When Brian contacted me on Monday offering to guest post, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was in for a treat and so are you. Brian’s a good storyteller and doesn’t have his own blog, so I’m delighted to be able to share his testimony of surviving spiritual abuse. We need more men willing to speak up, and it’s encouraging to find some who are giving voice to their experiences.
Also, my apologies for not posting yesterday — I’ll lump the two posts together on Friday, but sometimes shit happens and there’s not much you can do about it. Tomorrow’s link-up will be hosted by Shaney!
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?
When I was in college, God saved me in my freshman year on Halloween in 2004 – no joke! The first church I went to was a great Bible-believing church; but when I attended another church before the end of freshman year, there was something irresistible about it. I concluded that God was calling me to be a part of that local church to grow, thrive, and disciple. During college breaks, I would attend another church that took an hour to get to – yes, that was the closest church. Members admired my sacrifice to attend their church and hear God’s word preached.
Upon arriving back during my sophomore year in college, one of my friends on campus continued to disciple me, and I greatly benefitted from his investment and example. I continued attending the church I started going to at the end of my freshman year and there was a specific unspoken expectation of having to attend every church service and small group meeting regardless of any legitimate excuse; otherwise you would be in sin. Because of giving my life to the church, of course other members at the church appreciated that! I was so drunk on the Kool Aid. Then I noticed that some of my friends there haven’t been keeping in contact with me; consequently, I would call them out in the name of fellowship and use Hebrews 3:12-13 as a rod and beat them over the head with it. Since I had to confess my sin, they must do likewise. It was also a time of when I was personally walking through some times of doubt, but couldn’t mention doubt because it was sinful to doubt. Regardless, I was holding prominent positions at my pharmacy school’s campus ministry and felt hypocritical because of these doubts. Eventually, the doubts subsided and God re-established my grounding in Christ. After graduating from college, I moved up to Altoona, PA for my first post-grad position and I noticed the bad and ugly of churches.
I attended one church there and noticed that the demographics were very polarized – either parents or kids; no college-aged students or young adults. As a single man desiring to get married, that was a problem! Additionally, the environment was so inclusive; outsiders were forbidden to enter their circle unless if they would drink the Kool Aid. In order to compensate, I went to Penn State Altoona’s campus ministry and there met my eventual wife. Shortly after we met, we started dating without jumping through any of their “courtship hoops” and abiding by their regulations. The pastor there had a problem with that and specifically hated my girlfriend because she was an independent, rational, educated thinker. The small group meetings were so awkward; it was the same pastor and we learned nothing from there.
Fast forward a few months into our relationship. We hit some relational problems, and the pastor wanted me to see him to “discuss some matters”. I wanted to voice our interest in membership, but he rebuked me for not leading and going through the hoops of how to conduct a courtship. He also wanted me to pass on some information to her and I was thinking, “Why can’t you tell her directly?” Oh well…
So the whole “courtship” paradigm presented was (and is!) utterly stupid, controlling; in a word – unhealthy.
My girlfriend and I continued discussing other issues within the church. Besides the environment full of everyone forced into the same mold, the preaching was nearly the exact same every week; something to the effect of a 5 minute presentation of the gospel, and “God’s grace is amazing” peppered throughout the message. Boring… Also, with their talk about evangelism – there really wasn’t a whole lot of that going on. I personally had a significant struggle with that, considering that the pastor’s main focus was to concentrate efforts on children’s and youth ministries (considering college ministry wasn’t there besides my girlfriend and me!). I remember him berating me about a Facebook status I genuinely posted about how to continue investing in a church with skewed demographics but also being able to fellowship with other college-aged/young adult Christians. It was disturbing and we finally had a last chance to either hop on board with them or leave. He even said, “You’re free to go! But be careful out there…”. Bullshit. Next morning, we found another Bible-believing church in the area that all age groups were well represented, Christ was exalted, and (gasp again!), they held outreach events and maintained solid partnerships with other solid churches throughout the region!
Shortly after my girlfriend and I got engaged, I landed a position 3 hours east of Altoona, thus requiring me to move to the Hershey region while she finished up her semester at Altoona (while planning a wedding!). With the recent damage inflicted upon us at Altoona, we were very cautious about joining a specific church in the Hershey area. Same problem: inclusive environment, little evangelism taking place, everyone was the same (e.g. true statistic from the pastor: 95% of the families homeschool their kids). Since we were different and not following the prescribed “gender role” marriage (i.e. husbands must lead and wives must submit unconditionally), on the fringes we were. Months later, the pastor there mentioned that a 40-page document about their organization’s former leader was “long” and twisted the report to “guard” us from uncorrupt speech and relationships. Again – awkward…
With one of the pastors being forced to step down and other bad experiences we had, we left and joined another church just outside of Harrisburg. Christ is exalted from this church with members from 22 different countries – a very unique treat and gift from God indeed!
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?
I’ve been more raw and brash in my communication. Spiritually, I sometimes feel burned out. Disinterested in Christ, no desire to read the Bible, still feel disconnected. Relationally, I lost some meaningful friendships in the process and struggle with loneliness, even as a married man. As far as close friends go, I can count with my fingers the numbers of friends I have left. Simultaneously, our marriage has never been better. I still struggle with bitterness, anger, and fear, and have been seeking professional biblical counseling for that. I am still taking medication for depression and anxiety to enable me to better handle my emotions biblically. Somehow, I know God is using this for good, but am not sure how just yet; heck, I probably won’t find out until after death or Christ’s return.
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?
For those who haven’t been hurt, you’re fortunate and I wish I could be in your shoes. Alas, God works in wondrous ways. Let me address the men and women as individual groups.
Men, don’t be ashamed to share your hurts and struggles. Sure, it may make you feel more masculine, but there’s a way to take your thoughts and feelings captive to the obedience of Christ. Example: Psalm 42. “Why are you downcast?… Hope in God.” Nothing sinful about acknowledging feeling downcast, but it’s how the psalmist responds to feeling crestfallen. Hope in God. If you’re married, you better allow your wife to fully express her perspective on issues. She’s called a helpmate for obvious reasons; sometimes it’s to deflate your ego as “the leader” and let God control the marriage instead of you.
Women, you’re much more than glorified incubators. Being a stay-at-home-mom and homeschooling your kids is not all God has for you. He’s given you a mind to use, analyze, think, and apply. As a husband, there’s no greater disservice you can do to your husband (if you are married) than to unconditionally support him. Sure, that may boost his ego, but your input is so vital in making sure he guides you both as a team.
For those who want to help, I’m very appreciative. It’s okay that you haven’t experienced the same hurts we have. If someone is sharing their story and is still walking through their pain, you don’t even need to say anything initially. While reading Job, I’ve often wondered how the book of Job would have been written if his friends just sat there with Job and sympathized with him instead of attempting to rationalize the cause of his suffering. Like in Pilgrim’s Progress, every Christian needs a Faithful and Hopeful. Point them to who they truly are in the Lord Jesus. That’s what has been helping me when joining a men’s group. Nothing else is more efficacious than to realize the worth a human being has in Christ.
Born in New Jersey, adopted into Virginia, transplanted to Pennsylvania, and am en route to move back to the greater DC region. Majored in Pharmacy, active member of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, and patient advocate. God saved me when I was 18 and has been molding me into the image of Christ for the past 8 and a half years. Happily married for the past 15 months and am expecting to adopt a foster dog by the end of this April.
In short, the message I would like to communicate to every believer is from a modern day holy homey, Trip Lee: Trip Lee – Robot – typography (@triplee116 @rapzilla). “The good life is living by faith in a good God.”