Spiritual Abuse Must Stop (a blog post)

Every single time I check my email there’s one more, one more person raising their “digital” hand and saying “That’s my story, too. I was spiritually abused.”

They’re responding to this story. Part 1. Part 2.

Most don’t stop there. These people–men, women, some pastors, some laypeople–go on to describe in detail their stories, the events that happened from their perspectives, that led to some sort of “spiritual abuse”. Many tell stories of being shunned by people who they believed were their friends, families, and confidants. Some were betrayed. Some were lied about. One man says he was interrogated in a dark room with a light shining in his face. And every deed was done in the name of Jesus.

One man wrote this:

“I just read your blogs about Andrew and Mars Hill. I was struck with how eerily similar my story–I live in Texas–was with his, even down to the “community” site that was exclusive to the church and being denied access to it after I was excommunicated. (Which, by the way, was caused by a text message that I sent to someone who had left.) Much like Andrew, I spent my time being manipulated and controlled, and my heart really goes out to him. I know in my case it’s still hard for me to think about the place and all the friends I suddenly lost. It’s sort of like have Post Traumatic Stress, but you also get to deal with the doubt caused in your own mind by the accusations thrown at you.”

There are often many sides to one story. But when it comes down to two, your story and the story of some sort of religious establishment. The establishment’s story almost always overpowers the story of the one who has been hurt. And that story of one is silenced. They get called troublemakers, liars, sinners, cynical, unhappy, mean, etc, etc, etc. And then, even when they do share their stories, nobody listens. Again. Silenced.

One lady said, “I sat down with my best friend and tried to tell her that the stories being told about me weren’t true. But she refused to listen. The church was always right in her mind.”

Many of the letters have come from former members of Mars Hill Church. One of those letters said, “I witnessed and experienced the spiritual abuse at MHC and its pastors on many different levels. I even felt forced to participate in them at times. I’ve felt the social & theological pressures, exclusions and have lost friendships over my leaving. It’s painful as hell and it’s irrevocably changed me.”

I could keep sharing. But to only share bits and pieces is not fair to them or their story. But we need to hear these stories. We need to weep with them over their stories. We need to validate their stories. Some of us need to confess our associations with their stories, our ignoring their stories, our unwillingness to trust a victim’s word against the word of a religious machine.

In my opinion, despite all the good deeds that might happen inside the machine, in order to measure a church’s worth, one must also take into consideration the souls, the people that church has bruised.

So many wrote that they’ve pretty much given up on the church. And that might be true. But in many instances, the church gave up on them. We, members of the universal church of Christ, need to stand up and speak out on behalf of the victims of spiritual abuse. All too often, because of fear or because of disbelief or because “the church must have had their reasons,” we ignore and devalue the stories of hurting people. Sure, sometimes a person’s story might turn out to be farfetched. But that is an excuse we have used for far too long. That is how abuse continues to occur inside the walls of churches.

Church, the truth is, sometimes our establishments, our rules, our hoops and hurdles, our fixes, and our leadership are abusing people, good people, people who are not being heard or listened to, people like you and me, people who will try to experience life at another church but will likely fail, people who might not trust you at first, people who are cynical and skeptic, people who are dying inside looking for somebody to shine a light on their story, their situation, their pain.

I tweeted last night that, it seems to me that far too many lost get found and then they get effed up. Effed up in a variety of ways. And that’s not amazing grace.

That’s a disgrace that each of us, every congregation, every member of a church staff, and every layperson can help remedy.

We begin by listening. And giving those who have been spiritually abused an opportunity to tell their story. Because only when we have the freedom to share, can we begin to walk on a path toward being free.

Let’s help people get free.

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