This post is continued from Comparing the Two, Part 1.
Some might ask how one can begin to compare the atrocities of physical starvation and beatings at the hands of a dictator to the emotional/spiritual abuse by pastor/elders of a church. They seem worlds different. I understand that question. The physical abuse mentioned in the article depicts the effects of abuse which can be easily seen and identified by anyone, sometimes with just a quick glance. We read about the physical condition of the children, distended bellies, weakened and tiny bodies, physical scars from beatings, children who starved to death, family members who disappeared. The way people in this country are treated is horrific. The signs of physical abuse are evident and leave little doubt as to what happened. The signs cannot be hidden.
Emotional and spiritual abuse are not as obvious. You may not be able to tell by looking at someone that they are emotionally or spiritually abused. They sometimes suffer silently. They may not understand what happened. There can be confusion, disturbed sleep, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, difficulty in relationships, fears, anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. On a spiritual level, it can result in lack of trust in God (how could a loving God lead them to an abusive church), mistrust of any spiritual leader, difficulty to pray, read God’s word, difficulty to maintain relationships among Christians because of distrust, difficulty to trying a new church and some may never venture into a church again because of that fear or pain. Because the signs are not as obvious as physical signs and can go undetected, it can lead to a mental or spiritual collapse. I remember someone from church who had a mental breakdown leading to in-patient hospitalization. Was this due the spiritually abusive environment? Some have wondered. This person never came back to the church, found a new church family and seems to be doing very well now.
Regardless of the kind of abuse, whether it be sexual, physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse, there can be lasting repercussions on the health and emotional/spiritual well-being of the person.
In Part 1 of this blog series, I quoted paragraphs from an article in CNN.com (In North Korea, a brutal choice). I noticed the parallels between dictator/spiritual abusers and the people of N. Korea/people in abusive churches. The indented quotes are from the CNN article and then you will read my observations on how it parallels with a church with this type of leader.
When a country is led by dictators, it’s the ordinary people who pay the price and are forced to make gut-wrenching decisions.
Defectors’ stories are often the only way the world learns about what happens inside the reclusive country. But many who escaped North Korea choose to remain silent, fearing repercussions for family members left back home.
Many who do speak out, including Han and her daughters, use pseudonyms (as they do in this article) to avoid detection by the North Korean government.
“I believed the party kept us alive,” Han said. “I was very thankful. I was constantly trained to believe that without the party, we wouldn’t exist.”
She did not doubt the leaders, even as her family went hungry. It was the United States and South Korea’s fault, they were told, that they had to hunt frogs, rats and even snakes.
Even though there were some odd teachings or perhaps strange vibes that we felt, we overlooked them because we didn’t want to be in a church with false teaching, watered-down messages, seeker-sensitive churches which didn’t measure up to what we were being taught. We were convinced that our church was the best and any other church would have been inferior or bad.
The first time Han and her husband snuck into China and hid at a relatives’ home, she got her first glimpse of a rice cooker, full of steaming, hot white rice.
The rice in Han’s story represents spiritual life to me – an opportunity to live. The first time people ventured into a new church, they got the first glimpse of normalcy, grace, life, joy. The abundance of grace, life, joy is overwhelming to one who leaves this kind of environment. I remember seeing former BGB friends weep during a worship service at another church – to be free was amazing.
The next day, officers came for her, too. In custody, she was forced to kneel in front of police, who kicked her, beat her with a wooden rod and smashed her skull. They lay her hands flat on the cement floor and stomped on them.
“We can talk about what happened,” she said. “All my family in North Korea has died. I realized God chose us. Other people cannot talk or their family will suffer.”
We have been out of the church for nearly 3-1/2 yrs. I signed my name “Julie Anne” on the original Google review. My review represented what happened to me and what I saw at our church based on my understanding of church policies and the Bible. I believe a lot of people at our former church have “died” emotionally and spiritually in this spiritually abusive environment and I want the story to be told just as Song Ee Han is telling her story publicly. Even after nearly 3-1/2 yrs, my former pastor seems to be trying to control what I say by suing me and 3 others for $500,000 for “defamation”.
The final post in this series can be found here: Comparing the Two, Part 3