by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
Editor’s note: Ellen is speaking directly to new readers at her blog, but the same words apply here as well. Welcome to new readers here who’ve been spiritually abused, victimized by religion and are discovering that they are not the only ones.
Perhaps you found this blog because are just realizing that what you or someone you know is experiencing is “just not right.” There are many websites and blogs that have information on spiritual abuse. Some are very comprehensive and detailed and many are great places to educate yourself. This blog details my journey through spiritual abuse (see the four parts of my story) and, hopefully without being too overwhelming or wordy, will provide you with encouragement, insight, empathy, and avenues toward healing and moving forward.
Some of the definitions of spiritual abuse that give very specific descriptions may not sound like they fit your experience. If I applied my own situation to them, I would convince myself that what I had encountered was not spiritual abuse, but was just a personality conflict, or a bad church fit, or people just being people. That’s why I like these words of David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen from their book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse:”
“The results of spiritual abuse are usually the same: The individual is left bearing a weight of guilt, judgment or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian.”
Does this describe how you are feeling or thinking? Is it because a person in leadership or authority in the church has treated you in such a way that you have questioned whether or not God loves you? Do you wonder if God has abandoned you? Have you been made to think that you don’t measure up to God’s standards? Have you suffered condemnation and shame from church leaders? Have you been ostracized or shunned?
You see, your church doesn’t have to be a cult and your experience doesn’t have to be at the hands of patriarchal or charismatic or radically evangelical or Calvinistic or fill-in-the-blank type of churches or leaders. Spiritual abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they are “left bearing the weight of guilt, judgment or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian.”
So, if that is you, welcome.
I have had so many people, after reading or hearing about my story of spiritual abuse, declare, “I don’t believe it! I know that church and that pastor. I know those leaders and I just can’t believe they would ever do anything like that!”
And they won’t believe it. Until it happens to enough people that they can’t ignore it any more or until it happens to them. So don’t expect all people to believe you.
Also know that not everyone who is confronted with a pastor or spiritual leader and given the message that they are unacceptable to the church and/or to God will suffer abuse. They may have the fortitude or foresight to walk away or to simply not let those messages bother them. If you didn’t walk away and were ultimately harmed in your relationship with God, you are to be commended. You demonstrated that which God demonstrates to us every moment of every day – never leaving or forsaking.
If you tried to “work it out” biblically, such as attempting the Matthew 18 process, and the powers-that-be would not cooperate or altered that process or turned the tables on you to make you the problem for pointing out the problem, know this: YOU ARE NOT THE PROBLEM.
If you are still uncertain if what you have experienced is spiritual abuse, I would encourage you to write down the truth. Let me explain:
For years, I sat under the preaching and teaching of a pastor who, from the pulpit and even in face-to-face conversations was kind, caring, grace-filled, welcoming, concerned, etc. I so wanted that to be “the truth.” For more than a decade, leadership (not the pastor but those under his authority) repeatedly expressed to me that I was unwanted, unacceptable, etc. I was not allowed to serve or participate in anything except sitting in services. This judgment and ostracism went on for more than a decade. I repeatedly turned to the pastor for help but he would not respond to my pleas, my emails, my requests for meetings, etc. I kept telling myself that he was just too busy or this wasn’t important enough or he just didn’t understand what I was going through. After all, he was a wonderful man. Thousands of people will attest to that fact.
But, the real truth is that he didn’t respond to my pleas. He didn’t answer my emails. He didn’t meet with me or help me in any way as I suffered under the ostracism doled out by those on his staff. The real truth was that he didn’t have any care or compassion or grace for me. He didn’t respect me enough to truly be my pastor.
Think about the truth of your situation, your experience. Not what you want it to be, but what it truly is. If that truth ultimately reveals that you have been treated in such a way that your relationship with God has been negatively affected, you might very well be a victim of spiritual abuse.If that is your truth, please continue to read this blog. Read my story. Read my posts. Write your own story. I would love to read it. And mostly, know that you are loved by a God who will never leave you or forsake you. No matter what anyone else says.
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