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From time to time, I will be posting select personal spiritual abuse stories here. There are a number of reasons to post stories of abuse. We can learn from them to try to prevent it from happening again. We can offer support. Looking at someone’s story might identify something we experienced and can validate our suspicions. The confusion of dealing with a pastor who misuses or abuses his position as pastor can get so emotional and heady. It’s helpful to have a sounding board and this is a great place to do that. It’s also difficult to find people who understand. People here do understand.
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made from them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. Matthew 19:4-6
Losing a marriage to divorce is something that I have read in a number of spiritual abuse stories. This is a tragedy. I’d like to follow up this post with a post on the topic of divorce and spiritual abuse, looking deeper at what scripture has to say about how spiritual abuse can affect marriages.
“Paul” sent me his story a while back. It’s a story of deception, abuse of power and control, illegal activity, and manipulation that resulted in the loss of his marriage. He mentioned in an e-mail to me today that he wouldn’t wish this kind of pain on anyone. Ouch! Paul’s loss is great.
I have informed Paul that I would be posting his story soon. When we discuss this story, please keep in mind that Paul’s divorce is nearly final. This is fresh and raw for him. I would really like to use this opportunity to share our support and offer words of encouragement to our brother, Paul.
Paul’s words to me today: “
Paul’s Tragic Story of Divorce and Abuse
I write this with plenty of emotions and sadness as I am right now facing one of the most difficult times of my life. I too am a victim of Spiritual Abuse.
My journey started back in 2004 when I was seeking a place of worship after going through a nasty divorce. I ended up at the church where I was abused because there were some good friends of mine there. It wasn’t long after I started there that I became active in the activities that were going on there. The church was busy building a new sanctuary and with my past experience as a carpenter, I feel right in and began to help. It wasn’t long before I had made some new friends and began to become interested in the Worship Leader who was also divorced and single.
My current occupation was a State Health Inspector where I regulated sewer, water and food for the State. One of my main duties as a Health Inspector was to determine the size and discharge of sewer for residential and commercial facilities. So with this knowledge I one day introduced myself to the Pastor and told him what I did for a living and that I could be of help when it was time to size the new sewer treatment plant that would be required for the new sanctuary.
As we continued to proceed with the work on the new sanctuary, the Pastor never contacted me and I discovered that he had not pulled permits for a new sewer system, but decided to tie the new sanctuary into the existing sewer treatment system. This was a violation of the State Sanitary Code and I felt like I needed to bring it to his attention, but I didn’t. By this time, I was dating the Worship leader and my main attention was on that, and I tried to forget what I knew about the sewer. I tried to convince myself that maybe he just didn’t know better.
The years slipped by and I married the Worship Leader in March of 2006. We were now in our new building and I thought everything was fine. I had even forgotten about the sewer incident. Sometime in 2006, I began parking cars for the church and was parking cars for about 2 years when the Pastor came up with an idea how to make people commit to working around the church. He announced that everyone would be required to sign a covenant sheet which would require them to remain at their preferred job for a six-month commitment. Since I had now been parking cars for 2 years and didn’t believe in signing a covenant with a man, I did not sign the covenant sheet.
About a month after not signing the sheet, I was out parking cars one Sunday when I was approached by two of the ushers of the church with a sealed letter from the Pastor. I was instructed to open and read the letter. The letter was written by the Pastor and said that because I had refused to sign the covenant sheet, I would have to leave the parking lot. I was then escorted off the parking lot by the two ushers. This was when I realized that there was something seriously wrong with this Pastor and I began to watch everything he did.
I scheduled an appointment to discuss the parking lot situation and was told that the covenant sheet was not for people like me, but that I would have to follow his instructions or he might lose control of those that needed such a commitment. I told him that I still would not sign such a covenant sheet because I was working for the Lord, not the church.
He then labeled me as a rebellious person. It was about three weeks later he announced at the pulpit that all the covenant sheets were going to be destroyed and that he would never ask anyone to make a covenant with the church again, but willingness to work would be between you and the Lord. But the damage between the Pastor and me had already been done.
It took me a couple years to put the parking lot incident behind me and begin to become active in the church again. We were now working on our third and current sanctuary of which I spent time helping with the framing and finish work inside the church. This was a large church that we were told would seat up to 1,500 people.
Again, with my sewer knowledge, I did the calculations as to the size of the sewer treatment that would be required for such a large church. One Sunday morning, I was walking around back of the church and discovered that a small residential sewer system had been installed to accommodate a kitchen which was added to the smaller church we were still in. I found it funny that the sewer system was installed at such a great distance for the kitchen that it was serving. I thought to myself, “I bet he is going to tie this large church into this small sewer system”. I didn’t say anything to anyone but waited to see what would happen.
We finished the work on the new sanctuary and moved into it in June of 2011. Just as I expected, the new church was tied into the small residential sewer system. This really upset me, but I still didn’t know what to do. Remember, I was married to the Worship leader, and she was now on staff full-time.
Sometime in July, my wife called and asked to help finish some work in a coffee shop that was being built inside the sanctuary. One of the nights I was working, I asked the church Mission Pastor what type of business we were opening. He told me he thought it was going to be a retail coffee shop with a cash register. I told him that if the church retailed coffee though a cash register, it would be required to be permitted by the State. He said he wasn’t aware of that, but would pass that information on to the Pastor.
The very next night I was again working in the coffee shop and the Mission Pastor informed me that he had spoken to the Pastor who said that they were not going to have a cash register – they would put a jar on the counter for donations, and that he was not going to permit the shop. I told him that was fine as long as they were not retailing.
The coffee shop was finished along with a new expensive cash register and was now ready for the grand opening. At this time, I was working in the sound booth and was pretty upset with the Pastor’s decision to put a cash register in the coffee shop when I told him it would be required to be permitted. I shared my frustration with one other person, which was probably a mistake, other than my wife. On the night of the Grand opening I told my wife I would not go into the coffee shop because I knew it was an illegal establishment.
The next day the Pastor stopped my wife in the hall at church and asked why I didn’t attend the opening of the coffee shop. She told him that I was upset that he didn’t permit the coffee shop as required by law. On Monday of the following week, the Pastor sent instructions home through my wife for me to step down from all ministry work at the church and advised me to find another church where I might find Godly counsel on how to handle authority.
Two days after I was told this, my wife called me from the church and told me that because of all that was going on between us, we would have to separate. She left town for five days and when she came home, asked me to move out of our house.
I moved in with my daughter and the first thing I did was schedule a meeting with the Pastor. This time when I met with him, I told him everything I knew about the sewer and the coffee shop. He denied any wrongdoings at the church and only knew that the proper permits were pulled to install what was there. He went on to say that there was nothing he could do to help with the separation of my wife and that I needed to seek Godly counsel.
At the Wednesday night service, he announced from the pulpit that a member of the church had brought up false accusations about illegal activities about a sewer system that had been installed at the church.
I stayed away from the church for two months and was finally allowed back home when I agreed to sit down with the Pastor and apologize for everything I had done. This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do because I knew in my heart that I was right and he was wrong. But I went and apologized and told him that I was finished with the coffee shop and the sewer.
Three months rolled around and I sat on the front row of the church and acted like nothing was wrong, but inside I was dying. It was hard to listen to a Pastor preach the Bible knowing what I knew about him, but I sat there to support my wife who led the praise and worship.
It just so happened that an independent sewer operator showed up at the church out of the blue looking for work. He asked if he could look at the sewer system which was servicing the church and discovered the same thing I did. The Pastor asked him if I had sent him there and was told that I had not.
Because of the complexity of this situation, there is plenty I am leaving out, but I did find out that the Engineer who sized the sewer system down, sized it as a favor to a friend of the Pastor who was representing the church. I found out about the independent operator because he is a friend of mine and he called to inform me how bad the situation was at the church. He didn’t know I already knew.
I tried to inform my wife of what had happened so that she would know that I had nothing to do with the Operator showing up there. She told me that she believed me, but three days later came home and told me that we had to separate again because I still had ill feeling towards the Pastor. I stayed away for a week and when I finally sat down to talk to her, she told me she was going to file for divorce because she had had enough. I tried reasoning with her, but her mind was made up. That is the day she filed for divorce.
Hurt, confused, and depressed, the anger inside me finally surfaced and I called the State office and told them what I knew. There is now a full investigation in progress to determine what laws were broken and how to fix the problem. The Pastor was told that the coffee shop must be permitted and as of this typing, a decision has not been made as to the size of the sewer plant that will have to be installed.
I have left the church and now I’m trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. My soon-to-be ex-wife has remained loyal to the church and to this day still makes excuses for the Pastors actions.
* * * Since the release of this article, Paul has disclosed his identity as Raymond Ernst.