There are people who do not want us to be free. They don't want us to be free before God, accepted just as we are by his grace. They don't want us to be free to express our faith originally...They want to control us; they want to use us for their own purposes.
-Eugene Peterson, Travelling Light-
Vampire, pirate, and naked emperor are some of the metaphors I've likened to my abusive pastor. I've likened her brutal control tactics to hazing and the pied piper stealing away children.
The motivation for this is to understand for myself the abuse, how it was allowed to happen, and why it is continuing today.
There is a kind of dehumanizing spiritual abuse that is actually worse than the misuse of God's law. It is expressed in the ill-defined calls to "enter into the deeper life" to "surrender" to "yield"...The question sensitive hearts perpetually ask is "Have I yielded or surrendered enough?" This establishes permanent guilt feelings...The law is much less abusive, because at least it has definition.
-Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse-
A friend that left the church before I told her that he was leaving to find God for himself.
This angered her inordinately. She quoted it often, scornfully, in her three- hour sermons. She would ask the congregation why anyone would want to leave her congregation where and yes, I quote "God spoke straight over the pulpit".
I understand now why that angered her so. My friend had seen through her pretense of being a servant of God rightly dividing His Word to what she truly was: a chartlan, using fear and misdirection to keep people in bondage, serving her need for control and dominance.
There are religious leaders that turn God's word into a heavy load, demanding that their followers scrupulously follow rules they have imposed. These leaders act out of honest motives, longing to save people from themselves by their actions....a salvation that includes human achievement, hard work, personal effort, even religious deeds distorts the good news because man gets the glory, not God...Paul's twice-repeated reaction to the one who introduced the doctrinal heresy is, "Let him be accursed!" This is Paul's way of saying the person is doomed! The original word is anathema! It is the strongest single Greek term for condemnation.
-Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening-
Jesus had strong words to these such leaders, the Pharisees of His day:
"You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds."
When believers accept performance-based standards preached by their leaders, they must keep the standards or suffer from guilt because they have failed...The genius of this system is that each religious group can custom-design its heavy loads to meet its own needs.
-Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse-
My abusive pastor went far and beyond setting up good works and rule-keeping as a means of salvation. Essentially, you were saved if she said so. Members of the church that disobeyed her orders were read the scripture in Hebrews: So don't turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn't get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? Members that continued to "rebel" after that were reminded of Jannes and Jambores who the earth opened up and swallowed because they stood against Moses. Her orders were not commands to stay out of adultery, or gossiping.
Her orders included:
spending as much of your free time as possible with her. She alluded more then once that spending time with her would ensure people's salvation.
not voicing disagreement with her decisions or actions.
accepting whatever life choice she decided for you. Members did not marry without her approval, chose life vocations, or even go to another member's house for dinner.
Members of toxic-faith systems reach a point in their addictive progression where they make claims about themselves to set themselves apart from others. They may attempt to support these claims with Scripture. Each time Scripture is used, some followers are more motivated to serve, feeling God's special hand on the ministry and the people involved with it. Some of the most clever deceivers in history have used Scripture to foster their toxic faith. Satan had no problem in quoting Scripture to strengthen his temptations of Christ.
-Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, Toxic Faith-
When authority is well placed, it respects the individuals over whom it has authority. When it is not well placed, it is our responsibility to expose the abuse and be part of the solution. Christ challenged the religious authorities who turned away from God and toward rules developed by men. Christ stood up to those people and told them they were wrong...We must have the courage to follow Christ's example and overturn the system...if that system is wrong. Silent submission in the face of violence, dishonesty, and abuse will only allow that abuse to be passed to new generations.
-Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton, Toxic Faith-
Yes, the Bible was a heavy burden to me in a Dade City church. I walked around quaking, waiting for the ground to open up and swallow me because I chose not to spend all my free time kneeling at her feet. I couldn't satisfy her- and I spent hours every week cleaning her buildings, volunteering in her ministry, and listening to her endless ranting and raving in church.
I have finally realized the truth of the matter: she would have never been satisfied with all the good works and obedience I could have produced, even if I had gone to 24-hour work days.
Her demands on me and my fellow church members were designed by, I strongly believe, Satan, to turn me into another spiritual, verbal, and emotional abuser like her or to have me take my own life in despair.
You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-dammed.
I daily pray to be free from the toxic religion of my abusive pastor. I read Scriptures such as the one in Galatians: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit.
I share my story with those around me and on this blog. Every time I share, I feel more of the shame of abuse dropping away.
Jon Acuff, in a blog about hope, had this to say about dealing with past emotional hurts and looking towards a hope:
...I guess I thought after that experience, when I had come clean and had full disclosure with people and laid it all down, that things would feel a certain way. I thought forgiveness and grace would feel round and full and complete and that freedom would feel incredible. But it didn’t.
Hope was not as instantaneous and complete as I would have preferred. Sanctification was not accomplished in the span of a long weekend. And that’s when I started to learn about the three stages of hope.
Hope is one of the first things that disappears when you get lost. Your ability to see beyond your current circumstances is chased south by the shadows. Your ability to dream and plan and hold visions close to your chest fades until hope feels foreign and far away.
And when you become a Christian, there’s the temptation to think you’re doing something wrong if you don’t feel hopeful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But here’s the thing about hope, it takes time. And sometimes, I think our greatest frustrations are when we try to force hope into a stage it’s just not ready for...We had to learn to live with a past that refused to stay quiet. As I’ve often said before, unless you deal with it, the past turns into a collection of knives hidden around your house. If you haven’t forgiven each other, then all the sudden you’ll see a character on a television show do what you did and you’ll get stabbed. Someone will make an offhand joke at a dinner party and you’ll get stabbed by that memory. So for us, learning to live with the past was about removing knives.
I work on removing the hidden knives. I avoid situations that trigger the PTSD- even if it only going to church once every two months when I feel comfortable about it.
I still struggle with mountains of fear. I run from confrontations- it held severe recriminations in the abusive church. When I had an unhappy person on the phone at my job I had my usual violent reactions fearing I was, once again, "in trouble". I had floating sensations, burning cheeks and ears, icy chills so violent my body shook, aching sinuses and a sour taste in my mouth. These reactions are the result of years of public humiliation, private verbal and physical abuse. I don't know if the reactions will ever fully go away or just slightly subside.
So the scars and reactions to them are still present. But, I am out the cult! I no longer have the burden of pleasing a anti-social dictator of a pastor. And I sure as heck don't spend hours of my life cleaning someone else's buildings for free.
My brother once expressed to a counselor that he felt so sorry for me that I spent more years in the cult than he did. The counselor replied that yes I had, but I was out of the cult and I was still alive.
So very true. I am out of the cult, out from under the burden and I am still alive.
Depression and Christianity