Archive for May, 2015

Donald Miller has a post at Storyline (storylineblog.com) that stunned me in its accuracy in describing my former pastor.  The title of the post is How Do So Many Good People Get Away With Bad Things?  As my husband and I read through the post together last night, we agreed that no other writer has so precisely captured the characteristics that surrounded our experience.

Miller first lays out the overall mindset of those who allow people to “get away with” – in my case – spiritual abuse.  Essentially, it all boils down to the fact that people cannot accept that someone who does and says wonderful, positive good, is also capable of doing bad.  In fact, as I said to my husband, this was me.  For years, I just couldn’t believe that the senior pastor had anything at all to do with what was happening.  I thought he was being misled, that other staff members were doing this behind his back and that he couldn’t understand what I was trying to communicate because he so trusted his staff that he thought I was just wacko.  It really wasn’t until I went to counseling and the counselor point blank told me that the senior pastor had to be the impetus behind it all that my eyes began to open.  And I was the one being abused!  I have heard this over, as well, from (former) friends when we were still in the church and I shared my story with only a very select few people to just a few weeks ago when I had coffee with a friend.  “I just can’t believe he would allow this to happen.”  “This just doesn’t make sense!”  “I just can’t imagine him not stepping in to help you!”

Here is just a sampling of the items that my husband and I discussed as we read through Miller’s list of “unsafe leaders” characteristics.  Make sure you read Miller’s post to get a full description of each one.

“1. They have a track record of burned bridges.”   For years, we were concerned about the number of members and staff who left the church.  Sometimes we would hear rumors about why people left – both staff and lay people.  Other times, they would just quietly disappear.  Sometimes, several staff members would resign within a few weeks of one another.  Other times, we would hear that the senior pastor had decided it was time for someone to move on to another ministry.  We have often wondered, since many of those who left suspiciously were involved in delivering judgment to me (and others), if they were being eliminated because they had played the role of proxy and were realizing that they were a pawn in his abusive treatment of people. 

“2. They do not admit their mistakes.”  Our pastor refused to speak with me about the ostracism I was experiencing and even when I had the opportunity (after more than a decade) to speak with him face-to-face and ask him point blank what I had done to deserve being ostracized, he refused to answer. The only thing close to an apology that I received was “I’m sorry you were diminished.”  When I asked him to explain how he thought I was diminished, he refused to answer.  When my husband insisted that there be a deep and sincere apology, we were tossed out of the church.  

“3.  They want control at all costs.”  It took several years, but over time, the pstor convinced the leadership and the church at large to move from a consistory (elected committee, basically) which made decisions, to an executive board of only a handfull of people which currently includes himself, his brother, the staff financial guru, and one or two others.  They do not share with the congregation how money is spent  – including salaries, the details of staff hiring, firing, or “moving on,” etc.  Everyone is supposed to just accept whatever decisions they make and support them in every way – especially financially.

“4.  When caught, they play the victim.”  When speaking to woman who is a high level lay leader just after we were tossed out of the church, it became apparent that she had been convinced by the senior pastor’s brother that not matter how abusively they had treated me, that was nothing compared to the fact that I “told” (in a password protected blog that I had shared with very few) about what had been done to me.  The senior pastor was the true victim because I had shared with fewer than ten people (and only three or four in the church) the decade-plus of spiritually abusive treatment I had received under his leadership.

Miller ends his blog by advising people who are aware of or are victims of these leaders to just walk away unless what has been done is illegal.  He has taken some heat for this advice, but as a victim I can attest that there is some merit in what he is saying.  One has to gauge how well they can tolerate the abuse they will most likely endure by speaking up.   Miller also closes by saying that he knows 5 leaders who “fit this characteristic.”  And I am left to wonder if my pastor is one of them. Because Miller used to follow me on twitter.  He even caused a blog post of mine to go viral by tweeting about it.  But not long after, he un-followed me.  Last I checked, my former pastor and Donald Miller follow one another on twitter and I’m sure they have met (my former pastor follows very few people and only a couple of them are pastors (last I checked, Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren) or people who are celebrity Christians, so I’m sure he saw that tweet and that post and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he contacted Miller and warned him about me.  

I am grateful to Donald Miller for so succinctly addressing the characteristics of leaders who are toxic yet are allowed to get away with hurting others -and not only get away with it, but continue to be rewarded and revered. I hope those who read this will go to his blog and read the entire post.  And think about those you support who may seem like heros but cause concern because of Miller’s writing.

One of the best gifts my parents bestowed upon me and my four siblings is the encouragement to not only think deeply, but to study and learn and question and know.  It was not enough to think that we understood something, we were to know that we understood.  It was not enough to have an opinion or to hold a position about something, but we needed to be able to defend that opinion or position – to have thought it through from every angle, to have studied as many variables as possible, to be able to identify the potential problems in every scenario and to have a plan or solution prepared in advance in order to circumvent any and all possible negative happenstance. 

Often, my step-father would question us or argue with us simply as an exercise in getting us to think through our position or a problem so that we could know with confidence that we had arrived at the correct conclusion or decision.  He insisted that we consider every conceivable problem that might arise and have not only the justification to move forward anyway, but solutions for any complication.  Were an unanticipated situation to emerge, we needed to have done our homework in preparing for it so that we would be able to avert a crisis.  

Our home was filled with lively discussions, spirited debates, and constant banter.  My husband and I often laughingly recall the first time he visited my parents’ home.  Coming from a very quiet family, he sat in the corner of the kitchen watching all of us carrying on four or five different conversations all at once – most of them debates about politics, the price of gas, our jobs, etc.  – all while a police scanner, the local radio news station, and the television were all blaring.  And even though we all held very similar positions on most topics, we debated anyway – filling our arsenal with more ammunition for when those conversations might later be held in other arenas.

As a college student, my skills in problem solving, leadership, and administration landed me in several office-holding positions in my professional fraternity.  I was often called upon by the department chair and various professors to give my take on various policy decisions, and was invited several times to lunches and brunches held by the university’s president in his effort to garner student input into university-wide policy.

I was not raised in a church-going home, so when I went to college and became a Christian, I had no idea that I would one day suffer extreme ostracism and persecution.  In fact, as a college student involved in a thriving student ministry, my questions and challenges, debates, and arguments were welcomed and encouraged.  I became a well-thought-of leader in the campus ministry as well as in the church under whose umbrella the ministry functioned.

 Though I have never been told directly what my “sin” was in our last church, the senior pastor’s brother made mention of communications that I had attempted with the senior pastor as playing a significant role in the abuse that I endured for over a decade.

As I think back over those attempts to communicate with the senior pastor, I am becoming more and more convinced that because I was asking probing questions, the decision was made early-on that I was a trouble-maker and complainer and if I was ignored, avoided, pushed aside, and shamed, I would eventually take the hint and leave.  What they didn’t realize was that in my mind, all that really needed to happen was for us to have a discussion about the facts, the appropriate biblicial response, and for the leadership to help me to understand the reasoning behind the way things were being handled.

As I said earlier, I am one who wants to look at every situation from every angle, to consider every possible eventuality, and to understand why people have reached certain conclusions.  I am certain that some of my communications with the senior pastor even attempted to explain to him that I was asking questions and seeking clarification for the express purpose of understanding, so that I could then fully support the leaderships’ decisions and policies.  It baffles me that so many people are willing to go along with pretty much anything just because it’s a “leader” who has decided it must be so.

For me, it all began when I asked for help in taking the second step of Matthew 18 with a staff member whose ill treatment of volunteers under his direction continued to escalate.  I had spoken with him several times and was met with many promises to be more considerate, to no avail.  Rather than taking that second step of having one person go and speak to this staff member with me, the decision was made to have a committee meet with the two of us.  That meeting was a complete disaster (something that I had in no way anticipated – because I had been assured of another purpose for the meeting as well as a different outcome) and so I asked the senior pastor again for help in righting the wrongs that were done to me in mucking up the Matthew 18 process and in the way that the committee members treated me in that meeting.

Of course, if you’ve read my story, you already know that pretty much from that point on, the senior pastor refused to communicate with me regarding any of the ways that I was ostracized and persecuted over the next several years.  I, of course, kept communicating with him.  I wanted to understand why things had gone down as they had – not only in that original meeting, but in all of the ways that I was told I was not good enough to participate or serve over the next many years.  

Had he made the effort to explain his position to me, there may have been a very different conclusion to my story.   Either we would have worked through his concerns as well as my own and all of our questions would have been answered and the situation dealt with to the satisfaction of each of us, or we would have been able to come to the realization that it was not ever going to work out.  

I am certain that for it to have worked out, the senior pastor would have had to admit that things were handled improperly and that several apologies would have been necessary (fewer if this discussion had taken place earlier – more with each passing abusive experience).  

I am also absolutely certain that I would have immediately admitted to and expressed deep apologies for anything that I had done to cause him to believe that the treatment I recieved was warranted.  I know this as  a certainty because for years I expressed many apologies even though I had no idea what I was being punished for.   I confessed every sin, real or imagined, that I could think of in my desperate attempts to convince him that we should move forward into reconciliation and restoration.

Ultimately, my penchant for knowing – needing to know all angles and aspects in order to accept, support, and promote – is probably what brought on my spiritual abuse.  I asked too many questions.  I pointed out too many problems.  I insisted on answers.  

And my only conclusion is that if someone is afraid to debate their position or decision, they must already know that it is too faulty to be appropriate or correct.  No one should ever fear doing the right thing or explaining why it is the right thing.

I would also add that, unfortunately, in most churches to bring about change, one must have the ability and influence to control funds in such a way that leadership takes notice. This is a well written post that I hope those who know me personally read and take to heart.

john pavlovitz

Leaving-Church

If you don’t like what’s happening in the Church, what are you doing about it?

That’s the familiar refrain I hear from Christians who take offense at criticisms of the religious institution known as the Church. They’ll accuse me and those like me of being angry malcontents; serial complainers who have no real desire to make things better, who simply delight in publicly dragging Christianity through the mud.

They write us off as heretics and haters and claim that we have abandoned our faith and rejected God.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

What they don’t understand (or conveniently choose not to understand), is that it is precisely our enduring love for the Church, one we see as already well submerged in the mud, that compels us to speak. It is our very passionate and persevering faith in God that stirs us to engage in a spirited fight for the things that bear His name.

We are trying to rescue…

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Perhaps the most pivotal verse in my mind during the years that I was enamored with the senior pastor and other leadership at my former church was

“Do you not know, Dear Christian, that you are a temple of the living God and that His Holy Spirit dwells in you?”  1 Cor. 3:16.

I believe this verse.  I believe that we who are Christian have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  In my mind, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to believe that those people whom God had placed in leadership in my church were doing their utmost to represent God and to care for those under their leadership in ways that reflected the love, grace, compassion, and forgiveness of the One living within them.

So, when those in leadership repeatedly expressed to me the message that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t measure up, that I was unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, unworthy, etc., it didn’t seem too far fetched to equate their messages to me as representing what God thought of me, as well.  

Not that I expected godly perfection, because I also believe we as humans still make mistakes, misinterpret, misjudge, miss-the-mark.  But I did think that somewhere within a reasonable amount of time, people would realize that what they were doing was not truly representing God and they would take steps to right the wrongs, to back track and follow proper procedures if I truly had done something so heinous as to be ostracized and persecuted, to have as their goal reconciliation and restoration – perhaps even to give back what the locusts had eaten, so to speak.

Instead, months turned to years and years turned into more than a decade.  And even when the ostracism lifted, no explanations were given – not even when the question was asked point blank:  “What have I done that is so heinous that I am not allowed to do anything in this church?”

The Holy Spirit dwells in the pastor (presumably).

The pastor orchestrated, supported, and allowed my ostracism and persecution for years (eventually for more than a decade).

The pastor refused to respond to my questions so he obviously didn’t believe I deserved an explanation.

I must be a truly terrible person.

So terrible that the pastor doesn’t want me to do anything here.

Which means God must not want me to do anything here.  Maybe not anywhere.

Which means that God must agree with the pastor that I am a truly terrible person.

Deserving of ostracism.

Deserving of persecution.

Not even worth an explanation.

How could it be any different?  The pastor is a temple of the living God.

It is this thought process that landed me in spiritual abuse.  Some people have asked me if I think the pastor meant for me to question my standing with God.  Here’s what I know.  The pastor is, according to his own words, “highly educated.”  He was well-versed on spiritual abuse in the first conversation I ever had with him.  So, how could he not know the ramifications of what was being done to me?  He had to know.  

Temple of the living God.  Indwelt.

Maybe.

This is such an important message that I want to share it with the readers on my blog. Those of us who have been spiritually abused are often led to believe that we are unacceptable to God and to the church because we don’t behave the way the leadership would like us to behave. Maybe we ask too many questions or point out problems that they don’t want to address. And in the process we are made to feel that we are so sinful that God cannot love us or except us because they don’t love us or except us. Please know that you do not have to except the message of church leaders if it is anything other than God’s love and grace as described in this post.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

Have you ever found yourself thinking that you need to stop sinning in order for God to forgive you, that repentance from sin is a prerequisite to his forgiveness. Perhaps you act sometimes as if God forgive only the deserving.

If you ever do find yourself thinking such things, I have good news for you. You’re wrong. God loves you more than that.

And if someone ever tries to tell you that God forgives only those who turn to him in repentance, you can say that you have good news for them. They’re wrong too. God loves them more than that.

The Bible says so.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8.)

That verse is packed with grace not only for what it says, but for what it doesn’t say.

  • It doesn’t say Christ died for you…

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Being able to apologize

Posted: May 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

For many of us who have suffered spiritual abuse, there has been no attempt on the part of church leadership or even church “friends” to apologize to us. It was when my husband demanded that the church apologize to me that we were told to not bother coming back. A woman on the staff even told us that they had been instructed to never apologize for decisions that they have made. I, on the other hand, apologized profusely and constantly for sins that I was accused of though they would not specifically tell me what those sins were. I guess I was considered a bad person because I was willing to apologize which indicated that I was willing to admit that I was not perfect. They, on the other hand, apparently were perfect and they demonstrated it by their inability to apologize.

See, there's this thing called biology...

Being able to apologize is a sign of strength, not weakness. A couple of blogs I read today implied that one should never apologize, that it’s a sign of weakness, that it will just cause people to smell blood and go in for the kill.

Good grief!  Sometimes I feel like we need to go back to 4th grade and do a refresher course on basic manners and how to act like a human. This kind of foolishness is just tortuous to a mother’s heart.

Everybody, absolutely everybody, can cause unintentional or even intentional harm to others during the course of the day. Being aware of that is not weakness, its common sense. Actually, the ability to recognize and accept that truth, requires a certain amount of courage right out of the gate.

We don’t apologize on behalf of others so much, we apologize on behalf of ourselves. It’s simply…

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