Archive for March, 2014

Being told that I needed to leave the church just 3 months ago has created significant changes in me. My initial reaction was probably typical. I was so incredibly hurt that the leadership of the church did not care about me or my family enough to even have a conversation regarding the ways in which I was abused by the judgment and condemnation, ostracism and shunning that I had experienced over a period of more than a decade.

Being a Christian and part of a Christian Body carries implications. We are told that we are adopted by God into His family and that family is manifested here on earth in the form of “the church.” I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so becoming a Christian and being adopted into a Christian family – the church – connected deeply with me. While everyone else was getting together with extended biological family for Christian holidays, Sunday dinners, and pretty much every other family-oriented event, I was drawn to spend that time at church. My husband and I would volunteer for whatever opportunity to serve was available – nursery, serving coffee, and, early on, as a musician, I would sing in the choir, play in the worship band, sing on the worship team – whatever needed doing, we were there. This was family for us and this is what family does – we serve one another.

Even during those ten-plus years of being told I could not serve, I still went along with my husband while he volunteered in children’s ministry and at the coffee bar. This is what family does. Even when one can’t be fully invested – for whatever reason – we show up anyway, in thought, in person – whatever way we are able. Even when I wasn’t “able” to serve, I was able to show up. And so I did. It was enough while I waited for others to be led by the Lord to tell me the truth, to reverse their decision, to see me as worthy and valuable enough to be acceptable. It was enough to be able to show up and be present.

We had shown up and been invested for many years and even when there were judgments and condemnations happening that I didn’t understand and couldn’t find a way to work out with those who were unhappy with me, I stuck it out. Most of us can’t or don’t give up on our biological family. How much more committed I was to my spiritual family – my church – and especially the leaders even though they had been the ones who had bestowed judgment or, at the very least, allowed judgment to be bestowed upon me without reason or proper protocol.

So, the pain that I experienced in being told we were to leave the church was excruciating. Yet, that pain was accompanied by hope. Hope that the knee-jerk reaction that we were met with would give way to reconsideration. Hope that someone would call, show up on our doorstep, send an email and ask that we be willing to talk. Even if the result was that we no longer be a part of that “family” – that Body of believers – I had hope that we could work together; that we all could be confident that every attempt had been made to reach a God-glorifying conclusion.

As the hours turned to days, and the days to weeks, and the weeks to months, it became clear that none of the leaders of what we thought was “family” had any interest at all in reaching out to us. Why this surprised me can only be chalked up to the same naiveté that I have had for the past nearly-two decades as I endured the condemnation and ostracism that rained down on me. I have always thought the day would come when at least the senior pastor, whom I trusted because I believed from his sermons that he truly “got it,” – I thought the day would come when at least he would be able to acknowledge the ways in which I had been wrongly treated or, at the very least, the ways in which that treatment had been wrongly meted out. If the leadership had reason to ostracize me, certainly he would acknowledge that proper procedures had not been followed.

But, as hope faded, hope also grew. I began listening to the truth of what God had to say about me rather than waiting for men to tell me what God has to say. The first thing God had to tell me was that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I had just been left and forsaken by my Christian family – thrown away like so much unwanted trash. Yet, God whispered repeatedly, “Ellen, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am not like them and they are not like Me.”

I used to hope to hear those words from the people at church. And here I was, the church loudly declaring that they found me so unacceptable that we couldn’t even have a conversation. Now, some people have commented to me to be careful. They tell me that “the church” did not abandon me – only certain people in leadership. But, I want to clarify that if this is what you are thinking, you are remiss. Not only have I not heard anything from the leadership, I have heard nothing from the people whom I counted “friends” in the church either – except for one person. Only one has not abandoned – left and forsaken me. So, please don’t think that I am only talking about leadership at this point.

Yet, over the past three months, God was clearly telling me that He is not like them – meaning that the “church” that had tossed me aside was not a “church” at all. Because the true church is like God. Not that they are perfect, but they certainly try their best. And even when they fail, they do their best to make things right. So, even after a knee-jerk reaction of telling us to leave, there could have been – and still could be – an attempt to do this as God would.

God never leaves nor forsakes. The “church” has thus far proven in the amplification of their silence, that they are not the church. Leaving and forsaking is not what Christ would do and, as head of the church, what His church does will reflect that – even if rather poorly. To make no attempt at all implies that there is no connection to Jesus as head of their “body” and therefore, they cannot be the church – the body of Christ.

Coming to the realization that the leadership and our church “friends” were, in effect, nullifying the “church’s” position as the body of Christ by refusing to “never leave nor forsake” opened my eyes. This, I had not expected. As one who had depended on the church to validate me as a member of their Christian family, I discovered that I was truly validated once that “family” abandoned me.

Not only could I see my position as a child of the KING – one truly adopted by God, my Father – but I also came to fully embrace what I had always “known” but had looked to the church to make real to me: that no person on earth has the right to judge me or to cause me to question my position as His child.

Not that the church – the true church – doesn’t have a responsibility to rebuke or hold one another accountable, but this was never done in my experience with the church. I was never told, “Ellen, we have some concerns and here is the evidence. Now, we want to come along side you and work with you so that we can grow together with you in love and good works.”

I was the one who begged to be told what I had done to bring about the judgment that I had experienced. I was the one who repeatedly pleaded for help and was only met with silence. I cannot say that I did nothing wrong. How can I know when no one would tell me? I can only say that whatever it was that I supposedly did, no one would follow church – or biblical – policy. No amount of asking them to please tell me what I had done to merit being told I could not serve my spiritual family – the Body of Christ to which I belonged – ever resulted in so much as a response, let alone actual answers. And in the end, no one could acknowledge that they had failed in doing so. My husband finally demanded that there be an acknowledgment – an apology. And it was at that point that they made it clear that it was easier for them to simply tell us to leave.

As The Lord spoke to me about who I am in His eyes and opened my eyes to the reality of who the leadership of the church – and therefore the church itself – is, I experienced complete freedom! It was as though the grip that fear and unworthiness had on me was released in a single moment. Joy flooded my soul and has never once left me. And as that grip was released, I also experienced a deep change that I had not in any way expected.

I began to understand the deep grace and love that God has for all of us. Not just those who follow “the rules” – whatever rules might be on any of our lists. But that He loves THE WORLD. I have become so disappointed to realize that those who represent God – those who call themselves Christians – are so judgmental and self-righteous that they spew condemnation and hate toward any and all who do not keep the “rules” that they believe are God-ordained – or even rules that simply make their lives easier. You know, the “yes men” kind of rules: don’t point out the problem or we will declare that you are the problem kind of rules. And then there are the mainstream kind of rules, as well. Whether it is rules about gay marriage or what movies people should see or who is right about baptism or who we should be seen with – all myriad of rules espoused by the minions of Christians across the globe.

And it has become clear to me that the only rule we who call ourselves “Christian” should really be adamant about keeping is “love one another.”

Now, I realize that many Christians believe that “loving one another” includes blasting people with what we believe are the rules they should be following. But, isn’t that God’s job? Isn’t it His job to convict people if He thinks they need to be convicted? Isn’t it “God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”?

Since when did love include judging and condemning? Since when did love include a long list of rules that, depending on which Christian author, preacher, worship leader, or teacher you like best causes you to lob grenades at Christians or non-Christians alike because of the rules based on the author, preacher, worship leader, or teacher they like best?

Since when is love leaving and forsaking?

Now, I realize that the same can be said of me just in writing this. Someone is going to declare that I am judging and condemning those who judge and condemn. Especially as I write about the church who judged and condemned me. Please know this: I was the one who made each final attempt to communicate. I begged for Matthew 18. I was not the one who said – well, they said nothing. I couldn’t get a response.

My door and my heart are still open. I am ever ready to come together with the church leaders to reach a conclusion that is God-glorifying. I don’t write to judge or condemn. I write to encourage others who have been left and forsaken. One day, I would love to write that we came together and God was glorified in ways we could never ask or imagine. That would be the best post of all.

Also, know that I don’t write because I am still hurting. There are some hurts that may never heal, this is true. I miss my friends and the many good and right things that were and still are, I hope, happening in that church. But, I am experiencing joy and freedom and peace and love like never before! God is good and He was especially good in taking me out of a horrible situation. I so hope others who have or are experiencing wounding at the hands of church family will find hope and healing by knowing that they, too, can have a deeper relationship with God when they are no longer a part of an abusive system.

There’s a reason.

There’s a reason churches have guidelines.

Our former church has guidelines.  Guidelines based on scripture and written down in a denominational book called The Book of Church Order.

And this Book of Church Order is pretty specific in what it says about the steps that must be taken when certain things happen.

Like rules for governance, leadership, becoming a member, baptism, communion, and church discipline.  And, in the area of church discipline, it specifically states:

‘The exercise of discipline may take the form of admonition, rebuke, suspension from the privileges of membership in the church or from office, deposition from office, or excommunication, as the gravity of the offense in the opinion of the assembly or the judicatory may warrant. Admonition and rebuke are pastoral in nature and are exercised by an assembly in the ordinary course of its proceedings. All further steps of discipline—suspension, deposition, and excommunication—are judicial in nature and require the formal presentation of charges to a judicatory.1 A judicatory may, in the judicial process, impose admonition or rebuke as a form of discipline.”

Several sections of this document cover the specifics of how “admonition, rebuke, suspension from the privileges of membership in the church . . . suspension, deposition, and excommunication” are to be carried out.  Specific steps within specific time frames.

As I read through the section on discipline a few weeks ago, I realized that I had been “suspended from the privileges of membership” for more than ten years – having been told that I could not serve in any capacity in the church.  But, I also realized that the leadership had in no way carried out this disciplinary action in a manner adherent to the denominational guidelines.

Never was I formally admonished or rebuked.  No one ever sat down with me and said, “Ellen, we have some concerns about ___________________ .  Here are the things we need to address with you and these are the things that we would like to see.  Please understand, Ellen, that this is the first step in our church discipline procedures.”

No.  I was simply told, “You can’t do . . . You can’t attend . . . You can’t serve in any way.”

When I begged for the reason, I was told that they couldn’t tell me or there could be “legal ramifications.”  When I asked what it was that I needed to do or change in order to be allowed to serve, the response was, “We will be watching you.  At some point, you might be invited to take a class.  If that goes well, you might be invited to serve in low levels and eventually, you might work your way up.”

Ten years.  Not one indication that I was under formal church discipline.  Not one.  Only judgment. Condemnation. Ostracism. Silence.

If I could, I would sit down with the church leadership today and say, “When did you ever sit down with me and tell me I was under discipline?  When did you sit down with me and show me evidence that I had done something to offend “the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ”? (Church discipline is to take place in order to “vindicate the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.”) When did you specifically tell me, “Ellen, this is step one.  If we don’t see a change, we will move to step two.”?

Instead, I spent all of those years begging, pleading, weeping, pounding my fists and stomping my feet, asking for answers, demanding explanations.  And I was met with silence.

And then we were told to leave.  Not exactly excommunication as far as we know.  But not so very different either.

And still, not one attempt by church leaders to follow denominational guidelines.  I even told the lay- leader of the congregation that I should have insisted that The Book of Church Order be followed.  His response?

Silence.

 

 

 

 

 

“The joke around here is that Elliott is the shepherd and I am the leper!”  Ethan declared rather gleefully one Sunday morning.

I have pondered that statement over the past few months in light of Ethan’s declarative email telling us that we were to leave the church and the above statement alone reveals a great deal about the abuse that I suffered in the church.

Elliott, the senior pastor and older brother to Ethan (who is also a pastor in the church), is always to be seen as the shepherd – lovingly tending the sheep, leading them beside the still waters, restoring their souls.  So, when Ethan (for reasons still not completely known to me, but I can surmise based on the email exchange Ethan had with my husband on that fateful day) determined that I was not to be involved in the worship ministry any longer, as the “shepherd,” I have concluded that he couldn’t deliver the news himself. Instead, he arranged for others to hold a meeting in which they berated me.

When I then sent an email to Elliot explaining how I had been misled about the purpose of the meeting as well as how hurt I had been, I was ignored.  Elliott could not tell me the truth of his involvement behind the scenes, nor could he step in and help correct the wrong that had been done since he was behind it, and so it was better to not even acknowledge my communication.

I believe it was Elliot, too, who was the impetus behind the decision to tell me not to attend a Spiritual Gifts class because I “wouldn’t be using [my] gift of music in the church.”   Again, Elliot had to be seen as the shepherd, so apparently this staff member was assigned to call me – to be the “leper” – the person whom I would potentially blame for judging and condemning me.  After she confirmed to me that Elliott was aware of the conversation she was having with me, I again emailed him and asked for help, but he didn’t respond.

And the day the staff member caught me on the sidewalk to tell me I could do nothing in the church except attend services? He, too, must have been assigned “leper duty.”  As I questioned this man repeatedly about why I was being judged, condemned, and ostracized, he included Elliott in the names of those involved in that decision and was adamant that he could not reveal to me what I had done to deserve such punishment.

What kind of pastor allows such harsh treatment of a member of his church without ensuring that scripture is followed – and, in this case, that denominational guidelines have been followed, as well?  What kind of pastor ignores the repeated pleas for help of one so obviously being wounded by those under his authority?  What kind of pastor turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the cries for grace and mercy?

The only plausible explanation is that he was behind it all.  He could not step in and help.  He could not respond to my requests for him to intercede on my behalf.  He could not because he was the catalyst.  The “lepers” were assigned to carry out his wishes in such a way that he would not be implicated – so that he would continue to be seen as the shepherd, watching over his flock.

I don’t think he counted on me staying.  I think he thought if I was told I couldn’t participate in worship, I would leave.  Most people would have.  I think he thought I would leave when I was told I couldn’t do anything.  Most people would have.

I don’t think he counted on me living what I believe.  Giving grace when I wasn’t receiving it.  Turning the other cheek.  Heaping burning coals.

Sadly, I counted on him to live what I believe.  Instead, he lives what he believes.  And that doesn’t include grace.

At least not for me.

I may not even have that email any more.  But I remember writing it and sending it and the silence that echoed in response.

Somewhere in the midst of that excruciatingly long decade of  condemnation . . .

Somewhere in the midst of my confusion and fear and pain . . .

Somewhere in the midst of shame so heinous that it was unspeakable – to the point that even I could not be told what horrible crime I had committed . . .

Somewhere in the midst of the shunning and ostracism, the meetings, the phone call, the sidewalk conversation saying, “You can’t serve . . . I can’t tell you why . . . ”

Somewhere in the midst of the ignored greetings and averted eyes . . .

I realized.

God had gone missing.

And so had I.

I couldn’t hear Him.  I couldn’t sense Him.  I couldn’t see Him.  I couldn’t read His word.  I couldn’t sing or even listen to Christian music.  I couldn’t play my guitar or my oboe or my flute or my saxophone.  I couldn’t pray.  I couldn’t even close my eyes while others prayed.

And I realized.

That in all of the conversations that I had been invited in to . . .

The conversation where I was told I could no longer be involved in worship ministry . . .

The conversation where I was told that I couldn’t attend the final Spiritual Gifts class because I wouldn’t be able to use my gift of music in the church . . .

The conversation where I was told that I would not be allowed to serve in leadership . . .

The conversation on the sidewalk . . . “You can’t do anything in the church except attend services.  We can’t tell you why . . . ”

Not one person had mentioned God. Or Jesus. Or the Holy Spirit. Or faith. Or grace. Or forgiveness.  Or reconciliation.  Or restoration.  Or penance.  Or anything at all about any of the things that every one of them would preach about when they were on the platform on Sundays.

Not one person.

That realization prompted me to write an email to the senior pastor.

An email stained with the blood of my wounds.

An email pleading for help.  For grace.  For healing.

For a chance.

“Please!”

“Please speak Jesus to me!”

And the silence was deafening.

I’m bringing this post forward because I want to speak to the “stalkers” out there – people from the church that tossed us aside.  It fascinates me that some of  you are following and/or reading my blog.  It fascinates me that some of you want to follow me on twitter.  Tomorrow – March 20, marks 3 months since we were told that we were to leave the church.  Only one of you has spoken to me personally – face to face – since that day.  And even then, only once.  

I know we are all busy.  I get that.  But we all make time for what is important to us.  Why is it important to you that you follow me when you can’t speak to me?  Please don’t say the road runs both ways.  I reached out to you and you were the ones who went silent.  And then you started stalking me.  

And all I can surmise is that you are looking for dirt.  Because you are still showing up at the church, right? You are showing up there.  

Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not asking you to choose between.  If you wanted to, you could choose both.  I’m just saying that if you were “for” me, you would show up.  Because we show up for what we are “for.”  We show up for what matters to us.  

You showing up on twitter or my blogs doesn’t tell me I matter to you.  That’s what this post was about originally.  That’s what it’s about now. 

PLEASE DON’T FOLLOW THIS BLOG

Really.  I mean it.

Please don’t follow this blog.

Please don’t follow this blog if you are only using it to check up on me.

If you want to check up on me, pick up the phone.

Don’t say you don’t have time.

If you have the time to read this blog, you have the time to send a text saying, “Hey, I’m thinking of you today.”

Please don’t follow this blog.  Use the time you spend reading it to pick up the phone. Or send a card. Or a quick email.

Because, some days, it gets really hard. Not hearing that any of those whom I considered friends and family cares.

Because, some days, it gets really hard, being reminded again that the things we all declared together to be true aren’t looking so true when I think of you.

Some days, I judge you for appearing to not live what you say you believe.

And my heart grows a little tighter in my chest.

And it’s hard to swallow that lump in my throat.

And I appear to not believe what I declared to be true with you, either.

I don’t want you to follow this blog if you aren’t going to be my friend first.

Because I don’t want you to see how hard it is for me.

Not having you as my friend.

Abuse Exposed

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Damaging the very essence of the image of God within.” – messytheology.

This captures what so many need to hear. Thank you.

messytheology

Abuse is such an ugly topic; it pains me to write about it. But left unaddressed, its sinister message continues to radiate through layer after layer of its victim’s soul, damaging the very essence of the image of God within. Following my own devastating experience of abuse, I wrestled for years with gut-wrenching questions about what I was worth in light of the treatment of me that God and others seemed to deem “beneath their notice.”

They clothe themselves with violence. … They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. … They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”
Psalm 73:6-8, 11

Did God not see what was happening to me? Did He not hear me calling for help? I thought He was the righteous Judge of all the earth, the One who sees everything and calls the wicked to account. So…

View original post 961 more words

It only takes one.

It only takes one person to make a difference.

I know this.

Because in my world, that one person is Alice.

Alice is the one person who said, “I will never leave you.”

And she hasn’t.

She calls. She texts. She invites. We’ve gone to church together. We’ve gone out for coffee. We’ve spent a day together at a music festival. Last night, we went out to dinner together, we and our husbands. We have plans to be together again soon.

She knows me.  She knows my story.

She knew about it before.  We were friends before.

More than friends.  Christians.

She knows me as more than the story that I have to tell. She knows me better than most.  And even if she didn’t, for Alice, it’s not so much about who I am or what I have done, or what’s been done to me.

It’s about who she is.

Alice is kind.  And funny.  And practical.  And welcoming.  And unconditional.  Alice is Jesus with skin on.

So when my husband got the email telling us that we were to leave the church and I texted her, she called.

“I’m going to lose all my friends at church,” I said.

“No, you won’t,” she replied. And she meant it. And she’s proving it.

With every text, phone call, invitation.

Last night, as we sat in a restaurant in a tiny town many miles south of the church talking about our childhoods (her husband and I were next door neighbors as children), hunting, vacations, our children and grandchildren, I realized that, at least for now, I need to protect the rest of my story.

For Alice.

Because it’s her church, too.

Like me, it’s a place that she has grown to love Jesus deeply, learned to be more generous, developed an ear for what God is saying  to her personally.

This is the church where she listened to the pastor preach about the woman caught in adultery on Christmas Eve – four days after we were told to leave – and had great hope that God was teaching him something about the stones that they were hurling at me.

She still has that hope.  With every sermon she hears.  Every message of grace.  She hopes.

While the rest of us take sides and dig in our heels and pound our fists and cast our stones, Alice hopes. Alice has faith.  And Alice loves.  Without condition.

Alice loves me.  And the pastors who chose to toss me aside. And the church where we met and became friends.

So, because of Alice, for now, I must continue to protect the part of my story that tells how deeply wounded I was in our church.

Love covers a multitude of sins . . .

Thank you, Alice, for loving me.