We are approaching our second anniversary of being told that we were not to return to the church.  Whenever I think about that day (which isn’t often), I remember calling my (former) friend, whom I will call “Martha,” and telling her, “We are going to lose all of our friends.”

“No, you won’t!” she insisted.  “There are lots of people who love you and they aren’t going to abandon you.”

Martha stuck with me for a few months.  But then the expectation that we be shunned kicked in and I haven’t heard from her in at least a year-and-a-half.

Funny thing is, Martha (and a very few others), had heard or read my story of how the church leadership had been abusing me for over a decade, long before we were kicked out.  This small inner circle of friends knew about my blog and some had even followed it (one still does) and not one of them made the decision to shun me simply based on the fact that I was telling or sharing my story, either in person or on the blog.

Those who had heard my story were compassionate, empathetic, confused about the reason (as was I), and supportive.

Until we were tossed aside by the leadership.

At that point, nothing had changed.  I hadn’t embarked on a campaign to promote my blog to the masses.  I hadn’t made loud or overt public statements to the congregation or community about the abuse.

The only thing that changed was that the leadership became aware that I had “told.”  

Isn’t it curious that while the people I had “told” had been “told” months and years before and our friendships blossomed and grew as a result of my transparency until the leadership found out.  

I can only surmise that for those who had been my friends to admit that they were “in the know” about what the leadership had done to me for over a decade, would bring condemnation upon them, as well.  So, they had to feign ignorance, shock, and chagrin on behalf of the leadership – which also required that the act in a manner that convinced the leadership of their agreement and support.

And that meant shunning us.

Friendships that fail due to fear of being judged by church leaders.  

Well, I don’t have to tell you what to think of that.

I just have to say I had the best time yesterday!  I and my family went to an auction.  One of our former church’s plants has bought an old building in the town where I teach and they were selling off old (and I mean OLD) doors, windows, cabinets, trim, etc.  

Now, you have to understand that my husband and I were repurposing long before repurposing was cool.  We live in a 103-year-old prairie-mission style home on an acre in the middle of mid-west farmland.  We completely returned our home to it’s original style (it had been “updated” back in the 70’s) using old trim and doors from the local city hall when they renovated, as well as various other sources.  Our entire kitchen cupboards are done in old doors, tile from the ReStore, and various other repurposed items.  (See photos below.)

Now, our penchant for repurposing is in our children’s blood.  Our son and daughter-in-law bought a gym floor and we helped them tear it apart and install it in their entire main floor and then my husband refinished it.  Unbelievably beautiful.

So . . . this auction of old windows and trim was right up our alley.  My husband and I weren’t interested in much, but our kids were looking for baseboard material to set off their maple floors.  There weren’t a great deal of people at the action so no one was lost in the crowd.

Of course, there were a few folks at the auction from our old church – as well as the pastor of the church plant, whose involvement in my abuse you will find in my story.  My younger son and my husband arrived at the auction before the rest of us.  He was greeted by the pastor and visited a bit.  When I arrived, the pastor gave me a side hug and a “long time no see” and we chatted for about one sentence each.  Later my husband commented that it is important for him to “make sales” to help fund the renovation of this building into a church.

Another person from our old church who was on staff there and transferred to the church plant was also at the auction.  He didn’t speak to me, but he did comment as we all went past him in a hallway that he makes way for babies (I was pushing my granddaughter in a stroller).  

There were four other people there who knew us from our former church: a car salesman and his wife, a banker, and one other couple.  Not one person approached us, waved at us, spoke to us, or acknowleged our presence.  The banker made a point to walk past us several times – perhaps so he could see if we would speak to him – and enough times that it was not merely a coincidence.  Especially since we had a one-year-old in a stroller and so we were staying far away from the acutioneer and the crowd so she would not be a distraction.  The banker had to go out of his way to walk past us each time.

After we left the auction (no, we didn’t buy anything) my husband commented on how unhappy those church members were.  They all looked bitter and angry – and my husband pointed out that they have always looked that way.  

And we talked about how it must have irked them that we were so happy.  There we were with our family – our sons, daughter-in-law, grandchild – and we were full of smiles and laughter, sharing whispers and winks, looking for all the world like we were the happiest people in the building – because we were.

This morning I have been pondering how fun it was to be at an auction (we love auctions), how unbridled I was to be in the presence of people who were involved in my abuse – every one of those church members had a hand in it except one wife, as far as I know – and how my happiness was palpable while their bitterness was etched on each of their faces.  

How sad for them to live under the constraints of a “faith” that leaves them wearing such scars emblazoned on their faces while I, on the other hand, exude the joy of living in the freedom which has set me free. 

Look who has the upper hand now. 

   

I recieve many messages thanking me for sharing my story of spiritual abuse via this blog.  People ask if they may use what I have written in their book project, as part of a spiritual abuse presenation or seminar.  People applaud my “courage” and often express their personal fear that, were they to tell their own story, they would suffer serious consequences.

 The desire to tell their story is framed in several ways.  Some know that telling will help them to heal.  Some want to warn others, or, at the very least, open the eyes of those who cannot see.  They hope that by telling, their friends, family members, church comrades, even acquaintences, will finally come to a place of acknowledgement that what happened was wrong and abusive.  Some long for vindication – for someone to hear them and champion their cause; that someone will seek justice on their behalf since no amount of their own effort has resulted in even the most meager of resolutions.

Yet, they have already concluded that in telling, they will not find any of that for which they are longing.  They are aware that telling will most certainly bring additional condemnation, deeper suffering, fewer friends, less support, ostracism, shunning, loneliness, exile.

I’ve been there.

For years, I didn’t tell a soul what was being perpetrated upon me.  Not only because I was ordered to keep silent, but because I feared that all of the things that I longed for depended upon my silence:  I would lose my friends.  I would be condemned.  I would be ostracized and shunned.  I would be lonely and be forced into exile.  

I wanted to keep my friends. And not only keep to them, but I wanted a deeper friendship to grow and blossom in the years ahead.  I myself did not want to acknowledge that I was the victim of abuse.  Admitting or claiming that I was a victim was akin to telling the world that I was not strong enough, not faithful enough, not wise enough, not good enough, not mature enough.  Mature, good, strong Christians don’t get themselves into situations in which they are abused.  Mature, good, strong Christians have a perfect, happy, prosperous, generous, fruitful life.  Not that they are without struggles, but their struggles are simply opportunities to impress the world with their deep and abiding, unwavering faith.

Some might say that telling my story was an exercise in stupidity.  What good did it do, anyway?  I lost all that I had hoped to gain: my church, my church friends, my status as a mature, good, strong Christian, my  identity as an up-and-coming leader in a prestigious church community.  

And yet, from this side of telling my story, I can say with certainty that telling was what led to the most transformational season of my life.  I discovered that the truth truly does set us free.  I was freed from relationships that were a farce – based only upon what I was willing to do or give to people who had no desire to reciprocate.  I was freed from spending inordinate amounts of time trying to earn the favor and status of people who had not one whit of care or concern for me – or pretty much anyone else, for that matter.  I was freed to spend time, energy and money on people who truly do value me – family and friends who want to be with me whether I have anything to offer them or not – besides my self.

I thought my life was full when I was toiling at the mercy of the church leadership, spending many hours and many dollars trying to win their favor and having little to no time for my family or friends outside of the church.  Now I know the enexplicable joy of spending hours loving and being loved with virtually no agenda except to love and be loved.

I wish I could tell all of those people who send me messages and emails about how much they want to tell their story but can’t find the courage because of their fear of all that they might lose that it’s okay to lose those things.  It’s okay.  Because on the other side of your story you are going to discover that all that you feared losing – it’s okay to lose those things.  Because you are going to find so much more.

I know.  I lost them too.  And I’ve never been happier.

My friend, Rebekah Gilbert, has written a great blog post about Fear.  Her thoughts turned on a light bulb in my head because I realized just how true her words are.  You see, the spiritual abuse that was meted out to me had one purpose only:  to create fear in my heart and in my life.

Perhaps the perpetrators’ ultimate goal was to get me to leave, but they did this in such a way that over the decade-plus years of spiritual abuse, I became terrorized.  And, just as my friend, Rebekah, realized, once I began to stand up to my abusers, the fear that they had placed on me returned to them.  Such great fear that their only recourse was to ban me from the church.  Their original intent of using fear to cause me to leave didn’t work.  And when they realized that I was a person to fear because I was telling on them through my blog, again, their solution was that I needed to be forced out – to leave.  Finally, they accomplished their original goal.  

It really comes down to how we choose to react when faced with fear:  Fight or Flight.

When faced with the fear that they forced upon me, my response was to fight.  I stayed the course and did all that I could to rectify the situation.  For more than a decade I tried.

But when the church leadership was faced with fear, their response was flight.  Because they couldn’t defend what they had done, nor did they have the wherewithal to work toward rectification.  They demonstrated fear, panic, lack of character and integrity, lack of faith.  And they proved their disregard and disrespect for me, for the church, for Christ, by their unwillingness to stay the course and try to reach that very pinacle of what Jesus died for:  grace, reconcilliation, restoration.

Of course, they can spin the story to suit their needs.  They can tell those whom we considered friends and associates at the church anything they want to make us look like the bad guys – especially me.  They can use all of the power of scripture to shore up their argument that I am the problem and I deserved to be ostracized, judged, persecuted, shunned, and ultimately banned from the church.  And I have no recourse or ability to respond or defend myself because they have convinced people that they are right and even if they didn’t say it out loud, the people know that their response is to no longer associate with me.

Once again, there is that fear factor.  Because people know that if they are caught having any kind of relationship with us, they may very well pay the penalty of not being part of the “in” crowd, the “inner circle,” or simply  whose worthy of pastoral care in times of crisis. This was blatantly demonstrated only a few days after we were tossed out of the church when one woman took the courageous step of meeting with me.  One of the pastors’ daughters was in the coffee shop where we met and this woman was incredibly fearful that the daughter would report to her father that she was with me that day.  She even told me that she was considering stopping by the church on her way home to explain to this pastor why she had decided to meet with me.  She was desperate in her need to attempt damage control.

So today I am in wonderment that, as Rebekah points out, the bible repeatedly says “Do not fear, do not be afraid.”  And yet, our churches function almost entirely on fear.  Is this really what God intended?  Is this really what the angels meant when they said they were bringing good tidings of great joy? For ALL people?

I want to encourage you that if your church or your pastor or your leadership is instilling fear in you or in anyone, rather than joy, you might want to reconsider whether or not that church is where you should be.  God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.  If you feel like your church is doing some crazy-making in you – that is not a sound mind.  And I know from experience that crazy-making is a direct result of fear.

I truly believe that one day my former pastor will stand before God and God will tell him, “I gave you all of the knowlege you needed to handle the situation with Ellen correctly and you intentionally chose not to do so.  I even gave you more than a decade of opportunities to correct the situation – opportunities for you to apologize, to respond to her concerns, to answer her questions, to tell the truth, to seek restoration – but you didn’t.  Time and again I gave you the chance to rain upon Ellen my love, my grace, my hope, my mercy, my joy, my encouragement.  Yet over and over again, you disregarded what I would have you do and you went your own way – treating Ellen with disdain, judging, persecuting, ostracizing, disrespecting, and diminishing her until she nearly lost all faith in Me.”

I think my former pastor is banking on the fact that God is a forgiving God and even though He knows that the pastor mishandled the entire situation, my former pastor believes that God will accept him into heaven because God is a loving and merciful God.

I suppose we all think that way because we all have times in our lives where we are given the opporunity to make something right but don’t and yet, because of our faith in Jesus, we have a hope that we will be with Him in paradise.  Yet I also believe that those who are placed in leadership and authority over God’s people have good reason to be fearful if they have treated people the way that my former pastor and his cohorts treated me – if for no other reason than because they have caused this little one` to stumble.

In fact, I think this is why we believers are admonished to fear and love God.  For my former pastor to ignore what God clearly desires in the relationships between pastors and parishioners tells me that he does not have a fear of the Lord.  If he did, he would do the right thing if for no other reason than because he would have a healthy fear of millstones.  

Good Morning!

Posted: September 20, 2015 in When Church Hurts
Tags:

This is not a super popular blog. Those that find it are usually looking for information or commiserations on spiritual abuse.  Some days I get only a few readers, others days hundreds. But early every Sunday, I get one.  So, “Hello,” to you. Those of us who have been spiritually abused often worry or wonder if we are being stalked on our blogs or the comments we make on others blogs. I have wondered this about you, my early morning reader. 

Are you checking to see what I have to say about you or your brother or your church this week? Will I slip up and use a name? Are you looking for ammunition to share with my former friends to prove to them that I deserve to be thrown out, vilified, ostracized, shunned? 

I am so delighted each week to see that you have visited! I bask in knowing that I cause you such grave concern. Do you lose sleep over my blog? Do you worry that if the general population of the church read it they will wonder about the truth?  Do you hope that I never write that book you always said I should – because it will most likely be about how you spiritually abused me? 

Perhaps if you had only done the right thing from the beginning . . . 

This is exactly the situation in our former church.

 

Source: Church, Stop Hiring Preachers and Performers To Be Your Pastors