Late last year, I answered an online survey about spiritual abuse. I would like to share some of those questions and answers here, hoping it will give you a better picture of where I am up to in my journey.
How did you cope after making the decision to leave?
One day at a time! I talked a lot to a few safe people, debriefing, grieving, crying, venting my anger. I also started searching online to try and find help to heal and it was at that time I discovered that my experience was far from isolated. I read and researched everything I could find about abuse and what church was meant to look like anyway. As I have read the journeys and outcomes of other people’s experiences, I have gained new insights into my own.
Describe some of the positive and negative feelings which you experienced.
Positive: Initially I felt huge relief that I had removed myself from the bullying and abuse. There were moments of excitement at the freedom I was finding as I identified and jettisoned worthless ‘religious’ thoughts and practices.
Negative: Betrayal, loss, grief, loss, anger, frustration…
How did you process the various positive and negative feelings after you left?
Lots of talking, reading and processing and then sharing what I’d discovered. Then more talking.
Do you feel personally disillusioned with this church group? Please describe.
Totally! These leaders were perfectly happy to see us leave the church wounded and broken. They have refused to deal with the issues and even now they will not meet with us, talk us and fail to even acknowledge our existence.
Beyond this, they are selling a lie – they say they have a better way to live, but when it comes down to it they cannot live by the standards they espouse.
Have you learned anything through your experience, and, if so, what?
So much! I’ve learned that the way we ‘do church’ is utterly bankrupt. It teaches most of us to be passive spectators while the ‘1st class Christians’ entertain us and tell us what to think and how to live.
I’ve also learned that there are text-book patterns to abuse. It’s like there’s a template of words and behaviours that occur regardless of the specific situation.
What advice would you give to others who find themselves in emotionally distressful or abusive spiritual contexts?
First and most important, you are not the problem! You are not to blame for the way someone else chooses to act, you are not “asking for it”. You are not just a trouble-maker, you are not going insane, you are not making things up. This is real – and it’s wrong!
Second, you have permission to keep yourself safe. You don’t owe the abuser anything, you do not need to make it safe for them. You don’t need to compromise or accept bullying, abusive, blaming behaviour towards you.
Number three, don’t let anyone push you into the ‘just forgive and move on’ lie. You need to take the time to work through your emotions and let God lead you through the stages of grief and healing. Just saying the ‘magic’ words means nothing, but there will be many ‘christians’ who want you to be ‘nice’ and not rock the boat.
In the midst of this, find 2 or 3 safe people with whom you can share and debrief. People who are willing to stand with you and protect you as you attempt to deal with things.
What have you found to be most helpful regarding your “spiritual recovery” from a negative church experience? Basically, what types of help did you find both necessary and helpful to move you forward in Christ after your disillusioning church experience? What worked for you?
a) Someone to confide in
Having a few loving, supportive friends to walk with was absolutely essential. Having their permission to talk honestly and openly - to be angry, grief-stricken, whatever I was feeling without being fed the horrible cliché of ‘just forgive and move on’.
b) Comfort from certain Scripture passages
It really helped reading through the gospels and reminding myself how much Jesus was hated and persecuted by the religious leaders of His day.
d) Participation on blogs
It wasn’t really so much about active participation, but often just reading other people’s stories, finding comfort, encouragement, wisdom in what was shared.
Snakes in the Temple – David Orton
So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore - Jake Colsen
He loves Me! The Relationship God Has Always Wanted With You - Wayne Jacobsen
The Naked Church - Wayne Jacobsen
This Is My Body: Ekklesia As God Intended - Keith Giles
Pagan Christianity – Frank Viola & George Barna
Reimagining Church – Frank Viola
Overarching everything was the fact that God was working in and through each circumstance, bringing me through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’. I lived by clinging to Him and being absolutely real with Him (and a few real ‘brothers and sisters’).
After this experience how was your view of God’s Word changed or affected?
I’ve become terribly wary of the word ‘biblical’. While I believe absolutely that the bible is the inspired word of God, I have also come to believe that there are very few ‘absolutes’ (eg Jesus was the son of God) and so much of what is preached as truth is just our imperfect interpretation of God’s living word.
I think we have superimposed our cultural understanding on the word of God and insisted that everyone subscribe to our way of thinking.
How would you describe your journey with Christ today?
Very real and very relational. I would also point out that it is a journey - I am not where I once was, nor am I yet where I will one day be. But here and now, this is where I am with “I AM”.
As you have reflected once again on these experiences, were you able to thank God for lessons learned and for new freedom in Christ that you have discovered?