Archive for August, 2015

We heard this quote often at our former church:

“Pay now, play later.  Play now, pay later.”

One of the most impressive things we noticed when we first began attending our former church was that the senior pastor appeared to be very “servant hearted.”  Unlike the majority of churches that have a reserved spot for the pastor right next to the building, he would park at the far end of the parking lot so that others could park closer.  After services on Sunday, he would return all of his glasses (he usually had three or four glasses of water collected under his chair) to the kitchen and he would go into the restrooms and collect the trash.  At wedding receptions you would find him in the kitchen washing dishes.  

As the years passed, we began to notice that the pastor was parking closer to the building and you never saw him collecting trash any more.  In all of the years that my husband and sons and I worked in the cafe and developed a huge portion of the landscape, we never saw the senior pastor, or any of the staff, for that matter, so much as reach down and pull a weed.  

My husband and sons were involved in several of the church’s organized efforts to help people – cleaning gutters, painting, cleaning up neighborhoods.  Never once did the senior pastor show up.  

And of course, if you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that even in times of crisis, neither he nor any of the staff made an appearance – not at the hospital when my husband injured his hand in a table saw and had emergency surgery, not when we had deaths in the family.  

Yet, the general consensus in the church is that he is a wonderful, servant-hearted pastor.  Lately, I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out what he did that was so servant hearted those last ten years or so that we were there.  Parking at the far end of the lot?  Washing a few dishes?  

By his own admission, he never even thought of a sermon on his own.  His sermons came from books and pastoral resources.  Those last couple of years, my husband and I would google his topics and find the books and resources he was using.  It wasn’t until just before we left that he made an admission to the congregation that he didn’t have an original sermon in his entire 20-plus tenure there.

So, what makes him servant-hearted?  Knowing who to wine and dine for the money he needed to build a mega church?  Knowing who to stroke with his attention?  

He didn’t do pre-marital counseling – that was farmed out to a local counselor.  But I know of one woman who boasted that he was traveling hours away to provide pre-marital counseling to her daughter and the daughter’s fiance.  They were wealthy business owners and high society people in the community.  So, apparently, it all depends on who you are (as I have said before).

In one of my famous emails to him (okay, probably more than one), I even pointed out to him that it appeared that he didn’t want to help me with the spiritual abuse that his proxies staff (I hadn’t figured out they were proxies yet) had meted out because I was not pretty enough, smart enough, rich enough, high enough on the food chain, etc.  But his behavior testified over and over again that this was certainly the case.

So, again, I ask: “What makes him servant-hearted?”

Being servant-hearted to some and not others is not servant-hearted.  It’s politics.  

It’s not doing it “to the least of these” for sure.

He started out putting on a good show with the dish washing and parking and trash emptying.  Not really all that much, but enough and where everyone could see it.  He “paid” in those early years so that he could one day “play.”  

Very shrewd.

“You are not to tell anyone that we had this conversation – not even your husband.” I’ll never forget that day – the weather was beautiful, I was wearing a dress with a black skirt and gold and black vest and I had just been told that I could not do anything in the church except attend services. I had been trying to tell the senior pastor for a very long time that something was terribly wrong and that was the day that his proxy informed me that the ostracism become fully realized . . .

I often link to or reblog others posts when they speak directly to my experience.  The blog “A Cry for Justice,” though directed more toward domestic abuse, often does this.  Because, ultimately, abuse is abuse, though it may take various forms.  Here is a link to another post that hits home for me.

Crying Out For Justice

The so-called Republican “debate” – which was in no way a “debate” – was some of the best entertainment I have seen in a while.  I truly enjoyed the sparring and jabs – and we all know the thing that makes comedy comedic is the basis of truth that is inherent in what is being said.

I watched an interview with Donald Trump that took place after the “debate” and in the interview, Sean Hannity questioned Trump on his comments about donations to people in order to make them beholden to him.  Hannity then made this statement:  “People donate for the purpose of buying influence.”

I immediately recalled that about ten years in to my punishment – being ostracized and not allowed to attend, participate, or serve in my church – I had a conversation with my husband.

I had just been moved into a full-time teaching position which dramatically changed our financial situation from sometimes needing to decide whether to pay the utility bill or buy groceries, to being able to give more generously to the church.  In our conversation, I told my husband, “Just wait and see.  Once we start giving this amount of money (a 10% tithe), in anywhere from six to eighteen months, my situation will change.  I will be accepted and allowed to do whatever I want.”

About one year later, the senior pastor told me that I could do whatever I wanted.  He refused to tell me what I had done over a decade earlier to warrant the ostracism and judgment I had received, and my behavior had not changed over that decade.  I still sent emails asking for answers, confessing anything I could think of that I might have done to deserve punishment, and even told him repeatedly how my spiritual health was devastated due to the way that I was being treated.  None of that had changed.  Yet, one year of significantly increased giving and now I could do whatever I wanted.

In that moment, my husband and I knew without a doubt that in that church, money buys influence. I immediately got involved – attending classes, teaching classes, taking over a significant portion of the landscaping and paying for plants, benches, patio tables and chairs, trees and shrubs with my own money.  And, I was still asking for an explanation of what I had done that was so heinous that I was not allowed for over a decade to attend, serve, participate.  Ultimately, because he would not give me answers, the impact of spiritual abuse was taking an even greater toll on me – to the point that I was exhibiting symptoms of PTSD whenever I was at the church, in close proximity to the pastor or other high level staff and lay people. (You can read all about that in my story and other posts on this blog.)  I entered counseling and immediately my eyes began to open.

At the same time, my husband had two major accidents requiring emergency room visits and surgery.  My son was getting married.  Both of my sons were finishing college and money was pretty tight.  Knowing from my counseling that I was not respected by the pastor or the church leadership at large, we decided we would cut back on our tithes to the church.  We continued to tithe, but to other people and places who were in greater need than the multi-million dollar church with it’s multi-million dollar budget (though they would not reveal the specifics of how money was distributed or spent), whose weekly offering exceeded $60,000 – yes, weekly.

And I said to my husband, “Just wait and see.  They are going to notice that we aren’t giving as much and the ostracism and punishment is going to kick in again.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t more than a few months and we were told not to return to the church.  We were no longer donating.  We were no longer buying influence.  I’m pretty sure if we had continued to give our tithe and our time, the outcome would have been much different.

I was watching one of those real life crime drama shows recently.  I can’t remember if it was Dateline or 20/20 or 48 Hours, but the story was about a young woman who was interrogated bullied by the police for hours on end until she agreed with them that she had slammed a baby to the floor causing a head injury that led to his death.  She was convicted and in prison when the fact that the child had suffered a concussion weeks before that had caused his death.  Over and over, the reporter asked, “Why did you confess to something you didn’t do?”  And it was that question that brought revelation to me.

I “confessed” and pleaded for forgiveness from my former pastor repeatedly for several years – not only for something I didn’t do, but because they wouldn’t tell me what I had done wrong, I confessed to everything and anything I could think up that I might have done.

This in turn gave my abusers the ammunition they needed to justify their judgment and ostracism.  My confessions gave them the ability to say, “See!  She admits she is the problem!  What we are doing/have done is absolutely the right thing to do!”

Like the woman in that interrogation room, I had been judged as guilty and I just wanted to make my accusers happy so that the nightmare would end.  Like that woman who believed the police officers when they told her that if she would just admit what she had done, this would all be over and they could all go home, I came to believe what I heard from the pulpit – that confession leads to forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration, so if I would just hit on the right thing to confess, we could all breathe a collective sigh of relief and it would all be over.

What I didn’t realize is that, also like that woman, my confession only led to my accusers being able to further convict me and sentence me to years of ostracism, persecution, and judgment which snowballed into more confessions as continued to hope to finally say the magic words that would lead to my release.

Instead, my spiritual imprisonment led to my belief that since the leadership of the church thought me unworthy, unwelcome, undeserving, God must think the same.  And that is where the spiritual abuse became most damaging – making me question my acceptance by and relationship to God.

And when I finally decided to recant and demand an apology for the way that I was treated – because even if they had justification, the way I was treated was totally wrong – rather than apologize, they told us to leave the church, further attempting to spiritually abuse me by making me feel completely rejected by them and by God.

I think many of us who have been wrongly accused by church leadership have probably at some point done exactly what that young woman did in that interrogation room.  We have confessed to things we didn’t do with the simple hope that what we and the leadership claim to believe is truly true.  That if we confess, we can be forgiven, and ultimately experience reconciliation and restoration and move on to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of what Jesus is all about.  But, like me, many of you discovered that it doesn’t work that way.

And to you I say, “Don’t wait to be released from that prison by working harder and harder to convince your captors that you are repentant and worthy.  Break free by getting away from them.  Don’t let them continue to undermine your spirtual well-being (which you know impacts every other aspect of your life).  And know that they are the ones who are truly in prison because they do not live what they claim to believe – which ultimately means they don’t really believe at all.