Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: March 18-22

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When someone is angry about bad things that happened to them in their church, their anger is not easily accepted by those who have only had positive experiences with Christianity. Before a survivor of spiritual abuse can tell his story, it has to be worked over, combed through, and made palatable for the intended audience. And even then, we don’t always get heard or believed. These stories of pain don’t seem like they’re what the Church should be like, so it’s simpler to ignore the stories when you can’t relate to them.

Even here on my blog, I find myself prefacing my story here for you, because I see the disconnect and I see hurt and misunderstanding on both sides. And all I want to do is to speak on the behalf of those like me who have been hurt, to those in the Church who haven’t been hurt. I want to offer you an invitation to my story, my experience in a church with good intentions where abuse flourished. Walk with me? It’s not going to be easy and yes, you may realize things about your church that you don’t want to know.

But when we’re dealing with stories of children who were molested in churches, stories where their abusers were allowed to remain free because good Christian people didn’t want to believe that something like that could ever happen at our church? I think it’s now a moral obligation for us as a Church to take a long look at what we’re dealing with and where it came from, even if it is uncomfortable and heart-rending, in order to protect those coming after us.

We are the grandchildren of the suburban moderns and their scientific, reasonable placelessness. We are the children of the Jesus Movement, descended from those who craved life and connection and healing from the confines of the just-so church and the hypocrisy therein. We are the Quiverfull daughters, the homeschool graduates, the creation science crusaders, the apologetics champions, the Jesus Freaks, the summer missionaries, the WWJD generation.

And a lot of us have crippling pain that makes us skittish around traditional church, nervous about trusting religious authorities or even just a mom leading a Bible study. We love Jesus so much, or we want to if only we knew how. We see lots of irrational arguments and a lot of fear-based ideas that stunted us, but we’ve grown around the boulders our parents and pastors laid in our way and we’re seeing the sky and the sun and the vast expanse of love offered by the Jesus of the gospels, and we have so, so many questions. And we want straight answers, because love is worth living out with intellectual integrity.

So please, listen to our stories. Lay aside your concerns about our bitterness or the status of our faith, and just hear us out. There’s more to our stories than you know, and we want to invite you into our safe spaces to talk about what we’ve been through and seen.

This coming week, survivors of spiritual abuse are going to link up and talk about what spiritual abuse looks like and why it happens despite good intentions.

Day 1 (March 18th) will be hosted by me, here at Wine & Marble.

Day 1: Your story & language/culture of spiritual abuse

What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

Day 2 (March 20) will be hosted by Joy Bennet of Joy In This Journey

Day 2: Your journey and consequences of spiritual abuse

How has your experience affected you? What has it done to you emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, etc.? What has your journey been like? How have you gotten where you are today? Do you feel you’ve healed? What do you still struggle with?

Day 3 (March 22) will be hosted by Shaney Irene

Day 3: What others should know & moving forward

Why should those who haven’t been hurt care about this issue? What do you wish you could tell those who want to help but weren’t close enough to know or see your situation? What do you wish every pastor knew before starting ministry? What would make the church a safe space for you?

Optional, for those who didn’t do the first two days: What did you learn? What changes will you encourage in your churches, etc. in order to prevent spiritual abuse and provide healing?


Every day next week, Elora Nicole will be hosting anonymous survivor stories on her blog as part of her Rebel Diaries project (submit these by March 16 to participate) for those who aren’t free to speak up publicly yet.

In addition, Rachel Held Evans is going to be highlighting spiritual abuse on her blog and there’s bound to be some fantastic discussion going down in her comments sections.

So, come, sit at the table. Lay down your assumptions and lay down your fears. This is the house of the King and we’re calling a truce. Tell your stories.

Hashtag for Twitter discussion is  #ChurchSurvivors

33 thoughts on “Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week: March 18-22

  1. Perfect timing… this weekend I’m meeting with an old friend to share with pastors her family’s story of spiritual abuse. Prayers are needed for this…

  2. I am strangely excited for this. Healing other stories has been a large part of my healing process.

  3. I guess I’m fortunate to not have a story to link up here. I will definitely read people’s stories and share them on twitter/blog/etc- this is really important and it shouldn’t stay hidden.

  4. So this is been me today( after reading your post): %$*#!!!! I’m not participating. I have too much other %$#*ing writing to do. *&%$. Hmmm… I guess I have some strong feelings about this. I better participate.

  5. Glad that you are tackling this church ministry issue. It is often a hidden topic that needs to be exposed to the light. You might be interested in my doctoral research on spiritual abuse and recovery. It supports the fact that spiritual abuse is a dysfunction in the Body of Christ and needs to be addressed. I am available if people have questions or comments.

    My website is: http://www.ChurchExiters.com
    My book is: Spiritual Abuse Recovery: Dynamic Research on Finding a Place of Wholeness.
    All the best as you delve into this issue!

  6. “We are the grandchildren of the suburban moderns and their scientific, reasonable placelessness. We are the children of the Jesus Movement, descended from those who craved life and connection and healing from the confines of the just-so church and the hypocrisy therein. We are the Quiverfull daughters, the homeschool graduates, the creation science crusaders, the apologetics champions, the Jesus Freaks, the summer missionaries, the WWJD generation.”

    Wow. Yes, yes, yes! This is exactly who we’re talking about. I have had so much trouble naming my experiences and observations. Thank you. I will be thinking about this and perhaps trying to put my story into words.

    Yes, there were/are so many good intentions… so many. And the good intentions are used as an excuse for what actually happened. And then there is the communication problem: what I heard is not at all what they were trying to say… “I’m not responsible for you taking something the wrong way!” And I am conscious of how easily my own statements are misunderstood…

    It strikes me that there will always be hurt and misunderstanding in Christian communities and that what makes the difference is humility (and grace). I have been a part of a Christian community (one of the L’Abri Fellowships) in which I was hurt pretty deeply–and was astounded by how quick the leaders were to acknowledge their sin, their part in the hurt (even if they hadn’t done anything wrong) and apologize. !!!! This makes all the difference. Why, why do so many church leaders not get this? It seems so basic…

  7. So I wrote this long comment, and now it doesn’t appear to be here… the gist was–thank you for your continuing efforts to name your experiences and observations, Hannah! That is hard. I’m not so great at it. Mainly I vent in unhealthy ways and it’s bad. I admire you for your grace and wisdom. I will being thinking about this and perhaps trying to put my story into words. And it strikes that humility is so so soooo important in Christians communities, in Christian leaders! Just being quick to apologize is so huge, I think! why don’t we get it… ?

  8. I’ve experienced spiritual abuse in the church, on top of childhood / adolescent abuse. The ‘organized church’ hasn’t helped although individuals within the Body of Christ have helped me immeasurably. Now I refuse to ‘go to’ church, altho I love Jesus passionately – because a) I feel judged b) my confidentiality was breached by a leader and c) most churches make me sit through 3 songs and a sermon with hundreds of people who I don’t know which bores me senseless. I don’t ‘go to’ church anymore. Actually, the original Greek meaning ‘ecclesia’ meant ‘the people’ or ‘those called’ – so…WE ARE the church. The people. No building. WE – every believer in Jesus – si the true, living, breathing, organic church. Even this blog, if we are meeting and talking about our faith and the intricate journey of life with Jesus – we are living church. Church is life.

  9. What an excellent opportunity! I would love to contribute and answer each question;
    however, this is finals week and I will have stacks of papers and tests to
    score as well as preparing for going out of town over spring break. I have,
    however, blogged quite a bit about the whys and hows of my departure from Roman
    Catholicism years ago in which the information you are seeking is embedded. If
    I may provide this link to a series of articles I call “Out of the Fire: On
    Leaving Roman Catholicism (1, 2, 3, 4), here it is: http://pnissila.wordpress.com/category/out-of-the-fire-on-leaving-roman-catholicism/.



  10. So glad this week is coming about. I’ve felt like I have been drowning recently due to what I surmise was spiritual abuse, but it’s like a lifeline… the knowledge that you’re not alone, as sad as that is, is also comforting.

  11. I am angry and that is OK…especially if my anger is righteous.

    Spiritual NEGLECT is also abuse. I came to the Lord in my late 20’s despite the behavior of many Chrisitans. At the time of my conversion I was already more moral and a better citizen then most of those sitting in church and before you accuse me of being prideful consider the possibility that the statement is true. When I became a Christian things deteriorated rapidly for me thanks to the negative influence of those in the church. I have been so let down, and marginalized by those in the church that I don’t even want to take communion with them anymore. To tell you the truth 90% of the people sitting in the pews repulse me. They are poorly trained, uneducated in spiritual matters, and certainly not capable prayer warriors and I would never rely on them for anything because they lack integrity. I don’t want them on the battlefield with me because they are a liability rather than an asset. They are busy painting their nails on the sidelines while the enemy attacks. Occasionally I meet a sincere Christian but rarely can the keep up with a biblical discussion as they are too busy caring for their children, working full-time and the one little service project they do a month does not provide me with the fellowship I need to sustain my relationship in Christ. Small groups are a disaster, and mentorship in churches is laughable and discipleship essentially stops at about 3rd grade level. Apparently I have a voracious appetite and expecting the church to feed me is too much to ask. Fine by me, I find more fellowship with dead authors and in scripture than I do in human form. The sad part is when I express this anger the church always expect me to be the one to change. They see no flaws in the failed church system and refuse to take responsibility. Well that just won’t work for me so I took responsibility for my own spiritual growth and God has blessed me abundantly in spiritual matters. Now, if I could just stay away from those so-called Christians until they can catch up and recognize that I am not the one who failed here. In fact, my spiritual life is very strong thanks to their failures so for that I am grateful. Still, I am not going to take communion with the devil himself and I certainly am not going to come into relationship with them and their demons. No Thanks.

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