Against You and You Only Have I Sinned

Posted: January 29, 2015 in Uncategorized, When Church Hurts
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I think the senior pastor of my former church hangs his hat on Psalm 54:1.

In all the years that my husband and I attended, we never heard him suggest to the people in the pews that they might possibly consider going to someone they had hurt, offended, or (ahem) sinned against and apologize, let alone ask for forgiveness.

Not that he never talked about forgiveness – to be sure, he spoke of it in many a sermon and sometimes it was even part of the “liturgy” of the service: “Let us now bow our heads and take a moment to silently confess our sins to God.”

And that was it. To God. And God alone.

Every once in a while, he would make mention of the benefits of confessing our sins to “one another” – meaning that we should find someone of spiritual stature greater than our own to whom we could confess our deep, dark, sinful secrets. At one point several years ago, there was even a movement to schedule a time for a small group of elders to come to people’s homes and hear them confess their sins.

I remember distinctly one of the women on the women’s ministry worship team, of which I was a member, sharing her experience with this. A couple of elders had come to her home and she had confessed some very intimate sins to them. They apparently went through whatever training they had received in praying for her and declaring to her that she was forgiven by God and then they left. Later, whenever she would see these elders in church or around town, they almost completely ignored her and she found this very disconcerting. She told me that she had expected that they would continue to “check in” with her – even if just in passing – to see how she was doing. Instead, their evasion made her feel that she was now being judged negatively by them. Granted, when someone has been forgiven, it would stand to reason that the matter be dropped, but she was expecting something more. It was as though the act of confession had created a sort of bond in her mind between herself and the elders, but instead, their behavior toward her made her feel judged and unacceptable.

One of the firm convictions I have always held is that the senior pastor and the other leaders under his authority who spiritually abused me owed me not only an apology, but also should ask for my forgiveness for the damage they did in judging, ostracizing, and persecuting me. I reiterated this belief many times over the years in writing to the senior pastor. Never did I receive a response to my request by him or anyone else and so I wondered if he/they believed that they had not done anything to abuse me or wound me – nothing that would be considered a “sin”?

I do believe they felt entirely justified in the way that they treated me, but I also believe that even if at any time any of them – and especially the senior pastor – ever thought that perhaps I had been treated wrongly, there would be absolutely no reason to ever come to me, confess their sin to me, or to ask for my forgiveness. “Against God only” was a sin committed, the senior pastor would reason to himself, and so to God only would he need to ask forgiveness.

Early on, when I asked for someone in leadership to carry out the second step of Matthew 18 with me (and it all went terribly wrong and I became the problem for pointing out the problem), the senior pastor made a statement to me that should have been a warning about what the future would hold.

In reference to the staff person about whom I had expressed concern, the senior pastor said, “He will probably never forgive you.”

At the time, I thought the senior pastor had to be wrong. We were Christians, after all, and forgiveness is in our DNA – being children of God, heirs with Jesus, right? And I thought it would all blow over with time.

Looking back, I see that the senior pastor’s acceptance and apparent agreement with a staff person’s unwillingness or inability to forgive was a huge warning sign in and of itself.

Think about it.

A church where it’s okay for people in leadership – staff, no less – to refuse to forgive.

Yet, at the same time, I was made to feel that I could never apologize enough, could never ask for forgiveness enough, could never repent and show that I was changed – that I had become “good” enough.

And not that I had done anything wrong, anyway. I was following biblical protocol. Nothing wrong with that.

But even so, because I was made to feel that I had done some sin so heinous that it couldn’t even be spoken of, I even went so far as to apologize for any hurt I might possibly have caused and I personally asked the worship leader, the senior pastor, and the person who had been assigned to deal with my request for help in doing that Matthew 18 process, for forgiveness for anything I may have done wrong.

(Keep in mind that I had no idea what I may have done wrong – no one would tell me. But, even so, I was willing to accept that I am imperfect and may have been perceived to have had hurtful intentions, so I wanted to do all that I could to make things “right” by apologizing and asking for forgiveness from the people whom I assumed I had wronged.)

Because I continued to apologize repeatedly over the years, without even a hint of forgiveness being bestowed, I spiraled down, down, down, into believing that if my pastor and other leadership in the church could not forgive me, I must be a terrible person. Over time, when God didn’t intervene – when He didn’t work everything together for good by bringing healing to the situation – I began to believe that if I wasn’t good enough for the leadership to forgive me, nor for God to step in, I must not be wanted by God Himself.

This is the epitome of spiritual abuse. Being treated in such a way that my relationship with God was called into question.

I’m sure to this very day, the senior pastor and other leadership – even my (former) “friends” at the church, continue to believe that they did nothing wrong. That I deserved everything I got. If they had any qualms about their behavior, their treatment of me, I believe they would be knocking on my door and attempting to make amends.

Hiding behind “against You (God) only have I sinned” and keeping apologies and requests for forgiveness between them and God is a cop out and ultimately indicates that they don’t truly believe. True believers may not be perfect, but they try. They may not do it perfectly, but they try.

I tried so hard it almost killed my relationship with God.

I guess they can’t kill theirs because it doesn’t really exist.

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