My sister has given me permission to run her companion narrative to the story I wrote recently on my blog. While I felt somewhat like a bystander and observer in my own tale, hers is much more personal. Much more. It hurts to read, and, on my part, relive some of the incidents recorded. So, sometime soon I’m going to post her story.
Why are we doing this? And why now? Those are good questions. Here’s where I’m at. How many across the country are in similar situations, have similar stories? It hurts to ask that question. I don’t want to know. Whatever number it is, it’s too many. I hope a story like this will fill a gap in someone’s journey out of this bondage. I hope someone will find the “fellowship of the broken” and not give up on seeking God. I hope someone under a “kinder, gentler” tyranny will open their eyes. I hope that folks will look around for the quiet, the distrustful, the burned, the ones who don’t seem to know they have a voice, and seek them out, and be a friend.
Also there’s healing in the sharing of pain. She bottled herself for years, as did I. This is part of our process. This is as much for us as it is for any audience. This is us taking ownership of what happened and our parts in it, and the only way we can “move on”, if such a thing is, or even should be, possible.
I also want to say this. Spiritual abuse is often seen as the fringe. The weirdos off in the country with no Internet access. Crazy cult leaders with insane ideas about UFO’s, aberrant theology, and/or secret rituals. Heck, our first church, the one I called the Village, fit that description well enough. No reason to take it too seriously, right? Just a few lives ruined, or a few folks who have to rebuild their faith entirely, or lose what little they had.
But what of the 2nd church? This was no small church. The denomination is not small (even if the church doesn’t actually claim to be in one). It is located in the suburbs of a major city. It ran close to 600 people in its heyday. This phenomenon isn’t something to be blown off, the adherents mocked as simple losers, or dismissed with a wave of the hand and a smattering of pity. “Sucks for you, I’m so sorry, but #notallchurches, so go find another one and serve God.” I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it for me anymore. What the heck descends over a group of people that allows this sort of thing to continue? It can happen anywhere. These weren’t a parade of clowns and simpletons and dumb hicks here. My family is full of very bright individuals who’ve done very well for themselves in the work force and their communities. The church had business owners, military veterans, a former Navy chief, and many others. How were they, how were we, all wrapped around a man’s finger, until everything hit the fan? And more, what causes us to stick around and sit through the ranting and raving of an old manchild, and even still remain after we realize it? The same authoritarian thread ran through both places, large and small. It’s not just the crazy small places, or that mega-church down the street staging live healings and selling golden tickets to God’s Kingdom that is abusing the name of Christ. Think about that.
Spiritual abuse happens and continues to happen in part because many of us don’t think it can happen here, or not to me, or not around me. It happens because we’re all sinners, yes, and because sinners are in the pulpit. But let’s not minimize the damage by leveling it across the board. Sometimes it’s more than that. More than a bad decision here or there. I mean systemic issues. Unchecked character issues. Egos gone wild. Wolves fake a calling to get a taste of sheep. Men feel the need to control other people, and a church provides the perfect opportunity to flex their muscles. Directionless men “feel a call” at an invitation guilt trip, and, stuck in a work that’s far too heavy for them, blunder along leaving a trail of broken lives, including their own and their family’s. They don’t know how to do anything else. The leaders they looked up to failed them. And spiritual abuse is often the door through which other forms of abuse enter and are justified.
Some might ask, “have you gone to your parents, or the leaders to discuss these things? Isn’t writing about this talking behind their backs, as it were? How does this make the body of Christ look?”
I don’t have a great biblical answer to that, but think about this. Read the darned story. Put yourself in her shoes. Put yourself in mine. To her immense credit, she tried to meet and talk things over with the powers that be several times with immensely discouraging results. I was less brave, to my shame. I still wonder about that.
And as far as the body of Christ and image? Christ didn’t die for this. He didn’t die so parents so afraid of “his ministers” could raise mute, fearful children who would fear men more than Him. He didn’t die so evil men can mute His Spirit in the young and impressionable. He didn’t die so men could hijack His word in service of their lust for power. He didn’t die for the twisted fear-based community you’ll read about. So yes, we care about the body of Christ and how it looks. Darkness needs to be exposed.
The story is raw. I’m not gonna Christianese it up, and neither did she. Thanks for reading.