My stomach hasn’t churned in a long time. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t written anything either. That, and because life – or death, rather – moved on. My step-father became ill and passed away last year. There was a farm to liquidate, disparaging siblings, a new grandchild. But no stomach churning.

I had seen the headlines in Facebook posts about Bill Hybels being accused. I hadn’t read any of them closely. Women accused. He denied. The church leadership backed him. Move along, Ellen. Nothing new to see here.

But then this morning I clicked on the New York Times article. Something about the entire board of elders resigning caught my attention. And as I read, the following excerpt truly hit home.

From the New York Times in an article about Bill Hybels:

In many evangelical churches, a magnetic pastor like Mr. Hybels is the superstar on whom everything else rests, making accusations of harassment particularly difficult to confront. Such a pastor is seen as a conduit to Christ, giving sermons so mesmerizing that congregants rush to buy tapes of them after services.

In the evangelical world, Mr. Hybels is considered a giant, revered as a leadership guru who discovered the formula for bringing to church people who were skeptical of Christianity. . . .

Mr. Hybels built a church independent of any denomination. In such churches, there is no larger hierarchy to set policies and keep the pastor accountable. Boards of elders are usually volunteers recommended, and often approved, by the pastor.

But the most significant reason [spiritual abuse] can go unchecked is that victims do not want to hurt the mission of their churches.

“So many victims within the evangelical world stay silent because they feel, if they step forward, they’ll damage this man’s ministry, and God won’t be able to accomplish the things he’s doing through this man,” said Boz Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor who leads GRACE, an organization that works with victims of abuse in Christian institutions.

“Those leaders feel almost invincible,” said Mr. Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham who has consulted with some former staff members accusing Mr. Hybels of wrongdoing. “They don’t feel like the rules apply to them, because they’re doing great things for Jesus, even though their behavior doesn’t reflect Jesus at all.”

“Magnetic. Superstar. Conduit. Mesmerizing. Revered.” All words that describe my former pastor. Words that open the door to what follows.

“No larger hierarchy.” While my former church is part of a larger denomination, they were allowed to change their governance so that there are only three people who make all decisions – the senior pastor, his brother who is also a pastor on staff, and the business manager.

“Victims stay silent.” And not only victims, but everyone who gets wind of anything that is out of sorts. These are the enablers. They think they are protecting God, Jesus, and the Church because the pastor is akin to God in their minds. “God won’t be able to accomplish the things he’s doing.” There will be a stain on the church. The stain will rub off onto those who question or try to shed light. The fear extends not only to the impact it will have on the pastor, leadership, or local church, but the impact it will have on the individual who speaks up.

In the article, the woman who came forward all of these years later, had gone from being Bill’s executive assistant to having him sketch out an exit plan to eliminate her from the church.

I have often wondered about people who were “eliminated” from my former church. The young pastor who was suddenly leaving with no where to go and no send-off. The staff members who seemed so effective gone without little to no notice. Even volunteers who were deeply involved but then were no where to be found. Did they receive an “exit plan”? Did they know more than they should have? Did they say more than they should have? Did they ask more than they should have?

“Almost invincible.” Almost. Right Bill?

“The rules don’t apply to them.”

“Their behavior doesn’t reflect Jesus at all.”

Enough said.

I haven’t been around here for a long time. Life has gotten in the way. I “retired” from teaching and work in customer service (and still teach at a local school one day a week.). My dad passed away a few months ago so there’s the estate to sort through, the sale of his farm and possessions to navigate, the bashing from some of my siblings because they aren’t the executors and my younger brother and I aren’t giving them whatever they want. Amazing that we are actually following our dad’s wishes and following the will.

Some days, I think I’ve moved on from this thing called “Spiritual Abuse.” Then I see another post on Facebook or a story on Dateline or 20/20 or 48 hours about another pastor, youth pastor, church employee or volunteer who abused another woman or young girl. Of course, for them it’s usually sexual abuse and just recently it was the story of a murder. And I realize how crazy the Christian world has become and how a few short years ago I would have been saying, “But it’s not everyone, everywhere! It’s not my pastor, my church, my leaders.”

Geesh! It’s so prevalent these days – and we don’t even hear about the spiritual abuse that has nothing to do with sexual abuse – that I wonder if there can be any such thing as a “normal” church with a “normal” pastor, leadership, staff, etc. It just turns my stomach to think about walking into a church and taking a seat, interacting with others who are there, having a pastor or staff member shake my hand. I can’t help but wonder where that hand has been. What they might be doing to someone. Whether their friendliness is based on how much they know about the cars we drive, the house we own, and their assumptions about our income. If they are friendly, does that mean we have the right last name? Do they need a choir director or worship leader or Sunday School teacher? What is their true motive?

Because if they really were just going to like me for existing and being me, I think it would look different. I think they would pause a little longer when they see me behind the counter at customer service and ask how my day is going. They might see me on the street or at a coffee shop or at a parade and pause to chat. They wouldn’t wait for me to make the first move by showing up at their church.

Speaking of the first move, and I know I’m rambling here, but in my current job, I started out in the Garden Center. That was seasonal so after we closed mid-summer last year, I moved inside. I started out in a position that required several trips per day up and down a very large flight of stairs – like up to 25 times per day. I was also lifting and hauling large totes that often weighed 25 – 50 pounds. Over a few months, it started taking it’s toll on my knee and by the time my father passed away, I was barely able to take stairs any more.

After his death, I returned to work and was placed in customer service – no steps, no heavy lifting. My knee has improved immensely but I still wear a brace all day, every day.

Lately, random co-workers keep telling me I am going back out to the Garden Center to work soon. After hearing this rumor from several people, I emailed that boss and told him I love working the garden center but I’m not able to lift and load soaking wet (after a rain) bags of top soil that can weigh up to 50 pounds so if I am to work there, I would need to have someone with me to do the heavy lifting. He replied that while their plans were not firm, it was probably best that I not work in the garden center this year – he noted that my health comes first.

I have continued to hear rumors as early as yesterday that I will be working in the garden center. The management seems to be like the church in that they talk to everyone about me but do not talk to me. So, I again emailed the boss and asked for clarification. He replied that I need to come and talk to him rather than email. Now, remember, I work in customer service and I am the only person in customer service when I work. I am not allowed to leave my post except for breaks when someone else covers for me. Breaks are short (20-30 minutes depending on the shift) and it’s the only time I get to use a bathroom or eat. And the boss is usually pretty busy – so to stop in and expect to get to speak with him is usually not too likely. I live 20 minutes from work so I’m not going to make a special trip there when I am not working to try to catch him.

AND, I don’t see that it is my responsibility to hunt people down to ask about their intentions. They seem perfectly capable of talking to everyone else who works in customer service about their plans for me. Shouldn’t they be able to stop by and talk to me while I am working? And they are the LEADERS – the managers. Why should I, the peon, be expected to hunt them down and ask them about my roll? THEY, as managers, should be taking the initiative to speak with ME.

So, I replied to the boss and told him “I don’t believe it is my responsibility to hunt down this information and that I will wait for someone to approach me, thank you very much for your help.” I’m not holding my breath.

It so reminded me of my former church leaders. And I could see other parallels. How leadership talks only to those whom they want a return from for their investment of time and attention. How it depends on who you are whether or not you get day shift hours or weekends off. Like, the head people never speak to me – don’t come by customer service to tell me they are leaving for the day or a few hours so I know how to direct calls for them. (They do tell others that work customer service.) I don’t even see them long enough to actually ask them what’s up with me and the garden center. I guess, just like the leadership at my church, if they don’t speak to me, I assume they don’t want me to speak to them, either.

So, I’m making another appointment with my doctor and am expecting that he will write a letter saying I cannot be lifting, hauling, and loading things over a certain weight. And I will just drop it off and we’ll see what happens.

Maybe after the estate is settled I will be able to get back on here on a more regular basis. Until then, best wishes, everyone!

I haven’t posted in awhile.  But the death of Elie Wiesel brought to mind this quote the spirit of which has always been at the forefront of my thoughts on my experience with spiritual abuse.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

I am convinced that no one spoke up when we were told that we were no longer welcome at the church.  Sure, a couple of people spoke to me initially.  But no one spoke up.  No one took action.

And while they may think they were being “neutral” by not getting involved, the reality is that by not speaking up, by not stepping up and demanding that there be open and honest conversation about the years of abuse that I suffered, resulting in a God-honoring conclusion, people had taken a side: the side of the abusers.

That is why Elie Wiesel’s words are so true.  Neutrality is not truly neutrality.  Neutrality actually sides with the oppressor and encourages the tormentor.  I was tormented for years and part of the guilt lies with those who knew it was happening and didn’t speak up.  Guilt lies yet today with those who remained and continue to remain “neutral” – relying on “God” to “work it out.”

News flash:  Do you not know, dear Christian, that YOU are a temple of the living God and that His Holy Spirit dwells in YOU? (1 Cor. 3:16)  That God who dwells in you . . . may very well be the one that was/is supposed to “work it out.”



It was over Sunday brunch that our weekend guests brought it up.  This deeply committed Christian couple who trained in missions, worked in Christian publishing, and he being and award-winning author of Christian books, she having been an administrative assistant for a mega-church pastor at one time, sat at our dining room table and very casually mentioned that they had not been attending church for several months.

After attending and serving in a church for over fifteen years, they finally realized that though they appreciated the pastor, the sermons, the ministry focus, they had not developed any real relationships in the church.  They only saw people at the church when they were there on Sunday mornings and, though they had attempted to develop relationships with people over the years by inviting them to dinner or to join a bible study, nothing ever came of it.

Commuting to this church was a 30 minute drive, but they had determined it was worth it.  Though they had also attended other churches over the past 40 years – when she was working as an administrative assistant at another church, they felt they should attend there, for example – they always gravitated back to this church.  But after realizing that they weren’t developing any “real” relationships, they decided it might be time to look for something closer to home.

Not that the church didn’t try.  They had attempted to create small groups based on location, based on interests, based on a number of things, but as our friends acknowledged, it is nearly impossible to force relationships to develop simply by putting people together on occasion.

They started considering churches in their area and he even visited a small church within a few blocks of their home.  He experienced that uncomfortable “stranger in our midst” feeling as he sat amongst people whom he had never seen before in his life.  The sermon was “fine” – nothing astounding but nothing to complain about – but it was obviously a church of “older” people who were comfortable with their group and weren’t all that interested in adding to it.

They would truly love to find a church where they can become integrated in community with other people beyond sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon, throwing a few bucks in the offering plate, and being pressed into over-commitments.  They are leery of churches in which there is a power-family that runs everything by threat of withdrawing their financial support or of churches in which the pastor and his hand-picked leadership have total control, doesn’t reveal their financials, and isn’t interested in developing personal relationships with anyone beyond their inner circle.

I suspect that these friends of ours are well on their way to becoming “nones.”  Because all of the things that they want in a church are nearly impossible to find these days.  Good, solid, teaching and preaching.  People who welcome, accept, and befriend one another both inside and outside of the church.  People who are equal in the sight of God and man regardless of their standing financially, socially, or politically.

It’s just too bad that we live six hours away because we are looking for the same thing and were it not for distance, we could be part of the community for which they are searching.   Because, what they have not been able to find, we have not been able to find either.  Is there anyone out there in our neck of the woods who is looking for these same things?  If there are, I would so love to find them.

Excellent list.

Liberty for Captives

Ten Symptoms of Spiritual Abuse Sheep and Wolves, via Pinterest.

What is spiritual abuse?

I once linked to an excellent article by Mary DeMuth which talks about 10 Signs of Spiritual Abuse. But I have received enough emails and questions to warrant another, separate post covering other symptoms of spiritual abuse.

Jeff VanVonderen, co-author of the classic book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, defines spiritual abuse like this:

“Spiritual abuse occurs when someone in a position of spiritual authority–the purpose of which is to ‘come underneath’ and serve, build, equip and make God’s people more free–misuses that authority by placing themselves over God’s people to control, coerce or manipulate them for seemingly godly purposes which are really their own.”

VanVonderen adds:

“Nothing about spiritual abuse is simple. Those who have experienced it know it is powerful enough to cause them to question their relationship with God, indeed, the very existence of God…

View original post 1,098 more words

I remember well one of the first adult Sunday school classes I took at our former church.  It was being touted as a fantastic opportunity to take a class that was being taught by the high school’s head football coach.  Now, neither me nor my husband are big sports fans, but I was interested in learning as much as I could about walking in and living out my faith, so I signed up.

This particular town has a very successful football program (as well as most other sports in their school system), and so there is a great amount of “hero worship” when it comes to coaches.  I was initially amazed at the number of people who attended the class the head football coach was teaching.  But after only about three Sunday’s, the attendance began to fall off and by weeks four and five, less than a quarter of us were still attending.  

Although this coach was also a high school math teacher, it was obvious that teaching in a classroom setting was not his gift.  His class enrollment at the church was based solely on his fame as the high school football coach.  Once people realized that he was sorely lacking as a teacher, they no longer wasted their time attending his class.  

Over the years I noticed more and more that those who were declared “leadership material” were often sorley lacking in the skills (or gifts or talents, if you will) for their given “ministry.”  What they had instead was either social, financial, or political status.  The school superintendent’s wife became the office manager even though she had never worked a day in her life in an office.  A young man with the right last name and a degree in physical therapy but couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket was hired as a full-time worship leader.  Though elders and deacons were “elected,” rumor suggested strongly that they were hand-selected base on their giving potential and societal standing.

For a few years, the church promoted a spiritual gifts class.  The promise was that through the class people would identify their spiritual gifts and the church would then know who would be appropriate or best suited to fill various ministry positions in the church.  Interestingly enough, the results of those classes were never considered when filling positions.  Once, when the women’s ministry was losing members in droves, I asked how the small group leaders were selected and I was told they simply invited women who they thought would be good leaders (meaning women with position, money, etc.).  I asked if they had looked at the spiritual gifts of these women to see if they were a good fit.  I was met with a blank stare.  It was obvious that spiritual gifts were far down the line of requirements for ministry.

Nepotism became rampant with the senior pastor, his brother, his wife, and his children all on the church payroll.  The business manager, his wife, and his son, too, were employed by the church.  Several couples and their offspring have held various full and part-time positions over the years.

There were some who were shunned and forced out for getting divorced while others were welcomed, embraced, and given an elevated position after admittedly contributing to their marital break-up.  People of lesser-than means would give inordinate amounts of time and barely get a nod while someone who simply graced the church with their presence on Sunday mornings was made over and celebrated.  Often, the senior pastor made a bee-line to a local multi-millionaire family patriarch, while rushing past everyone else in the vicinity.  

One morning, the senior pastor raced past an elderly gentlemen the, flippantly asking him, “How are you?”  A few moments later, another gentleman approached the pastor and told him that he had ignored the man’s response. He had told the pastor that he wasn’t doing very well.  The pastor hadn’t even heard him. He wasn’t important enough.

Wouldn’t it be something if there actually were a place where people were allowed to serve based on their God-given gifts and abilities rather than their name, where they live, what they look like, how much money they make, their position, etc.?  I’ve never heard of a place like that.

I’m From Iowa

Posted: February 22, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Remember just a few weeks ago when the candidates and media were all a-flutter about the Iowa Caucuses?  I am an Iowan – born and raised.  I only left long enough to get my college degree, do a bit of grad school, and my first year of teaching.  So that was a six-year hiatus.  Otherwise, Iowa has been my home.  

We live on an acre of beauty in a 1912 prairie-mission style home surrounded by trees, flower beds, and, of course, outlying fields of corn, soy beans, and hay.  So, our caucus site was in a little country church on a worn gravel road a few miles north of our home.  We arrived early because parking is at a premium at this tiny church.  Still, my husband dropped me at the door and had to park in the lot up the hill.  They had a record attendance of 99 folks at the caucus that night.

Only four people spoke on behalf of their chosen candidate – one for Marco Rubio, one for Ted Cruz, and two for Mike Huckabee.  Most of their speeches encompassed the speakers’ belief that their candidate was the most Christian and espoused the most Christian policies – unlike, of course, Donald Trump.  They brought up abortion and gay marriage, Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration.  And, of course, how these topics are central to the Republican Party and getting the United States back to being a Christian nation.

As I listened to their comments, I realized that these neighbors of mine are, like many Christians, out of touch and suffer a severe disconnect from the realities around us.  I wanted to stand up and tell them, “You lost the abortion and gay marriage debates a long time ago!  When are you going to stop trying to legislate morality and start ‘voting’ with your actions?  Because if you had voted with your actions years ago, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

This morning I read a blog post by a very prominent Christian.  He was deriding Christian Trump supporters and his rhetoric was so hate-filled and foul-mouthed that I couldn’t read the entire post.  I skimmed the last half of it and kept thinking that what he had written so embodies much of what is preached and taught in churches and Christian circles.  Not that they should be all namby-pamby and dripping the flower-children nectar of free love, but to spew hate and venom at people for choosing to support a candidate some self-appointed Christian leader has determined would be better suited for president seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle “black,” doesn’t it?

I will just bet that there is no candidate – or Christian – who has a lily-white background.  And if they claim to, I would seriously question their honesty and integrity.  In fact, I’m a bit impressed that there is a candidate who freely admits his “indiscretions,” and we don’t have to wait for other candidates or the opposite party to unearth what we deem to be less-than-favorable qualities and actions.  Wouldn’t it be something if all of the candidates (and Christians – especially leaders) put it all on the table and said, “Here you go, folks.  I’m not perfect and I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I’ve learned from them and pledge to do an even better job because of them.”  

And what if, instead of deriding people for supporting a particular candidate, Christians would take a look at who among those candidates votes with their actions?  Who gives the most to help others?  And doesn’t boast about it?  Because where his treasure is, there his heart is also.  If he’s giving away a sizable chunk of his treasure, he’s probably the most Christian candidate out there.