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.


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