Pentecostalism and Spiritual Abuse

Pentecostalism and Spiritual Abuse October 5, 2014

[This is a guest post written by Carly Gelsinger]

We were the “chosen ones,” the ones who lived in the “Secret Place of the Lord,” because we prayed in tongues and knew Jesus intimately. At the altar, our hands shook as heavenly visions came down on us. We fasted, we prayed for healings and breakthroughs and claimed powerful things in the name of God. We changed atmospheres, we demolished strongholds, and we fell to the floor by the wind of the Holy Spirit.

“How could someone ever walk away after they’ve tasted the Spirit the way we have?” I asked my youth pastor one night.

“It’s called backsliding,” he said. “It happens when people choose the pleasures of the world over God.”

I made a quiet vow to never backslide.

I got swept up in this charismatic faith at the age of thirteen. It was magical to me, all of this Holy Spirit power. I saw friends come and go from the movement, and every time someone would leave, I wondered why. How, after experiencing these mountaintops, could they tumble into the valley of the mainstream? Especially after being taught that if you worshipped in any other church, even an evangelical one, you’d be missing out on the Full Gospel. We all knew that other Christians—those who weren’t “Spirit Filled,” as we liked to say—were mislead at best, and unsaved at worst.

Just a few years later, I found myself wanting out, for reasons I couldn’t explain. I didn’t leave dramatically; I just stopped going. My leaders at church thought it was because I moved thirty miles away for college, which was partly true. To me, college was a nice excuse to never go back.

Looking back, I think I was tired of living in fear.

Charismatics are reluctantly accepted into the larger evangelical landscape. The Holy Spirit stuff is just a little to weird for most Christians to recieve. Some conservative theologians, such as John MacArthur, have gone so far to say that Pentecostal worship is demonic. At my evangelical college, my classmates found it hilarious and trendy to do subpar impersonations of crazy charismatic preachers. Shondalahay, they’d shout, over and over again, mocking the way people sound when they speak in tongues. They shondalahay’d over lunch at the cafeteria, after a midterm, or while passing each other in the halls.

Even though I had left the Pentecostal tradition, their jokes stung.

I get why charismatics hold an Us vs. Them mentality. I do. It’s been earned over the years. But living in it made me crazy. We believed we followed the Spirit, but really, we lived in fear. Fear of judgment day, fear of offending God, fear of becoming lukewarm, fear of losing our passion for God, fear of culture, fear of science, fear of intellectualism, fear of liberalism, fear of becoming ordinary, fear of falling away. So much of the fundamentalism found in Pentecostal circles—and this could probably be said about fundamentalism on the whole—is fear based. Author Sarah Bessey hit this charismatic fear on the head in a recent post and challenges her brothers and sisters to rise above it.

“We’ve taught the message that ‘everyone is out to get us’ and ‘be afraid’ for so long that perhaps it is no wonder that we have become fear-filled, defensive, close-minded anti-Christs,” she writes.

I am glad that there are people like Sarah Bessey working to change the movement from within. It gives me hope. As for me, I had to get out. The people of my past would say I’m backslidden, but the truth is, I’m just working to undo the damage their theology imprinted, via expensive therapy and the occasional Internet Rant. I hope to someday truly embrace the message of grace—grace for myself, for all the things I used to fear, and for the people who taught me to fear them.  I think grace is big enough to cover all of that.

And in case you’re wondering, shondalahay jokes still make me cringe.

[This is a guest post written by Carly Gelsinger. To read more by her head over and check out her blog!]

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  • brianleport

    I’ve walked this very road myself. In many ways, I am both grateful for much of what Pentecostalism has to offer the world (especially in how it has become “the people’s” Christianity in many parts of the world), but the fear you outline was the center of my own Christianity when I was a Pentecostal. I worried for years about hell because I hadn’t spoken in tongues, even as a child. In fact, I was “stoned” with gravel on our private school’s playground by classmates because “he doesn’t have the Holy Ghost”, which was quite the damaging experience for a 10-11 year old. Then my teens were haunted by “Left Behind” eschatology and the need for continual hype, “experience”, the supernatural, and worship times where we “knew” that “God really moved”. The emotionalism was draining. Oddly enough it was my college years when I found a way to quietly leave, which was difficult because I went to a Pentecostal college, but the weeks away from home allowed me to disappear from my Pastor’s radar long enough for my to sneak away in my early twenties. A decade later and I think in many ways I am still detoxing.

  • It seems that fear is a common denominator for many people that have left the church. I’m still trying to get over the fact that I’m not “in trouble” for not going to church any more.When my friends ask where I got to church and I say I don’t, they don’t know how to respond. It was so much a part of my life for so long.

  • Francis

    “I’m not “in trouble” for not going to church” – This is real. The mark of a good Christian life is not your attendance record at a church on Sunday mornings, nor is it your tithe tally.

  • Yeah, Ben Corey and Matthew Paul Turner brought up the topic the other day, on their podcast, the fact that after we leave our former versions of faith, we’re all still dealing with the repercussions [positive or negative] of having to heal from the trauma of being involved and engulfed in it for so long… I know I’m still healing from it all for sure…

  • Wow, I just about have no words. To face the abuse of peers through a literal stoning, even if it was gravel, the emotional weight of this experience, just reading it is troublesome to say the least… I’m saddened by the fact that we all have to detox from from a toxic reality/experience, but I’m glad and find hope in knowing 1) We’re not a lone in this, and 2) that you have escaped and are in the process of healing and detoxing.

    Thanks for sharing Brian.

  • brianleport

    I think the most disturbing element of that story—at story I can laugh at now and one I’ve used when talking to youth with various opening lines about “being stoned” that draws a nice laugh—must be that these kids heard this from their parents. How else would three boys find the vocabulary to declare another small boy hell bound because he hadn’t spoken in tongues unless first fueled by their parents. That indoctrination is the scariest thing.

  • brianleport

    Also, I’d add for people who come along and read this that if there was one book that I could recommend for those who know there is something about the Holy Spirit worth pursuing, but who fear that the only literature on the subject is that of Pentecostals/Charismatics, would be Jack Levison’s ‘Fresh Air’. It really is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been hurt by the “spirit talk” of Pentecostalism.

  • Queenofthebrits

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU for publishing this. I’ve shared it with my group of ex-Pentes and it struck home for all of us.

  • Robsandez

    We need Jesus, and we need the church.

  • Robsandez

    The church is a place for the hurting, the dying, the lost, the confused,the backslider, the sick, the church is for me and it’s for you.