Shame Off You

Posted: October 13, 2014 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
Tags: , , , ,

As a victim of spiritual abuse, I was completely immersed in a shame-based system born out of ostracism, avoidance, judgment, and persecution.

Shame was deepened in me every time I was told I could not (without reasons) participate in a ministry or attend a class; every time I was ignored and avoided by the pastor and leadership; and especially when I was told that I could not tell anyone – not even my husband – what was being said and done to me.

When I went to counseling – I only went 4 times because my counselor heard my story and right away recognized that I wasn’t the one with the problem – my counselor was astounded that I had shared my story with only three or four people. I hadn’t even told my own sister. Because I was treated in such a way that I appeared to be the problem, I was too ashamed to admit what was happening to anyone. I was so afraid that by telling, people would agree with the leadership that I was the problem and deserving of what was being done to me.

Now, I have a much clearer view of what was really going on and where the shame truly lies.

My husband has said all along that if things had been handled correctly from the beginning, none of the abuse I suffered would have happened. And every time a situation arose that was abusive, the leadership could have embraced that as an opportunity for reconciliation and healing. But they chose to further the abuse, thus shaming me further and further.

My experience began when I asked for someone in leadership to accompany me in the second step of the Matthew 18 process. Instead of one person going with me, the leader whom the pastor directed me to speak with decided to make it a meeting with the entire personnel committee- people with a vested interest in protecting their employee.

For a church that preached and promoted following scriptural and denominational guidelines, this was their first “shameful” decision in abusing me.

At that meeting, I was denigrated. Not for being wrong. They absolutely agreed that my concerns were valid. I was denigrated for speaking up. One woman literally yelled at me. And it was obvious that the meeting had nothing at all to do with the original intent of following Matthew 18. I spent most of that meeting in tears and no one expressed any concern for me or my well-being.

The second shameful decision was when the pastor chose to ignore my request for an apology from that committee for the way that I had been treated. Not only did he ignore my request, he ignored me. I’ve asked before, what kind of pastor ignores someone who asks for help? Who begs for scriptural resolution? Who desperately wants to give and receive love and grace?

To ignore and ultimately contribute to and be the impetus behind spiritual abuse is an indication that this person has no calling from God to be a pastor.

Of course, the pastor’s shameful behavior in ignoring and avoiding me lasted for more than a decade as my story progressed. That, in and of itself, is shameful.

Shameful behavior # 3: When I was called and told not to attend the final Spiritual Gifts class because I was not going to be allowed to participate in the music ministry of the church – without reason. There was no indication that I was under church discipline and the staff person who called would not answer my “why” questions. Staff and churches who judge without evidence are shameful.

Number 4 is the “biggie.” This was when one of the assistant pastors told me I could do nothing in the church. In that conversation he refused to tell me why and commanded that I not tell anyone – not even my husband.

I, of course, was convinced that I must have done something horrible – especially when he said telling me could lead to “legal ramifications.” I was mired in shame by this time but the shame was misplaced- it was the church leaders who truly bore the shame for not following Matthew 18 with my original concerns, for not telling me why I was being ostracized, for virtually shunning me.

And while all of that continued for more than a decade, the events that took place only a few days before we were tossed out of the church were perhaps the most shameful.

It began with the senior pastor’s brother (also a pastor), talking to a number of people about me and relating to them that I was a terrible person for exposing what the leadership had done to me. He gossiped about me before there was any indication to me personally that they were upset with me. I had been telling my story about their abusive, disrespectful, and unscriptural treatment of me – which should have shamed them, but they, as many abusers do, attempted to turn it around and shame me instead – as usual.

Then, the pastor’s brother lied to an entire room full of people saying that it was a man who had been speaking negatively about the leadership of the church RATHER THAN DOING MATTHEW 18! He also told them that the person he was alluding to was not present in that meeting. Lying should be a shameful thing, and some of the people in the room that night knew he was lying. Shamelessly. With no repercussions. He used his own lies to try to bring further shame on me. But the shame belongs squarely to him.

Then he lied to my husband, telling him that he (my husband) was expected to attend a meeting that the pastor’s brother had requested during my husband’s work hours. If he originally intended for my husband to attend, he would have requested a time outside the work day.

And then he offended my husband by insinuating that he was not aware of my communications with the pastor and other church staff or my blog (my husband often helped write and proof read my writing). What kind of pastor attempts to turn spouses against one another?

Then he told us that, rather than apologize, we were to leave the church.

All the while, convincing others that I/we were the shameful ones.

We, who repeatedly asked for help, for answers, for Matthew 18, for respect.

Now, their attempts to shame me are no longer viable. I know where the shame lies.

If you are a survivor of spiritual abuse, look at where the shame truly lies. If you aren’t sure, go to someone outside the church – they have the clearest vision – and tell your story. You just might be surprised. In fact, I’m sure you will be.

Nothing is more freeing than to tell my story and to be assured that I did all I could and the shame was never mine to bear.

  1. Bike Bubba says:

    I couldn’t help but notice how you quit going to counseling after the counselor figured out you weren’t the one in sin/”with the problem”. A quick plea, dear sister; make sure that you’ve got the counsel you need to deal with your hurt, because counsel isn’t always about any sin or problem you’ve got, but about where you are as a result.

    Guessing that you’ve already done this, but just in case. I remember some counsel I got as a kid, and it was really due to the fact my parents’ marriage was falling apart. My fault? No, but my hurt. I’m not sure how much good it did me–the only thing I remember is having fun playing quarter-staff with foam cudgels and the counselor telling me it was OK to self-pleasure–but inasmuch as it was about my good, it might have been OK.

    • Ellen says:

      My counselor was not in any way a Christian, so she was not at all concerned with a “sin problem” – nor was I. I went to counseling because I knew that if I were to attend the meeting in which a group of church leaders were intent on badgering me, I would be an emotional mess.

      Once my counselor pointed out that I was seeking a relationship with someone who had no respect for me, which was truly eye opening because I so wanted the pastor to be the man of integrity that he should have been, my counselor told me that I had no need of counseling.

      I must say, you must be careful to not assume that I am still hurting. Where did you get that idea? Is it because I blog about it? I have addressed this many times in posts on this blog. Just because I am VOCAL does not mean that I am mired in pain or woundedness. Please remember that just because you still struggle does not mean that others do.

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