Basic Church Information
Church Name: Grace Immanuel Bible Church
Senior/Lead Pastor: Jerry Wragg
Elders/Leadership Staff: See the Church’s Leadership & Staff Page
Address: 17475 Jonathan Dr., Jupiter, FL 33477
Phone #: 561-746-4617
Email: Contact Page
Online Services: http://www.gibcjupiter.org/media/mainservice/
Preaching Style: Expository / Topical Mix
Membership Requirements: Yes
Tithing/Compelled Giving: Yes
Financial Transparency: Unknown
Affiliations: John MacArthur/Grace Community Church, Ian MacFarlane (See Red Flag Section for info)
Red Flags of Spiritual Abuse, Coercive Control, or Exploitation/Opportunism
Spiritual Abuse Definition: Any attempt to exert power and control over someone using religion, faith, or beliefs can be spiritual abuse.
Coercive Control Definition: Coercive control is a form of emotional abuse or intimate partner violence that can cause psychological trauma. Here, we use it to describe a specific form of abuse practiced in the local church setting by men and women in church leadership positions. It describes a pattern of behaviors a perpetrator uses to gain control and power by eroding a person’s autonomy and self-esteem. This can include acts of intimidation, threats, and humiliation. Coercive control also refers to a pattern of controlling behaviors that create an unequal power dynamic in a relationship. In the local church setting, these behaviors give the church leader power over their Christian subordinate, making it difficult for them to leave the church.
Spiritual Exploitation/Opportunism: “Spiritual opportunism refers to the exploitation of spiritual ideas (or of the spirituality of others, or of spiritual authority): for personal gain, partisan interests or selfish motives. Usually the implication is that doing so is unprincipled in some way, although it may cause no harm and involve no abuse.”
I see potential for spiritual abuse and coercive control in multiple ways at this church, and also signs of exploitation/opportunism. I will list them in this section.
Please note that my observations in this section of the church check are not purely factual, although they are based on facts about the church and facts about coercive control, spiritual abuse, and spiritual exploitation and opportunism, but they also include my personal opinions based on my knowledge and experience with various types of abuse, coercive control, exploitation, and religious cults. I am not a professional psychologist or therapist of any kind. Some professionals and resources on these issues worth looking into if you’re interested in learning more:
ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association)
Spiritual Abuse Resources
On to the Red Flags!
1. Membership & Church Discipline
This church has official memberships, a sin discipline policy, and membership classes lasting several weeks long. While the person who responded to my inquiries claimed the church doesn’t have a written sin discipline policy, a former member sent us the Church Bylaws for Grace Immanuel Baptist Church, and they actually do.
Why are these things red flags of spiritual abuse, coercive control, and exploitation?
The nature of a membership contract/covenant in a local church setting creates an environment where Christians are commonly abused, manipulated, and devoured spiritually, emotionally, and mentally as individuals. They are contractually obligated to submit to and obey church leadership, or face church discipline, and possibly ex-communication. None of this defers to Christ as the ultimate authority, but to men and their interpretations of Scripture, as the ultimate authority.
Church Discipline takes the reins out of the hands of the Holy Spirit within the Christian individual and puts them into the hands of men. Church Discipline is literally the act of men putting themselves in the place of the Holy Spirit and trying to do His job by convicting people of sin and then punishing them, which Christ saved us from on the cross. Any usurping of Jesus Christ, His work, His authority, His role, and the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life will lead to spiritual abuse. It leads to idolatry as well. Men, no matter how highly they esteem themselves in Christ’s Church Body, do not have the authority of Jesus Christ, nor are they responsible for the Holy Spirit’s job. They are not the mediator between man and God, and they are incapable of doing the work of the Holy Spirit. To think otherwise is insulting to God and insolently prideful of men.
In Article VIII of the Church Bylaws, it describes the church’s “Morality and grounds for church discipline.” These moral failings can be interpreted any number of ways by the church that aren’t biblical, and lead to severe spiritual abuse. One example of this happening would be in the case of a physically abusive marriage. If a wife were to divorce her husband for being physically abusive without consulting or getting permission from the church first, they may deem her divorce unbiblical, then place her under church discipline and demand that she repent or remain married to an abusive husband.
Membership agreements typically require people to financially support the church. This church requires it as well. This is basically a tithe, a mandated payment to the church for membership, which contradicts the freewill giving taught in the New Testament, isn’t a Christian practice, and exploitative in nature. It is also deceptive to claim that the church doesn’t preach tithing, while at the same time they require financial support for church membership. While biblically correct, they are not practicing what they preach. This is the same type of hypocrisy practiced by the abusive Pharisees in the Bible.
For more information on why memberships and church discipline are red flags of spiritual abuse, read my upcoming post on the topic, which I will post later this week. I will update this bullet-point with a link to the post once it’s published.
2. No Transparency
As mentioned in the first red flag in this section, the church bylaws at GIBC dictate that members must financially support the church. Meanwhile, there is very little financial transparency at all.
When I asked a representative of the church about their level of financial transparency, he wrote this:
“Financial information isn’t really shared with non-members to any degree. Summary financials are shared with members, but not details regarding salaries. The elders are given the responsibility to lead the church and they are those appointed who will give an account to God for their decisions. (Hebrews 13:17)
"We practice a church polity that could be described as elder-led, not congregational. The congregation votes on affirming elders, but they do not bear the burden of financial or administrative decisions.”
Additionally, the church bylaws state in Article II: Membership: Privileges of Membership (emphasis mine) -
“...membership does not grant unqualified access to church records (including, but not limited to financial reports, documents pertaining to members, detailed meeting minutes, and correspondence.) This information is considered personal and confidential and is therefore held in trust among church leaders…”
This is a red flag of exploitation because, while the church requires donations from members, it doesn’t appear to show full transparency. It isn’t holding itself to the same standard it requires of its members.