Archive for July, 2014

My first blog was “findingellen” and it was birthed as I was living through the hell of spiritual abuse and trying to make sense out of what was happening.  Anyone who has been through spiritual abuse knows that it just doesn’t make sense.  Well, it does, but in a way that you can’t or don’t want to consider.  Spiritual abuse victims tend to be very committed to their faith and have the (mistaken) notion that those in authority, leadership, and the pastorate, are even more committed than they are.  Findingellen was where I first told my story as part of the process of realizing that I was and had been abused for a very long time.  My spiritual “leaders” had treated me in such a way for so long that I was absolutely convinced that God had no interest in me, that no matter how hard I tried, I just simply wasn’t acceptable to the church and, therefore, to God.

The culmination of that blog and the leadership’s reaction to it, was being told that we were not to return to the church.  No meeting.  No conversation.  No communication beyond that.

Which is exactly what I needed.

That cutting of all ties was the beginning of my road to healing.  And my road back to who I really am – to finding Ellen.

Today, I realized that I am someone the people – and especially the leaders – of my former church would never have liked.  And perhaps that’s why I was never acceptable in the first place.  Because I wasn’t the kind of person they find acceptable.  No matter how hard I tried.  And that isn’t just because I am not afraid to speak up, ask questions, point out problems, don’t live in the right neighborhood, work in the right place, make the right amount of money – or more, have the right last name, etc.

Today, I realized that I am no longer ashamed of my name, my family of origin, my background, my income, my appearance, or my past.  Today, I realized that I am proud to come from a red-neck, blue-collar, hard-working genealogy.  I am proud to have factory working siblings.  I am proud to teach in a school in a town that is struggling with poverty and cultural adversity diversity. And I am proud to be myself.

I am more myself today than I have been in a very long time.  How do I know this?  Because when I went out for my morning walk, I took my Glock.

You see, I come from a smoking, drinking, gun-carrying, bar frequenting, poker-playing swear-like-a-sailor-and-not-even-realize-it family.  Now, I have no plans to take up smoking or bar frequenting, but I’ve always been a mean poker player and I love a glass of wine a few nights a week.  And I’m known to spew an occasional “Oh, sh**!” but I would never, ever, ever swear in front of my mother, God rest her soul.

But, a few weeks back, when I was out on my morning walk, I decided it was time to make good use of my concealed carry permit that I got just because I believe in our 2nd Amendment rights.  You see, I live in a very rural area.  The nearest neighbors are a quarter-mile away and they are gone to town to work every day.  The next nearest neighbors are at least a mile.  Ours is a well-traveled road and we have a big brick, century-old home that sits close to the road.  Lots of people stop in to our place to ask for directions.

So, there I was, out for my walk, and this red Chevy pick-up comes along.  He drove past me about 150 feet and then slowed way down and stayed in front of me for several minutes.  Then, he drove on down to the corner near my house and turned north.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Until he turned around and headed back toward me.  I pulled my phone out and dialed my husband, who was working 25 miles away, and told him I was a little wigged out by the guy in the pick-up because he was coming back and driving real slow.  The guy drove past me again and I could see that he had on a camo hat.  He went on down the road and pulled in to a field driveway.  And turned around to come back.

Right then, a retired man from about a mile away come driving up and I waved him down, got off the phone with my husband and said,  “Thank God you showed up! “Do you know this guy that’s coming in the red Chevy pick-up?”

Now, please understand that this retired farmer has lived in this neighborhood his entire life and knows virtually everyone.  “No, I’ve never seen that pick-up before,” he said.  The red pick-up went by two more times while I was talking to the neighbor, so we both got a fairly good look at him, but neither of us thought to get his plate number.  Finally, other vehicles started coming along and I let the neighbor go on his way, called my husband at work again, and talked to him until I made it home about five minutes later.

About thirty minutes later, the retired farmer’s wife called and told me they had checked with several people in the neighborhood and no one knew of anyone in the area with a pick-up like that and if I saw him again, to try to get his plate number.

I found out a couple of days later that what that driver of the Chevy pick-up was doing is called an “interview.”  They check you out to see how vulnerable you are for whatever it is that they have in mind.

Six months ago, I would never have considered carrying a gun for self-defense.  Good Christians don’t do that and my church-mates would have been horrified.  Horrified.

Now, I carry it with confidence.  I have it at the ready throughout the day.  My brothers, my nephews, my step-father are all ecstatic.  This is where I am from and this is what we do.  Even my son boasts to his co-workers, “Yeah, my mom’s packing’!”

I think all mom’s get a lump in their throat when their children boast about them, don’t they?

I find it fascinating whenever I come across another list of traits of abusive churches or, perhaps better said, abusive church leadership.  Today, I found a list I had not seen before and, as always, as I read each of the characteristics, I was able to identify specific anecdotes from my previous church that fit the descriptors.  I believe this list is derived from Ronald Enroth’s book, “Recovering From Churches that Abuse.”

#1a) The leadership does not welcome questions, advice, or dialogue from those outside the inner-circle.

  • Since I was not part of the inner circle when I raised my concerns regarding the worship leader, I had immediately broken this cardinal rule.  When I was attacked for raising concerns, I began asking for an apology and questioned the pastor regarding his position on how I was treated and the decision of the personnel committee who had berated me.  

#1b) People who break the status quo and question earn negative labels.  They are often accused of causing disunity and being rebellious.

  • Though I begged to be told what I was being accused of, I was never told, though I know there were others who were completely aware of the labels I had been given.  One former leader told me that she was well-aware but that she could never tell me and that I would never be allowed to serve in the church again.

#2) The pastor has complete control and though there is an appearance of a governing board, it is a hand-selected group of “yes” men.

  • The governing board consists of the senior pastor, the business manager, the senior pastor’s brother, and a couple of close friends – at least one who has been close since childhood.
  • While the elders and deacons number in the 50-60 range, last I knew, they are not at all involved in the governing of the church and are given little to no information regarding the decision-making or inner-workings of the organization.

#3) Members who are singled out for guilt and blame suffer in their confidence as beloved children of God.

  • I was convinced that because the church did not find me acceptable, God also did not find me acceptable.  When I communicated this to the senior pastor, he cemented my thinking by ignoring my pleas for help and encouragement.

#4) Families suffer.

  • The leadership determined that parents and their pre-teen and teenage children had no need to attend services or worship together.  In fact, there was a time when pre-teens and teenagers were discouraged from attending church during the morning worship services, but to only attend the youth services that were held in the evenings.  

#5) Public image is paramount.

  • When we first met the pastor, he encouraged us to go elsewhere simply because the church was being seen as a “sheep-stealer” since so many people were coming there from other churches in the community.  It was more important to the pastor that this viewpoint be dispelled than ministering to us.
  • The church often spoke of offering help and resources to other churches in the area specifically to attempt to win their good graces.  We have heard of several times when churches approached them to take them up on this offer and were subsequently turned away.
  • On a more personal note, the leadership encouraged people to be transparent in revealing their brokenness, yet when I was broken by leadership in the church, they were affronted that I was transparent in sharing my story.  They were more concerned with their reputation than with healing the profuse bleeding of the wounds they had caused me.

#6) Member burnout.

  • I spoke several times with a custodian of the church regarding the difficulty the church has in getting people to volunteer.  He was very vocal in expressing his chagrin that so few are willing to serve and those who do have so much expected of them that they eventually quit entirely.
  • My husband and I logged over 420 volunteer hours in 2012.  That’s the equivalent of almost 11 weeks of full-time work.  When we announced that we were taking a break during the months surrounding our son’s wedding, we were shunned by church staff who oversaw one of the areas in which we volunteered, so we decided to remove ourselves from that particular ministry completely.  It was only a couple of months later that we were told not to return to the church, so apparently our value had declined with our volunteerism.

There are many other bullet points out there that are helpful in determining if your church/leadership is spiritually abusive.  These are just the ones I came across today that fit my particular situation.  If they have struck a chord with you, please leave a comment.  I hope to compile a comprehensive list that can be expanded and your contributions are most welcome.

That’s what happened to me.

Spiritual castration.

Castration ultimately means “to render impotent, literally or metaphorically, by psychological means . . . to deprive of strength, power, or efficiency; weaken.”  One synonym is “mutilate.”

When I was first castigated by leadership of the church, I was told by the personnel committee that because I had brought up concerns about the worship leader, I would no be “working with” (as a volunteer) him – meaning that I could not play instruments, sing, etc.  Not very long after that, I took a spiritual gifts class that the church offered as a means to not only assist people in identifying their gifts, but to also offer us possibilities for using those gifts in the church.  When the final class was upon us, the class in which we would meet with church leaders to discuss how we might use our gifts to serve in the church, I received a phone call telling me that I was not to attend this meeting because I was not going to be using my gifts in the church for a very long time.

This was a church that, for several years, encouraged people to identify and work within their spiritual gifts.  They emphasized that each of us has been given at least one gift by God to use to edify the Body and not using those gifts was a travesty.

Yet, I was told blatantly that I was not going to be using my gifts.  And for more than a decade, I submitted to the leadership’s chastening.

What I didn’t realize, what I couldn’t put together in my head or my heart, is that ultimately, the leadership was saying, “We have no need of you” (1 Cor. 12:21) and had cut me off – I was the castrated part of the Body.  Yet, as I read 1 Cor. 12, it would appear to me that any “Body” that says to one of its members, “We have no need of you,” truly is not a Body at all.  In fact, since “the members should have the same care one for another” (v. 25), and I was not being cared for, but rather attacked, persecuted, and ostracized, one must conclude that this church was not a “Body” at all.

Had this “church” brought me under formal discipline, presenting evidence that they had just cause for their treatment of me, and I had continued to behave in a manner that required them to ultimately remove me from service or even to excommunicate me, their status as a “Body” would remain intact.  But, no formal disciplinary procedures ever took place.  No evidence or even reasons were ever given for my castration even though I begged for years to be given this information for no other reason than so that I could make reparations to any injured parties.  My first request for information was overtly denied and from then on, whenever I addressed the issue via emails to the senior pastor, I was ignored.  He would not respond.

So, given the fact that I was not brought under formal discipline, no evidence or reasons were ever given, and I was denied any possibility of using my spiritual gifts in my “church,” the only conclusion possible is that it is not a church at all.  For where they have done this to the least – and I most certainly was “the least” in the way that I was treated, they have done it to Jesus.  No church would treat Jesus that way.  Ultimately, in castrating me, they castrated Jesus.

Jesus was rendered impotent.  Deprived of strength and power.  Mutilated.

And I’m sure he wept.

I first met Sally and her husband when we took a class together at the church.  I liked her straightforward, brashness in declaring her beliefs even though I knew she was coming on much too strong for many of the timid-of-faith-profession attendees who made up a majority of the class and the church-at-large.  The class in which we were instructed to write our story down and share it with a small group in the class – Sally was in that class and was in the small group of women that heard my story when I told it the first time.  So, when she called me a while back to tell me that she and her husband had left the church, she was already aware of the spiritual abuse to which I had been subjected, but she didn’t know that we had been tossed out of the church.  Such it is in a big church.  People often don’t realize you’re gone.

As Sally and I talked on the phone, she shared with me how her story had progressed since we had shared them in the small group.  She told me that she had been treated much like me – essentially being told that she couldn’t do things in the church. Ethan, the pastor’s brother, had been short with her on a number of occasions, essentially letting her know that she was not acceptable.  She had not been told that she couldn’t attend classes, so she had signed up for a class on prayer.  The teacher, a very close friend of the senior pastor’s wife, berated her in front of the entire class on the first day – simply for coming a few minutes late because the room assignment had been changed. After the second class meeting, Sally quit going because the teacher was so hateful not just toward her, but toward everyone.

Sally decided, instead, to take part in a class that required that each person have a mentor.  Because she was going to a prayer meeting led by the senior pastor’s wife, she decided to ask her if she would be a mentor for the 10-week class.  After prayer meeting one Tuesday morning, Sally asked to speak privately to the pastor’s wife and began to explain her need for a mentor.  The pastor’s wife threw her hands out in front of her, turning them rapidly back and forth as though to ward off an offending attacker and yelling, “NO!  NO! I WILL NOT! I WON’T DO THAT!”  She went on to tell Sally that she (Sally) needed to find someone within her own circle of society to partner with – giving Sally the definite message that she (Sally) was not on the same level of the food chain as she (the pastor’s wife).

I must admit, I felt relief that someone else had an encounter with Elliot’s wife so similar to mine.  To discover that I am not the only one who suffered under one of her tirades is a strong indication that she has a tendency to treat others with such disrespect and disdain – it wasn’t just me.

Though Sally and her husband continued to attend the church for a while after that encounter, and after some time was even asked to teach a class, she carried with her the burden of knowing that she was a “lesser-than” in the eyes of the church leadership.

Fortunately for Sally, she and her husband understood their value in the eyes of God and after giving the church and leadership several opportunities to become more gracious and less judgmental of people’s social and economic status, they determined it was time to move on.

So, thank you, Sally, for calling.  For sharing your story.  For letting me know I am not alone.  And that I am not the problem.

Godspeed, Sally and Lou.

So, if you’ve read my story, you know that the final exchange between my husband and Ethan, the senior pastor’s brother, indicated that my emails were the problem that got me ostracized and not allowed to serve in the church.

I have been taking some time to read through a few of my emails and I will let you be the judge.  Am I such a horrible person that these messages would result the judgment, ostracism, and shunning that I experienced?

Email #1 

Hi Elliot,

Thank you for checking in on me Maundy Thursday.  I don’t have any ready answers to the “How are you really?” type of questions.  So many things swirled through my head in those couple of seconds before you moved on – and none of it new.  I’m pretty sure you didn’t like it the first, or second, or 200th time I tried to explain it to you, so I am trying to be smarter about what I say now.

Where you are concerned, mostly I wonder, how much and what exactly can I say to someone who isn’t comfortable having a conversation alone with me?  I feel so stupid because I can’t figure that out. (I’m still reeling from that revelation last October – I had no idea.)

I know that I am stuck and I can’t move on just by reading a book that says what I hope to hear.  I need to see it, and hear it, and touch it, and live it.  Forthrightly and in no uncertain terms.  From the places where God dwells.

Either he’s silent or I am too deaf to hear.

Either way, I am dying.

Ellen

Email #2

Elliot,

This is not what I plan to share with you if we are able to talk sometime, but it is something that I want you to know.  I apologize for the length. Please wait to read it when you have time to read carefully.  Ellen

When it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is . . . 

I wasn’t raised in church.

I was raised on bar stools.  And at pool tables.  Breathing second hand smoke.  I was never enticed by alcohol or cigarettes.  They were always available.  No mystery there.

I was raised in poverty.  Poverty has its own unique culture.  People who come from cultural poverty are story-tellers.  They value authenticity in others and display it freely in themselves.  Their deepest concern is knowing who they can trust no matter what.  Eat at the home of someone from generational poverty and they will ask, “Did you get enough?” Folks who grew up middle-class will ask, “Did you like it?” Wealth: “How does it look?”  We who come from poverty have a hard time understanding why appearance or even quality are so important.

I was raised a boy.  My only sister was the oldest – too many years older to ever be close.  She “got” to help our mother in the house.  I was happy to be outside with my step-father and brothers fixing fence, bailing hay, changing oil and spark plugs, playing football and baseball and basketball.  I was so strong that when I went off to college, I took up weight lifting.  It’s what my brothers and I had done together.  It’s what my new college friends and I did together.  It’s where I was comfortable . . . with my friends . . . the guys.

Though I didn’t think about it much through high school and college, as a young mother, I realized that I quickly grew weary of other women.  I was never interested in discussing recipes or diapers or the latest sale at J. C. Penney.  I never liked shopping or cooking or playing with dolls.  Girls were just too prissy and they read about teen heart-throbs and romance.  I grew up reading “Tom Sawyer,” “My Side of the Mountain,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “In Cold Blood,” “and “Nicolas and Alexandra.”  I hated “girl” books.

I was raised to think.  My step-father was great at helping us think through everything.  If we responded to anything with, “Well, I think . . . ” he would yell, “Don’t THINK! KNOW!” We were taught to question.  To challenge.  To be able to defend every position or decision we ever made.  Even if we were right, he would challenge us and force us to defend ourselves.

I didn’t grow up in church.

Jonah, Adam and Eve, Noah, Jericho, David and Goliath, Moses . . . I didn’t know anything about any of them that weekend in January, 1979.  I was so . . . blank . . . raw . . . 

My first pastor was Rev. Dr. Mike Abel.  He was so . . . kind. And smart.  His doctorate was in the book of John.  He was used to teaching children – children who knew all the Sunday school stories and knew all the pat Sunday School answers.  I didn’t know anything.  He would ask my thoughts on a particular passage of scripture and I would give what I am sure were some unique responses.  Sometimes he would chuckle at my interpretations.  Mostly though, we would talk, and talk, and talk about what it all meant and what we were supposed to do with it.  Pastor Abel treated me with dignity and respect no matter how many questions I had or how challenging they were to his theology.  He was my first exposure to a Christ-like father-figure.

Every year the church that I attended in college would get a vicar – a third year seminarian who was required to do a year-long internship in a church.  Steve Zimmerman, Charles Nelson, Stephen Kingman, Larry Geering, and John Pepper were the vicars during my undergrad and graduate school years.  Except for Steve (who was the vicar the year I was saved), I lived with every one of them. (We had a campus ministry house and the guys lived in the basement and the girls lived on the 2nd floor.  The 1st floor – kitchen, living room – were the common areas where the campus ministry events took place.) Every year, I developed a very deep, personal relationship with each of those vicars as well as several of the guys who lived at the house or were involved in the campus ministry.  it was easy for me – I was just so comfortable with guys . . . and I had so many questions and scriptures and books to sort through.

Bob Shepherd, who went on to train with New Tribes and for a time was a pastor, and I are still great friends.  I was the one all of these guys would seek out to practice their sermons on.  I was the one who would have clandestine meetings with them at Country Kitchen at midnight when they wanted to get away from the constant student attention at the house.  I was the one who picked their brains about what the bible really says and what it really means and how we were to live that out.  Bob once told me that I “don’t think like a girl” which is why he loved talking with me.

After leaving grad school, John Pepper and I remained very close friends for several years.  He finished seminary and was called to a church in Wayne, Nebraska.  I became a band director and moved to Harlan, Iowa – only a couple of hours from Wayne.  We spent at least one day of nearly every weekend together – just talking Jesus, studying scripture, reading books and discussing them, making commitments to seek to be more like Jesus, holding one another accountable.  John and I were, in many ways, spiritual soul mates.  We were one another’s best friends, biggest fans, greatest champions, strongest encouragers, and if either of us needed a kick-in-the-pants (which was pretty often) we could depend on the other to offer it swiftly and decisively.  John was my Jesus-with-skin-on.  He loved me through, and in spite of, and no matter what.  And I loved him the same.

When I started teaching with Morris (my husband), he and John met and Morris mistakenly thought we were dating.  I laughed when Morris told me that John treated me poorly as a “girlfriend.”  Once he found out the nature of our friendship, I believe Morris was quite surprised to learn that two unrelated people of the opposite sex could be such good friends.  And while John and I have lost touch due to time, distance, and circumstance, Morris was recently very supportive of John and I renewing our friendship when he contacted me via Facebook.  (Don’tknow if that’s going to happen, but I have Morris’s permission and blessing.)

I didn’t grow up in church.

My early “formative years” as a Christian were in college.  I had no idea how unique those years and experiences were until I left there.  I discovered early on when I moved to Harlan, Iowa in 1983, that not all Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches are charismatic.  So, while I lived there, I attended a non-denominational charismatic church.  Marvin Kooper was the pastor. He and I became fast friends and I spent many hours in his home with him and his wife – talking about theology and faith and worship.  It was during this time that I also started dating Morris and got to know the pastor of the church he attended.  He and his wife became wonderful friends to both of us and when they answered a call to a church in Missouri, we became close friends with the next fellow to pastor that church and his wife.

For years, every pastor-type I knew became a wonderful friend with whom I could be authentic – outrageous even – and we would share so much of our lives and hearts with one another.  Maybe that’s it.  Maybe all of those early relationships were with people who knew my heart and I knew theirs and even if I didn’t say it just right or even if I was struggling to be what I supposed to be, they extended lots of grace because they knew my heart.  We enjoyed the giving and receiving of love and discipline and grace.

Then came the “dark years.” I don’t even want to go there.  Forgetfulness is a true gift of God and I have forgotten more than I can remember . . . 

I didn’t grow up in church so when it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is.  I have lived two extremes – one of intimacy with pastors who were brothers and fathers and best friends and confidantes.  The other of fear and shame, blame and persecution.

I didn’t grow up in church.

So I don’t understand much about politics or position or measuring up.  I don’t know how to keep quiet when I know I have so much to learn. I don’t know how to keep quiet when I have so many questions about what I see and read and live.  And I don’t want to get stuck on pat answers. I’m guessing I’m over 300 emails by now.  Three hundred plus times that I have handed you my heart – all of it – good, bad, indifferent, – nothing held back.

In November of 2008, you used a big word – “transference” – to describe how you thought I saw you.  And you are right.  But you are wrong, too.

Almost one year later, in October of 2009, you told me that I don’t trust you and that you don’t trust me.  And I’m sure you were right – at least in saying that you don’t trust me.  But you were wrong, too.

Because I saw you as a Pastor Abel or Steve Zimmerman, or Charles Nelson, or Larry Geering, or Bob Shepherd, or Marvin Kooper, or – and especially – John Pepper.  For years I have handed you my heart, believing that it was safe.  Hoping that you were someone who, no matter what I was struggling with at the moment, would see my heart and be my champion.  As a person who grew up in the culture of poverty, my faith in your trustworthiness was the most valuable treasure I could give you.  Had I thought you might remotely resemble anything else, I would not have been able to do so.

When it comes to pastors, I don’t know what “normal” is.  But I believe I know your heart and I trust you with mine.

Please know that.

Ellen

Email #3

Not many people call you “Pastor King.”

“Pastor King thinks you are poison.”

. . . poison . . . 

Such a strong statement.  Such a strong word. I don’t know if it is your word or her interpretation, but it’s what she believes from what she knows.  

Every time I think about it I just feel sick . . . appropriately, I suppose.

That statement explains so much.  Mostly, it explains why you dodged the question I posed to you last fall.  The question was, “What have I done that is so heinous that I can’t do anything here?”

Your response was, “What is it that you want to do?”

Now I know it isn’t about what I have DONE, it’s about what I AM.

Now I know why you said you don’t trust me.  Now I know why you won’t talk to me alone – if at all.

I wish I knew how to change your mind but I don’t think I have any control over that.  The only thing I have control over is what I can do that will ease your concern and this is to honor your repeated request.

I have just one request and I hope you are charitable enough to continue to honor it:

Please don’t judge my family based on what you think of me.

Ellen

I actually got a response from that email which included information about his vacation, a book, and then the following:

“I have NEVER used the words you write in your email.  Why do you attribute things to me that I have neither thought or said? This is why I get ‘stuck’ with you.”

Email #4 is my reply:

Elliot,

Welcome back – I thought you were going to be gone through mid-August so this is a nice surprise.  

This is where the email should stop, I suppose, because you are not hearing me . . . 

But, just let me remind you that “I” didn’t attribute this statement to you – I was quoting a person in leadership, a teacher/elder/consistory member.  Being in this kind of position, I assume they know you and are much more privy to your mind and heart than I.  The real question, then, is “Why do people in leadership and on staff at (church) continue to, over the years, feel it is their obligation to let me know just how utterly unacceptable I am?”  And, “Why are they so willing to attach your name to these declarations?” Does making it sound like it comes from you give it more weight?  Do they believe somehow that they are doing the right thing by being your mouthpiece, and assuming that which isn’t true?

I don’t know . . . I guess I have to admit that, in the infamous words of my colleague, Deanne Klark, “Shit flows down hill and you are at the top of the help” as senior pastor, so when these people represent you or speak for you or the “church,” I have not found it a big jump to believe you are involved or that they are truly and accurately representing you.  I apologize.  Next time it happens, I will drag them kicking and screaming with me and I will beat down your door and demand to know the truth.

Elliot, I have been so beaten down, and I know you don’t get that . . . you have no idea . . . 

Be that as it may, this is what I need you to hear:  My first concern is that I not be a concern – for you or anyone else.  Thankfully, I am no longer in a state of mind where I need to prove myself to anyone.  I know who I really am.  But, if my presence is a concern for anyone, if they choose to see me as a destructive person, I’m not sure what else I can do . . . .

Ellen

Email #5 – a follow-up email to the one above:

Elliot,

I know you hate long emails, but given that the alternative is to schedule an appointment that probably wouldn’t take place for several weeks, if at all . . . 

Since you asked this question, I am believing that you truly want an answer and I can’t do that in a sound bite.  At this point, after all of this time, and with all of the people mentioned below no longer a part of (the church), I know it comes down to “he said, she said,” but I also know you can go back to your file of emails and find enough corroborating information there to substantiate what I am about to tell you, so, here goes:

“Why do you attribute things to me that I have never thought or said?” (This was your question.)

When I was about 10 years old, my mother and my step father were fighting.  He was a gambler and a drinker and often a womanizer.  My mother had reason to believe he had once again overstepped his bounds with another woman.  He eventually yelled the question at her: “Why do you think I did it?!?!”  My 16 year old sister was in the room with us and my mom responded, “Gidget knows why – tell him!”  My sister then said, “Because it’s happened so many times before.”

The short answer to your question is the same: “Because it’s happened so many times before.”  You see, Elliot, over the years, many people have told me that you were on board with what they were sent to tell me.  I’ll list a few of the conversations.  Some threw your name in on their own.  Others, I would ask something like, “Does Elliot know about this conversation?” or “Is Elliot aware that you are telling me this?” Every time, they affirmed in one way or another that you were aware, were in agreement, etc.  I would then email you and express my chagrine, my confusion, my hurt, my exasperation, my heart.  Rarely would you respond.  Where I come from, that’s called “tacit agreement.”  Here’s just a sampling:

Connie in her phone call to me in which I was told I could not attend a final Spiritual Gifts class where they would tell us what our gifts are and how they could be used in the church – because I “was not going to be involved in music at (church) for a very long time.”

Sybil when she informed me that I was not to be put on a ballot after completing the leadership class.

Darin when he told me that I was no longer to be involved in anything at (church).  This was when I finally had the courage to ask “Why?” and he said he was not at liberty to say.  When I told him that was not what my Bible says in Matthew 18, he said that he would have to check with Jonathan and you to see if he could share that information.  He promised to get back to me.  He never did.

Denise.  As you know, Denise and I had many conversations and exchanged many emails over the years, and many times she would refer to you. In our final conversation on a Monday morning early in January of 2009, we were watching the staff get coffee and prepare to go into a meeting.  This is the conversation in which she told me then that I would “never” be allowed to do anything at (church); that she, having been in high positions in the church knew why, but couldn’t tell me.  Throughout my relationship with Denise, I was repeatedly given the impression that you were definitely aware of and involved in the decision to ostracize me.  She also often questioned why I would stay in a place that had placed a “red letter” on me.  I still have some of those emails and to that one, part of my response was:

What I find most fascinating about wearing the red letter as you so aptly called it, is that people are so quick to conclude that expressing a concern and/or taking a stand is an indication that a person is disagreeable or a downright trouble maker.  I have searched my heart on this many times and don’t believe that it has ever been my intention to be either of those things or any other negative label I have found pinned to my chest.  Most of the labels are in fact placed on me by people who don’t know me in a personal way and never took the time to personally speak with me in such a way as to discover the intent of my heart.

Denise made the comment at the end of our visit on that day in January that she would most assuredly be questioned by you with regard to our conversation since you had seen us talking together and that she was very saddened that, essentially, my fate was sealed. (This is a paraphrase – I don’t remember her exact words.)

Do I need to go on, Elliot?  Every time I was told these things, I would email you about it.  You should know by now that I’m willing to go directly to the person with whom I share a concern – I have shared very little of these events with anyone outside of Morris and because your name was brought into it, because you are the senior pastor, I have brought my concerns directly to you for years in the only timely way available to me – email.  Most of the time you ignored me or, at best, have declared that you “don’t make all the decisions around here.”

So, to once again have someone turn to me in the middle of a conversation about the Journey to Wholeness conference – a story which is never complete without acknowledging that I was in a very dark place going in to it – and to have them turn to me at that point and say, “Pastor King thinks you are poison” simply is not out of the realm of possibility given what I have been told about your positions/opinions in the past.

You said in your email that you “have neither thought or said” those things.  And Elliot, when you tell me something like that, I believe you.  I am very relieved to hear it from you directly  – how I wish you would have said it long, long ago!  But, these assumptions that other people are making and attributing to you came from somewhere and your name was attached to them.  Am I wrong in questioning it?  Am I wrong in coming directly to you when your name is invoked?  Am I the person you should be “stuck” about when I’m just the messenger?  Am I the problem because I pointed out the problem?

As I looked again at that emails I sent to Denise way back in January of 2005, here is more of what I had to say:

As I re-read your email, it occurred to me that perhaps you think I am “unhappy” with (the church) and should consider leaving. I guess this is what makes me different from other people.  When I state an opinion or express a concern, I don’t see that as a negative or an expression of “unhappiness” so much as a request for clarification. “The devil is in the details” and often, all I want is to understand what has led to the decision or position.  Even if I don’t agree or would rather it be my way, most of the time I am supportive.  And even if I am not, I don’t think that is grounds for division or separation or for being labeled.  I don’t understand when people think that differing opinions automatically means that we can’t be or are not unified.  In many ways, unity is staying friends despite our differences.

Too often, people assume that I am taking SIDES when, in fact, I am seeking clarification so that I can support the STAND.  I’m sure that the person of whom I spoke earlier believes that I have taken an adversarial position against him because I have expressed disagreement or asked for clarification (which I never receive) when, in fact, I am his champion.  I think he is brilliant, gifted, anointed, and Spirit-led and I never speak of him in a negative light . . . Even the fact that he is not “for” me and never will be is not something I see as negative, but  more as a misunderstanding.  I am completely “for” him and what he is doing.  I don’t always understand so I have questioned and expressed concern.  And I have been awarded with many labels and red letters.  I can only assume that he does not see me as I truly am. But i will continue to be his champion even though he will never be mine. . . 

I think people often misunderstand or misrepresent what the Bible has to say about unity.  Often, unity is defined as pretending to get along or acting like we agree when we don’t.  That is not Biblical unity.  It is a counterfeit.  In this system, the peace of Matt. 5:9, Phil. 2:2, and Eph. 4:3 is false and hypocritical.  This is the “Peace, peace where there is no peace of Jeremiah.

I think that true Biblical unity comes when peace is made when there is no peace – when concerns are addressed and questions are answered instead of being ignored or used as grounds to label people as troublemakers.  As they say, peace comes through TRUTH, not TRUCE. Sharing concerns in an environment of safety and oftentimes, simply being helped to understand the “why” of a decision or position or situation is all that is necessary to “maintain” peace (which is actually the true scriptural interpretation).  When questions and concerns are ignored or labeled as divisive, etc., the assumption is that something inappropriate is taking place. You don’t hide what’s appropriate.

None of this should have been allowed to fester this long, Elliot.  I don’t understand how you can fault me for questioning these things over the years, or for questioning this now, for bringing my concerns to your attention, for asking for explanations or answers or just someone to be FOR me rather than against me.  Or for sharing my heart with you.  It seems that I am the only one who has ever tried to “fix” it.  I’m the one who always asks, who wants to work it out, who wants to know what I can do to make it all okay.  The fact that you answered my email and asked this question tells me that, just maybe, you would like that, as well.

And I have finally figured out “why” I am so tenacious:  Because I believe what my Bible says.  I believe how it’s supposed to be even though it rarely is.  I believe we can be different, the exception, the rare ones. I believe. I believe. I believe.

Ellen

Six months ago, when I was tossed aside by the church, I turned away and started walking.  With each day, each step, I have looked back, and the further I have journeyed, the wider my view has become.   Here are some of the insights I have gained.  Some will become full-blown blog posts.  Some are complete in their simplicity.

1) When I walked away from the nightmare, I began to live the dream.

2) I am not, nor was I ever, unworthy.

3) People have told me I need to consider who has the right to hear my story.  But I say anyone can hear my story.  I simply need to set boundaries on whose opinion I will care about.

4) Acceptance is not going to come from the people who rejected me.

5) Legitimate churches have nothing to fear from their members reading critical information about them.

6) Shame was fostered by my agreeing with the church leadership that I was so unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, and unworthy that I couldn’t tell anyone what they were doing to me.

7) When the rules are different for some and not for others, that isn’t a church.

8) I stood up for myself.  But before I stood up for myself, I allowed myself to be beaten down.  I was shamed and afraid and so I put up with inappropriate judgments and condemnation. The more I put up with it, the worse I became – fear consumed me.  I came to believe that I didn’t have a right to complain and convinced myself that I was making a big deal out of nothing.  But it wasn’t nothing.  And I am not nothing.

9) It was wrong for them to treat me the way they did and as long as I allowed them to continue, they were likely to keep doing it – to keep ostracizing me and telling me that I wasn’t good enough for them, for the church, for God.  I had to care enough about me to reject that kind of treatment.

10) “Sometimes you have to give up on people not because you don’t care, but because they don’t.” (unknown)

11) I was so afraid that if I stood up to the pastor, he wouldn’t like me.  But his actions and his lack of respect for me demonstrated that he already didn’t value me enough to like me in the first place.

12) I was also afraid of rejection. But you can’t reject someone if you were never “for” them and the pastor and his leadership was never “for” me.  If they tossed me out of their church, their lives, what was I going to miss?  Ostracism?  Judgment? Condemnation?

13) Once I acknowledged the truth – the disrespect, the manipulation, the misrepresentation, etc. – I was able to tell my story.  Once I acknowledged the truth, I didn’t have to take their judgmental treatment of me. Once I acknowledged the truth, I didn’t have to hang around with people who would treat me that way anymore.

14) When I “complained” or asked questions, I was ignored.  Being ignored and neglected told me that I was valueless.

15) I tried for years to make the pastor understand what he and those under his leadership were doing to me.  I realize now that it is not up to me to make them understand.  He was aware that his actions (or lack of action) showed that he had no concern for me. When I stopped trying to make him care, I discovered the wholeness and freedom I had forgotten.

16) “Do not try to win over the haters. You are not the jack-ass whisperer.”  Brene Brown

17) I am not responsible for your poor behavior.

18) The enemy of Jesus is not the prostitute but the pharisee.

19) I did not deserve to be shamed and ostracized for speaking the truth or for having an opinion.

20) I should never had stayed in a community where I couldn’t do anything right.

21) Some people would rather blame the trauma I faced in the church on me than compromise their own standing by questioning.

22) Those who were unwilling to sacrifice their own agenda and standing on my behalf are functional atheists.

23) If God will never leave us or forsake us, those who do cannot represent him.  He is not like them and they are not like him.

24) “If a cause can be damaged by someone telling the truth, then it’s not the cause of the One who said, ‘I am the Truth.'” -Eric Pazdziora

25) People who tell people who are hurting to “just get over it” need to “just get over it.”

26) Healing can only happen in relationships where there is mutual respect.

27) Refusal to communicate is devaluing and when it’s a pastor, it’s spiritual abuse.

28) The people who punished me are abusers and it’s okay to protect myself from them.

29) If people wanted me to write better things about them, they should have treated me better.

30) My story has allowed others to feel less alone and to heal. My story has done others good.

31) I understand grace better now because it was denied me.

32) People spend a lot of time in church pretending to get it and they really don’t – believers are often functional atheists.

33) Just because I talk about what happened to me – just because I talk about spiritual abuse – doesn’t mean I’m not over it.  It means I’m so over it that I can be vulnerable so you know you are not alone.

34) It’s okay for church leaders to shame and demean me, but if I talk about it, they say I’m the bad person.

35) “Peace-making isn’t always peaceful.” Samantha Field

36) Some people will no longer be your friend because you were honest.

37) They wouldn’t stand up for me, why should I break down for them?

38) Never again will I be bullied into silence.

39) When speaking up makes me an outcast, that’s spiritual abuse at its finest.

40) I was constantly wondering where I stood with the pastor and leadership.  Once I knew where I stood, it was time to start walking away.

41) I was robbed.  I had gifts and the church leadership stomped them out of me. Those were the years the locusts have eaten.

43) I lived far too long being more committed to the church (and people in the church) than the church (and people in the church) was committed to me.  When I look back, I would have done it differently.  I would have walked away sooner.  I was too nice for too long.  I gave more than I got with the hope that one day people would give back.  I was a friend with the hope that one day the people I was being a friend to would be a friend back.  I was always hoping that the people who devalued me would one day value me.  And I didn’t pay attention to those who were doing the same with me.  Those who were being nice.  Those who were giving me more than they got with the hope that I would one day give back.  People who were being a friend to me with the hope that one day I would be a friend back. People who endured my devaluing of them with the hope that one day I would value them.  Some of them I lost along the way. They finally gave up on me just like I have finally given up on those in the church.  And some stuck with me – through and in spite of and no matter what. They are few and they are rare and I am grateful for their perseverance.  Today, I continue to look around for the people who are giving me more than I am giving them.  I look for the people who are a friend to me even though I have not pursued their friendship.  I look for people who value me without my needing to prove my worth to them. And I realize that I don’t have to work so hard for friendships.  I only have to recognize the friends who have been waiting for me all along.