Archive for September, 2014

It seems odd, doesn’t it, to say, “Welcome to When Church Hurts?

Many people are finding their way here through a link from the Spiritual Abuse Survivors Blog Network. So I must thank them for sharing a part of my story!

If you have come here from there, you have probably already figured out that the section of my story that appeared there on Wednesday, September 24, is only the introduction to what happened to me at my last church. If you are looking for my whole story, it is in four parts in the menu at the left on my blog.

Part 1 of my story here on the blog is about my childhood, how I became a Christian as a freshman in college and my early adulthood. Nothing too fancy going on there.

Part 2 is about my first abusive church. It was a non-denominational, fundamentalist, homeschooling church.

Part 3 is where the story on SASBN begins. But, it’s only the beginning of my story at our second and last abusive church. You can read the rest of that story by reading the rest of Part 3 and then Part 4.

Most of my blogging to date has been simply me working through the truth of what I experienced – because often, when you are in the midst of it, you can’t/won’t see the reality of what is going on around you. It was in leaving the church and seeing it from a distance (and through the lens of the Mars Hill debacle which has many parallels to my former church) that I have been able to see so much more than what I could see when I was immersed in the church.

I am so grateful for others who also share their stories, their wisdom, their outrage, their kindness, through their blogs, websites, books, and over coffee. They have been such an encouragement – and sometimes a lifeline – to me and it is my hope that my story and the journey that I share here will be the same for those who find their way to When ChurchHurts.

The description in this blog post of how a bully can dish it out but can’t take it so reminds me of the senior pastor’s brother at my former church. He has a reputation for beating up on people with no conscience. That’s because his role is to mete out judgment and condemnation on people for the senior pastor. Yet the senior pastor is just as much a bully at heart. He simply has the wisdom to have someone else be the bully so that he can play the part of gentle shepherd.

Musings from under the bus.

bully 1

If Mark Driscoll is a pathological narcissist and a bully (as many have alleged), then he and his closest elders are probably never going to empathize with those he has hurt through the documented abuse at Mars Hill Church.

Former Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability member Paul Tripp stated that Mars Hill Church was the most abusive and coercive ministry that he has ever been involved with (link). Twenty one ex-elders have accused Mark Driscoll of being a bully (link).

It seems that even in their quest to investigate the charges against Mark Driscoll, the various boards involved fail to understand that ex-members who have been shunned or discarded are in deep pain – many in crisis. While there may be a growing desire to honestly investigate the charges of abuse or understand the abusive culture at Mars Hill Church, there seems to be no desire…

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Dawn

Posted: September 15, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: ,

It’s a beautiful morning to gaze out my front window. With each passing second the sky is becoming brighter, the dark horizon, pierced only seconds ago by distant yard lights is gradually becoming more distinct. Clouds, hazy gray span the sky, yet, look! Not just gray! Gray with a bit of peach and steel blue.

Now the trees, just a moment ago part of a flat-black pallette, declare themselves. Rooftops and farm houses reveal themselves and I can see the light on the grain elevator in the town eighteen miles north of our house.

More peach. And the fields are beginning to turn from the black of night to the green and gold of dawn. Blooming weeds in the ditch across the road bloom with gold and white.

More and more is revealed with each passing second. The world outside my window is waking and revealing to me the beauty that surrounds my life. Beauty undisturbed by the harsh judgment of people over thirty miles away. Beauty and majesty as the sky, still enshrouded in gray clouds, tinged with peach, fields of bounty, pinpoints of light in the distance, birds and crickets and the swishing tails of my dogs outside my back door remind me once again that I am deeply, deeply blessed. Deeply, deeply loved. Deeply, deeply loving and giving and caring.

And all is well.

“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

I wonder what the people who have shunned me are going to say to Jesus when he is separating the sheep from the goats?

“Well, Jesus, you said that if she wouldn’t listen we were to treat her like a Gentile or a tax collector.”

“Exactly,” Jesus will probably respond. “Did you treat her like my disciple, Matthew? Or my friend, Zaccheus? No? You shunned her? Away from me! I never knew you!”

I’ve been keeping an eye on the Mars Hill Saga for a while now and I’ve commented occasionally on a couple of blogs about how much the happenings at Mars Hill sound like the-church-formerly-known-as-mine.

Now, let me say right out of the gate that the senior pastor at my former church never spewed vulgarities in any way similar to Mark Driscoll. And while he admitted to me several years ago that he was once against women in leadership in the church, he had changed his mind on that and women have held positions of leadership.

But there are so many similarities between Mars Hill and the-church-formerly-known-as-mine that I often find myself shaking my head that I stayed there as long as I did (over 15 years). Pile the spiritual abuse that I endured on top of what this blog entry is about and you will most certainly question my sanity – I certainly do!

So, in order to be succinct, I am going to simply list some of the areas that are startlingly similar:

1) Governance. Mars Hill’s governance changed from decisions being made with input from all of the elders to only a very few. In the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, this also occurred. They went from having a group of elders who were members of the church making decisions to the senior pastor, his brother (also a pastor), and the business manager making all decisions. The elders visit folks who are making profession of faith, asking for baptism, etc. I was being mentored by a female elder a few years ago and she told me that they were never given any information regarding the decision-making that goes on. A pastor had recently been fired but all the elders were told was that he was leaving.

2) Financial transparency. Mars Hill’s finances were kept secret. People were not told how money was being spent – and often were told money was being raised for specific events, church plantings, etc., when, in fact, that money was used to bolster what was essentially their general fund. Salaries are kept secret.

In the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, all of this is true, as well. While the congregation receives a financial report, it is not itemized. It will give a total amount that is budgeted for worship, for education, for student ministry, etc. But how much did they spend on that new sound system? Nope, can’t tell. Salaries were the first to go secret several years ago. This summer, they increased the budget and were up front in admitting that the increase was mostly to accommodate raising salaries to match those of other churches of similar size. Hmmmmm . . . Where are these churches of similar size? Because a church in a major metropolitan area with a higher cost of living than small-town Iowa doesn’t seem to be the right kind of comparison to make.

3) Where does the money come from? A blogger at Musings From Under the Bus noted in a post today that it appears that one person has been giving money in amounts significant enough to prop up Mars Hill. Also, they have what has been called a “Hail Mary” push to raise funds every December.

At the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, they print a chart in the weekly bulletin of how much is needed (around $63,000 per week for a church of 2000 or so members/attenders) and how much is given. Most weeks, the amount given is several thousand dollars short of the weekly need – lately, it’s been up to $15,000 short.) And there will be “special offerings” at times – often the past few years those offerings have been earmarked to pay off the building debt.

Mars Hill purportedly raised funds by telling the congregation it was for one thing, and then using it for another.

Interestingly enough, one of the lawyers in the-church-formerly-known-as-mine told my husband over two years ago that the debt for the building fund had been paid off through the church’s general fund. But this is not what the congregation was told. Instead, they were given the balance based on their giving toward the building project as though the debt still existed and it was “paid off” last year – after another one of those special offering pushes.

The church had loaned herself the money to pay off the building fund debt and the congregation was none the wiser. Of course, now that the building is “paid off” (or the church has paid itself back, rather), the people at the top gave themselves what I am sure was a hefty raise to match that of churches of similar size. (Are you smiling or shaking your head as you read this?)

Also, a recent article about the senior pastor’s son who plays in the NBA stated that he “gives a lot of it away to his father’s church” which causes me to wonder if this is the one person who financially props up the-church-formerly-known-as-mine?

4) Questions are unwelcome. I wrote a blog post about this already regarding the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, but it bears repeating in light of what we have been hearing about Mars Hill. People there have been “thrown under the bus” for having a dissenting opinion or questioning decisions. At least at Mars Hill, they were up front about it – telling people directly that they were no longer wanted.

At the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, I asked questions and I expressed opinions (you can read about that in my story on the blog). But, rather than being told directly that my questions and opinions were unwanted and ultimately rendered me ostracized and told I could not serve – without giving me the reason or presenting any evidence of unworthiness and not telling me that I was under church discipline – I was simply ignored.

People at Mars Hill who were “thrown under the bus” have begged and pleaded for someone to listen to them, to treat them as a Christian church and Christian leaders and church members should – with love and grace and compassion. Instead, to date, I have seen nothing that indicates that any of them have been approached in an effort to bring their story to a God-honoring conclusion. Some were shunned upon being tossed under the bus and are still shunned to this day.

This is also true with the-church-formerly-known-as-mine. Both while I was still attending the church – for more than a decade – and in the months since we were told to leave, my pleas to be heard, to give and receive love and grace and compassion, have been ignored. I, too, have been shunned since being told to leave last December, as have others over the years who have been treated in such a way that they could no longer stomach attending (I don’t know how many were shown the door or how many were wise enough to leave on their own, but I know several whose experiences were parallel to my own).

Final thoughts:

The conclusion I have come to with regard to Mark Driscoll’s unChristian and unwarranted treatment of and vulgarities toward people at Mars Hill in comparison to the senior pastor and other leadership at the-church-formerly-known-as-mine, is that Mark would have survived all of this if he had taken the “shepherd versus leper” approach. The senior pastor’s brother who I indicated earlier is also a pastor on the executive board, gloated about a year ago that he is “the leper” and the senior pastor is “the shepherd.”

What that means is that the senior pastor is to always be seen as the compassionate, loving, Jesus-like, tender-hearted pastor and his brother is to be the bearer of bad news, heat-taker whom everyone loves to hate.

If Mark had sat back and let others deliver those diatribes and simply proclaimed, as the senior pastor of the-church-formerly-known-as-mine had done, that he’s “not the one who makes all the decisions around here” and that he “has no idea why anyone would say such a thing,” he would have been the person people continue to love and trust.

And then, if he just pretended to be much too busy to help people with such trivial matters as attacks on their character, questions about ill-treatment from church leadership, or what’s up with the money, they would have responded much like I did. “Surely he simply just doesn’t understand how poorly I’ve been treated. Surely he would help me if I could just make him understand. I’ve just not explained it in a way that he can wrap his head around. And other staff members aren’t being honest about what they have said and done to me.”

Mark Driscoll could have been just like the pastor at the-church-formerly-known-as-mine and everyone would believe him because of his tender-hearted, Jesus-like compassion and all of those people crying that they have been hurt and abused? Well, no one would believe them because how could such a wonderful man ever do such a thing?

I was reading on another blog earlier today about how shallow and superficial our culture has become in our conversations. The writer was pointing out how people will talk about the trivial ad nauseum but rarely enter into discussions about deeper topics. My husband and I were always amazed when we attended church that almost all of the male conversations focused on sports and for women, it was the usual blather about clothes, shoes, their children – and all of their activities, health issues, etc. Even the rare discussion about religious issues (faith was often too deep a topic) were superficial and saccarine.

When I first began teaching back in the early ’80’s, we could discuss creation versus evolution with students and give our position. We could talk about whether or not we attend church and which denomination. We could even invite kids to vacation bible school. Lots of topics were open for discussion and students would debate very passionately with one another and the instructors.

When I returned to teaching in the public school system, I quickly discovered that controversial topics are a “no-no” at school unless they follow a certain agenda. No one – students or teachers alike – should express a dissenting opinion on pretty much any topic, whether it’s politics, culture, science, or religion. Express an opinion and you are likely to be labeled a bigot or hate-monger. Even my 10, 11, and 12 year old students will immediately cry foul if I hint that a music video might be inappropriate for sixth graders if it has two men kissing in it. It’s better to say, “Some people might be offended,” than to say that some people think it’s “wrong.”

I was raised in a household where debate was welcomed and encouraged. While I wasn’t raised in church, when I became a Christian in college, I and my peers, several more mature church members, the pastor, and the seminary intern we had every year would have stimulating and oftentimes intense conversations about everything: religion – in its many facets; politics; community/society – pretty much anything was fair game. Including and probably especially the weekly sermon by the pastor or intern. We could speak freely and with great energy and no matter what our position, we walked away with a heightened sense of camaraderie. We seldom agreed completely, but we enjoyed delving into one another’s thought processes and never left a discussion angry or upset.

Ah, how things have changed. My husband I and were told last December that we were to leave our church. For many years, I was told that I could not participate in ANYTHING in the church – no classes, no serving, NOTHING. I could attend services but that was all. But no one would tell me “why” I couldn’t particpate. (I was never told I was under church discipline and I was never given any evidence of wrong-doing.)

It wasn’t until over a decade later when we were told to leave that it was insinuated that the reason was because of emails I had sent the pastor. These were emails that questioned him. Not his integrity or his character, but simply some of the things he said in his sermons, his apparent support of my ostracism (he was not the person who told me I could not participate, but for years when I asked him to help me – to tell me why I was being ostracized and to help work toward reconciliation and restoration, he absolutely would not meet with me or respond to my emails). All of this despite the fact that every Sunday when he knew he was saying something that might be controversial or arguable, he would say, “My email address is kk_____@t__p____.com. Please email me.”

When we first came to the church, I had told the pastor that I am a person who asks lots of questions and he encouraged me to do so. “Ask me anything, anytime,” he said. Apparently, he really didn’t mean it.

And it appears that there are many leaders in Christian churches who are the same way. Don’t ask questions. Don’t delve deeper into what they are saying from the pulpit or the way they are governing or the way that they are treating certain people. Asking questions or expressing concern is taken as an indication that you are critical and negative. In other words, never question and be sure to cheer and support everything the leadership says and does.

I pointed out to the pastor of our last church that if I sent him an email about something trivial, he always answered – and promptly. But, when I sent him emails expressing my deepest thoughts, feelings, questions, and struggles, he ignored me.

Every. Single. Time.

Talk sports and he was all in. But I cannot recall him ever saying the name “Jesus” except when he was preaching or teaching in front of a room full of people. In those rare moments when he would actually speak to me, never did he speak of faith or God or even offer a scripture reference. Had I not known better, I would not have been able to guess that he was a pastor in those conversations.

Not that I expect pastors to only and always speak about matters of faith, but even in those conversations when a family member had passed away or when my son was in a very worrisome place or when my heart was simply breaking over the treatment I was receiving in the church, he had nary a thing to say about God or Jesus or a comforting or encouraging scripture.

I doubt that I can be the kind of person who doesn’t ask questions or encourages deep discussions on any topic. So I don’t think I’m cut out for church. Because I’m going to talk Jesus and not too many folks – especially leaders – can handle that.