Obedience and PTSD

PTSD“Just obey” may cause PTSD reactions. Obedience might be a favorite word and teaching in UBF (and many other churches). I recently realized that it is also a word that causes PTSD reactions from some people who have negative UBF experiences. This is partly because of the unbiblical and authoritarian ways that obedience is taught, communicated and practiced in certain UBF chapters. This is not uncommonly expressed by the imperative statement, “Just obey!” Obedience is also communicated implicitly even without saying, “Just obey.” The implication is that you should obey God as the Bible commands and teaches. But the practical reality is that you should obey what your leader or shepherd tells you…or else…

This is not biblical obedience. An “American shepherd” was introduced to “marry by faith” with a “Korean shepherdess.” But he politely declined. Then he was told without equivocation and in all seriousness, “YOU ARE IN NO POSITION TO SAY ‘NO.’” After that he was told that because of his disobedience he had to leave that UBF chapter. (Does this cause PTSD reactions?) This is not biblical obedience, but teaching obedience to a human person. It tainted and jaded him to some degree. Because of such a humiliating church experience, I began to understand why PTSD reactions happen in some people who have been in UBF.

Why share such negative and discouraging stories. Some UBFers have angrily accused me of being negative, critical and discouraging because I share such stories publicly. But I do so because such “negative” stories are often not welcomed, not in emails or even in private discussion among some senior leaders. Also, there have been no proper official channels for such issues to be seriously addressed (without being pacified or patronized), or for it to be dealt with fairly and promptly. Yes, UBFriends is often messy and it may not be the optimal place to share this. But is there really an optimal place to share this anywhere? My hope is that as such accounts are known more and more in my church, they will happen less and less.

Obedience to the gospel. For the record, I still preach, teach and encourage obedience, but never to me, and never to UBF. Rather, I teach, promote and emphasize (willing, not coerced) obedience primarily in response to the gospel by personally knowing the grace of Jesus and the love of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Faith and Obedience. I had originally intended to write a theological exposé entitled Faith and Obedience. If you are interested to critique it and dialogue about it, I posted it on my blog here. So the above posting sort of just happened randomly!

Do you have any obedience stories or PTSD stories to share?


  1. forestsfailyou

    When I bought my plane ticket to the philippines I mentioned to a missionary (not my pastor) that I had bought it without telling my pastor. Her response was “everyone learns obedience eventually”. The statement is wrong in so many ways I am just going to pass on pointing them out and I encourage others too as well. Shooting fish in a barrel is boring. Later an “American shepherd” commented that “the bible speaks of many people who prayed and on God’s time he gave them what they wanted.” Which is by a large margin the worst thing I have ever heard, to set up ubf as God is beyond reprehensible.

    Unlike the man you mentioned, I didn’t really get “punished” or “trained”.

    • forests, that is certainly one way to avoid additional training, to just “pass on pointing them out”. That is what I did for many years, as do almost all ubf people. But does that promote a Christ-like community? Does that help anyone, myself included, grow in our walk with our Lord?

      I say no, it does not. What if your conscience bothers you about such things? Shouldn’t a Christ-like community discuss such theological statements? Shouldn’t we find out what the bible has to say about such statements?

      In my third book, “Unexpected Christianity”, I describe how my conscience drove me to start pointing out and questioning such things. If we cannot live by our own conscience, how can we claim any place in the kingdom of God?

    • forestsfailyou

      To be sure, I don’t look the other way when dealing with this error in reason. What I mean to say is that all the readers here likely see what is wrong with that statement and if they don’t there are probably a dozen article here that I probably cannot improve on. Maybe you can post one as a reply in the event that we have some ghost readers out there.

  2. Ben, I’m hesitant to use the term “PTSD” as you do here in this article. My wife mentioned that PTSD is indeed real, but not what you are describing. You are mentioning more like what we discussed previously as PTCD, post-traumatic church disorder. The trauma that creates PTSD is extreme violence, such as soldiers at war or some violent act involving mutilation or physical harm. We are not talking about such things, for the most part. We are talking about the spiritual/psychological version of PTSD.

  3. Scot McKnight posted this on his blog from a friend who calls it church PTSD (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/03/01/the-other-side-of-the-donald-miller-post-church-ptsd/):

    “What I’m trying to say is that there is a culture of acceptance in the church today that allows for people to be treated terribly under the umbrella of it being what is “best for the church”. I would imagine that if a teacher was abusing children in the toddler department or if there were drunken parties going on at youth group there would be some type of outrage, as there should be. But somehow just plain being “mean” doesn’t garner any type of outrage. “It’s not ideal, but we are fallen people, after all, so you can’t expect anything better.” Church people have half jokingly admitted to “shooting their wounded” for years. What would it take for people to think there is actually a problem? It will never be any better if we keep justifying the way it is now.

    Honestly, I have something akin to a PTSD (not to take away from anyone who actually has full-blown PTSD) when it comes to church. When I hear people talking in Christian catch phrases I want to run away. This is the language of the culture of (church) people who persecuted and bullied my family and me.”

    • forestsfailyou

      Yes it is true that we are oft to blame in this, ‘Tis too much proved that with devotion’s visage And pious action we do sugar o’er The devil himself. I feel like this point had been made sufficiently, over and over again throughout history. We must refuse to silence our voice in the name of such injustice.

  4. “To be sure, I don’t look the other way when dealing with this error…” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2014/09/19/obedience-and-ptsd/#comment-15232

    The sad and painful reality is that there has been already a long-standing half century implicit expectation of “non-leaders” and “regular members” to NOT question what the leader says, including “YOU ARE IN NO POSITION TO SAY ‘NO,'” or anything else that the leader might say or decide, no matter how outrageous, offensive, demeaning, racist, or humiliating it is. I know full well because I supported and participated in this for over two decades.

    Until this is recognized, acknowledged, and addressed on a church wide basis, all the Bible studies with all the students in the world, is not going to bring health to an unhealthy and dysfunctional church.

    • I believe that most churches like UBF need to understand that today people are more open-minded, meaning some people are going to question your reasoning. If I go to a UBF minster or a missionary and asked to have a girlfriend, and if they said no, I would start questioning his logic.

      Today UBF need to understand that some people are not going to be a dog and is going to obey every command just because. If something don’t feel right to that person, they will most likely question or just leave.

    • “Today UBF need to understand that some people are not going to be a dog and is going to obey every command just because.”

      nb93, that’s true. But don’t think that people in the past were less open-minded. In the 60’s and 70’s young people were extremely open-minded. It was the time of hippies and free love. Yet, at the same time it was also the time of youth cults in the US. How does this work? Cults, spiritual abusive churches and fundamentalist organizations don’t simply demand obedience, because, as you said, people don’t obey “just because”. These groups understand this point well enough. Therefore they subject their followers to a well-thought-out indoctrination process to make it happen. It starts with the phase of “love bombing”. Only when you start to get addicted to the attention, love and fellowship, they start to demand more, like attending conferences, regular meetings etc. Then they slowly separate you from your old circle of friends and family and replace their role in your life, e.g. by letting you join a common life appartment with other group members. Then they show you how your past life has been sinful and meaningless, and they offer you salvation and absolute meaning of your life. They let you share a testimony in which you confess how awful your former life was and how much the group helped to save you and is your new vision and calling. It is very important to have people confess this with their own mouth, because only then they start to believe it (normally you would think it should be the other way around, you confess what you believe, but it works also in reverse, and these groups know this effect very well). When you internalized this step, then they bind this salvation and meaning to your commitment in the group. I.e. they make you believe that if you don’t cowork in the group, you lost your calling, you are unthankful and unfaithful, you lost your meaning in life and your connection to God. They start guilt-tripping you for not being able to fully live by the spirit. That’s the stage where they can demand nearly anything of you, since you don’t want to lose what has become your only circle of friends and your only meaning in life at that time.