Pointing out the problem.

That’s what made me the problem.

According to The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and VanVonderen, “if you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem. In some way you must be silenced or eliminated.” (pg. 68)

Recently, I was reprimanded for speaking negatively about my former church.

She wants me to follow the “Can’t Talk” rule.  The rule that Johnson and VanVonderen point out “blames the person who talks, and the ensuing punishments pressure questioners into silence.” (pg. 68)

“The truth is, when people talk about problems out loud they don’t cause them, they simply expose them.” (pg. 68)

For more than a decade, I tried repeatedly to communicate directly with the appropriate person regarding the abuses I suffered.  The hurtful words, the ostracism, the shaming.  He would not respond to my requests for answers – my cries for help.

I heard him preach week after week about grace and truth, grace and forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, grace upon grace. And there I sat, blatantly told that I could not serve, could not attend so much as a Sunday school class, or rock babies in the nursery, or make treats for my sons’ youth group.  And he wouldn’t tell me why.

Grace.  And truth. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restoration. Grace upon grace.

I would listen to him. And weep.  And question.

Why not me?  How can you preach these things but they don’t apply to me?  What have I done?  Why won’t you tell me?  Where’s Matthew 18?


I kept pointing out the problem.

The problem of the lack of integrity.  Preaching one thing and doing another.

Preaching grace and doing ostracism.  Preaching Matthew 18 and refusing to tell me what I had done to deserve  condemnation and ostracism.  Refusing to meet with me (shunning).

Treating me in such a way that I was “left bearing a weight of guilt, judgment [and] condemnation, and confusion about [my] worth and standing as a Christian.” (pg. 22)

I believed that if Christians are temples of the living God and His Holy Spirit dwells in them (1 Cor. 3:16), and these Christian leaders didn’t think I was good enough to even clean toilets in the church, then God must think the same way.

I once emailed the pastor and told him that I likened myself to the dog who eats the scraps from the Master’s table, so unworthy was I based upon the way I was being treated. (Of course, he did not respond.)

“Families, churches, or any group of interrelated people who are shame-based send messages to their members that they are:

  • Not loved or accepted
  • Not lovable or acceptable
  • Only loved and accepted if, when, or because they perform well.
  • Not capable, valuable, or worthwhile
  • Very alone, not really belonging anywhere, to anything or with anyone” (pg. 55)

Johnson and VanVonderen’s characteristics of shame-based relationships includes: (from pg. 56)

1) Out-loud shaming – a message that communicates out loud that “Something is wrong with you.”  This happened to me in direct conversations and in conversations behind my back.

2) Focus on Performance – How I act is more important than what was happening to me. Love and acceptance are earned by doing or not doing certain things.

3) Manipulation – This is where the “Can’t Talk” rule comes in, as well as “Coding” (saying something in a crooked manner, not talking straight, rarely saying what they mean), and “Triangling” – talking about people instead of to them.  All of these apply to my situation.  Even the person who said I shouldn’t talk “negatively” has had many conversations with church leadership about me but those who are talking have refused to speak to me.

4) Idolatry – This is the “impossible to please judge.” When I was told I could not do anything except attend worship services, and I asked what I needed to do to be restored, I was told that they would just be “watching” me.  Since I couldn’t be given the reason for my ostracism, I couldn’t be told what I needed to change.  The leadership and God became my “impossible to please” judges.

5) Preoccupation with Fault and Blame – People have to pay for their mistakes. Enough said.

6) Obscured Reality – Problems are denied and therefore they remain.  We couldn’t talk about the problems that I was raising. Instead, I was “too critical,” had to guess at what I had done, was told that no one understood my concerns, and became afraid to take the risk of saying or doing anything because I never knew when it would be the wrong thing and I would suffer further condemnation.

7) Unbalanced Interrelatedness – It became my job to make sure that everyone else was happy. Once I was allowed to take classes and serve, I became over-involved.  I couldn’t say “no” if I was asked to do anything because I feared being deserted if I turned anyone down.  I continued to feel guilty about the past and was always on the alert for when the other shoe was going to drop.

And when it did, they proved, once again, that everything on this page is true.

I had “talked.”  I had told my story.  And the response was everything on this page.

As Johnson and VanVonderen point out, I am being “indicted because [I] haven’t been able to let the matter drop. But the matter cannot be dropped because wrong was never addressed.” (pg. 101)

So, every time I am told I shouldn’t talk, just know you are proving what I am saying.  You might want to consider this paragraph from pg. 66:

“For many reasons, followers sometimes obey or follow orders to avoid being shamed, to gain someone’s approval, or to keep their spiritual status or church position intact.  This is not true obedience or submission; it is compliant self-seeking.”

May I ask you to humbly consider why you are more concerned with keeping the church’s position intact than encouraging leaders to practice what they preach?

And please know that I so want to write an ending that tells and shows the world that we Christians really do believe what we preach.  We really do love unconditionally, are intent on seeking truth and extending grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration – whatever that looks like.  What a beautiful, God-glorifying ending that would be!


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