Apologies Are Required for Spiritual Abuse

M. Irons, 2006


In the interest of reconciliation among God's people for the sake of the love of Christ, apologies are still needed from former Assembly leaders to those whom they mistreated. A few have been forthcoming, but many more need to come forward with their private and public confession and repentance for their part in carrying on the spiritual abuse taught by George and Betty Geftakys. Brent originally called for this in January, 2003.

Having been on both the giving and the receiving end of a few apologies since we left the Assembly in 1990, I have the distinct impression that the whole issue of apology is riddled with--guess what--misunderstandings. I've heard people say (and I've heard the same things in my own head), "I already apologized to him, but he's still offended. He just won't get over it." Or, "Yeah, he apologized alright! He said, 'I'm sorry if anything I've done offended you.' Like it's my fault I'm hurt! And he didn't even mention anything specific he did!"

Meaningful apology requires empathy

I don't claim to have the last word on making apologies, but Steve and I did learn something very important about it in counseling. For us, this is the key that has unlocked some snarled apology messes: A meaningful apology must be given with the same level of emotional intensity at which the offended person felt the injury. This is empathy. This is what unlocks the door of an offended heart and opens it just a crack.

If I accidentally jostle someone in line at Disneyland, a light, "I'm sorry," might be appropriate. If I stepped on their toe, it requires another level of feeling - "Oh, I'm so sorry!! Are you alright? That was so clumsy of me!" 

But if I have done something that has deeply effected a persons life, that is major damage. In self defense, their heart is closed to me. I must give time to understanding the damage my words or actions have caused, and how the person feels about it, before I will be able to offer a meaningful and empathetic apology. 

A helpful book on making apologies

In that light, the book The Power of Apology: Healing Steps to Transform All Your Relationships by Beverly Engel is a good resource.  Publishers Weekly has the following to say in a review of this book:

While forgiveness has become a ubiquitous theme in spirituality, recovery and New Age philosophy, the element of apology has been conspicuously absent.

Engel (author of The Emotionally Abused Woman), a longtime therapist, addresses this issue and proposes that the healing practice of apology can prevent divorces, family estrangements, lawsuits and even atrocities like school shootings.

Giving and receiving apologies for mistakes, oversights or offenses--which many people avoid, sometimes for legal reasons--are "crucial to our mental and physical health and well-being," she asserts.

Failing to admit error and express regret "adds insult to injury" and "is one of the most blatant ways of showing disrespect," she says. Engel provides detailed information on how to make "meaningful apologies... that will be heard and believed," made up of the "three R's: regret, responsibility, and remedy."

She is also unusually conscious of the gray areas, where apologizing or forgiving may be inappropriate or impossible...  

A good article on apologies

The following link is to an article by Beverly Engel on the subject of apology, in which she captures some of the main points of her book, How To Apologize.  Here is a key section:

"A meaningful apology is one that communicates what I call the three R's--Regret, Responsibility, and Remedy.

Regret, Responsibility and Remedy:  Unless all three of these elements are present, the other person will sense that something is missing in your apology and he or she will feel shortchanged somehow. Let's take a look at each element separately."

Read the rest of this short article for the details, great examples of good apologies, six steps to preparing a meaningful apology, tips on how to do it and more. Better yet, read the book.

Jon LeG. acknowledges receiving a substantial apology from Mike Zach and Mark Sjogren. Here is an example of appropriate apologies in response to a couples' story of Assembly abuse. A Model for Healing is an excellent brief article on what it takes to make amends. It includes a very clear, to-the-point example which could implemented by former Assembly leaders and others of us who have injured people.

While we're on this topic, let me just say that one of Engel's points in the book is that it is appropriate to ask for an apology when we need one. I personally want to invite anyone who feels I owe them an apology to please send a Feedback message. It is appropriate to call for further apologies from leaders who have apologized to some of those they hurt, but not others. It is also appropriate to protest an inadequate apology (i.e. an apology that does not cover all the bases, or does not match the intensity of the pain felt by the one wronged.) 

Apologies are incomplete among Assembly people

When we come to injuries sustained in the Assembly, we're practically on another planet of emotional intensity. Serious measures are needed to communicate about these issues and insure that the other person knows we understand the depth of the wounds, and are truly and deeply repentant. Sincere apology does help to heal wounds.

Even though several years have passed since the Assembly movement largely disbanded, there is still a need for meaningful apologies among us. Most importantly, it has come to my attention that appropriate apologies still have not been made to Judy Geftakys, and Rachel, David Michael, or Rebecca by former Assembly leaders. The same holds true for "Kristin" and many others.

I hope at this point there might be at least a few former leaders who have decompressed somewhat from the trauma of the collapse of the ministry, and now are truly sorry for things they have done or failed to do.

I hope that raising the issue again of the need for apologies, and some practical information on how to go about it, might help these people do the right thing now. The Bible is pretty clear that those who conceal their sins will not prosper spiritually, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy. Lest there be any doubt, continued silence on the part of former Assembly leaders will be construed as speaking volumes about their character.


Comments from Readers

July 11, 2008, Flora, formerly from the Ottawa Assembly: Doctrine and theology do not stand between me and current members. The only thing that stands between me and current members is:

1) the need for an acknowledgement of the wrong suffered
2) the need for an explanation of why it happened
3) the need to receive a sincere apology

My fellowship with that particular current member has now been restored. But I long for restoration with the others. My heart is open and willing, but they also must be open and willing. Only by speaking the truth in love and in humility, will there ever be true reconciliation and true fellowship restored. Even in South Africa, they had the "TRUTH and Reconciliation Commission".


The following interchange is excerpted from comments following the Remedy Drive article. These quotes pertain particularly to the last paragraph of that article (which has since been changed):

"There is the possibility that the boys' father, Mike Zach, might try to piggyback on their concerts to reinvent his own ministry with preaching or magic shows. It is very much to be hoped that this does not happen. Mike Zach has not yet made meaningful public and private apologies for his actions as an elder during the years of the Omaha Assembly. Any church that invites Remedy Drive to perform should read Gretchen W's Story to understand their background better."


May 26, 2006--Anonymous (The full comment was originally directed to the Remedy Drive article, but the portion quoted here is related to the subject of calling for further apologies from former leaders): "I've been listening and watching this site and others related to if for 2+ years. Still the same old same old. Most of what I hear, or the feeling I've been left with from day one, is condemnation and judgmental attitudes towards so many people. Has anyone ever thought of giving these men and women a chance to heal so they can make apologies etc. to people they may have hurt.?

"Don't you realize these people were under tremendous pressure and control for years, some 3 decades? Their minds were saturated with GG theology and control. This was their life. Any psychologist will tell you these people were traumatized the most. It's amazing that most of these people are still in their right mind. I'm still trying to get my balance after 3 years. All of the anger and humiliating comments made by the greater part of the website's participants remind me of the lashes I saw in the movie the passion. There is a season for everything, including healing for those you have so skillfully shredded.

"I've not seen anything positive about any of the men and women you accuse. Did they ever help any of you? They helped me in many cases. I'm not saying they were perfect in all they, did but remember the power they served under. So much has been said to be ashamed about. I agree revealing GG's ministry was a good thing, but must we continue to try and find the speck in your brothers eye and not see the log in your own?......"


To this section of the email the editor replied: "... It is true that former leaders under G. Geftakys were under tremendous pressure and control, and were very traumatized. We have a lot of sympathy--we were among them for 20 years. We would have to observe, though, that even very soon after the height of the Assembly crisis, in March, 2003, Mike Zach and Mark Sjogren in Omaha were able to make very clear public and private apologies to an individual whom they had badly treated. This is acknowledged on this website by the person who had been wronged. His article is one you might want to read to see positive actions reported when it is warranted. We still hope for further apologies from these men to others who were wronged....And hopefully some day a statement of confession and repentance for this public venue as well. So they still have much reconciliation to do."


And Mark Campbell also replied: "I would like to make some observations on this last readers' comment. It would be wonderful if this view of his could be discussed at length in a fair, honest manner that is characterized by good will. So I will begin, by observing that this anonymous person, whom I shall call "Sam", sees only judgmentalism and condemnation in what he has read here.

"He feels that people like former leaders need to be given a chance to heal before they are called to give account for their past. This presupposes that healing comes from not facing up to one's sins. This is not a biblical assumption, and is not good for the leaders involved, such as Mike Zach.

"I don't know where those that share Sam's view find their biblical justification for such an idea, but can guess that it comes from the erroneous view that repentance from church leaders is only a private and personal issue.

"Maybe he also feels that since the group is now defunct it no longer falls under the biblical directive re. church leaders, but I don't think this is correct either. This is why it would be great to have a continuing constructive conversation re. what the Bible teaches in this regard, if he is open to such a discussion.

"The bible teaches that leaders are more responsible, not less, and though their level of inner damage indeed is greater, avoiding honest repentance will only tend to perpetuate a lack of healing vs. bringing about opportunity for recovery.

"Jesus, Paul, etc. were very direct and harsh towards those "not walking according to the truth", and did not accept Sam's notion of non-judgmentalism. Such straight forward calling to repentance was given in the spirit of bringing blessing to the soul which is out of the way, and to help those hurt by the wrong committed.

"I think Peter would have had grounds, if Sam's position were correct, to have in anger rejected Paul's calling him to task (described in Gal. 2) re. his conduct in Antioch. I think Peter probably felt great humiliation for being called out publicly as he was by Paul, but it seems he had the humility to accept the correction. This is proof that Peter was serving God, and not his ego, as these former leaders mostly did in the Assembly. This is something these former leaders need to really face and be honest about.

"It is a basic misunderstanding of the biblical concept of recovery via repentance to call what you have written re. Mike Zach as being "judgmental and critical". What you offer on the site is totally in the spirit of what God intends when he insists that we not sweep past sins under the rug in the hope that someday these individuals somehow find the courage to do what is right.

"Re. any "help these former leaders gave us while in the group.": We can all remember, even from GG, rare moments of good bible teaching, good counsel, and even acts of kind helpfulness from time to time.

"This defense that Sam makes for the former leaders to escape accountability is a very dangerous one, and thoroughly unbiblical. It attempts to blur moral distinctions that can lead to disastrous ends. It attempts to excuse accountability for specific evil acts based on the fact that the perpetrator did not always do these bad things, and might even have done good from time to time.

"Would Sam advocate allowing a murderer to escape judgment based on the fact that he had saved many lives in his practice as a doctor prior to the killing? The answer is obvious, and comes from a biblical view of ethics that stands in contrast to Sam's view of "forgive and forget."

"The false teachers that Paul talks about in Galatians were not totally wrong in what they taught, but were off in a very crucial area which Paul warned would cause great harm to the condition of those that accepted it. I'm sure many of these false teachers had moments where what they offered was good direction.

"Assembly leaders, under GG's direction, were involved in promoting a system that was harmful for those involved and clearly did things that were out of God's will. These are serious issues that must be cleared between those that were victims of their abusive tactics.

"Some of these former leaders may have had twinges of conscience, and did not agree with these abusive tactics of GG, but to remain leaders they could not make their opposition public. Such individuals do not win a reprieve for their silent condemnations, as only those having the courage to speak out and take the consequences are worthy of commendation.

"Many examples, such as what happened in Nazi Germany, illustrate what it means to be on the right/wrong side of the issue re. being manipulated as a former leader into violating your conscience, vs. having the courage to resist that manipulation. The Silas character in The DaVinci code is an example of being manipulated by religious authorities to do evil deeds.

"The only path to recovery from giving into "the psychological pressures" of GG types is an honest coming clean of one's cowardice, vs. a continued attempt to avoid responsibility for one's actions."


Hello Margaret - "After reading Mark C's response to my contribution its evident he has a very well sharpened tongue and a gift for cutting like a razor. I've noticed from the beginning this need for elders, Leading Brothers to come forward and repent, apologize, etc. What would be the "website's" vehicle for doing this? Are they looking for a letter to be posted? Do they want an ad run in the paper? You may think I'm joking but I'm not.

"If this public confession is what you and others think should be done, maybe it would be a good idea for you and Steve to be the first ones. I remember so many times the two of you pressuring others. Now that the years have gone by much has been forgotten, which is exactly what Mark C. comments on in his response to my letter.

"I'll never forget a time when Steve interrupted a brother who was speaking and rebuked him for an error he made. He totally humiliated him. It turned out the brother was correct in what he said. Never heard anything about that. This is just one of many instances you and your husband exercised your George-given power to rule others and pressure them with unbiblical counsel. Just because many years have passed you and Steve are just as guilty as the current elders/leading brothers were when George's ministry blew up.

"Not only should the two of you come forward and present the "website's" required confession, I think it would be a good idea if everyone who ever gave anyone "Assembly" teaching or counsel performed the confession you speak of. I was counseled by men and women who were not Leading Brothers/elders. Everyone was a counselor.

"I've decided to use this website to unload my heart. Not on behalf of George or to argue with someone about what happened. I'm just fed up with this site beating a dead horse over and over again. If there are people that were devastated by this ministry, maybe you need to ask God why in the world would he have allowed such a thing. Remember the sovereignty of God? Lets move on and let Him be the judge now and at the end. There are too many people without Christ to get hung up for the rest of our lives about something that "happened".

"This website reminds me of a wound that scabs over and everyone keeps picking and picking so it gets worse and worse, never healing. I've been devastated by the whole thing like you wouldn't believe. Am I not to go on and believe God for what happened, take out the good from it and go on?"


Editor:  "Sam", thank you for your reply. First, I would like to answer your question about what would be an appropriate vehicle for apologies. This website and the Assembly bulletin board are places where those who have been hurt have registered complaints. It seems that posting something on one of this site would be the first step toward publicly communicating a change of heart and taking responsibility for wrongdoing.

"Steve and I both most certainly want to express that we deeply regret all our words and actions that hurt God's people. We were abusive in many situations. As you stated, we used authority vested in us by George and Betty G. to carry out the agenda of pressure and control, sometimes with cruelty, often losing sight of the Biblical instruction to treat one another with respect and gentleness.

"Steve posted a public apology on the Assembly bulletin board on Jan. 20, 2003. I need to add mine, as well. To those I counseled and "met with", I am so sorry I took that place to "lord it over you", often with harshness. To those who lived in our home, I apologize for enforcing the terrible pressure of stewardships and consequences. I am sorry I participated in criticism and judgment of people behind their backs. I think that my involvement in developing and teaching child training methods produced the deepest and most widespread damage. It was wrong, wrong, wrong. I am so very sorry.

"There are many, many aspects of my Assembly involvement that were wrong. I hope the work put into this website makes amends to some extent in a practical way to those I mistreated and misled.

"To our shame, we no longer remember many of the individuals involved in our actions. But the abuses and stinging humiliations no doubt still live painfully in the memories of those we injured. To the brother you mention whom Steve publicly humiliated and to all of you we offer our deepest apologies.

"We invite you, we ask you, to please contact us and remind us of our offenses so we can apologize to you personally and try to make amends, as Brinda M. did in her history of the Midwest. We can be reached by email, as "Sam" has, through any "Comment" button. Conversations can be either confidential or public, whichever you prefer. ("Sam" has elected to have his conversation with us publicly, on a grievance with one aspect of this website.)

"I think I should point out that we have treated this subject of repentance and apologies in two primary senses. The first is in the sense of former leaders--and everyone who in some way imposed their hurtful directives on others--publicly acknowledging that such controlling behavior was wrong, and ceasing from it. The second is in the sense of making apologies to individuals for specific wrongs done.

"Both these actions are beneficial to all parties involved. They are steps to recovery and healing. But we are not trying to force anyone to do anything, as we did when we were in the Assembly, and as this website did in its first 6 months.

"What we are saying, though, is former Assembly leaders who have not repented and apologized in these ways, both publicly and privately, should not be in any kind of Christian leadership role, and should not consider themselves reconciled to those they have reconciled without at least a public apology on one of the websites.

"Sam", I don't know if this reply has helped, or just seems like more picking at the scab. I am sending it to you personally, and also posting it on the "Apology" article. If something I have said here sounds harsh or cutting to you, please point it out to me. I still don't always recognize old Assembly ways, to my regret. I don't want to be that way. My intention is to take your inquiries seriously and try to respond in a way that might facilitate reconciliation."


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