Showing posts with label spiritual abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spiritual abuse. Show all posts

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Spiritual Abuse and Healthy Churches: Good Article in CT

There’s a good podcast on Christianity Today (“CT”) that discusses spiritual abuse in churches, why it’s often difficult to spot, and typically even harder to address. The information is very relevant to Grace Episcopal Church and the spiritual abuse/toxic dynamics within the parish. Take a listen here.

Key points:

Spiritual abuse, which often involves bullying and manipulation, typically is hard to detect, as it usually involves an ongoing series of small acts that, when examined individually, appear innocuous, but when taken as a whole, form a damning pattern.
  • Rejection of critical feedback, something I observed many times with Bob Malm, is a key indicator of spiritual abuse. Indeed, Bob refused all accountability, either ducking the issue with fabrications, such as saying of church office staff, “Don’t worry about it, they’ll be retiring this year,” or trying to shut it down via explosive outbursts of rage, as in when Lee Meeks brought up governance concerns concerning the Shrine Mont event at a vestry meeting.
  • Church leaders who engage in spiritual abuse often are adept at manipulating perceptions, thus making it difficult for people to realize just unhealthy a church has become. 
    • For example, consider Bob Malm’s “confession” in his final Grace Notes before retirement, in which he states, “in 30 years, I’ve not visited as much as I would have liked. As an example, out of the 15 current Vestry (sic) members, I’ve only visited the homes of 8!” That sort of pseudo-confession is typical of spiritually abusive leadership, and in Bob’s case amusing, as he never lacked time for golf, running/marathons or his month at the beach every summer. Indeed, I don’t recall ever hearing of Bob showing up at a hypothermia shelter, the homeless shelter, or any other ministry, except for Art on the Avenue and the annual altar guild tea. Hardly a grueling schedule, even by the most generous of standards.
  • Because spiritually abusive churches tend to place leaders on a pedestal, they tend to demonize critics. Moreover, one never sees concern within the church for those viewed as critics. 
    • While insiders view the situation as normal, outsiders may view church members’ conduct as childish, hateful, and toxic. Consider the comments on The Wartburg Watch, when Leslie Malm and Lisa Medley went on the attack after the publication covered Bob’s behavior at Grace Church. As one commenter put it, “While these parishioners may seem sane to themselves, they appear childish and hateful to outsiders viewing their actions.” 
    • Similarly, Kemp Williams’ emails about me, in which he says, “It is abundantly clear that Eric is psychopathic,” further illustrate the level of discourse within the parish. Leaving aside the fact that one would hope for better from members of the church, Kemp appears oblivious to the legal concept that opinion may be defamatory if the matter is provable as a matter of fact. The fact that conversations of this sort are acceptable and normative at Grace Church makes clear the depth and breadth of the issues within the parish, and the extent to which the diocese’s laissez faire attitude toward the parish is causing lasting harm. Here is Kemp’s email:


  • Because information flow within spiritually abusive churches often is tightly controlled, people rarely talk to others, preferring instead to talk about others. This is the case at Grace Church, where Bob tried to keep control of information by not releasing financial data, restricting dissemination of vestry minutes, and more. That trend continues to this day, and the fallout is reflected in Kemp’s email above. Given that Kemp has never discussed this thoughts directly with me, and Bob was for years largely indifferent to church security, one sees how this toxic paradigm plays out.
  • Denominational leaders, like Susan Goff, typically are willfully ignorant about issues of abuse, particularly spiritual abuse. They don’t understand it, and be choosing not to bring in those who do understand it and can advise them appropriately, they offer tacit and sometimes explicit support.
  • Toxic churches like Grace typically cause healthy individuals to seek other churches, leaving sycophants, empaths, enablers, and peacemakers at the helm. While these individuals often are well-meaning, they may have little appetite for directly addressing problems, particularly when the problems are as challenging as those involved in spiritual abuse. This certainly has played out at Grace Church, which has shed almost half of its pledging units in recent years, as well as numerous members.
    • Ironically, Lisa Medley claims that that I have said that my conflict is responsible for the church’s declining fortunes and that these issues transcend my conflict with Bob and the parish. She is correct that the parish’s problems go far beyond this conflict; indeed, her toxic responses underscore this reality.
    • Similarly, as the Rev. Robin Hammeal-Urban (canon to the ordinary for the diocese of Connecticut) notes, it is not the person who discloses abuse that is the cause of the harm that results. It is the abuser who is responsible for the harm. Thus, one can see in Kemp Williams’ email the classic response of a toxic church when abuse comes to light.
    • A healthy parish would be unaffected by the criticism of a former parishioner, no matter how noisy he or she might be. It is only as people realize that there indeed are serious problems that they begin to reduce their commitment to the church.
      • The fact that Bob Malm committed perjury, tried to drag a dying woman into court, repeatedly proffered false information to the courts, then tried to paper over the mess by seeking a settlement agreement containing non-disclosure and anti-disparagement clauses indicates just how toxic the church has become. 
  • As Dominique Benninger notes in recent media coverage of his experiences with spiritual abuse, “It is hard to trust once your faith has been used against you.”
  • In short, the best way to become a healthy church is to be a healthy church. And just like an alcoholic starts the road to recovery by acknowledging their problem, Grace Church will only be healthy when it tells the truth about what has transpired and the problems it faces. And like an alcoholic, Grace Church’s illness is progressive, meaning that left untreated it will only get worse, likely becoming terminal if it continues.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Great Online Resource: Church Trauma Blog



One of the great things about working with issues of church abuse is the people. Specifically, you get to meet some of the most wonderful people imaginable in the course of sharing your story and that of others.

And so it is with Dominique and Megan Benninger, a couple from south-central Pennsylvania who, like me, have endured spiritual and emotional abuse, including shunning and more, after they exposed wrongdoing in their former church.

I recently had the chance to chat with them about their blog, www.churchtrauma.org. Not only are the Benningers great people, but they get it. Abuse is abuse, whether it’s spiritual, emotional, sexual, relational or other. 

Even better, they are doing something about it. Not only is their blog a great read, but it’s clear to me that they are working hard to protect others and make the world a better place. I expect great things will come from them, and heartily recommend their blog to you.

On a marginally related note, I’ve been a little overwhelmed with the passing, just days apart, of my maternal grandmother and my mother. As a result, I haven’t been great at keeping up with the blogs or my other activities, and I’m very sorry at the delays in getting back with folks, etc. But I do plan to write more about the Benningers in the coming days—theirs is a fascinating story, and illustrates just how pervasive spiritual abuse is in houses of worship.

Stay tuned!

Monday, January 6, 2020

Church Abuse Website References This Conflict

I was pleased to see that the Tenth Presbyterian church abuse website, located at https://www.tenthpresbyterianchurch.com/, has referenced this conflict and the abusive conduct of Grace Episcopal Church, perjuring priest Bob Malm, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

Phil Snyder is a good guy and a friend, and I stand with him. Please be sure to visit his website to learn more about Liam Goligher’s bullying of him, as well as Goligher’s profoundly un-Christian conduct.

And thanks Phil for the shout-out!

Below is a photo of Phil protesting outside Tenth Presbyterian.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Must-Watch: The Rev. Wade Mullen Describes Planet Malm Perfectly

Check out Twitter buddy Wade Mullen’s excellent video presentation on spiritual abuse. Well worth a look and possibly enlightening for members of Planet Malm and the diocese who approach with an open mind. And yes, I find many of the forms of manipulation described here to be an accurate description of Bob Malm’s conduct.

Also, check out the excellent part on supplication (institutional protection of abusers) at 32:28. Bob Malm and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, writ large.

Lastly, take a look at Wade’s description of how his former church moved to healing by admitting specifically the ways in which it had engaged in spiritual abuse. You won’t see anything like that from Grace Church or the Diocese of Virginia; both are organizational narcissists and believe their conduct to be beyond reproach.



Saturday, November 30, 2019

Reflections on Friendly Versus Faithful


One of the things I learned from my experiences with perjuring priest Bob Malm and toxic Grace Episcopal church is that many people conflate friendly with faithful. As in, “Bob’s a good guy,” or “you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” Yes, Bob Malm is an ostensibly friendly guy. Yes, Grace Episcopal is a seemingly friendly church. But right behind both exist layers of toxic behavior that are contrary to the real meaning of Christianity.

It’s interesting: From friendly, people attribute ethical qualities. As one chucklehead at Christ Church said, “Why would you say that about a good man like Bob Malm?” referring to my assertion that Bob Malm committed perjury. Yet it doesn’t take much interaction at all to discover that Bob is a man who lies under oath, tries to drag the dying into court, deliberately misuses funds, directs church staff to exclude others, and goes after innocent family members in pursuit of his vendettas. In short, he is the antithesis of what one should expect of a priest.

My advice to anyone sizing up a new church or a new clergyperson: Take your time. Watch their actions. Ignore the flattery, smiles, hugs, and other window dressing.

I’d also point out that Bob’s comments about others are inappropriate for clergy, or anyone for that matter. Referring to Jan Spence as an “asshole,” or Lisa Doelp as “like a little spy,” is wrong. Nor do I believe his comments about Lisa. Nor do these sorts of comments build up others.

Similarly, folks can talk all they want about what a friendly church Grace is. but that doesn’t justify things like the bullying, gossip, and other inappropriate conduct that come from office staff, the choir, and the altar guild. Nor is there ever any excuse for urging people to commit suicide, Alison Campbell’s fun and games, or Lisa Medley’s toxic behavior. The fact that Bob Malm turns a blind eye to this sort of conduct and allows folks like this to serve in leadership positions reveals just how thoroughly broken Grace Church is. Grace, like many spiritually abusive churches, is like a yew, with pretty red berries. Yes, they are beautiful on the surface, but if you partake of them, you will find that they are toxic.

These issues extend to the diocese itself, where there is zero concept of accountability and no clergy discipline, unless the alleged misconduct involves sex. It is sad that The Episcopal Church is locked into a Madmen-era notion of misconduct in which only sex counts.

Lastly, to young people who turn their back on organized religion due to issues like this, I say this: You are spot on. Any church or denomination in which this sort of thing is okay is not one you should support. You won’t find Jesus or God in the midst of these modern-day Scribes and Pharisees.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Good Tweet from Dr. Diane Langberg

Diane, an expert on abusive churches, recently tweeted this.





Guess that includes Mike, received into TEC 16 months prior to Bob Malm’s decision to tell Mike he is unwelcome at Grace church.

Oh, wait: David Crosby says there are two sides to this, so I guess Bob Malm’s conduct towards Mike and the resulting trauma doesn’t count.

No wonder I have zero use for Episcopal clergy. Any clergy that won’t call a spade a spade when it comes to abuse is worse than useless.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bob Malm’s Mess

A friend of mine — a keen observer of human nature — recently pointed out something I already knew, which is that Bob Malm is trying to discredit me by telling people that I am “unbalanced,” She also added a very astute observation, which is that while that argument may work with Grace church, it doesn’t work at at all with prospective church members, but instead drives the latter away.

How so? Because outsiders, not drawn in by Bob’s manipulation, quickly recognize that going around telling people that a former parishioner is mentally ill is conduct unbecoming for clergy. Not only does Bob have no expertise or training in psychology, but even if his assertions were true they are not the sort of thing you share publicly.

The end result is that the more Bob attempts to discredit those who would hold him accountable for his behavior, the more quickly things unravel at Grace Church. That trend is accelerated by those, like Leslie Malm, who go around lying about what transpired. When people realize that parishioners have adopted Bob’s approach to conflict resolution, they see that Grace has become toxic. And no matter how Bob tries to manipulate and bully his way out of things, parishioners eventually realize that Bob has never — not once — reached out to me or any member of my family and asked the question, “What would it take to resolve this?” Instead, Bob clings to his magical thinking that somehow he is going to prevail, and suddenly everything will be as it was 5 years ago.

The reality is that, even if this blog, my mom’s blog, and all the social media criticism of Bob’s behavior went away tomorrow, he and Grace church would still have a major problem on their hands. It’s called Bob’s behavior. And any priest who thinks it’s okay to try to force parishioners out of church for complaining about his or her bullying behavior has no business being a priest.