Archive for August, 2014

When I was tossed out of my church for telling my story on a blog, the leadership discussed the situation with a woman who was not even on the staff before I knew anything was even amiss. She then told me that because I “told” they were very upset with me. Never mind that I had tried for over a decade to do the “Matthew 18 thing” and get the leadership to even begin to tell me why I was being ostracized. Very few people have supported me in pointing out the problem – and while they may not overtly declare that I am the problem for pointing out the problem, many have let me know in subtle ways. But, I will not be silent. Thank you, John Pavlovitz, for writing.

john pavlovitz

post-59397-1181092745

“Don’t ever take sides against the family.” – Michael Corleone

There’s always a price to pay for talking about stuff that matters, and that’s especially true when doing it in the public arena. You learn pretty quickly out here in Blogville, that if you say anything, there will be people who won’t like what you say, who’ll resent you for saying it, and who will attack you, your motives, and your momma because you said it.

As a naturally opinionated person; one who believes in what he says, I’m really comfortable with conflict. (It’s been said that I have the spiritual gift of Agitation).

I’ve always believed that honest, open, respectful confrontation brings about really great things, even if the two sides are quite far apart, both at the beginning, and even at the end of it all.

Real conversation always stretches you.

It forces you to see things with fresh lenses, it yields a new understanding of another, and…

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I was reading recently about the trauma people experience when they leave an abusive church. As I scanned the stages that a person goes through, as well as the list of emotions one might experience, I began to realize that I had actually gone through much of them while I was still in the church. Perhaps that is why I have had a fairly quick “recovery.” For example, a couple of weeks ago I was blatantly shunned by a couple of people who are still deeply involved in the church. I was actually “tickled” by the experience. I didn’t have a feeling of anger or malice toward them. Rather, my response was one of smiling and shrugging (I tried not to roll my eyes since that would be a little too juvenile).

The list of emotions that I read were spot on with my experience over the decade-plus time that I was facing judgment, ostracism, and persecution. Because the leadership would not explain to me the reason for what I suffered though I begged repeatedly, I experienced the process of exiting the abusive situation long before I actually left.

For years, I would cry daily. Sometimes without any apparent reason. I became a “cryer” – which I had never been before. Though others didn’t or couldn’t see it, I suffered from situational depression and, I must be honest in saying that a couple of times, suicide crossed my mind. The sense of loss from being ostracized was at times overwhelming.

I often cried my way through every Sunday service, special service, or any service where grace or forgiveness was even hinted at. Only once did anyone approach me and express any concern for me and she was a woman I had never met before. I was so defeated that I turned down her offer to pray for me.

Though I had some friends before the abuse began, once I faced the humiliation of it, I became very isolated. The people I had counted as “friendly acquaintences” seemed to distance themselves from me – and I could only believe that it was because of the scarlet letter I had been given. I felt alienated from everyone in the church. No one made an attempt to talk with me, greet me, invite me, befriend me. And while that may have been because of my own insecurities, I also had plenty of comments made to me over the years to suggest that this was the situation.

Because the leadership of the church had declared that I could not participate or serve in any way except attending services (but, again, would not give me an explanation as to ‘why’), and coupled with what I was hearing from the pulpit, I had a growing fear that God had completely turned His face from me and that it was highly likely, not that I had lost my salvation (we were Calvinists, after all), but that I had never been “saved” in the first place. I entertained notions that Satan had a grip on me and perhaps I was in the grasp of demonic forces.

Over all, the guilt was debilitating. Though the leadership refused to respond to my questions about what I had done to deserve what was happening to me, I believed that I must have done something very bad – too bad for them to even be able to speak it out loud to me. And, somehow, I was supposed to “just know.” And if I didn’t know, then God wasn’t enlightening me or speaking to me – more evidence that I had incurred His wrath and was not one of the chosen.

So, by the time I finally got out, I had already experienced the stages one can expect when they exit an abusive church situation. For years, I had been in 1) DENIAL: I would repeatedly tell myself, “This can’t be happening.” “Surely it’s not as bad as I think it is.” “Maybe if I just act like it’s not real, I will discover that it has all blown over and everything can go back to normal.”

But then something else would happen that would remind me that it absolutely was real, that it was happening, and that no one was willing to help me in any way that a church should help people who are hurting, struggling, or even under church discipline (though I was never told that I was under church discipline).

2) ANGER: Oh, I had gotten plenty angry several times over the years. How could they do this to me and call themselves Christians? How could they treat me this way when it was so against scripture? How could the pastor preach about grace and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, when I was sitting 10 feet away from him with none of those advantages being offered to me by him or his leadership team?

3) DEPRESSION: As I stated earlier, I had bouts of depression. I often cried out to God, “Why are You doing this to me?” “Why don’t you love me?” “I can’t do this anymore!” And as long as the pastor was silent, God was silent. I was convinced that if and when God changed His mind, I would know because the pastor and leadership would start talking to me and treating me differently. Until then, I fought tears daily. I felt as though a dark cloud came over me every time I entered the church. I walked with my head down and couldn’t look people in the eye. I was unworthy and unwanted. I knew that the only thing I could do to make them and God happy would be to never darken the door again. Yet even the thought of leaving brought . . .

4) FEAR: I was so afraid of a life without them. So afraid of losing friends that I didn’t have. So afraid of losing a pastor who wasn’t pastoring me. So afraid that my identity would be lost if I couldn’t say, “That’s my church.” “He’s my pastor.” Even after we left, I clung to the one person who continued to be a friend to me. Though she is a dear, sweet person, in many ways she was one of my ways of staying associated with the church. (Others were to check their website and read the online bulletin. I could not bring myself to listen to the sermons on the radio or online, though.)

5) REASSESSMENT: Realizing that they weren’t that wonderful. This really happened when I went to counseling about a year before we were tossed aside. The counselor, after hearing my story, immediately informed me that the way I was being treated was a blatant indication of the lack of respect that the pastor had for me. I didn’t want to accept her assessment initially. But when she clearly pointed out that if he respected me he would have answered my questions and not allowed his staff and wife to speak to and treat me the way they had over so many years, well, that was a huge turning point for me. Still, I didn’t want to let go. I wanted to “do the right thing” – the thing that hadn’t been done for me: I wanted to offer grace and forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. So, I stayed.

But I also started telling my story. Because I was no longer ashamed. I knew now that I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was the one who had asked for biblical processes. I was the one who, simply by staying, had constantly extended the hand of grace. I was the one who allowed shame to overtake me. But, once I told my story, shame no longer had a hold on me. Telling my story put the blame squarely where it belonged and the leadership was faced with either dealing with the situation honorably – which meant confessing their mistakes and making retribution (whatever that might look like), or making sure once and for all that I was silenced – at least as far as possible.

So, we were tossed out of the church and by all appearances people have been told to shun us. Damage control was begun immediately. So called friends unfriended me on Facebook, didn’t return my texts, calls, emails – even when my attempts to contact them were in response to their initial attempts to contact me. People who declared that they would continue to be my friend slinked off into the darkened corners.

Church leadership surely must fear that if more people would hear my story they would expect the leadership to be held accountable. One woman declared via email that she didn’t want to be associated with me if I was going to speak negatively about the church. Could there be a more clear indication that she didn’t want to know or deal with the truth – at least not in a Christian, biblical, manner?

And finally,
6) ACCEPTANCE: Though for a few weeks I hoped that there would be a phone call, a knock on my door, some kind of attempt to have a God-honoring conclusion by the pastor and church leadership, or even a few of those whom I considered “friends,” it wasn’t long before I realized that I was blessed to have them out of my life. Because, even if they had “done the right thing” in the end, to go back would have meant that I would still live with the constant fear that it could happen again. One wrong word. One misplaced step. One “she looked at me wrong.”

The years that it would take for them to win my complete trust – the pastor and leadership will be long-since retired before that would happen. And frankly, after stepping away and being able to see more clearly, I could not in good conscience involve myself in a church that is not open about how money is spent, that will not disclose the salaries of the employees, is governed by a very small inner circle of “yes men,” complete with nepotism with the senior pastor’s brother and wife on the staff.

For a short time, I was fearful of running in to people from the church. Now, I enjoy it. Some people are very pleasant. I don’t think they realize that we no longer attend. Some people turn and walk the other way when they see us coming. And we laugh. Because we have the joy of knowing that we are going to love and welcome anyone we meet. Because that’s what Jesus would do. And if they aren’t going to do that, well, they aren’t like Jesus and He isn’t like them.

Especially number 5 . . .

john pavlovitz

WalkingAway

Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?

I see the panic on your face, Church.
I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.

You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.

You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed-up the morality of the world, that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.

But those aren’t the reasons…

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Well said . . . .

john pavlovitz

WalkingAwaySepia
It’s not you, it’s me.

That’s what you seem to be saying, Church.

I tried to share my heart with you; the heart of me and thousands and thousands of people like me who are walking away, to let you know of the damage you’re doing and the painful legacy you’re leaving, and apparently; you’re not the problem.

(Which of course, is still a problem).

I’ve relayed my frustration with your insider, religious rhetoric, and you responded by cut-and-pasting random Scripture soundbytes about the “Bride of Christ” and the “blood of the Lamb”, insisting that the real issue is simply my “Biblical ignorance”, and suggesting that I just need to repent and get a good Concordance (whatever that is).

I let you know how judged and ridiculed I feel when I’m with you, how much like a hopeless, failing outsider I feel on the periphery of your often inward, judgmental communities, and you proceeded to tell me how…

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Vindicating Forgiveness

Posted: August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

“He had no need to argue His position now because God would prove Him right later. He would not defend His honor now because God would publicly exalt it later.”

This happened to me exactly one year after I left my first abusive church. Exactly one year later I was publicly vindicated as the pastor was caught in an affair and removed from ministry permanently.

Now, with my second spiritually abusive church behind me, I wait.

Thank you, again, for writing my heart.

messytheology

I sat at lunch with a dear friend recently, swapping stories of past hurts and current healing. Sadly, neither of us was surprised by the other’s experiences of betrayed friendships and smeared reputations, spiritualized power plays and politicized cover-ups. And although we both have been delivered from these abusive situations, the doubts and insecurities they raised within us linger on. The questions they raised about our honor remain unanswered; the accusations they implied about our character stand uncontested. In a way, we both feel like we were taken apart by a team of ruthless examiners and then left in pieces, abandoned on the workbench.

Public shame calls for public honor.

What would finally allow all the pieces to be made whole again? What would lay these past wounds to rest and free us to move on?

In a moment of brutal honesty, we admitted that we want vindication. We want…

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Survey

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: ,

I’d like to find out more about your experience with spiritual abuse so I put together a quick survey.  Please take a moment or two to fill it out.  It’s completely anonymous unless you request further information.

If you are in the south-central or southeast area of Iowa and are looking to network with other spiritual abuse survivors, there is a place to indicate that at the end of the survey.

Thanks!

I’ve added a link to The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network to my blog.  I have been reading postings on their blog for quite a while now and they have helped me immensely in my journey.  I take no pleasure in finding that I am not alone in this journey through and out of spiritual abuse and toward healing and wholeness, but I find a great deal of comfort and encouragement in the strength and wisdom, flailings and tenacity of others who courageously tell their stories and address the heinousness of abusive spiritual environs.

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network is “a powerful way of supporting and promoting spiritual abuse survivors in our individual blogging efforts. We are working together toward a shared goal of increasing awareness of this issue of spiritual abuse – the control, the confusion, the devastation, our struggles, our triumphs, our survival, and our recovery.” (from the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network About page)

I hope that my readers will continue to find hope, help, and healing here and on the SASBN.