denial of this problem. That’s huge! It isn’t just pedophile priests and it isn’t just crazy people like who kidnap people like Elizabeth Smart or the situation like here in Atlanta where a pastor is messing around with little boys. This is big time stuff in nearly every major church and Christian ministry in America.
MF - I’m running into the same type of thing with my book The Keystone Kid because it uses some language in it. I can contact 50 churches about going in and doing a presentation that deals with abuse and I may find 2 that let me come in and do it. There seems to be a lot better reception from the non Christian world than even within the Christian world.
JW – Yes!
MF – Why do you think it is that the church is seems to be sweeping the issue under the rug and not dealing with it?
JW – They don’t like the reality of it. It really is so different than it was in the time of Christ. Once Jesus was resurrected, and Pentecost came, and the church started to move away from what we read in the Bible and become an institution, they consistently tried to squelch anything that had to do with the truth. I find that these churches are remarkably in denial. There is a narcissism that is at the head of some of these major ministries, where their view of reality is their own grandiose perception that they have been anointed with a kind of God consciousness. When people get in the way they are just like ‘off with their head’, and they damage people right and left. I’ve worked with major Christian ministries for over a quarter of a century and I have seen it in nearly every one of them where there is this kind of pattern of abuse that exists. Yet, at the same time, there is this love for the lost, the people that they don’t know, but the people they are abusing; they end up not caring two wits about them. They discard them and say a quick prayer and they are done.
MF – While you have kind of answered it to some extent, what moved you to write the book?
JW – Having seen this for so long and being jaded by it, by working for these ministries and doing some of these things, witnessing some of this stuff, it caused me enormous pain. I kept saying, why doesn’t somebody do something about this? In my own recovery from religious abuse; I was an alcoholic for quite a few years, just trying to numb the pain. In developing my own sobriety, which is 18 years now and counting, I recognized that there are certain things that you can do; one step, building upon another, to pull yourself out of the hole of alcoholism and lead not just a good life, but a really fulfilling life. I then said, you know what, this is what the Lord wants for all of his people. I used some of my tools that I have gained in AA and in ALANON to create the 11 Steps to Recovery from Religious Abuse. They are different in that this is not the God of your understanding. This is for Christian people who believe that Jesus Christ is the only son of God and that we have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This is straight Christian stuff and it is heavily, heavily Biblical. The book is a way for God’s people to reconnect instead of just doing the proverbial, ‘cursing the darkness.’ I decided that I would light a match to help lead people out of the darkness and back into a relationship with the Lord that can be very fulfilling to them. You know what? In our country, if Christian people can be truly united by the Lord, that’s what can turn this nation around. Not making different laws, not saying that in the next election we will get rid of this president and get another one that has different view points. That’s not going to change the nation for long. What will change the nation for long periods of time is if God’s people are restored to Him and He is leading them. Now that works!
MF - The style of the book is different in that it is kind of like a workbook, one that requires some work including journaling, why this approach?
JW – Reading a book isn’t going to help you recover from religious abuse. In reading a book you’ll agree with it, disagree with some things and be done with it, but it really isn’t going to help you. In order to heal, really heal, it takes time, it takes consistent effort, it takes full-searching honesty and you cannot do that in one day, you can’t do it in two days, and you can’t do it in a week. Now you can do it in three months and this is what the 91 days are about, each step taking a week. For some people it will take a little longer, for some maybe a little less, but if you genuinely, really want your life to change, you’ve got to do the work. The way and method is easy, but doing the work is gut wrenchingly hard, because it requires a level of honesty that most people don’t ever get to. You know though, if you are God’s person, you’ve got to be open and if you aren’t then the things won’t work.
The Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword and it will go to the bone. Bone wrenching, bone splitting honesty is what is required for people who have been abused because in their rebelliousness from this stuff, their acting out behavior, they have done a lot of things that they have to be accountable for too. It can’t be like, ‘well they did this to me and that’s why I’m this way and I’m okay this way.’ That isn’t true, even though a person has been abused, they are still responsible for their own behavior and owning up for what they have done, making amends to the people they have wronged and getting back into an intimate relationship with the Lord.
MF - What are some of the indicators of religious abuse and the long-term consequences?
JW – The long-term consequences are that it destroys people’s lives, period! It destroys people’s lives! Just like alcoholism and other things like it. Spiritual abuse is when someone uses their authority to enhance their own position at another person’s expense, wounding them in the process. In can be done when someone twists scripture too, for example, one may say, you can throw a $20 on the plate and Jesus will give you $200. That’s religious abuse all the time. Telling somebody that God wants you to sleep with me, inappropriate sexuality is always abusiveness. When you humiliate somebody, give them a verbal dressing down because they disagree, not on a spiritual basis land you like living in sin, that’s one thing, but if they’re just not going along with your program , and you use your position of authority to belittle, effect, and impact their self-worth then that’s always religious abuse. The Consequences to the people are profound, life altering!
MF - Why do you think some people abuse?
JW – They believe they are doing what God wants them to do. They get to a place where they believe that their will and God’s will are essentially the same thing. There is no room for any kind of doubt or disagreement. So, they use their authority like a sledgehammer and beat the sheep that they are called to serve. There is a lot of narcissism involved in all of this too.
MF - What would you say is the most important aspect of your own recovery?
JW – The most important thing is always, 2 things. Recognizing and admitting, to yourself, that I am not where I want to be. Recognizing that my life is shipwrecked, and God is not a part of the abuse. People who misuse their authority are the abusers, not God. Now let me say just one more thing about this. Who understands abuse better than Christ? He was beaten, he was spat upon, he was stripped naked, and he was put on a cross, held out as a spectacle and murdered; by whom? Not the Romans, but religious leaders. He was religiously abused. None of us have been murdered for it, but God understands this type of abuse. People get that!
MF - What would be the most important thing you would share with people who have been hurt and abused?
JW- What I just said; that God understands your abuse. He doesn’t like it and he was abused himself, and there is nobody that understands abuse better than someone who has been abused. It’s not esoteric, it’s real.
One other thing that I would want to say, is to the people who read this book, is that you will never, never, never need to go back and sit at the feet of an abuser again. This is reconnecting with the Lord, and what he does with you when you are through, is his business.
Jack and I went on talking, about my own abuse, and the abuse perpetuated by others. Those are personal things, much of which will be included in the journaling blog I am doing. Of course you can continue reading my own 91 day journey by following the blogs at The Virtual Pew. I do believe this though, as stated in the original review for the book, for those going through abuse, or who have been spiritually abused in the religious community, this book can be of help to you, hopefully it will as it has been with me. Jack has assured me that he will follow the blogs and on occasion comment. It can be a place where you can go on my journey with me, but also have the author of the book following along and offering advice from his own experience.
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