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.

  1. Dave says:

    I wanted to thank you so much for sharing your story with others. I came across your blog while searching for healing and perspective from our own church hurt situation and I have continued to follow it. Our situation was nowhere near as lengthy or difficult as yours; I believe in our situation those who caused hurt truly desired to serve God but simply had a significant “blind spot” regarding the hurt that was being caused. But much of what you have said about your situation is so revealing and makes me nod my head in understanding and empathy. Particularly, your desire to seek a Scriptural resolution to the situation, even if it meant being confronted by something you might have done, whereas the desire of the other parties was simply to silence you, be it by preventing you from serving or ultimately by telling you to leave. We too saw the devastating damage from this “can’t talk” rule that identified as problems anyone who had the audacity to suggest there might be a problem, that said that anyone who says there is a problem must themselves be the problem. We too saw a situation where it was preferred that “problem people” leave rather than to engage them in open honest dialogue that might mean admitting that not everything done had been absolutely correct. We too saw a willingness to write off relationships rather than to admit to the possibility that hurt had been done, and an inability to show any degree of understanding or empathy.

    Knowing a small taste of the damage that can result from such a situation, I pray that God will graciously heal your spirit from the damage inflicted and provide you with new ways in which you can serve Him (as you are already doing through sharing your story) and hopefully provide an opportunity to enjoy church fellowship with a spiritually healthy body who will value you and accept you in the same way that He already does. This is what I have been seeking in our case, and I pray the same for you.

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you so much for your comments. It has been in writing my blog that I have discovered the many, many people who have also experienced spiritually abusive treatment in the church.

      I am so saddened to hear how extensive spiritual abuse is in our world. And too many people have the mistaken perception that spiritual abuse is only present when it is physical or sexual. And while those are definitely spiritually abusive situations, I hope people will come to understand that any time a person is caused to feel or believe that God does not accept them or love them, that that is spiritual abuse as well and is extremely devastating.

      I so appreciate your comments that validate my experience. I must say, comments like yours are very rare. So thank you for your understanding and validation.

  2. Dave says:

    I was very struck by this sobering description provided by Jeff VanVonderen (“When You Are Ready To Try Again: Going Back to Church” on the site): “And without exception, churches with a “can’t talk” rule will be extremely hurtful to their members. In these places problems can’t be confronted or resolved because you become “the problem” for talking about the problem. Consequently, the offenders are isolated from accountability, and the ones hurt are isolated from healing. There is no chance for the healing that true unity in Christ brings.”

    Having witnessed this first-hand, I understand precisely what he means by “isolation from healing.” And it is one of those dynamics where I don’t think you can ever fully understand it until you have experienced it. It truly does isolate you and disorient you and make you feel like you are the problem, because nobody else seems to be recognizing or acknowledging that something is amiss.

    • Ellen says:

      So very true and disheartening. Usually this is an unspoken rule, and in my situation that was true until I was told I could do nothing in the church. Then I was flat out told I was not to tell anyone- not even my husband!

      I am certain we were told to leave and others were told to shun us so that we wouldn’t be able to share what really happened with people. If we were to tell, there would be too many questions and too much explaining and no way to justify their actions based on the teaching and preaching about transparency and grace upon grace.

      Of course, no one really wants to know what happened because they would have to choose to stand up and ask those questions or do as the leadership – live saying one thing but doing another.

      Thanks for the quote – it is absolutely true.

  3. Elaine says:

    I cannot tell you how much your story has impacted me, Ellen. I have my own story which is not that dissimilar from yours. My husband and I were not asked to leave a church but we were ostracized and treated with the leper mentality after my husband stepped down from a leadership position. We left that church on our own. Because of the spiritual abuse we suffered there and I also suffered at a church prior to this one, I cannot attend any church currently because I am overcome with panic attacks. My husband and I have not given up our faith, but I have lost faith in “churches” and organized religio, which difficult because at one time church attendance and involvement was huge part of m y life and gave me great joy. While part of me still longs for the fellowship I am not emotionally up to the challenges and hurts it brings at this time. Your series has really helped me recognize and understand more some of the things we experienced.

    • Ellen says:

      I am so glad my story is a help to you. You and I are much the same I think, wanting to live our faith by serving and being part of a community that lives out our Christian faith by loving and supporting one another. Like you, I cannot bring myself to attend church. While many people tell me that their church is different, if I ask them a few pointed questions, I usually discover that there are concerns that they simply have not had to deal with. For many it’s the “it didn’t impact me” syndrome. If it doesn’t affect them, they turn a blind eye. So, while I think I am emotionally strong enough to deal with any church, I won’t put up with anything that appears to be questionable. So, there’s a good chance, they aren’t ready to deal with someone like me 🙂

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