Posts Tagged ‘Christian’

I haven’t posted in awhile.  But the death of Elie Wiesel brought to mind this quote the spirit of which has always been at the forefront of my thoughts on my experience with spiritual abuse.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

I am convinced that no one spoke up when we were told that we were no longer welcome at the church.  Sure, a couple of people spoke to me initially.  But no one spoke up.  No one took action.

And while they may think they were being “neutral” by not getting involved, the reality is that by not speaking up, by not stepping up and demanding that there be open and honest conversation about the years of abuse that I suffered, resulting in a God-honoring conclusion, people had taken a side: the side of the abusers.

That is why Elie Wiesel’s words are so true.  Neutrality is not truly neutrality.  Neutrality actually sides with the oppressor and encourages the tormentor.  I was tormented for years and part of the guilt lies with those who knew it was happening and didn’t speak up.  Guilt lies yet today with those who remained and continue to remain “neutral” – relying on “God” to “work it out.”

News flash:  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)  That God who dwells in you . . . may very well be the one that was/is supposed to “work it out.”

 

 

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It was over Sunday brunch that our weekend guests brought it up.  This deeply committed Christian couple who trained in missions, worked in Christian publishing, and he being and award-winning author of Christian books, she having been an administrative assistant for a mega-church pastor at one time, sat at our dining room table and very casually mentioned that they had not been attending church for several months.

After attending and serving in a church for over fifteen years, they finally realized that though they appreciated the pastor, the sermons, the ministry focus, they had not developed any real relationships in the church.  They only saw people at the church when they were there on Sunday mornings and, though they had attempted to develop relationships with people over the years by inviting them to dinner or to join a bible study, nothing ever came of it.

Commuting to this church was a 30 minute drive, but they had determined it was worth it.  Though they had also attended other churches over the past 40 years – when she was working as an administrative assistant at another church, they felt they should attend there, for example – they always gravitated back to this church.  But after realizing that they weren’t developing any “real” relationships, they decided it might be time to look for something closer to home.

Not that the church didn’t try.  They had attempted to create small groups based on location, based on interests, based on a number of things, but as our friends acknowledged, it is nearly impossible to force relationships to develop simply by putting people together on occasion.

They started considering churches in their area and he even visited a small church within a few blocks of their home.  He experienced that uncomfortable “stranger in our midst” feeling as he sat amongst people whom he had never seen before in his life.  The sermon was “fine” – nothing astounding but nothing to complain about – but it was obviously a church of “older” people who were comfortable with their group and weren’t all that interested in adding to it.

They would truly love to find a church where they can become integrated in community with other people beyond sitting in a pew and listening to a sermon, throwing a few bucks in the offering plate, and being pressed into over-commitments.  They are leery of churches in which there is a power-family that runs everything by threat of withdrawing their financial support or of churches in which the pastor and his hand-picked leadership have total control, doesn’t reveal their financials, and isn’t interested in developing personal relationships with anyone beyond their inner circle.

I suspect that these friends of ours are well on their way to becoming “nones.”  Because all of the things that they want in a church are nearly impossible to find these days.  Good, solid, teaching and preaching.  People who welcome, accept, and befriend one another both inside and outside of the church.  People who are equal in the sight of God and man regardless of their standing financially, socially, or politically.

It’s just too bad that we live six hours away because we are looking for the same thing and were it not for distance, we could be part of the community for which they are searching.   Because, what they have not been able to find, we have not been able to find either.  Is there anyone out there in our neck of the woods who is looking for these same things?  If there are, I would so love to find them.

I’m From Iowa

Posted: February 22, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Remember just a few weeks ago when the candidates and media were all a-flutter about the Iowa Caucuses?  I am an Iowan – born and raised.  I only left long enough to get my college degree, do a bit of grad school, and my first year of teaching.  So that was a six-year hiatus.  Otherwise, Iowa has been my home.  

We live on an acre of beauty in a 1912 prairie-mission style home surrounded by trees, flower beds, and, of course, outlying fields of corn, soy beans, and hay.  So, our caucus site was in a little country church on a worn gravel road a few miles north of our home.  We arrived early because parking is at a premium at this tiny church.  Still, my husband dropped me at the door and had to park in the lot up the hill.  They had a record attendance of 99 folks at the caucus that night.

Only four people spoke on behalf of their chosen candidate – one for Marco Rubio, one for Ted Cruz, and two for Mike Huckabee.  Most of their speeches encompassed the speakers’ belief that their candidate was the most Christian and espoused the most Christian policies – unlike, of course, Donald Trump.  They brought up abortion and gay marriage, Planned Parenthood and illegal immigration.  And, of course, how these topics are central to the Republican Party and getting the United States back to being a Christian nation.

As I listened to their comments, I realized that these neighbors of mine are, like many Christians, out of touch and suffer a severe disconnect from the realities around us.  I wanted to stand up and tell them, “You lost the abortion and gay marriage debates a long time ago!  When are you going to stop trying to legislate morality and start ‘voting’ with your actions?  Because if you had voted with your actions years ago, maybe we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

This morning I read a blog post by a very prominent Christian.  He was deriding Christian Trump supporters and his rhetoric was so hate-filled and foul-mouthed that I couldn’t read the entire post.  I skimmed the last half of it and kept thinking that what he had written so embodies much of what is preached and taught in churches and Christian circles.  Not that they should be all namby-pamby and dripping the flower-children nectar of free love, but to spew hate and venom at people for choosing to support a candidate some self-appointed Christian leader has determined would be better suited for president seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle “black,” doesn’t it?

I will just bet that there is no candidate – or Christian – who has a lily-white background.  And if they claim to, I would seriously question their honesty and integrity.  In fact, I’m a bit impressed that there is a candidate who freely admits his “indiscretions,” and we don’t have to wait for other candidates or the opposite party to unearth what we deem to be less-than-favorable qualities and actions.  Wouldn’t it be something if all of the candidates (and Christians – especially leaders) put it all on the table and said, “Here you go, folks.  I’m not perfect and I’ve made plenty of mistakes but I’ve learned from them and pledge to do an even better job because of them.”  

And what if, instead of deriding people for supporting a particular candidate, Christians would take a look at who among those candidates votes with their actions?  Who gives the most to help others?  And doesn’t boast about it?  Because where his treasure is, there his heart is also.  If he’s giving away a sizable chunk of his treasure, he’s probably the most Christian candidate out there.

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.

“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

I recently received a message on the Facebook page for  When Church Hurts in which the writer asked if they should leave a church if no one cares whether or not they come back because they are seen as not contributing enough.  The writer didn’t define  what they meant by “contribute,” but it could mean any number of things – not enough money, time, energy, attendance, spiritual depth, etc.

The question got me thinking about when I went to counseling a few years ago.  I only attended counseling a handful of times because as soon as I finished telling the counselor about my abusive church experiences, she asked me, “Why do you want to be at a church where no one cares about you?”  This was  a shocking question.  After all, this was CHURCH – where people are obligated to care!  Yet, as I thought about it, I quickly realized that the counselor was correct.  I had described absolutely nothing as I told my story that indicated that I was cared for at all by anyone in the church.

(This question was followed almost immediately by another: “Why do you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you?”  This question was in regard to the senior pastor whom I had described to the counselor as someone who allowed me to be abused, never responded to my pleas for help, and never answered my questions regarding why I was being ostracized.”)

Oh, sure, I had people who would chat with me, occasionally have lunch or coffee with me, but usually there was an ulterior motive behind their interactions.  They wanted my help, my support, my intellect, my skills, my musical abilities. But never was I invited to spend time with someone just because they cared about me and wanted to share life.

My husband and I would talk occasionally about how on Sunday morning when we were working in the coffee bar, we would hear about the other volunteers and/or the staff woman who managed the coffee bar, getting together for parties or dinner the night before.  We were never included.  Volunteers, lay people, and staff were often sent to conferences and seminars around the country to develop them as “leaders,” but even though my husband and I held a variety of “leadership” roles, we were never invited or included. And once my husband took a break from volunteering in the coffee bar in order to prepare for our sons’ wedding, the manager would turn her back and walk away whenever she would see us.

When my husband, over a period of three years, was hospitalized three times for various reasons, no one came to visit him.  And even when we lost close family members (parents), no one expressed sympathy and the only visit we received was from a pair of women who were “assigned” to us.  We had no personal relationship with these women and they didn’t even approach us about visiting until nearly a month after my mother passed away.

So, the counselor’s question helped me to take a hard look at reality.  No matter how badly we wanted to develop friendships with people in the church, no matter how much we showed up, no matter how many times we sent cards, made visits and phone calls, invited people to our home or coffee or dinner, brought people treats, etc., there was always an excuse that they couldn’t do it or make it.  And never an offer of “How about next week?”

Aside from how the pastor and leadership had treated me with ostracism, judgment, and persecution, the counselor also helped me to see that the attitude of the people “at the top” was inherent throughout the church.  “Can you see, Ellen, that this is a leadership problem?” she said to me.

She helped me to grasp that if the people in my “circle” were truly friends and truly supportive, they would have spoken up long before when I was first treated poorly.  They would have informed the leadership that what was happening was wrong and would not be tolerated.  Instead, a couple of people had told me over the years that they were afraid to speak up.  Afraid that if they did, they would risk the same happening to them or that they might jeopardize the position of someone in their family who was on staff.

When people allow leadership to denigrate others and leadership allows people to do the same, they are all sending the message that respect, love, care, and concern do not exist.  “Why do you want to stay in a church where no one cares about you, Ellen?”

Yet I did stay – for several more months.  Because I still thought that if I could just be long-suffering enough, if I could love them enough, if I could give enough time, money, resources, etc., the day would come when I would finally win their respect, love, and care.  After all, to have a friend, you need to be a friend, right?  We did our best to be friends.  To no avail.

It wasn’t until I had enough respect for myself to say, “Apologize for what you have done to me or we will leave the church” (a message my husband conveyed to the leadership), and they took us up on the offer – telling us to go – that I began to move toward healing.  For a while, I still longed for those people whom I wanted to claim as “friends” to take a stand on my behalf.  I waited for them to reach out to me and to defend me – to demand that the leadership do the right thing and apologize, make amends, and bring the whole affair to a God-honoring conclusion.

As the days turned to weeks and the weeks to months, I realized that the counselor had been right.  These people were not my friends and had never been my friends.  Why would I want to continue to be with them?  Quickly,  my self-respect grew and my longing to be with people who cared not a whit for me or my family diminished until I no longer had any desire to have a relationship with any of them.

I have often indicated that were anyone from the church to approach me and apologize, seeking forgiveness, I would welcome them.  I still believe that God can bring reconciliation if they ever experience a softening of their hearts (though I’m not holding my breath).

My advice to the person who messaged me on Facebook was similar to what my counselor said to me.  I wish that I had walked away sooner, that I had listened to my counselor and not kept trying to change other people’s minds.  All of that was just an indication of how unhealthy I was at the time and it wasn’t until I walked away and fully realized my own value and self-worth that I experienced healing.

I no longer have any desire to win over anyone.  I spend my time with friends and family who, for years, demonstrated their love and commitment to me.  My life is filled with love and acceptance, friendship and delight.  And I know now that if you have to try to win people, you will lose.

To anyone who is reading this and is in the same position:  trying to win friends in a church where there is no care or love or respect for you, please walk away.  You won’t change anyone’s mind.  And you don’t have to.  Go love the people who already love you.  Be friends with the people who are already your friends.  These are the people who value you and will stand up for you when others are trying to tear you down.  No matter how badly you want it to be different in the church, the place that has all of the things you are looking for is already there for you in those who already love you.  They are ready and waiting to show you.  Give them a chance.

_____  Argue.

_____  Beg.

_____  Blame yourself.

_____  Attempt to force communication.

_____  Apologize even though you can’t figure out what you did wrong.

_____  Internalize the projections of negative messages.

_____  Show the person who is giving you the silent treatment that it is bothering you.

 

Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Check.

I found this list today  http://echorecovery.blogspot.com/2014/01/getting-silent-treatment-from-narcissist.html in the list of how to respond to those who give you the silent treatment.  Only before each item, it said “Do not.”

Of course, as I read through the list, I realized that I had repeatedly done each and every thing that I was not supposed to do.  For years.  And years.  And years.

The article, if you haven’t clicked on the link yet and read it yourself, is about those who give you the Silent Treatment.  Or Cold Shoulder.  Or Shun.  Or Exile.  Or Banish.  Or Ostracize.  And it is a metaphor for Death.  Because you are being treated as though you don’t exist.  I have often said that I was ostracized so that I would leave the church – so that I would no longer “exist” there.  The silent treatment is defined as “the act of ignoring or excluding a person or group by another person or group.”

Which describes what happened to me rather succinctly.

The word I have used most in telling my story is “ostracism,” so I will stick with that.  And this article reinforces all that happened in my spiritually abusive experience with a senior pastor who refused to respond to my begging, arguing, blaming of myself, attempts to force communication, etc.   Here is a synopsis of what I found:

Ostracism is used to control, punish, test boundaries, and avoid accountability, unpleasant issues, and responsibility toward a victim because said victim has done something the perpetrator does not like.  It includes blocking, stalling, stonewalling, and intentionally resisting communication and resolution.  It leaves the victim feeling abandoned, worthless, and without merit.  And while it is often defined as refusing to communicate, as I would often remind my former pastor, no communication is definitely a form of communication.  To not communicate expresses contempt, a lack of empathy, hostility, remorselessness, callousness, and passive-aggression.

In my case, as far as I can tell (because I have never directly been told) ostracism was the result in that I first pointed out a problem, and then I expressed dismay at the way I became the problem for pointing out the problem.  When the ostracism started and as it snowballed, I continued to ask, argue, beg, apologize, etc., which only brought on deeper and deeper levels of ostracism until, ultimately, we were tossed out of the church.

The results of being ostracized include:

* Being resented by the perpetrator.  He resented me because I kept asking what was going on – what I had done wrong.  He expected me to just “know” – or to read his mind.

*The victim (me) resented being made to suffer ostracism without being told what I had done wrong.  I’m sure this resentment showed through over the years as I continued to beg and argue to be told what I had done wrong and how un-Christian it was for him to allow me to be treated this way.

*Ostracism makes sure that resolution will not occur – how can you resolve a problem if you can’t talk about it?  Years of being ignored and avoided . . .

*Creates a cycle of the same issue arising because it has not been resolved.  Did I mention begging?  Arguing?  Confessing anything and everything I could think of – to the point of giving more reason for being ostracized?

*Anger and frustration are elevated.  Only proving that I was deserving of the ostracism.

*Kills the relationship.  Yep.

Ostracism robs people of their humanity in that it denies them belonging, value, and meaningfulness, and the ability to express their point of view.  It makes us feel that we are invisible, unwanted, unneeded, unworthy, unwelcome, unnecessary.

Interestingly, the abuser often turns the tables on the victim by claiming victimhood themselves.  They vilify the victim and incite others to abuse them by proxy.  This is why the pastor himself never personally spoke to me when I was told I was not to be involved in the church other than warming a pew.  He always had others carry the messages to me.  It is also why any attempts on my part to clear the air or to be understood by others in the group (church) were met with the proxy feigning confusion, misunderstanding, and an inability to see or acknowledge the true problem.  And, once we were tossed out of the church, and damage control was enforced, no one in the church ever contacted us to see how we were doing, what our side of the story might be, or what they might do to help.

There was a time when I would have read an article like this with deep shame.  Why did I grovel?  Why didn’t I just walk away and shake the dust from my feet?  But today, I know that I was operating from a belief that these were good people and I just hadn’t found the right words to get through to them.  Today, I’m not so naive.  Today, I know that people can be very intentional in their abusive behavior and I am not responsible for their choices.

If you have been the victim of ostracism, shunning, exile, banishment, the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, being ignored or excluded – all in the name of Jesus – please know that you are not responsible for others’ bad behavior.  You are loved.  You are valued.  You are worth far better than they were able to give.