by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
I was watching one of those real life crime drama shows recently. I can’t remember if it was Dateline or 20/20 or 48 Hours, but the story was about a young woman who was
interrogated bullied by the police for hours on end until she agreed with them that she had slammed a baby to the floor causing a head injury that led to his death. She was convicted and in prison when the fact that the child had suffered a concussion weeks before that had caused his death. Over and over, the reporter asked, “Why did you confess to something you didn’t do?” And it was that question that brought revelation to me.
I “confessed” and pleaded for forgiveness from my former pastor repeatedly for several years – not only for something I didn’t do, but because they wouldn’t tell me what I had done wrong, I confessed to everything and anything I could think up that I might have done.
This in turn gave my abusers the ammunition they needed to justify their judgment and ostracism. My confessions gave them the ability to say, “See! She admits she is the problem! What we are doing/have done is absolutely the right thing to do!”
Like the woman in that interrogation room, I had been judged as guilty and I just wanted to make my accusers happy so that the nightmare would end. Like that woman who believed the police officers when they told her that if she would just admit what she had done, this would all be over and they could all go home, I came to believe what I heard from the pulpit – that confession leads to forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration, so if I would just hit on the right thing to confess, we could all breathe a collective sigh of relief and it would all be over.
What I didn’t realize is that, also like that woman, my confession only led to my accusers being able to further convict me and sentence me to years of ostracism, persecution, and judgment which snowballed into more confessions as continued to hope to finally say the magic words that would lead to my release.
Instead, my spiritual imprisonment led to my belief that since the leadership of the church thought me unworthy, unwelcome, undeserving, God must think the same. And that is where the spiritual abuse became most damaging – making me question my acceptance by and relationship to God.
And when I finally decided to recant and demand an apology for the way that I was treated – because even if they had justification, the way I was treated was totally wrong – rather than apologize, they told us to leave the church, further attempting to spiritually abuse me by making me feel completely rejected by them and by God.
I think many of us who have been wrongly accused by church leadership have probably at some point done exactly what that young woman did in that interrogation room. We have confessed to things we didn’t do with the simple hope that what we and the leadership claim to believe is truly true. That if we confess, we can be forgiven, and ultimately experience reconciliation and restoration and move on to an even deeper understanding and appreciation of what Jesus is all about. But, like me, many of you discovered that it doesn’t work that way.
And to you I say, “Don’t wait to be released from that prison by working harder and harder to convince your captors that you are repentant and worthy. Break free by getting away from them. Don’t let them continue to undermine your spirtual well-being (which you know impacts every other aspect of your life). And know that they are the ones who are truly in prison because they do not live what they claim to believe – which ultimately means they don’t really believe at all.~~~~~~~~~~~
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