Archive for April, 2014

In those crushing months after we left our first abusive church (read Part 2 of my story), one of the things I struggled with was, how could the people who knew that abusive behaviors and situations had happened to me as well as others not step up and speak out?  I didn’t ask myself that question after we were tossed out of our second abusive church.  Maybe I just knew that they wouldn’t.  After all, not only had I been through this before, but I have talked to many others and read widely on spiritual abuse, and I am well aware of the way that people rally around abusive church leaders.

But, the question of “why?” remains.  Why, for example, did the head lay-leader of my church tell me in a Facebook message that he couldn’t intervene because things would “get complicated”?

Why did a woman in my former church respond to a reply I made on her blog that she was “praying for the courage and opportunity to be scandalous” (in speaking out)?

I actually had the opportunity to ask another woman who shared with me that there was a period of time when she was aware of “pure evil” happening in the church.  “Why did you stay?” I queried.

“It didn’t affect me,” she responded without hesitation.

I had another woman text me a few hours after we were told to never return.  “I don’t know what I would do if I were in your shoes,” she wrote.  She didn’t respond to my subsequent texts and the next time I saw her, four months later, she wouldn’t even look at me, let alone speak.  But that’s another post.

And I have to admit, I saw and heard about many abusive situations in both churches over the years.  For example, I know of at least three other people who were approached by the same associate pastor and told what horrible, terrible, no good, very bad people they were.  One was specifically told that she could no longer participate in a ministry in the church that she had developed and led since it’s inception.  She was deeply hurt and left the church, taking her family with her.  To my knowledge, not one person spoke on her behalf or against the judgment and condemnation that she had received and the subsequent wounding that she experienced.

Here are some of the reasons I believe people don’t confront their pastors or leadership regarding situations in which spiritually abusive situations are or have occurred:

1) It didn’t affect me. (And if it ever does, I will regret not saying or doing something or leaving.)

2) The victim must have deserved it. (After all, there are consequences – for the abused but not for the leadership.)

3) This is the pastor we’re talking about.  (Surely he wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.)

4) Touch not the Lord’s anointed (so out of context!)

5) Aren’t we supposed to forgive and forget? (But only forgive the pastor.  Forget the abused.)

6) To maintain their own status in the church.  (Because to do otherwise “gets complicated.”  Translate: I don’t want to risk my own position.)

That’s my list so far.  I’m sure it’s not exhaustive so I’m asking for your help.  Tell me, what would you add to this list?


Astounding. I’m surprised anyone even knew that a trial was going to take place. It boggles the mind that these events can take place under these circumstances in a church and people are oblivious. As I’ve said many times (and learned from “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by Johnson and VanVonderen) YOU DON’T HIDE WHAT’S APPROPRIATE! If what was happening was appropriate, there certainly should have been no reason to hide it from the person being accused! But then, the same thing happened to me at my previous church . . . I was tried, judged, and condemned without my knowledge and was never told what I had done wrong, either.

Musings from under the bus.


On the day before the trial of Paul Petry I learned a few startling facts about how the elders were planning to conduct the trial. I was concerned so I thought I would reach out to the elders and appeal to them.

Here is the email I sent them:

The subject line was : Please hold a fair and impartial trial – from Rob Smith

I included my name as most of the elders knew me, or at least knew who I was. I was not a stranger, and although I had several minor skirmishes with both Mark Driscoll and some of the other elders my reputation at Mars Hill was decent. Decent enough to be on the elder track – something that I did not actively seek out.

My skirmishes were almost always over how the elders treated members that they were trying to correct. I will review…

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Yesterday I came across information regarding passive abuse – something I had not heard of before. I have heard of passive/aggressive, but what I read yesterday leaned heavily on the “passive” side. I was intrigued that the description was so very like the way that the pastor (I can no longer say “my” pastor) behaved toward me.

If you have not read my story or been following this blog, for more than a decade I was not allowed to serve in my church. I couldn’t participate in the music ministry (I have a music degree and am a music teacher), I couldn’t rock babies in the nursery, I couldn’t attend Sunday school classes, I couldn’t even bring treats for my sons’ youth group meetings. When I asked “Why?” I was told that they could not tell me.

These edicts were proclaimed to me via staff and every time the ostracism was doled out or increased (it happened incrementally until the day I was told, on the church sidewalk, that I could do NOTHING), I would email the pastor and ask for help, for answers, for a meeting to talk about what was going on. I would never get a response. But, when I would see him from a distance (this was a very large church), he would always greet me, hollering and waving from across the sanctuary; at times even passing near me with a quick handshake. But never was there any attempt to address my questions or respond to my pleas for help.

For many years, I could not grasp that though the senior pastor was never the one to speak with me about not being able to serve or participate in church life, he was a party to, and in fact, the instigator of the abuse. This was finally made clear to me when his brother emailed my husband and told him to read the emails I had sent the senior pastor – emails that begged for him to help me.  It was then that we knew that the senior pastor had been sharing those emails with other staff and then having them mete out judgment and condemnation to me by telling me that I could not serve in any capacity in the church.

So, in reading about passive abuse, I discovered that the senior pastor’s behavior fit many of the descriptors.

A passive abuser is covert in his hostility. He does not display his anger, but expresses it in ways that are underhanded. He dodges responsibility while at the same time appearing to be friendly and caring.

The senior pastor played this role well. He never spoke with me about my emails. Never once did he sit down with me and say, “Ellen, take a look at these emails. I want you to know that I support what was done to you and how this situation was handled, so please don’t contact me again regarding this issue.” Instead, as I said above, when he would see me, he would be very friendly, though always in too big of a hurry to stop and talk. And he always had other people tell me that I was not going to be allowed to serve or participate. Because they would not tell me what I had done to deserve such ostracism, each time they would tell me that I could no longer participate in something, I would again email and ask the pastor for help.

The passive abuser’s communications are vague – if at all – and he is inconsistent. What he says and what he does are two very different things.  I believe this creates what is sometimes referred to as cognitive dissonance and causes confusion and frustration.  I repeatedly said that I was confused because he was preaching grace and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, but with me there was never an attempt to even speak, let alone come to a place of reconciliation.

Another passive abuse indicator is that they will make promises but never keep them.  This is a way of dodging responsibility while appearing to really want to be helpful and caring.  There were a few times when the pastor would agree to a meeting, but then at the last minute, he would cancel.  Or, in trying to set up a meeting time, he would take weeks and several emails back and forth and still no time was agreeable.  A couple of times, when I requested a meeting in the fall, he responded that he would be willing to meet, but it would need to wait until after basketball season.  Since his sons played in high school, college, and the NBA, basketball season wasn’t going to end until the following summer.

These kinds of responses, brought about frustration on my part, and continued to foster in me the belief that I simply wasn’t worth it, that I had no value, and that if I wasn’t good enough for the church, for the pastor to even have a conversation with me, then I certainly wasn’t good enough for God.

Passive abusers do not handle criticism well so when confronted with a problem, they will turn on you and become obsessive in their need to retaliate. They will make every attempt to make the person who questions them out to be the problem for pointing out the problem and will not relent until they believe that adequate punishment – punishment that far exceeds the perceived crime – has been meted out.  More than ten years of ostracism in the church was much more than adequate punishment, don’t you think?

When a passive abuser communicates with others about the situation, he will convince them that the punishment being handed out is for the person’s own good and that it is being done with the best of intentions. He will convince others that there is no intention of harm and if the abused (or others) express concern that his methods are hurtful or simply unwarranted, he will be hurt and offended that anyone would think that he would be the perpetrator of such wounding.

Time, feelings, and the needs of others garner little or no consideration by the passive abuser unless there is a benefit to him. That’s why, when I went back to work full-time and was able to give more monetarily to the church, the pastor’s attitude toward me changed and the judgment and ostracism was lifted. As I was then able to give more and more time to several ministries in the church, I became more and more acceptable – even to the point of being able to teach.  The more money and time we gave, the more acceptable we became.

Passive abusers will never admit that they were wrong. This is why when my husband insisted on an apology for all of the years of judgment and ostracism that I endured, we were told instead to leave the church. It was not, as I had originally thought, that it was easier to tell us to leave than to apologize, it was impossible for the pastor to apologize.

Throughout my time at the church, the senior pastor was so “nice” that I simply couldn’t fathom that he had anything at all to do with what was happening to me.  At the same time, I was constantly saying, “This doesn’t make sense!  Why won’t he help me?  Why doesn’t he respond?”

I asked in an earlier post, “What kind of pastor refuses to help when a person in their congregation is being wounded, shunned, ostracized, condemned, and sits week after week, Sunday after Sunday, weeping through the services with nary a kind word?”

And it wasn’t until I walked away that I could begin to see that the defect was not in me, but in him and in the leadership of the church.  It doesn’t make the wounds less painful, but it does foster healing knowing that I was not valueless or unworthy to God.

At first, I thought it was because I was missing out on the sacredness of this Holy Week – this mantle of sadness I am wearing as these holy days steal closer.
At first, I thought it was a longing to sit in the dimness of the sanctuary, to join in the solemn procession toward the Eucharist, to again dip my hands into holy water, to feel the oily imprint of the cross drawn slowly across my forehead as prayers were muttered, to gaze deeply upon the thorny crown and rough-hewn cross.
But then I realized that more often than one week of every year, more often even than every Sunday for the past many years, I have had a deep longing when I think not just of Holy Week, but of every opportunity to gather in the church for corporate worship.
The hunger in my heart was always to one day discover that all that was promised was finally coming true . . . that I would find within those holy walls more than a community of faith, but a community of grace, of friendship, of unconditional love, of unfailing kindness and generosity of spirit, of family whose blood ties were born of the blood of Jesus.
Instead, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, I sat in the shadows and endured the excruciating pain of listening to a choir which I was not allowed to join; of watching a class gather that I was not allowed to enter; of seeing people being called and encouraged and sent and supported and knowing that I could not hope for so much as a touch of grace.
Every Sunday, every holiday, every holy day of Holy Week, I would go and hope to find all of those things that a Christian community promises.  And sometimes, I thought perhaps I had.  But now I know it wasn’t real.
If it had been real, I would have experienced that community of faith, of grace, of friendship, of unconditional love, of unfailing kindness and generosity of spirit, of family whose blood ties were born of the blood of Jesus even more these past four months than ever.  Instead, I have discovered that the people I called “mine” – my church family, my friends, my pastors – the people with whom I thought I shared a Body . . . those people I loved so deeply that I suffered long for . . . those people I told myself were like family and loved me even more because their love was the love of Christ . . . those people don’t exist.  I was only fooling myself by hoping that they would actually be all that I wanted them to be.
And so, I am wearing a mantle of sadness this week.  Just as I have for many years.  Somehow, I think Jesus shares this longing with me.  A longing for His Bride, the Church, to be what He longs for them to be . . .
A community of grace, of friendship, of unconditional love, of unfailing kindness and generosity of spirit, of family whose blood ties are born of His blood.
Poured out for us.
This Holy Week.

This is the kind of talk that church leaders use to convince others to shun and ostracize people. Thanks JulieAnne for validating and encouraging so many by pointing out the hatefulness of those who claim to bear the name of Christ. We are none of us alone.

Travis Klassen’s blogs are just too important to put on the “links” page.

If you don’t read anything else, please read The Church Sucks at Reaching the Lost.  

The “one” that he talks about . . . that’s me . . . and so many others.

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.

People keep throwing this verse at me.

In blog comments, in tweets, in conversations.

“God commands that believers go to church!” they say.


I guess it depends on which translation you look at. Some say “worship meetings.” Some say “assembly.” Some say “meeting.”

I haven’t found the word “church” yet, but I haven’t checked more than, oh, say, a dozen translations.

“Assembling ourselves together.”

Yeh, I do that.  I assemble with other believers pretty much every day.  There’s my husband and one of my co-workers – I assemble with them daily (well, okay, I don’t see my co-worker on weekends, but still, that’s more often than the once-a-week church expectation).  And then there are my friends whom I see pretty regularly.

I do plenty of “assembling” with other believers and we talk about our faith and we encourage and “exhort” one another.  We pray for one another.

And I wonder . . . those who are admonishing those of us who aren’t “assembling ourselves together” in a church building . . . how many conversations do you have a day about your faith?  How often do you pray with and for others?  How often do you intentionally exhort or receive exhortation from another believer – as part of a close and personal relationship?

Because when I was in the church, I didn’t see much of that happening.  If it had, I probably wouldn’t have been told to never return. Because when there is real relationship, it’s not that easy to toss people aside.

I experience so much more of what God intended “the assembling of ourselves together” to be outside the church than I ever did inside.

I wish it were different.  I tried and tried to have inside the church what I have only found outside.  So, maybe, that’s more of what God intended anyway.

One-on-one or a gathering of a few in close relationship.  Relationships that are deep and vulnerable rather than superficial and fragile.

Not that church is a bad thing.  I love church.  I miss it.  Well, I miss what it should be in the context of a larger community.  But when it comes down to what “the assembling of ourselves together” is supposed to be . . . I have that.  Better than ever.  One-on-one.  And in groups of a few.  Real.  Vulnerable.  Encouraging.  Building up.  Exhorting.  Loving unconditionally.

Want to be part of my “assembling together”?  We would love to have you join us.  But I don’t think we’ll call it “church.”