My Story, Part Two, Our First Abusive Church

This is my story – beginning from my earliest memories as best I can recall.  All names and places have been changed except mine.”

CHAPTER FOUR

I met my sweet husband when I arrived at the school in western Iowa to teach. He had been teaching Math, Physics, and Computer Programming there for several years and I had come there to replace “god” – the 6th-12th grade band director who had been there for several years, as well.  My future husband and I were acquaintances that first year, but didn’t really try to get to know one another.

A few weeks into my second year at the school, he asked me what I was doing that Friday night.  “I’m planning to do laundry at the laundromat.  Why?”

He explained to me that the new vocal music teacher, another single woman, was dropping in on him almost nightly and he just wanted a place to go so that he wouldn’t be at his place if she came by that night.  “Well, you’re welcome to come to my apartment and watch TV or something while I’m off doing laundry,”  I replied.  So it was that over the next couple of weeks we spent a little time together.  It took all of five weeks before he finally proposed!

When we married, we made the decision to resign from our teaching positions and ended up moving back to my home neighborhood area outside of a tiny town in southeast Iowa.  During those early years, I started out substitute teaching, then was called by both a local college and a local school district and asked to teach.  The timing of these job offers was perfect.  The school district job was a one year position, and we had decided it was time to start a family and that I would be a stay-at-home mom, so one year fit exactly into our plan.

Because my husband had been raised Reformed and I had been disenchanted with the Lutheran Church, we decided to begin by attending a local reformed church where some relatives of my biological father’s family were members.  As newly-weds, and newcomers, we dived right into a couples group, and I sang in the choir.  Soon, I was asked to sing solos and to provide “special music” during the services.  It wasn’t long before I was asked to be the choir director, and it was there that I first learned that church folks are much more concerned with tradition and having their own way – especially because of their family lineage in the church – than they are about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control.

We also learned that because we weren’t raised in that particular Reformed church, any level of respect for either of us was minimal.  My husband is a fine craftsman and woodworker but when the elders and deacons discussed having him refinish the communion table, their debate lasted nearly two hours.  The argument was that because he hadn’t been raised in that particular church, he might not have the reverence for the communion table that would be necessary.

Almost immediately upon arriving at that church, I developed a friendship with a woman near my age.  We were both musicians – she being a wonderful pianist and organist – and she became my accompanist for special music at the church and at several other venues throughout the community where I was invited to sing. While our friendship blossomed, it seems that her marriage suffered.  She revealed to me that her husband was jealous of our relationship.  As a stay-at-home mom and farm wife, he did not like that we were meeting at the church to practice, that she was sharing with me the intimacies that “girl-friends” often share, and ultimately that he expressed that he wanted the relationship with her that she and I had developed.

While I expressed my concern that her marriage should come first and that perhaps we should temper our time together, she was adamant that nothing should change – in her opinion, it was his problem.  But, over time, his antagonism became more and more apparent, to the point that he made disparaging remarks to me in front of an Easter choir.  Though several people quietly and privately expressed their dismay at his outburst, I knew that his feelings toward me were an indication that my friendship with his wife needed to take a step back.  When I spoke with her about it, she again adamantly disagreed and felt that he should be ignored.  I simply wasn’t comfortable with that.  I thought it prudent to limit our contact time but she made the decision to end our friendship altogether.

At the church, as with many local churches, I’m sure, many decisions are made and much information is dispensed around the dining room table on Sundays.  Those with generational ties to the church are aware of what is going on, but those of us without that connection are in the dark.  During the first few years of our marriage this didn’t bother us.  And while my friend and I were close, she made sure I knew what was going on.  But, after our friendship ended, being “out of the loop” meant that our children were being overlooked, as well.  When our children began being affected, we knew that it was time to look for another place to worship.

Many people assumed that the loss of my friendship was the cause for our leaving, and in a round-about way, it was.  She had been my connection to information and without her, we – and our children – were being impacted.  We determined that it was important to raise our children in a church where they would be welcomed and embraced no matter what their family church heritage.

CHAPTER FIVE

Because we had decided to home school our children, we decided to visit the local ‘home school church’ at that time. We were immediately enthralled with the pastor’s sermons. Here was a man who preached the word without apology or reservation. We and our children were embraced and invited to become involved immediately. It wasn’t long before I was asked to join a worship-planning team and to put together music for contemporary worship services which were being held more and more frequently. What we didn’t know at the time was that there were many unwritten rules – rules that we wouldn’t learn about until they were broken.

It was during this time that my husband was working 12 hour rotating shifts and I would often put the boys to bed, then go sit on our wide front porch and read my Bible or other Christian books and write in my journal.

I had sensed for quite some time that there must be more to this Christian thing than what I had experienced so far.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was longing for, but longing I was and deeply.  It was on a beautiful summer night, sitting in the glider on our front porch that I remember praying what I knew would be a very dangerous prayer if God actually decided to answer it.

“Do whatever it takes,” I said.  “Do whatever it takes to make me into the woman you want me to be.”

At the time, I visualized losing one of my children or my husband or our home or my husband losing his job.  We had made the choice to live with very little so that I could be home with the boys.  My husband had turned down offers for advancement that would increase his pay, but decrease his time with us.  Often, we had to choose between buying groceries or paying the utility bill.  Yet, I considered myself a rich woman in that I was able to stay home with my boys and my husband’s favorite place to be was with me and our children.

I never dreamed that “Whatever it takes” would be a rending of the very fabric of who I was.  Before it was all said and done, my faith – my Christianity – would be questioned; my heart, my motives, my spiritual fruit all called into question.

Some of those rules included the position that women could not be in leadership over males once they reached the age of twelve. Women could teach women’s bible studies and mixed groups of children until that magical age of twelve, but then the girls were separated from the boys and only men could teach the boys. Women also were not to pray if there was a man in the room. Once, the pastor asked me to close a meeting in prayer. After doing so, a woman at the meeting took me aside and admonished me for agreeing to pray. When I spoke with the pastor about this, he said, “Yes, she’s right. I was testing you.”

The woman who told me I was wrong to pray in the presence of men came to my defense in a conversation with the pastor one day.  She told me that as she brought up those qualities that she thought were admirable in me, he countered by asking her where in my life was there any spiritual fruit?  Where is there any love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Self-control?

In her account, she responded that I had exhibited much more fruit and grace than he and all of the elders combined.  Yet, he planted a seed within her and with others that my standing as a Christian was in question because he was not able to recognize any fruit.

Other rules were that even though I was part of the planning for worship, and the pastor asked that I take the information to the male song leaders, they were offended that a woman would be passing along that information to them. I was once upbraided by a song leader immediately following a service in the presence of most of the congregation. “I will not take orders from you or any other woman!”  he declared.

Over time, we realized that the pastor believed that women were not only lesser than men positionally, but also in their level of intelligence. More than once, he expressed his amazement that his own daughter was at the top of her class at a Bible college in Kansas City – out-scoring all of the males at the school.

I was a strong woman – too strong to suit my abusers – and intelligent.  But also kind and polite.  Too polite.   I learned quickly that to point out the problems – the contradictions, the maliciousness, only brought condemnation down on me.  And, as time went on, I was too hurt and frightened.  And I was put on the defensive because everything that I said and did was twisted and turned against me.

A pivotal moment came when the pastor invited me to meet with him to discuss music. He was going to be speaking to the youth of the church regarding contemporary and “rock” music and wanted my input as a trained musician and music educator. When I sat down with him in his office, he began the dialogue by saying, “Ellen, would you agree that music is written for a purpose?”

When I asked him to clarify his question, he said, “Well, wouldn’t you agree that marches are written to spur men to battle and lullabies are meant to put babies to sleep? Therefore, there is music that is written with the intent to be inherently evil.”  I responded by saying that while some music is written in an apparent attempt to elicit specific responses, those responses are not universal.

He asked me to explain and I said that I have seen my own babies sleep through the marches that bands play as they march only inches away from us in parades. I have heard of a soldier in a fox hole who remembered a lullaby his mother sang to him as she dangled him on her knee and that he was then spurred on to battle for love of mother and country.

I then explained to him that music is made up of seven finite elements. It doesn’t matter if you play one note or a million, you will only have those seven finite elements – no more and no less. Those elements are pitch, timbre, duration, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, and texture. It doesn’t matter what ‘style’ of music, it will have all and only those seven elements – period. “So,” I asked, “where is the evil?”

I paused, then leaned forward, pointed to my heart, and said, “It’s right here. Does that mean that we shouldn’t be careful about what music we listen to? Absolutely not. We must be very careful to guard our own hearts – which are deceitful above all things. We must be very careful to know what music will elicit unwholesome responses from us. But just because you might find that ‘rock’ music impacts you in a negative way, that doesn’t mean it will have the same impact on me. I might be much more influenced by a ballad. We each must guard our own hearts.”

From that moment on, the pastor had a different attitude toward me. When I later related the conversation to my husband, he said that I was treading on dangerous ground because I had expressed an argument that the pastor could not refute and he wasn’t used to losing – especially not to a woman.

I continued to assist with worship planning and also would rehearse the worship team. The associate pastor would lead the music during the services, but never attended the rehearsals. When the team would bring their questions or concerns to me, he was offended because he was ultimately the “leader” of the group.

After a time, all of these negative responses to my “helpfulness” began to take a toll on me. I went to the pastor to tell him that I wanted to take the summer off – that my boys were young and becoming more active and I needed to be more available to them and their activities. Of course, stepping out of ministry even for a brief time was a difficult decision for me and he knew that. At the end of our meeting, he came out from behind his desk saying that he wanted to give me a hug. His embrace seemed a bit long – verging on uncomfortable – and then he leaned back, looked into my face, and began to lean toward me in what I interpreted as an attempt to kiss me. I was immediately repulsed and pushed him back away from me. He didn’t say another word, and I immediately left his office.

For a long time, I told myself that I must have misconstrued his actions – how could it be that my pastor would do something like that? I shared it with no one – not even my husband  – for over a year.

It was in taking a break from the worship meetings and worship team, that I learned that my job was to make the pastor look good and without me to help plan, organize, and rehearse the worship team, it was going to be much harder for him to do so. He immediately began a campaign to malign my character – beginning that very evening. The worship committee was meeting and the chairman and I arrived at the meeting first. He took that opportunity to tell me that at the elders meeting which he had come from only a few moments earlier, the pastor had expressed his deep distaste for me and said that he had removed me from my leadership positions.  This was a bald-faced lie – I had been the one to tell him I wanted to take a break!

The next day, the Christian Education chair and his wife came to our home to tell us the same thing. He was very concerned because he knew us well and what the pastor had said about me just didn’t ring true. He wanted us to know that the pastor was “out to get” me and that we needed to be very careful.

I guess I was just very naïve, because I then wrote a letter of apology to the pastor for disappointing him and told him that I would be willing to continue on the planning team and with rehearsing the worship team. But I obviously had crossed a great divide and there was no returning. It took us about eighteen months to finally figure out that there was no turning back. The pastor had made up his mind and he was on a mission to destroy me.

All this time, I was crying out to God. I fully believed that He was going to “fix” this – that we were all Christians and that all things would work together for good. Instead, I found myself being ostracized, criticized, maligned, and hated. I was preached about from the pulpit and falsely accused of trumped-up charges. When the pastor found out that I was “spirit-filled” and spoke in tongues – I was told that I was not a Christian, that these were signs that Satan was at work in me.

When the elders started shunning me – not speaking to me, smiling, shaking hands, and avoiding being near me – I wrote them all a letter.  In the letter, I explained why I had stepped out of worship ministry, how that very night at an elder’s meeting they had discussed me with many negative declarations and that we had been informed of the pastor’s and the elder’s comments by two committee chairmen who had been in attendance.

A meeting was called and the elders and pastors adamantly denied ever having said anything remotely close to what my letter had indicated.  They asked for the names of the committee chairmen who had told me this and I refused to name them so they declared that I was lying.  I was made out to be a pathological liar and that to question their integrity was heinous.

It was months later that another meeting was called in which I was told that though I had not quoted them “word-for-word,” I had captured the essence of their conversation and for that they wanted to apologize.  According to the elders, and with the pastor looking on with contempt on his face, the pastor had instructed them that since I had not been able to quote them word-for-word, they had not needed to admit that the conversation had taken place at all.  But, thankfully, someone had thought better of that decision as time went on.  That was the only apology I ever received.

We were so hopeful after that meeting. It was the only time that we were given any real hope.  Little did we realize that while the elders might have been convicted, the pastor was only going along to appease them and relieve them of their guilty consciences. After that, efforts to malign me were redoubled.

I was called in to several meetings over that 18 months. Memorable is the meeting in which I was told my driving was an indication of my rebellious nature. It was early spring and there had been quite a bit of ice that year, so there was a great deal of sand on the streets – especially at the intersections. I was driving our 4-wheel drive Dodge Dakota and as I pulled out of the church lot, I saw a car pop over the hill. I knew that if I didn’t accelerate rather quickly, I would be cutting off that driver, so I gave the truck some gas and the 380 engine burst forth with enough power to cause the tires to spin. The pastor and an elder were in the parking lot and saw me “peal out” and thus I was called in for a meeting with all of the elders.

As my treatment by the pastor and leadership became more and more condemnatory, the pastor’s daughter became pregnant while attending Bible college. The pastor forced his daughter to stand before the congregation and confess all of the intimate details of her indiscretion – when, where, how, etc. My husband and I were horrified, to say the least, but, still, we believed that this was “church” and that God could and would work everything together for good.

Often, the pastor would contradict himself – saying one thing in his sermon one week and the opposite in his sermon the next week. And just as often, he would preach one thing and do another.  Everyone was welcome!  Yet, when a man and woman who were living together showed up in church one Sunday, they were ushered out before the service started and told they were not welcome.  (Tell me, is there a better place for people who are ‘living in sin’ to be?)

After several months of being beaten down through sermons and meetings, the pastor called a meeting in which he invited about 25 people from the church.  They were people who had been supporters of me, been involved in the worship team with me, as well as the committee chairmen who had told us about the pastor’s attack on my character at the elder’s meeting months before.  My husband and I attended this meeting and I sat with a tape recorder on my lap recording it all.  The head elder read a lengthy statement declaring that I was unfit, my Christianity was suspect, that I needed counseling, etc.

The people attending were told that they could not ask any questions, they were to simply hear the statement and accept it and move on.  But, one man, the head of the Christian Education Committee who had visited my house to tell me about the elder’s meeting, insisted on standing and speaking.

He declared to everyone there that in his estimation, I had always been consistent in my story about what was happening, but that the pastor had changed his story time and time again throughout the months  to support his position that I was the problem.  He spoke at great length and ended by saying that because the pastor had not proven himself to be a man of honesty, character, and integrity, he and his family would no longer be attending that church.

While this speech bolstered our hopes that the pastor would come to his senses and things would get back to normal, it only caused him to become more abusive.  He blamed me for this family leaving the church and let it be known that if anyone else were to leave because of me, I would be blamed for that, as well.

Throughout this time, we also came to realize that two other women had been attacked by the pastor and, subsequently, their families had left the church.  Both were strong women with amazing leadership abilities.  One intimated to me that she thought the pastor might be interested in more than a pastor/parishioner relationship with her – the signs were subtle, so she couldn’t be entirely sure.  Later, when they left the church, her husband was incredibly angry at the pastor, but he never gave a reason.  One can only speculate . . .

At one point, we went to the head elder’s home to speak with him about what was going on.  He told us that the pastor had a history of trouble with women in the church, but none had he been so vicious toward as me.  Perhaps that’s because I was the only one who stayed and tried to work it out – who believed that we were all Christians and God would make all things work together for good.

Of course, meeting with the head elder only meant that we were once again lambasted for going behind the pastor’s back and trying to malign him.  The ‘good 0l’ boys club’ was in full swing.

We also were told about an elder who had sympathized with my plight at a meeting.  He was taken to lunch by the pastor and informed that his job as an elder was to support the pastor no matter what.  To his credit, the man resigned as an elder, but he didn’t leave the church and never spoke in our defense after that.

At one point, my husband went to the pastor’s home to try to have a reasonable conversation with him.  Instead, the pastor claimed that he felt threatened that my husband had come to his home to speak with him.  Now, anyone who knows my sweet husband, knows that he would never – could never – be a threat to anyone.  But, once again, it was a situation in which no matter what one of us did, the pastor was going to put a negative spin on it and use it against us.

At our final meeting with the pastor and elders, the pastor had the nerve to tell my husband that he (the pastor) knew me better than my husband did and to question why he was even staying committed to me since I was obviously such a rebellious, malicious, unChristian woman.  To have the audacity to claim that he knew me better than my husband was just another indication of how vindictive and hateful this pastor could be in his attempts to destroy me/us.

It was a cold December night when my husband and I were summoned to an elders meeting and I was asked if I believed that the pastor does God’s will perfectly. I responded by saying, “I believe that the pastor desires to do God’s will, but none of us can do it perfectly.” You would have thought that I had slapped every elder in that room squarely across the face. They then made it clear that the pastor most certainly does God’s will perfectly and that to not believe that was akin to renouncing Jesus.

My husband and I walked out of the church that night and before we got to our car, we had agreed that we could no longer attend that church. We went home and immediately wrote a letter asking to be removed from membership. Later, we read the church’s by-laws and discovered that it was the church’s position that the pastor’s words are equal to scripture. This affirmed our decision to shake the dust from our feet.

Later, we heard from sympathetic church members that we had again been preached about from the pulpit and that the pastor and elders wanted people to let them know if they heard that we were attending another church elsewhere.

Nearly a year to the day of our leaving it was announced that the pastor was caught in an adulterous affair with a woman he had been counseling. I received several notes and calls asking if I had also been approached by him, but I didn’t share my experience. He was removed from ministry, but the scars left on me remained.

 

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Comments
  1. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  2. Mia says:

    Dear Ellen
    Thank you for sharing your story. I know very well what you are talking about.
    Blessings XX
    Mia

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you for reading, Mia. I am a teacher, so my activity on here is pretty sporadic depending on what’s happening at school, but I wanted you to know that the next part of my story should be up sometime in the coming week. It is so affirming to know that others can relate to what I am writing. Sometimes it seems a very lonely place when people that I went to church with just couldn’t see or acknowledge what I have been/was going through. I appreciate you! With gratitude,

      Ellen

  3. I also know very, very well what you are talking about, Ellen. By now I read part one and two of your story. Actually, it was very touching for me…

    After leaving the abusing church – or rather, the spiritual noxious dependency on abusive “Christian leaders” – I heard this peculiar question from outsiders, “How is it possible that a smart woman with a college degree did not leave as soon as she had realized that there was something wrong when she was treated so badly?”

    Interesting question, isn’t it….

    I needed many years to come to grips with that. Although my mind had immediately known what was indeed wrong, my heart that had been wounded so often before sought to seek comfort and praise of men in church whom I somehow confused with God [Yes, they claimed to be God’s inerrant mouthpiece, too, and I believed them].

    The only chance to be freed completely is to come into a tender, passionate, and loving relationship with our God Himself – through Jesus – so that we can see and feel that His blessings are sooo different from what men could ever offer us.

    And our lovely God restores everything that the locust has stolen…

    • CORRECTION:

      “…the spiritually noxious dependency on…”

      • Ellen says:

        I have had the same thing said to me. I don’t think my position was warped, as some have told me, but I truly wanted to get to the place of grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration that my faith was supposed to be all about. Sadly, I have not yet been made aware of anyone who has gone through an abusive church situation who has ultimately experienced a God-honoring conclusion with the leader/church that wounded them.

      • Ellen, you wrote, ” Sadly, I have not yet been made aware of anyone who has gone through an abusive church situation who has ultimately experienced a God-honoring conclusion with the leader/church that wounded them.”

        Alas, so true! Neither have I heard of such a kind of reconciliation in those cases I know.
        As for me, before being able to really forgive, I had to go through very extreme feelings which I had rather suppressed and buried in my subconscious mind. As soon as I had seen that there would be no graceful conclusion, but simply some one-sided finger-pointing, I felt the pain of rejection, anger, wrath, and deep, deep pain in my heart. Forgiveness, in fact, came many years later, as I had finally gone through that dark tunnel of negative emotions.

        Regarding the church leaders, oh well…that’s difficult, indeed. What they needed were repentance and a new heart from God – a heart that loves and feels compassion for those whom they wounded. Sometimes such miracles do happen, yet, one ought to be patiently waiting – years/decades – until they realize what they have done.

        Love,
        Susanne

  4. Michael says:

    Susanne, I am in total agreement with you from my own experience with abusive church leadership as well. I was in this one cult that the leader thought he could do no wrong. God had me apologize to him for my anger I had harbored in my heart against him, but he NEVER apologized to anyone that I know of. He has always be righteous in his own eyes. I have only had one pastor (now an ex-pastor) who ever apologize for his part in the abuse and he now sees that the whole top down system is wrong and has left off being in this false place of leadership.

    It is like the brother said above in that partial quote from Lord Acton of England, “It is not a question of who had the right to rule. NO ONE has the right to rule. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I have been in the Catholic Church, and many verities of Protestantism as well and even seen it in “non-denominational” churches. The more unquestioned authority a leader garners to himself, the more abusive he becomes. This is what in the N. T. it is forbidden to lord over the people of God. Jesus Himself said it, but in the institutions called “churches” we seem to be blind to His words…

    And, calling them to Him, Jesus is saying to them, “You are aware that those of the nations who are presuming to be chiefs are lording it over them, and their great men are coercing them. Yet not thus is it among you. But whosoever may be wanting to become great among you, will be your servant. And whosoever may be wanting to be foremost among you, will be the slave of all. For even the Son of Mankind came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His soul a ransom for many.”
    (Mark 10:42-45 CLV)

    God’s ways are not fallen man’s ways — the ways of the world’s leaders. We who are Christ’s were never meant to have any other Head over us other than Jesus Christ who is the ONLY Head of HIS body (see Matt. 21:42, 1 Cor. 11:3, Ephesians 5:23, Col. 1:18 and Col. 2:10). The Protestant Reformation never went far enough to get back to what the Church was in its beginning where Jesus reigned over it by obedience to His Spirit in all things and a complete attitude of its members of serving one another out of His marvelous love in their hearts.

  5. Michael says:

    Ellen, you wrote, “From that moment on, the pastor had a different attitude toward me. When I later related the conversation to my husband, he said that I was treading on dangerous ground because I had expressed an argument that the pastor could not refute and he wasn’t used to losing – especially not to a woman.” Soooo true! I found out the hard way that I was also on dangerous ground when I demonstrated ANY ability or grace in me that upstaged the pastor in his canned act and I don’t mean during his part of the “service” but in any way at any time! God used me to pray for a sister’s healing and she was healed, yet the pastor had prayed hundreds of times for this to happen in others with no results! “Bad career move” on my part! I also knew the scriptures better than most pastors of churches we went to… another “bad career move.” There were many other ways that I “out-shown” the pastors in “their” churches without intending to, just because I was being led by the Spirit and they depended on their own fleshly abilities; mental acuity, charm, personal charisma, authority of “office,” etc., to get their power over the people and attain what they were after.

    So, Ellen, I relate! As for this male mindset of superiority, as far as I am concerned it goes back in each of us to a bad relationship with our own mothers and often a giant inferiority complex in ourselves. God had to heal me of both and it took many years to come to grips with it and apologize to my wife for all the abuse toward her that came out of it. It amazes me that she has stayed with me through it all for 48 years! A woman’s love is an amazing thing! By the way, most of my healing in this area has come from forgiving my mother for her sinful ways in dealing with me. I have learned that we bind things on earth in our hearts through unforgiveness and as a result we bind our heavenly growth in God’s kingdom as well. My relationship with Jesus had to become more important to me than my ax of resentment and pain that I loved to grind and it was then that He showed me where the blockage was.

    Keep sharing and searching, dear sister! Yes, all these things are governed by what we have in our hearts, not just the personal effects of music.

    • Ellen says:

      Dave, I think you are absolutely correct that pastors (and other leaders in the church in my case) are threatened by those whom they perceive as being more or better than they are. My last pastor even “accused” me of being a theologian – because I could back up what I was saying with scripture. He made it obvious that being a “theologian” was a bad thing. Apparently, he felt that because I was asking for scriptural responses to how I was being treated, that made being theological a problem. It made me mean and hateful. And I bought that lie – that I must be mean and hateful to expect to be treated as outlined in scripture. Now I know better. Now I know that it is mean and hateful to condemn, judge, and ostracize people rather than respond in a scriptural manner. Thanks so much for writing.

      • Michael says:

        Dear Ellen, Thanks for accepting my comment on here. It is a funny thing when you call them on their own sin when they think that just because they have a title they can do whatever they want with God’s sheep. Elders are to be called into account when they sin and to made an example of when they are in error according to Paul.

        Against an elder receive not an accusation, unless before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear. I charge you before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.
        (1 Timothy 5:19-21 KJ2000)

        I used to be in a Vineyard church and it was proper to quote John Wimber all the time, but when I pointed out that he often taught contrary to the scriptures, I WAS TO BLAME! That was the first time I found out that being knowledgeable in the Bible was a liability, not an asset when it came to church going.

  6. New Iberia, LA says:

    Ellen, My heart goes out to you. I too have been abused in not 1, not 2 but 3
    churches in the past 20+ years. Over time the Lord showed me that the latter 2
    pastors that abused me publicly once I left the first church after having been there
    20 years were influenced by the word of the first pastor spoken to them behind my
    back. I too have discernment and had a “feeling” this was happening, but no
    tangible proof. However, looking back it is the only thing that makes sense. I am NOT
    a high maintenance member; God assures me He will vindicate me. I have trouble
    stepping foot in any church now, especially knowing my pastor may have talked with
    other pastors anywhere near this town. I can’t defend what I have no proof of. To think
    that leaders in churches would just accept something said without talking first with the
    accused (Matthew 18) is nauseating to me. I think Matt. 18:15 about how to
    confront someone is the least acknowledged scripture in the bible when it comes to
    church structure. I am determined to encourage those that have been abused by
    leaders, no matter what form of abuse it is. For me, it has all been verbal and emotional
    . I was singled out publicly on many occasions by my first pastor whom I loved and
    respected. I loved everyone at that church, even those who didn’t treat me well.
    I kept hoping something would change. I probably stayed too long.
    It was when the Lord said “wipe the dust off your feet and go…” then a friend called the
    next day with the same word for me from the Lord; that’s when I left. I stayed 20 years
    under those conditions. Why he picked at me so long makes me think I was some sort
    of a threat to him though I certainly did not do anything deliberately to make him
    feel that way. The most disheartening thing is when others won’t see the obvious, and
    when you leave, they continue to believe you must have done something wrong,
    because after all “he’s the pastor and pastors don’t do those kind of things……”.
    Just because it’s never happened to them, does not mean it doesn’t happen.
    It’s like telling a rape victim you don’t believe them because you yourself have
    never been raped. By the way, when it continued to get worse and worse, I asked
    for a meeting with the pastor to see if I was doing something to aggravate him.
    We discussed specific things and he assured me I was not doing anything wrong and
    things were fine between us (I knew things weren’t fine but didn’t want to
    push the issue). He never once in all those years asked to meet with me,
    although he seemed to think I was a threat to him.
    Two weeks later he blasted me from the pulpit and that was the final straw.
    Anyway, I feel closer to God now than I did before. He will never leave us or
    forsake us!!!

    • Ellen says:

      Thank you so much for sharing! So many people who have been spiritually abused are afraid to talk about what happened to them. I know I was. I thought if I told – whether verbally or by writing – if I were found out, it would go all the worse for me. And it did. But doesn’t that just prove that THEY are the abusive ones? Why would we have to hide what was done to us if it was appropriate? You don’t hide what’s appropriate – you hide what you are ashamed of. So, every time someone shares even a small part of their story, it gives credence to others who have suffered similarly. So, again, thank you.

      I, too, do not have any desire to step into a church. Like you, I know that my “reputation” probably precedes me and I am already labeled. My former church is the “mega church” in our area – which is unusual for a very rural area. So, the church is both loved and hated. People admire the pastor for building his empire, but they are also detest him and the church for stealing their families and being wealthy. So, to go anywhere else, I would either be labeled because of the church warning others about me, or I would be suspect for coming from a church that is seen from a negative viewpoint because of it’s sheep-stealing and wealth.

  7. Down South says:

    Ellen, It seems to me that once you rejected his advances towards you in
    his office, he was on a mission to discredit you in front of others, just
    in case you reported his behavior to your husband, the church board, etc…
    Since the abuse seems to have gotten worse after that particular meeting
    when you asked to have the summer off, it’s quite obvious that’s what he
    was doing. That way if you said anything about his advances, you would
    be the “crazy” or “vindictive” one in the eyes of others. He would look
    like the innocent victim of false accusation. For him to humiliate his own
    daughter, and turn away people “living in sin”, shows that he is not a humble
    person…he is committing adultery and yet preaching against the evils
    of sexual sin in others. Of course we don’t condone sin of any kind, but
    we are told to take the log out of our own eyes before we attempt to remove
    the speck out of our brothers eye. The only way he could have rightfully
    preached so strongly about the sin in others is if he had examined his own
    heart and gotten right with God himself. But even then, he should have preached
    in grace and the love of God, not condemning those that have fallen but rather
    working to restore them.

    • Ellen says:

      I hope you were able to read the rest of my story. If so, you discovered that the pastor ended up resigning because he was caught in an affair. What goes around comes around.

  8. I know this is coming late to the conversation, but just read this today–thank goodness the psychopath who was abusing you and your congregation was ousted. Our story wasn’t as egregious as your’s, but we as a couple know what it is to try to make some sense of a sermon that doubles back and contradicts itself several times, that places the emphasis on pastor’s authority and our duty to submit more and more over time until one day you realize you haven’t even heard pastor utter the word “Jesus” once in the last two months (it was always about “The Mission” or how special and different our congregation was), to think we’re doing the Lord’s work by assuming the best of pastor when he’s clearly doing awful things to so many decent people, to put in hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars and realize your children are sacrificing so that pastor and his senior elder can take their families on all-expenses-paid neocalvinist conferences several states away, to realize one day “You know, pastor’s never once volunteered his time to help out with a single one of these many projects with which he keeps us busy”, to nearly drive yourself mad thinking “Pastor X surely means well, we need to stick things out and we can help him see how things have gone awry…he’s a little quirky, can seem very cruel and vindictive, but he has a good heart deep down…we must bloom where we’re planted…be a light in the darkness..the Lord called us for this very purpose to help pastor, we can’t abandon him and our friends now!”

    And finally, when you confront pastor with how he’s not practicing what he preaches, how he is hurting so many people in the name of God that you can no longer serve as elder under him, to be slandered by pastor and shunned by parishioners and lose your church family and nearly all your friends (or at least those whom you thought were friends, but who now avert their eyes from you in public).

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