Archive for October, 2014

I believe it was only a few weeks after we were tossed out of our church that a woman who is also a member of the church and knew my story sent me an email telling me that I shouldn’t still be hurting – after more than a decade of spiritual abuse I was supposed to be over it. So many abuse victims (whether as children, adults, sexual, physical, spiritual, emotional, etc.) are told to forgive, not to talk about what happened, to not be angry, to believe that God was/is trying to teach the victim something, to get over it already.

You are so right – seldom does anyone take the side of the victim and stand up to the perpetrator. In fact, they are more likely to stay in a relationship with the perpetrator than the victim – I know this is especially true in spiritually abusive situations where the “friends” of the victim stay in the church, continue to support the pastor and leadership, and stay silent – more than likely because they know that in speaking up, they will bring condemnation on themselves.

Thank you for such an important message. Victims need to be encouraged in knowing this important truth.

A Cry For Justice

Ok, it is time to shut down these wrong-headed and damaging notions:

1. A Christian must never be angry at another person

2. Compassion is calm, huggy, weepy, kind – milktoast.

Bleh!  Compassion. Let’s look at the word-

com + passion = feeling the feelings (passions) of another person WITH (com) that person

Yes, compassion is sympathy (sym (with) + pathos (feelings)) when it is extended toward a victim.  But when compassion, that is to say, when we enter into the victim’s passions in regard to the abuser, compassion is not calm, huggy, weepy, or even kind. It rages. It burns with wrath at the wickedness done and at the wicked person who did it. Does that sound UN-Christian or UN-godly? Then re-examine your idea of the character and nature of God.

When we claim to show compassion to someone who has been abused, then our compassion is a lie…

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“You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.”

Thus ended a message I received via Facebook from the “Chief Governance Officer” of the church the day we were tossed out. The words are branded into my brain. They cross my mind several times a week, even ten months later. I wish I could ask this man what being a ‘sister in Christ’ means to him. I wish I could understand how he could send me a message like that and, at the same time, support the way that I was being treated. And had been treated for many years.

The Chief Governance Officer serves as a lay-leader on the Executive Board of the church. He is the top lay-person who serves on the Executive Board. So, this message was sent to me by the highest ranking lay-leader of the congregation.

The Executive Board, according to the church’s website, “serves as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.”

Ambassadors of Jesus. What does that mean? Based on my experience, it appears that an ambassador of Jesus rejects people because they ask for help. It means that Jesus ignores people when they are hurting. It means that the board believes that Jesus tosses people aside and shuns them when people ask Him questions and Jesus finds they are too much of an annoyance. It means that Jesus has no compassion for people when they are robbed of their dignity. And it certainly must mean that Jesus refuses to communicate with those who don’t have the good sense to just go away.

I’m no theologian, but I thought Jesus was about acceptance, not rejection. I thought that Jesus was about relationship, not ostracism. I thought that Jesus was about healing, not hurting. I thought that Jesus was about leaving the ninety-and-nine to find the one who is lost. Where is that ambassador for Jesus? I did not encounter him or her in my former church.

According to their website, the Executive Board’s job description includes the following bullet point statement:

“Praying for congregational pastoral care needs, conflict resolution and restoration.”

My story is most certainly about conflict resolution and restoration. I pleaded for it. I begged the senior pastor to help me, to explain why I was being ostracized and condemned. I prostrated myself for more than a decade. With absolutely no response. Not from the pastor. Not from the Executive Board. No one. Not even this man who declared in his message to me that “You are my sister in Christ and will be eternally.” I cannot help but wonder if their definition of conflict resolution and restoration is different from mine. Because if they used my definition, there would have been conversations about the judgment and condemnation I experienced. There would have been answers to my questions about why I was being treated with disdain and disrespect. There would have been clear and specific steps throughout the process of resolution and restoration.

Instead, I was ignored, avoided, and told I could not be given a reason because there could be “legal ramifications.” Well, I guess there definitely was conflict if there was cause for me to bring about legal ramifications. Conflict that, by it’s very nature, made resolution and restoration seemingly impossible. How can there be resolution and restoration when they can’t be honest because they have broken the law? (Except maybe they should have considered that as an ambassador for Jesus myself, they just might have received grace. Hmmmm . . . )

Another bullet point in the job description:

“Supervising the Senior Pastor for accountability and to ensure the vision and values determined by the Executive Board are carried out.”

I would have assumed that a ‘value determined by the Executive Board’ is to concern themselves with holding the senior pastor accountable for resolving conflict and restoring people – especially when the conflict is with the senior pastor, himself. Yet no one – not the senior pastor, not the Chief Governance Officer – no one made any attempt to resolve or restore this particular “sister in Christ.” How does one hold accountable a person in leadership when those who are charged with holding him or her accountable will not carry out this responsibility?

And what about holding the senior pastor accountable for actions that could lead to “legal ramifications”?

No, rather than adhere to their own job descriptions and be true ambassadors for Jesus, they found it more palatable to toss us out of the church and hope that we don’t pursue those things that would lead to “legal ramifications.”

In the messages that I exchanged with the Chief Governance Officer, he told me, “When I step in it gets more complicated.” So he was unwilling to get involved. As the CGO, it would seem to me that he was obligated to get involved, to “step in.” To “ensure that the vision and values determined by the Executive Board” – like “conflict resolution and restoration; like being an “ambassador for Jesus” in the true sense of the phrase – would be his highest obligation. Yet, he would not. Because “it gets more complicated.”

I can only surmise that getting “more complicated” means that he feared suffering retribution toward himself if he were to “step in.” I wonder how he sleeps at night?

According to an online version of an online magazine (which I cannot share without compromising his identity) the Chief Governance Officer gave some opening remarks at a joint worship service between his denomination and a “sister” denomination. These are the words that he spoke at the service which was held just six months after we were tossed out of the church: “How countercultural is it not to fight but to embrace?” He went on to say that ‘We are to forget what separates us as we are “preoccupied with Jesus together.”‘

And I am left to wonder, what does he think it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ? Does it mean that it’s okay to toss someone out of the church for speaking up about abuses that were taking place? Is it okay to support ostracism? Shunning? Persecution? Is it okay to misrepresent the Jesus for whom you are an ambassador? Is it okay to completely ignore significant points of your job description as CGO and a member of the Executive Board?

As a member of the Executive Board, he is supposed to concern himself with conflict resolution and restoration. He was supposed be an ambassador for Jesus Christ.

Instead, he couldn’t step in – because it would get complicated. But I needn’t worry. I am still his sister in Christ. Eternally.

Do you, the members of this congregation, welcome these brothers and sisters into the community of faith as communicant members and pledge to them your love, your prayers, and your encouragement as they live the Christian life with us?

I remember so clearly the day my husband and I stood before the congregation and heard these words asked of them. They responded with a firm and confident, “We do.”

Love.
Prayers.
Encouragement.

They promised.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on inside the head of a person who is mired in spiritual abuse, this is an example. It is an entry from the journal that I would take to church and write in during services. This entry is from Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2010. I sat in the very back pew and observed the service. I could not participate. As you will see, I was convinced that God had completely rejected me because of the way the leadership had been treating me for about a decade. This journal entry documents the level to which spiritual abuse had taken me. As the leaders and congregation moved through the service, this is what I wrote:

“Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary . . . . ”

I remember when I sang this song with my whole heart. Look at how He (God) has answered this prayer in my life: rejected, unwanted, untrusted, tolerated (out of obligation).

Chuck (the worship leader): “Let go of anything you’ve brought into this place tonight.” Well, Chuck, I didn’t really bring anything because I don’t have anything that anyone wants – especially not God. He continues to make that very, very clear through each day of lack of invitation, of lack of embracing, of lack of repentance & restoration on the part of those who have so intentionally diminished me.

Jonathan: “Offer up silent words of praise to the King.” You are God. You can do anything You like and what You like in my life is to continue to belittle me through those who are called by Your name.

This is what is wrong with the church today. They confess their sins privately to God but don’t confess to those they have harmed. What an important part of scripture that is ignored. How damaging.

But You are God. If You wanted it to be different, wouldn’t You make it so? This is why I am so convinced that You have me exactly where You want me to be and You are content that I stay here.

Jonathan: “It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer.” It was the Lord’s will to cause ME to suffer and to crush ME.

Jonathan: “By Jesus’ death, your conscience is made clean.”

REALLY????

Your conscience is clean after murdering me? Just because you believe? You have no responsibility to me? Only Jesus? What about the Jesus who supposedly lives in me? In you? Would the Jesus in you be so passe about the damage you did to me while He was dwelling in you?

Jonathan: “Your life reflects the reality of God” (indwelling)

REALLY????

If this is the reality, I’m not sure I want any part of it.

How can I “feel the power of forgiveness” when I am so rejected by those in whom He dwells? I cannot reconcile this dichotomy. How can one be true and not the other?

In some sense, I wonder if I am trapped in a “time loop” of sorts – I’ll be invited when I exhibit healing. But where is healing in not being invited? In continually receiving the message that I am only tolerated – an obligation who can’t take the hint that I am unwanted?

I can’t find this love of God that moves beyond obligation in the pages of books. I have tried. I need to see it and touch it and hear it and test it – over and over and over. I need this love to say, “I am sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing. Please forgive me. Please come and rebuild a relationship with me. Please help me realize this great love of God that should be lived and acted out and shared and trusted.”

So, I sit here and wait – foolishly? And hope – foolishly?

I am nearly dead inside. I at least used to weep over this. Some sorrow. I barely feel anything now. Some sorrow. A tiny bit of hope yet. Not much else. Not even the slightest desire to pray . . . to sing . . .

All I really want is to be held and told, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry this has happened to you.”

I watch people who have crushed me and caused me to suffer with hands raised, exalted to high places – and I wonder, how can they do that? Do they not know? Do they not care?

And then I remember that I don’t matter. I don’t have the right looks, the right figure in my bank account, the right last name. I don’t live in the right neighborhood or in the right kind of house. I don’t drive the right kind of car or wear the right clothes or eat in the right places.

God lives in those who make these things important. God judges me through them. God withholds His grace, His forgiveness, His restoration, His acceptance, His invitation from me.

(As people went forward to take communion, Elliot, the senior pastor, came up behind me.) “Ellen, I just want you to know that I see you and I am praying for you.”

(I write:) Oh, Elliot, surely you are not so unknowing? Surely you know that prayers without action are worthless? Surely you know that I am aware that your words are worthless because you don’t follow through with actions?”

No invitation . . .
No place . . .
No part . . .
No . .

Ron Edmondson wrote a post entitled 7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church.  His list was as follows:
1) Burn Out
2) Injury
3) Distractions
4) Life Change
5) Mistakes
6) Power struggle
7) Lack of Connection

In his description of each “reason,” the insinuation was that the blame lay squarely with the person/people who did the leaving. And I’m sure that there are those who fit into his tidy summarization.  I’m not one of them.

I rarely speak for others. I speak about my own experiences, knowing that there’s a good chance that someone else out there can relate and be encouraged knowing that they are not alone.

So, here are my “Disappointing Reasons Why I Left the Church.”

1) I was told to go.I’m not saying that I would have stayed, but I probably would have done what I had been doing for upwards of fifteen years and tried to bring my story to a God-honoring conclusion. I would have continued to try to talk to the senior pastor and perhaps other leadership and continued to trust that God was going to work everything together for good. Instead, I was told that I and my family were to leave the church. With an absolute refusal by the pastors to speak with me or my husband.

2) Lies.  Fifteen years of lies that I won’t reiterate here – you can read them in my story – but that culminated with the senior pastor’s brother, also a pastor in the church, standing in front of a room full of people and blatantly lying to all of them.  About me.  And I was standing no more than six feet from him.  Lie after lie and when my husband told him he needed to apologize to me, his response was to tell us that we were to leave the church.  Period.

3) Lack of Respect.  This was most notably played out over the years as the senior pastor allowed others under his leadership (including his wife) and on his staff to denigrate me, ostracize me, persecute me, lie to me and about me, withhold the truth from me, and (literally) to yell at me. The pastor ignored my pleas for help, for an explanation, for answers, for an opportunity to seek a God-honoring conclusion to years of abusive treatment – forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration.  What kind of pastor ignores people’s appeal for help and allows them to be abused if they have any kind of respect or compassion?

4) Shunning.  Once we were told to leave, we were shunned.  One “friend” met with me for lunch shortly after we were tossed out of the church, but expressed fear at being found out and having to explain why she was meeting with me.  Another friend who had set up a breakfast date with me didn’t show up and didn’t respond to my texts asking if she was coming.  Others I have run into on the street or in the coffee shop, etc., turn away.

5) Lack of integrity.  This blatantly occurred right before we were told to leave in the form of gossip when the pastor’s brother talked to others who were not at all involved before even attempting to meet with me or my husband.  But even before that, for years I listened to sermon after sermon in which the pastor and other leaders proclaimed our need to be honest with one another, kind toward one another, forgiving toward one another, long-suffering toward one another, loving toward one another, helping one another, etc. Yet when I was told I could not attend, serve, or participate for over a decade, I was refused a reason. I was lied to about what the pastor knew or didn’t know. I was not given opportunity to face my accusers, nor was I even told that I was under any kind of church discipline so there was no plan for reconciliation. When I asked what I would need to do, I was told simply that they “would be watching” me and I “might be invited” to participate at some point in the future if I proved myself worthy.

6) Nepotism and partisanship. The senior pastor, his wife, and his brother were all employed by the church.  But more problematic than this was that the brother boasted that he was the “leper” and the senior pastor was the “shepherd.”  Before the brother, there were other “lepers.”  According to the brother, the “leper” was to be the bad guy – deliver bad news, deal with negative situations, and be the person that bore the brunt of any negativity.  The senior pastor was only to be seen as a caring, compassionate, shepherd who tended the flock with loving kindness.  This led to the biggest “lie” of all – that the judgment and ostracism and persecution that was dealt to me was at the behest of the senior pastor.  It was his lepers who delivered the messages and he refused to respond to my requests for help because he was not only in total support, but the instigator of it all.

7) Lack of transparency. This began when the leadership orchestrated a change in the organizational structure.  No longer was the church governed by a plurality of elders and deacons, but by a small group of insiders – the senior pastor, his brother, and the business manager.   Those who serve as elders and deacons have no involvement in the major decisions of the church.  People are now hired and fired without explanation.  Job descriptions and positions change without notification to the elders, deacons, or congregation.  No one knows what is going on at the most critical levels except this tiny inner circle.

Financial transparency was also eliminated. Staff salaries became secret.  Itemized financial statements were discontinued. Recently, they justified increasing their weekly offering need by several thousand dollars because the top leadership salaries were being brought into line with other churches of similar size.  But there was absolutely no indication of what churches they were using for comparison or where they were located or the salaries being paid at those churches.

And while we did not leave the church when those changes took place, looking back, we now realize that we were like the proverbial frog in the kettle.  As the changes took place, little by little, we allowed them.

As to the ostracism and judgment that led to spiritual abuse: we stayed because we believed that God works everything together for good and that if we just tried hard enough, kept asking for a biblical and God-honoring process, we would one day reach a God-honoring conclusion.

But God was not being honored by the leadership.  Not in the lies. Not in the lack of respect.  Not in the shunning.  Not in the lack of integrity. Not in the nepotism and partisanship.  Not in the lack of transparency.  And not in our being told we were no longer welcome there.

Bottom line.  We only had one reason to leave.

God was not being honored.

Kitty litter. Check.

Mouthwash. Check

Fabric. Check.

We were looking for the shortest check-out line in Walmart so when we turned around to go back to the express line, there he was, walking toward us.

There was that split second where we sized one another up.

Friend or foe?

Greet or ignore?

Simultaneously, we extended our hands, gripping one another’s briefly while we both asked the other, “How are you?”

He asked about my student who had been in a car accident several weeks ago.  I told him what I knew.

He asked about my sons and I showed him a photo of my new granddaughter.

And then we both moved on.

As we walked away, my husband said, “Very good, dear.”  To which I replied, “I’m a nice person.”  And for a few minutes I felt good.

And then I remembered that this is exactly how I spent fifteen years of my life in his church.  Being told by staff and leadership that I was unwanted. Unneeded.  Unworthy.  Unable.  Undesirable.

But every time I saw him, if he was within arms reach, he would shake my hand, greet me warmly, talk as though nothing terrible was happening, and then move on.

Back then, it was so confusing to have the person whom I kept asking to please, please help me, pretend that everything was fine and never make any attempt to address or acknowledge my situation, my pain.

Today, it only took a moment as I walked away to realize that nothing has changed.  Since we last spoke, ten months ago, his brother told us to never return to the church.  Unwanted.  Unneeded.  Unworthy.  Unable.  Undesirable.

Not one word of acknowledgment.  Not one word of apology.  Not even a hint that anything is amiss.

So it must be just as he wants it to be.

If it were otherwise, he would make it so.

Has anyone else out there become an expert on something simply because you have never experienced it first hand?

Somehow, last week, I became an expert on how to apologize.

I wrote that letter to Mark Driscoll – which some of you may have already guessed was actually a letter to my former pastor – the letter about how to apologize.

Lots of people read my letter. Thousands. And folks were so incredibly kind. Telling me it was amazing. Beautiful. God-honoring.

A few people told me I should write a book.

May I tell you a secret? I am no expert on the art of apology.

All I really know about it is that it hasn’t happened to me. No one has driven to my home, knocked on my door, or offered one word of apology to me. Not my former pastor. None of the church staff or leadership. No one.

I have absolutely no experience with it.

So I don’t really know if what I wrote is the right way for Mark Driscoll, or for my pastor, or for anyone anywhere to do it.

Yet, in my heart, I know. I know that if my pastor were to show up on my doorstep and say, “I have come to tell you how sorry I am,” in the way that I described in my letter to Mark Driscoll, God would be so glorified that the world around me could not help but stop and pay attention and know that something beyond anything that we could ask or imagine had taken place.

The world needs to hear about more apologies, don’t you think? More people living this faith that we claim to believe by saying, “I’m sorry.”

And, “I forgive you.”

And, “I love you.”

And, “Thanks be to God.”

So I have this hope. That one day I will look up and see a car in my driveway and hear a knock on my door. So that the world will stop and pay attention. And know.