by Ellen cross posted from her blog When Church Hurts
Spiritual abuse. Sometimes, even when you know you are being victimized, it’s hard to break away, or walk away, or run away. If you’ve found yourself here because you know what you are experiencing is spiritual abuse but you are caught and can’t let go, this page is for you.
First of all, I want you to know that I stayed in two spiritually abusive churches. The first, I stayed for about 18 months after the abuse started (read my story part 2). The second, I was immersed in abuse for over a decade, and once the shaming, ostracism and judgment lifted, I stayed for about 5 additional years. So, I know it’s hard to leave. I still wish I didn’t have to. I didn’t leave until I was told to go (my story part 4).
I still wish I was at my last church. I had friends there. It was a great place to be encouraged, to grow, to learn, to serve (when I was allowed to), for youth, for all ages, for worship, for prayer, for outreach. It was a fantastic place. If you weren’t being spiritually abused.
If you haven’t read the definition of spiritual abuse that I use, it comes from David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen’s book “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse:”
“The individual is left bearing a weight of guilt, judgment or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian.”
You can read more about how to identify spiritual abuse on other pages of this blog, but this sums it up well.
So, if you fit this description, and you have and continue to stay in the church where this is taking place, you are a very committed Christian. You are a person who truly believes what the bible has to say about never leaving or forsaking others. You truly believe that all things work together for good. You are long-suffering and forgiving, grace-full and loving. You are willing to continue to suffer in order to bring the situation to a God-honoring conclusion.
I’m pretty certain you are person who loves the church. Who loves to serve in the church and who doesn’t even have to put aside other desires in order to attend or to be involved – because most of your other commitments or involvements are secondary to what is going on – what you would rather be doing – which is in church. Am I right?
You also may feel stuck. Perhaps your spouse, children, and other family and friends, who are not impacted by spiritual abuse, are very happy with this church and its leaders. Perhaps you don’t know of any other church that so closely matches the kind of church you currently attend and you don’t want to walk away from all of the wonderful things that God is doing there. Perhaps you are afraid that if you leave, you will be admitting defeat and that God will be displeased with you.
But, in the midst of it all, you are being judged and beaten down, hurt and maligned. Try as you might, you cannot seem to do the right thing or to do it well enough. Every time you think you are getting close to reaching the bar, the bar gets raised a little bit further out of your reach. Nothing you say or do makes a difference – or the only difference it makes is to make matters worse. You might even be at a point where you are starting to believe that just the fact that you exist is against you.
Yet, you are still there. Hoping. Praying. Pleading. Wishing. Trying.
Does it seem like your level of commitment is exceeding that of the people in leadership who are diminishing you?
If you are in a situation where the level of commitment that you are receiving from the leadership of the church who are abusing you does not match your level of commitment, you have some choices to make. And as long as you are continuing to be in that church, it would make sense that your level of commitment should decline to match theirs.
Maybe that means that you don’t try so hard to resolve whatever the issues are. Maybe that means that you don’t give as much of your time or your finances (you can give tithes and offerings to many other places besides church). Maybe that means that you don’t show up. Maybe that means it’s time to leave.
I know that the thought of leaving is frightening. I was incredibly afraid. I was afraid of not having anywhere else to go. I was afraid of not having any friends. I was afraid that I would be even more harshly judged by the friends whom I left behind.
And then it happened. I didn’t choose to go. I was told to go. And guess what?
I lost friends. I didn’t have another church to go to. I was judged as being the problem – the bad person. I was maligned and shunned and . . .
I was freed.
I’m not saying that you should leave your church even if you are in the midst of being spiritually abused. I am saying that if you continue to stay, you are demonstrating true Christ-like-ness. And if you choose to leave at some point (or are told to like I was) everything that you fear will probably happen.
But it will be okay.
Because God will never leave you nor forsake you. Whether you stay or go, He will be with you.
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For New Found Victims
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