I had a very negative experience with PCM that left a big scar on me. Years ago, I wrote Leanne Payne (who heads PCM) a few letters concerning some serious problems I was going through. In the first couple of letters I wrote, I was fairly guarded about the details I divulged. Although some of the things she said in her responses were helpful, she was also quite damaging. A few of her remarks came across as shaming and condemning. For instance, I had described in detail a very painful experience that I had gone through. Your average person -- or at least someone with a reasonable amount of compassion -- would have responded with something like, "That must have been awful. I'm so sorry that you had to go through something like that." Payne, however, displayed a chilling lack of empathy. Not only that, she wasted no time in moralizing about my experience, which I thought was both inappropriate and heartless. That was definitely something I was never expecting. The last letter I sent her was about two pages typed. I revealed some extremely personal things about myself in it, some of which I had never told anybody else before. It was definitely a risky thing to do, but I was in a horrific situation and going through incredible turmoil, and knew of nowhere else to turn for help. I thought that if anyone might be able to help me, it would be Payne and her ministry. Her response to me? Only one sentence. Unbelievable! And exactly what was her one-sentence "advice" to me? "You need professional counseling to deal with X." That's it. No "God loves you," no "I will be praying for you," no "please don't worry, God will work everything out." (About the nicest thing she wrote was "Sincerely" before she signed her name.)
That response hit me like a ton of bricks. To say that it was a complete shock would definitely be an understatement. It was the very last thing I was expecting from a so-called Christian expert (especially one who claims to hear direct words from God), and confusing in the extreme. It made absolutely no sense, and didn't seem real. It felt like something that came right out of the twilight zone. Not only was it terrible advice (counseling would have been of absolutely no use in my situation), it was astonishingly blunt and as cold as ice. As I mentioned earlier, I had revealed some intensely personal things in my letter, and it felt like I had simply been casting pearls before swine. There was nothing Christian--or even polite--about her response. It was also completely impersonal. It felt like a total slap in the face. Did she bother to pray for even 2 seconds before responding to my letter? I was so shell-shocked that I never wrote her again. As much turmoil as I was already going through, to have this new trauma added to it was just unthinkable. I realize now that this was spiritual abuse. Apparently Payne is so wedded to her views of psychological and spiritual healing that she can't see reality. I probably would have been better off writing Dear Abby!
In "The Broken Image," Payne states: "Although no prayer for healing of the soul is ever to be undertaken either presumptuously or lightly, I knew that prayer for the healing of Lisa would require extraordinary caution in listening to and collaborating with the Holy Spirit."
My situation was not the same as Lisa's, but like hers, it definitely required extraordinary caution. Payne showed absolutely none. She was about as sensitive as a bulldozer--and about as kind too. I'm reminded of the saying, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Prov. 12:18 also comes to mind: "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
Furthermore, in "The Healing Presence," she writes, concerning a man who was desperately seeking healing: "Knowing how desperate this man was for help and how far he had come to get it, I could have been tempted to come up with some answer on my own. But God always has the answer, and I have far too much experience in God's faithfulness to replace His answer with mine....[which] would have gotten in the way of the healing God had in mind for him....I hate to think of the despair that man would have known had I tried to substitute some unaided wisdom of my own for the healing God had for him. When God is not saying a word, we should not insert our own or weakly fall back on some method...[that] we vaguely hope will apply."
Well, Payne did precisely the opposite with me. She came up with her own unaided answer that was completely and totally wrong--and definitely not God's answer. And though she states that she hates to think of the despair that the man described in the paragraph above would have known if she had done such a thing with him, she apparently didn't think twice about the despair she would end up causing me. In her books, Payne makes herself out to be one of the godliest Christians out there. I remember thinking, "Is this even the same person as the one who writes her books???" It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
It's interesting that Payne sums up my experience with her ministry in these lines from "Restoring the Christian Soul": "The things that can go seriously wrong in the professional's office--even the 'Christian' professional's office--these days are many and varied. Sadly, at times we have to deal with the wreckage a professional has left....When [those seeking help]...are breaking...they have little defense against powerful [advice] coming from those deemed to be experts who are supposed to be helping them." Later on in the book, she also writes: "To [use a formulaic approach] is not only to fail to discern [a person's] problem aright...but even more seriously it is to fail to see the person needing help as human at all....In failing to recognize the full soul that is another person, we in effect X out all that is uniquely human about that person's creation. We delete the human....All that is positive within that soul and unique to its creation as a human being will be overlooked....and, in effect, denied existence." That describes exactly how I felt--as if Payne were treating me as some sort of abstract class or entity, not as a real, living human being.
In his very insightful article "Spiritual Abuse," Scott Nicloy writes the following: "A physician who prescribes medicine without knowing the patient is likely to injure the patient. In like manner, evangelicals who try to minister without knowing the sheep in an empathic manner will most likely injure it."
This describes my experience with Payne exactly.
He also writes: "With abusive Christians there are no ambiguities, no unanswered questions, no gray areas, no doubts....Dichotomous-thinking Christians believe they have everything all figured out (when they do not) and that they have everything properly classified and labeled, which is often not the case....Dichotomous-thinking Christians have a one-size-fits-all hammer for every problem, even when what is needed for a particular problem is a screwdriver."
This also describes Payne's behavior to a T. She has a one-size-fits-all hammer (i.e., professional counseling), when it was totally the wrong fit for my situation. Furthermore, she did not show a little humility and say, "It is my opinion that...." or "Perhaps it might be beneficial to you if...." No, she exhibited no sense of self-doubt about her wrong advice in the slightest. Another hallmark of her spiritual abuse.
Ronald Enroth, another expert on spiritual abuse, writes: "All that is needed for abuse is a pastor accountable to no one and therefore beyond confrontation."
As a minister, is Payne directly accountable to anyone? As far as I know, she is not. Therefore, according to Enroth, that very situation is a breeding ground for spiritual abuse.
I'd say the problems with Payne are manifold:
1) She is extremely hypocritical. Never once in any of her books does she give anyone some cookie-cutter advice like what she gave me. For instance, in "Crisis in Masculinity," can you imagine her telling Richard, "You just need professional counseling"?? He probably would've ended up dead. As would have Lisa, who was mentioned in one of the excerpts above. It's a miracle, in fact, that I survived. For someone who always talks about receiving the "healing word" from God, Payne sure didn't seem too concerned about any of that in her letter. Maybe she only practices "listening prayer" when she thinks there's something in it for her. Her words were the opposite of healing. Payne just doesn't seem to practice what she preaches, and that is completely inexcusable.
2) She lacks empathy. She basically seems to be very condemning and to leap with joy at the opportunity to point out any perceived sin or defect in your life (i.e., the speck in your eye), while ignoring what appears to be the beam in her own eye. Overall, she comes across as very holier-than-thou and lacking in kindness and love.
And when a minister lacks empathy as Payne seems to, what is the reason? According to Nicloy, it's both narcissism and self-righteousness. (Incidentally, this is especially ironic since Payne never ceases to warn about the pitfalls of pride in her books.) He writes: "In the religious context, narcissists simply assume that what they think God thinks, and what they believe is Bible-based. They take it for granted that any idea that jumps into their heads is from the Holy Spirit and that they are only following the promptings of the Holy Spirit whenever they decide to do anything. The fact that other people may see their words...[or] actions as being hurtful and injurious never occurs to them. When you believe that you are right and righteous, then all that you say and do is right and righteous. Any thought to the contrary never enters the picture." Noted author M. Scott Peck seconds that notion: "The poor in spirit do not commit evil [or abuse]. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness [or] who question their own motives....The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination....It is out of their failure to put themselves on trial that their evil arises....They themselves may not suffer, but those around them do. They cause suffering." This brings us to the next point.
3) She is both spiritually abusive and impulsive. That is, she just seems to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, without critically examining whether it's appropriate, helpful, or tactful. IOW, she doesn't seem to judge herself or have much humility. She doesn't seem to be able to critically analyze what she's about to say to someone and then ask the following: "What will be the effect of my words on this person? Will they be helpful or hurtful? If I were in this person's shoes, how would I react to these same words? Is it possible that I could come across as cold, insensitive, or uncaring, even though I may mean well? Considering this person's circumstances, am I showing due caution and sensitivity in ministering to him or her? Is my advice really accurate, or should I pray about this matter some more? Am I speaking God's words, or simply my own unaided human wisdom? Could I unintentionally make this person's already bad situation even worse? Am I truly walking in the Spirit and ministering God's love and healing to this person, or am I actually just walking in the flesh and speaking whatever I please? Am I doing unto this person as I would have done unto me?" If Payne is incapable of this, then she should not be ministering *period*.
Overall, Payne seems to be quite the know-it-all. (A member of one of her former churches once told me she has a big ego.) Maybe she feels that, because she's written several books, she knows the perfect answer to every situation and doesn't need God's help.
4) She is incompetent and lacks discernment. Her "counseling" advice was so far off that I was floored. At the very least, if she didn't understand my situation, she could have said so and asked me for more information. Besides, sending a cold, one-sentence response to a person (especially someone in a truly overwhelming situation, who is hoping against hope to find an answer) and then expecting it be helpful implies a serious lack of common sense. Who on earth would find such a reply helpful? Furthermore, by failing to exercise great caution and sensitivity toward such a vulnerable individual, you could easily push that person over the edge. Or maybe Payne was just looking for the easy way out--you know, just get rid of this person so that they go away for good. As I mentioned above, she seems to be so wedded to her views about how to achieve "healing" that she can't see reality. Scary. If Payne were caught in a horrific situation and urgently seeking even the smallest glimmer of hope, do you honestly think she would want to receive that kind of treatment *herself*? The answer seems pretty obvious. I think this woman is dangerous and should not be trusted with any kind of spiritual power or authority. While I forgive Payne for her spiritual abuse, I do not forgive the abuse per se. (In the article I mentioned earlier, Scott Nicloy also points out that most spiritual abusers do not even realize they're being abusive, but are simply so myopic they can't even see the damage they are doing to others in Christ's name. He says that when people go through life with blinders on, they tend to run over others.) Did Payne realize she was being abusive? That is something I've always wondered, but cannot answer. Regardless, there is absolutely no excuse for her abuse. I will say, however, that I think it's extremely interesting that Payne never exhibits any of this kind of behavior (or even close) in the examples of her ministering that she provides in her books; she always presents herself there as incredibly kind, sensitive, and loving. As a rule, most abuse occurs in private, and my experience with Payne fits that pattern.
My experience with Payne left me without hope and left such a deep scar on me that I couldn't talk about it for years and years. I thought *I* was the problem. It took me years to realize that what happened to me was abuse. As Payne says in her book RTCS: "We often need to stop denying that we have been sinned against." It's amazing to me that this woman can write all these books yet be so damaging on a personal level. Well, according to the Bible, even if you speak with the tongues of angels, if you don't have love, you are nothing. (Her hypocrisy has also made it extremely difficult for me to ever read her books again. When I try to, my reaction is like, "Yeah, you're not fooling me with all your pious talk.") I would advise others to stay far away from Leanne Payne and her "healing" ministry. She's basically like a bull in a china shop. Does the bull mean to cause harm? No, but it does terrible damage. Same with Payne. Please stay away from her. I shudder to think how many others out there she's abused as well.
In fact, I do know of someone else who has experienced somewhat abusive behavior from Payne. Joanne Highley is the director of LIFE Ministry in New York City. Like Payne, she runs a healing ministry, but she has some odd views about certain things. For instance, Highley doesn't believe that it is biblical to say that a man has a "feminine" side, or a woman a "masculine" side, whereas Payne does. I disagree with Highley's views on this matter. Anyway, before my experience with Payne, Highley told me that she had written Payne a letter voicing concerns about her views in this area. I don't know exactly what she said in the letter or anything, but I would assume that it was at least reasonably polite. She said that Payne never responded to her letter at all. As I said, I disagree with Highley's views about masculine/feminine, but for Payne to completely ignore Highley was appalling and definitely not Christian IMO. It seems that Payne fails at some of the basic points of Christianity 101: "Love your neighbor as yourself" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
I just hope that, by telling about my own experience with Payne, I can help prevent someone else from being similarly abused by her in the future, or help someone who has had a similar experience recover. For me, the hardest part was the feeling that Payne had gotten away with her spiritual abuse scot-free, and that God wasn't the least bit concerned about any of it. It made me wonder, "Is there any justice in the universe? Does God even care? Does He just play favorites? Why does He let abusive ministers go on ministering and not actually do something about it, or at least expose them?" And while I still don't understand why God allows many of the things that He does, I don't believe that anyone will ultimately get away with abuse. Sooner or later, there will be a reckoning--if not in this life, then in the next. In the meantime, the truth comes out bit by bit. My story is part of that, and I hope that any others who have been abused by Payne will tell their stories as well. There is definitely hope for victims of spiritual abuse, and one of the keys to healing is developing the courage to talk about the abuse. That can be incredibly difficult, however, because for many years, I could not. I was too afraid that the truth might end up being that I deserved it. I'm glad to know the real truth now--that the abuse had absolutely nothing to do with me.