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…

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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.

Source: Hello From the Outside (How The Church Fails and Forgets Those Who Leave)

There are big names out there in the spiritual abuse world.  Big name perpetrators.  Big name authors of blogs and books and Twitter feeds.  Big names whose social media accounts explode regularly over big names.  Big names getting the word out about big names who have committed outrageous acts of abuse.  And, of course, any time those outrageous acts are committed with any hint of ties to churchianity, we recognize them as not just sexual or domestic or physical abuse, but as spiritual abuse.

What we don’t see so much of and where we don’t see explosions on social media is spiritual abuse that manifests itself in ways that are not so easily recognizable.  Not so outrageous.  Those suffering abuse at the hands of church leaders who don’t have a widely recognized name or church affiliation.  Those who have not been sexually abused or forced to stay in abusive marriages.  Those who have been shunned, ostracized, ignored and avoided, not allowed to serve or attend, who grovel in every way possible to try to reach an unreachable bar of acceptability. 

And because the abuse they suffer isn’t “outrageous,” because the abuse they suffer isn’t so easily identifiable or so newsworthy, they are left to wonder if they are making too much of it.  They wonder if they are just being too sensitive.  They wonder if they just need to try harder, pray more, give more, do better, be better, pretend better.  They keep their heads down and their mouths shut because maybe it isn’t really abuse if it isn’t outrageous enough to garner attention from the famous ones.  

Maybe their abuser isn’t really that bad.  Maybe their abuser isn’t really an abuser at all.  Maybe they just got their feelings hurt or they just misunderstood or maybe they should try one more time to work it out, to make that appointment to have that chat that, if he would just listen, would make it all better.

Please understand.  You don’t have to be the victim of someone famous to be spiritually abused.  And just because the famous folks who call out outrageous abuse aren’t talking all that much about the stuff you are going through doesn’t mean you aren’t being abused or that it’s not that bad.

It is that bad and you need to know that even though it’s not what the rest of the world would call “outrageous,” you do not deserve to suffer spiritual abuse from anyone – no matter what form it takes or how well-known the perpetrator might be.

You deserve to be listened to and heard and supported and cared for and encouraged and helped on the road to healing.  

Let the famous ones explode over the abusive actions of the famous ones.

Those of us who are not so famous . . . We are here for you.