Should We Speak out about Our Spiritually Abusive Church?

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This comment came in on an earlier thread and there are so many answers.  Because I spoke out against my former church, one of the most common questions in e-mails I get is:  “should I speak out about our abuse to current members?”    Here it is again:

Our family left an unhealthy church about 7 months ago. We were a part of the church for over 20 years. When we first joined, we were in our early 20′s. We were young, immature and unaware that unhealthy churches existed. I noticed something was wrong about 10 years ago. The pastor was authoritarian and a micro-manager.

We started visiting other churches but we didn’t find one we both liked. I feel we went back because of denial and fear. We were in denial of the spiritual abuse because it was so subtle.

There were good things going on and we prayed for change. We also were in fear of losing our relationships and fear of the unknown. What would happen if we did leave? Would we find another church? We finally left.

It’s been a painful but freeing growing experience. We haven’t found another church yet but we still visit some Sundays. This is such an important topic that needs to continue to be addressed.

Our former pastor sent a text to my husband telling us not to tell “his” members why we left. I feel it’s time for me to speak up….

Update/addition:  I found this extra excerpt from Donna in another comment – it helps to see the full picture:

My friends tell me my real friends will call me to find out what happened and I don’t need to go back to say goodbye. But it still bothers me. My three daughters were raised in our former church. My youngest was born and raised there. They are young adults now. My middle daughter left a couple years ago. I think it’s been hardest on my youngest daughter. I look forward to seeing your new post.

I took special note of the last couple of sentences (I made it bold).

#1 – pastor does not want them to tell “his” members why we left?

Hmm – why not?

#2  “I feel it’s time to speak up.”

Of course you know I have opinions on this.  Do you have experience that you can share with Donna?

Does speaking up help or not?

What problems can occur if she does speak up?

What problems can occur if she doesn’t speak up?

Does the Bible have anything to say about speaking out about spiritually abusive churches?  I got a fair amount of push back from church leaders.

I’m not the only :::cough, cough:::: “expert”  on spiritual abuse here.   Let’s talk.  I’ll be piping in, too 🙂

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photo credit: mfhiatt via photopin cc

44 comments on “Should We Speak out about Our Spiritually Abusive Church?

  1. I think if they are asked, they have the right to be honest. The church members don’t belong to the pastor. Don’t they belong to Christ? Am I confused about this?

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  2. A few things to consider from my experiences on both sides of the fence:

    1. Count the cost first. If there is any way people in your former church have any influence over your job/income/finances by way of influence? If so, be prepared to suffer and not even realize it for a long time. One call to a client, one poison seed planted. That is all it takes and it can happen slowly

    2. Unless there is a situation of child molestation or similar, don’t go out of your way to make sure people know the problems there.. Always tell the truth from YOUR perspective if asked why you left. Negative truths about your experiences are not sinful. I think it is perfectly reasonable to simply say you do not agree with an authoritarian polity style. Be prepared that just about every Christian on the face of the earth will tell you: There is no such thing as a perfect church. It is reasonable to agree with them but say you are not looking for perfection just purity and transparency. Jesus Christ says we CAN be pure in heart. The whole sinless perfection vs evil is false dichotomy too many believers have fallen for.

    Pastors are often like doctors. They don’t want to hear about your last bad pastor. Don’t expect understanding from that quarter. Expect it will be a negative. Just be prepared. Know who you are in Christ so his opinion won’t matter to you.

    3. Instead of looking for a new church right away, it is encouraging to spend time alone in the Gospels. Know Jesus intimately. That way, it is easier to spot the frauds, wolves and hirlings but not always failsafe either.

    4. Before joining any church you have been visiting ask to see a detailed budget. Their response to that request will be telling. Never sign any membership agreement no matter how nice it sounds. Christians don’t have to swear an oath to be members of the Body of Christ.

    Institutional Church is for the most part a non profit business. We tend to forget that.

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  3. Lydia has given some great advice.

    It’s been a painful but freeing growing experience.

    Taking the time to heal and as Lydia has said, be alone with God, sifting through the experience in prayer might not be a bad idea either. You don’t need to find a church home to be right with God. You are right with him because of your faith in Christ. Take all the time you need to get back into church.

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  4. Kate said: “I think if they are asked, they have the right to be honest. The church members don’t belong to the pastor. Don’t they belong to Christ? Am I confused about this?”

    How about the other way around? Should Donna go to them if they don’t ask her first?

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  5. Two of my favorite quotes says it better than I could:

    “You own everything that’s happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them they should have behaved better.” Ann Lamott

    Silence in the face of evil is itself evil:
    God will not hold us guiltless.
    Not to speak is to speak.
    Not to act is to act.
    ~~—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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  6. I wish people had spoken to me. The decision of so many to never speak of what went wrong in my church empowered the pastor to continue and grow in his sin (stealing large amounts of money, leaving the church in deep debt, other women, slander and serious spiritual abuse, to name a few.)

    My advice is be honest and fair. If the issues were differences on opinion and neither are sin issues, then I think Proverbs covers it by telling us to overlook the matter. If the issues are pointing towards something being wrong, but you can’t prove it, then be fair … but I’d still say you saw red flags that concerned you. Others can judge for themselves.

    If the issues are clear verifiable biblical sin, then speak up and still be fair.

    So many before us knew the pastor was spending money like water. Large donors and bookkeepers knew, confronted, and were shown the door. They should have spoken up so the rest of us had a chance to look into it, or watch for red flags we could see. That would have been enough in our situation to have stopped the massive $ hemorrhaging!

    Many before us knew the pastor was doing many other bullying tactics to control people. I wish they would have spoken up to anyone. They didn’t need to make an announcement on the street, but talking to a few people saying their honest reason for leaving would have helped immensely.

    Does one pay the price for speaking honestly? Yes, often. I just think Jesus can use even that. I don’t mean to minimize this decision, as I was very hesitant at first, too. But in the end, I knew I would be unable to sleep at night knowing I’d done nothing as my response to being spiritually abused. Now, others can connect the dots, if they want to. Many don’t want to, but knowing who those people are is very helpful, as well. True colors can be seen when faced with people’s comfort being disrupted. Mature believers shine … sincere new believers humbly seek understanding, the rest …. are outed by their stance of sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes, and saying, “I’m not listening!” It’s amazing how many of them were considered mature believers in leadership … before.

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  7. Katie: If people would have spoken to you, would you have listened and heeded their advice? I can think of a few people who came to me with concerns about our church. I actually defended the church even though I knew in my heart that there were problems.

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  8. This comment was posted by Donna in the comments on the other post. It gives a bit more to her story. I think I’ll add it in the post, too:

    My friends tell me my real friends will call me to find out what happened and I don’t need to go back to say goodbye. But it still bothers me. My three daughters were raised in our former church. My youngest was born and raised there. They are young adults now. My middle daughter left a couple years ago. I think it’s been hardest on my youngest daughter. I look forward to seeing your new post.

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  9. Question to all: why is Donna’s pastor telling them not to talk? Why would he take the action of actually texting that message? Do most pastors tell people what they can and cannot say when they leave?

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  10. Often the reason people don’t speak up or even honestly answer why they left is because they were taught that to do so would be a sin, considered an act of gossip or slander. But the Bible doesn’t actually say that. I encourage everyone to look up the definitions of those words.

    Gossip is to tell something true to intentionally hurt/embarrass a person, not to give info to protect others or answer a question honestly. My advice: Watch your motives, they count.

    Slander requires that you are lying. My advice: Don’t lie.

    I’ve had people ask me why I left. After answering, they accused me of gossiping. I told them they are then guilty for asking in the first place if they believed that.

    You have to be prepared to be shocked at who and how many supposed “good Christians” show their true colors during this process. It’s sad, demoralizing, and discouraging, at first. Later on, it’s refreshing to begin seeing the truth and encouraging that God opened your eyes by peeling back the layer of religiosity that clouds our vision.

    We will always have people among us who look good, talk good, do good, but when the rubber meets the road, holes show up. It’s not that we don’t all make mistakes, I’m talking about attitudes that are set in stone. I’m talking about wonderful people who are suddenly not so wonderful because you are stepping on their sacred cow. Idols come in all sorts of shapes and forms, i.e. pastors, titles, positions, power, money, personal peace, etc…)

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  11. JulieAnne, good question.

    A couple people did say something to me, but I was unable to see it. I could not accept the accusations without 2 or 3 corroborating it because it was against a leader. I did not respond as well as I would now. I was defensive and I’m ashamed now. I should have treated the people with more love and concern even if I was not convinced of it’s veracity at the time.

    The only people who spoke up were people who had questionable motives and other public issues with their lives. It made it difficult to discern.

    The people who did not speak up were the bookkeepers, the large donors, the assistant pastor, the secretary, the several elders, or board members who all left or were creatively removed. They had clout, they had verifiable info, they KNEW.

    Going forward, I’ll pay more attention when the peanut gallery starts to complain. I still won’t take it as fact, just pay much closer attention to signs that info is being suppressed.

    I don’t think our responsibility to tell the truth is outweighed by others tendency to not want to listen and have their comfort disturbed. I’d just try to tell the truth without drama and let the info germinate. It germinated in me and eventually I understood and I thank all those people for being honest with me. It ended up revealing the blatant slanderous lies the pastor told to defend himself and throw others under the bus.

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  12. Texting anything important is unwise.

    A pastor texting is stupid, cause now you have proof he’s trying to control the narrative. Most thinking people can recognize that is a big “no-no”.

    Pastoring people is supposed to be about caring for people’s souls. If there is an issue, it needs to be handles personally, with grace, and controlling the sheep is no where in the job description.

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  13. I love the Anne Lamott quote. That’s exactly how I felt about writing about the chastising phone call I received from a pastor at our former church. I have the freedom to write, tell what happened to ME. This is my story and there’s freedom in telling it. Here’s a great article “Why not tell your story?” http://www.phillyburbs.com/blogs/news_columnists/kate_fratti/why-not-tell-your-story/article_2d7d930e-9b69-5810-913f-30665bae036f.html
    “What’s your story? Are you brave enough, generous enough to tell it? Who should be worried if you do?”

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  14. Donna said, “My friends tell me my real friends will call me to find out what happened and I don’t need to go back to say goodbye. ”

    I agree. Not easy, but it’s so true.

    Real friends are friends first and not “church first.” Loving each other would include caring about each other, no matter why they left.

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  15. Amy, that was excellent!

    I like the description of us being “generous” enough to tell our story for the warning of others. That, to me, is “loving my neighbor” even if it costs me. But then, what costs me is a gift to the Lord!

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  16. “If the issues are clear verifiable biblical sin, then speak up and still be fair.”

    I really agree with this but it rarely works this way. Usually the issues are not clear because much of what goes on is pure deception and then you have the whole issue of redefining sin so that if it is not about sex, money, etc, then it is not really a sin. Look at Mahaney. How would you go about proving what he did without a class action law suit. IN fact, many folks would have agreed with him handing stuff in house, etc, etc.

    The Three witnesses verse against an elder is trotted out all the time. But what is an elder? In that context it would be one spiritually mature who has no power in the body but only spiritual influence. They would be transparent and most in the Body would know them well anyway. We do not really have that today very much. pastors set themselves apart. I read some SBC pastor blogs and they talk about how wrong it is to have close friends from their congregation. Think about that.

    . if it is a mega church, forget it. There is so much going on back stage it would blow your mind and they are spending a ton of time keeping it under wraps. Just don’t ask too many questions.

    If you cannot know your pastor and other elders, deacons, etc, personally, visiting in each others homes, seeing them interact with family during down time and you cannot see a detailed budget…..then why be there?

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  17. I think it’s also important to keep in mind that abusive pastors frequently feel no compunction against flat-out lying about you, your family, the status of your soul, if you are “in sin,” and your motivations for leaving the church.

    In my personal experience, the pastor told horrible, hideous lies about every single family who ever left our church. By the time my parents finally left and they started talking to others, they realized that our “pastor” had been feeding us lies for years. We also found out he was preaching against my mother from the pulpit.

    So, if you do decide to speak up, you might be facing lies that have already been seeded against you. That being said, I am *always* on the side of speaking up. The only reason why my family stayed in our cult so long was because everyone else just silently left, trying to “do the right thing.” If we’d known what the “pastor” had done to those families, we would have realized that he was a sick, evil man a lot sooner.

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  18. “forgedimagination
    JULY 24, 2013 @ 5:23 PM
    I think it’s also important to keep in mind that abusive pastors frequently feel no compunction against flat-out lying about you, your family, the status of your soul, if you are “in sin,” and your motivations for leaving the church.”

    True. I clung to the proverb that talked about how lies have no place to land. Lies were told about me, too.

    “lydiasellerofpurple
    JULY 24, 2013 @ 5:17 PM
    “If the issues are clear verifiable biblical sin, then speak up and still be fair.”

    I really agree with this but it rarely works this way. Usually the issues are not clear because much of what goes on is pure deception…”

    You have a good point. I was just thinking of the people who knew money was stolen, the guy who knew there were other women, and the security guards who knew he bullied the people when he was meeting with them to throw them out. They had clear sin to report.

    As for the rest of us, we just had a bunch of things that told us there was something terribly wrong. I think it’s good to be honest and say you saw enough to be very concerned as to what’s going on behind the scenes. But your point is well taken.

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  19. Julie Anne,

    This is such a good question. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, and there are a lot of factors to consider. One factor is the level of abuse and how widespread it is. On the one hand, a high level of abuse may make it more likely that you’ll face harm for speaking out, but possibly also that others will face further harm if you don’t. On the other hand, if the abuse is subtle and/or isolated, it’s possible that some other people aren’t being abused. In that situation, while other people could be abused in the future if things don’t change, speaking out might not be that helpful. I tend to think, especially where the abuse is subtle, that people disregard warnings and concerns. So unless you plan to stay, speaking out might not do any good and might just be harder on you.

    Another factor is what speaking out (or not) will do to you. One thing that’s important to remember, especially for someone who has faced abuse, it that IT IS NOT WRONG TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. (Sorry, not yelling – this is just so important.) If sharing your story will help you, then you should do it. If it will hurt you, especially if it will hurt you a lot, then don’t. I thoroughly believe that when Jesus said to love your neighbor, he was including yourself. And people who have faced spiritual abuse tend to be terribly hard on themselves.

    I’m facing this question right now. I have recently figured out that I have been a victim of very subtle spiritual abuse in my church – it could almost be described as church bullying by grown-up mean girls. And lots of other people stood by and watched it and made it possible for an entire sub-group in the church to completely ignore me, stomp by me and sneer, etc. until I was pushed out of attending an entire church service. While I stayed at the church and changed church services, the reality is that I can’t be involved in ministry because this particular sub-group is involved in basically every single one. And I’m not going to engage with bullies again. (I don’t want to, I don’t have to, and I’m not going to.) I wasemotionally numb for a few years, and I didn’t care about ministry, but now I want to get involved–which from what I can see, means I need to leave.

    I haven’t figured out whether to tell anyone (including our minister) or to just walk away. I feel our minister stands by and lets this group decide who’s in and who’s out, and whom to bully, but I don’t know how often it happens. He also didn’t help me at all when I complained about treatment by a particular person who was running our children’s program. But, I also didn’t really describe it particularly as bullying, since I really didn’t understand what was happening. Part of me just wants to walk away with a simple “this isn’t a good fit for us anymore” explanation, but part of me thinks he deserves to know my perspective. The trick is to figure out how to do it, if I do it, without screaming . . .

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  20. I just read all the responses. I really appreciate everyone for sharing their thoughts and for all the advice. The issues I had with our former church were not necessarily “sin” issues but issues about how people were treated after they left the church. I also had problems with some of the teachings (ie: prosperity) and style of leadership. Here’s a little more background info about our experience:

    My husband grew up in Church of God in Christ and I grew up in a Christian home (pentecostal). Our former church was Word of Faith.

    Over the years, we saw many people leave the church. Some people moved and some people went to other churches. In the last few years I noticed people who had been there for over 15 years or more were leaving and I didn’t know why…the pastor said many times while he was teaching that if he didn’t pray for people in front of the congregation then they left the wrong way and not to fellowship with them. I had questions…Did everyone really leave the wrong way? Why can’t we fellowship with them? Don’t they still belong to the body of Christ? Did we hear right?

    My husband and I sent the pastor an email basically asking if we heard right what he said in his teaching about not fellowshipping with people after they leave.

    We met with the pastor, his wife and two board members after a Sunday service. The meeting did not go well. In my mind, I thought we were going to have a discussion. But the pastor was angry, confrontational and defensive. He didn’t listen to anything we had to say. I was stunned about how he talked to us. After that meeting, we decided not to go back.

    My husband sent a text to the pastor and told him we were not coming back. A couple days later, the pastor sent him a text and said we were wrong and don’t tell “my people” why you left. The pastor said he has to protect the sheep and threatened to tell the “truth” about why we left. The pastor accused us of already telling everybody which wasn’t true. He said other hurtful things. He thinks we are going to poison people’s hearts just like our hearts got poisoned.

    I know of two families that have left since we left. They also received a hurtful texts from the pastor.

    @lydiasellerofpurple “If you cannot know your pastor and other elders, deacons, etc, personally, visiting in each others homes, seeing them interact with family during down time and you cannot see a detailed budget…..then why be there?” Good point…My husband and I have never been to the pastor’s home. He believed that leaders shouldn’t get too close to the congregation.

    @amysmith, thanks for the article.
    @julieanne, I feel the pastor doesn’t want us to talk because he’s afraid the people will believe us and not him.

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  21. Usually, walking out the door of an abusive church is a pretty clear statement, esp. to close friends and family members who understand the significance of your departure. (Mega-churches are a different story, as one person has pointed out.) When we left our Dark Church, we “over-shared,” I think. It was only after one too many deer in the headlights, clueless response (from pastors and parishioners alike) that I realized that my sharing was not contributing to my healing: they really didn’t get it–and I began to exercise more discretion in who I spoke to about the False Teacher. We were a very small group; it was abundantly clear to the remaining members what our departure meant, and in what few interactions we had–they were still drinking the Kool Aid, and had no interest in hearing that we were anything other than rebellious, confused, spiritual “bomb-outs.” Of course, remembering my own response to others who had left while I chose to stay–I suspect that they were listening more than they admitted.

    As for the simple telling of the story–that is so important in the healing process, but should be undertaking with care, esp. around children who have been affected by your (in this case, my!), hyper-religious, all-or-nothing approach to faith, and had suffered under it. They deserved a break from the God-speak and rehashing, so in the end, we limited our discussions to those close friends who understood spiritual abuse, and who wanted to meet our need to talk! Once the kids got older, we discussed our decisions more with them. But as far as addressing, and perhaps changing, the ministry of the False Teacher, that is very problematic. These leaders build their groups with people who can be immunized against hearing and acting on truth, esp. from those who have left the church on bad terms.

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  22. “I think. It was only after one too many deer in the headlights, clueless response (from pastors and parishioners alike) that I realized that my sharing was not contributing to my healing: they really didn’t get it–and I began to exercise more discretion in who I spoke to about the False Teacher.”

    Excellent! Thanks so much for sharing that. I am always reluctant to tell folks to share their story right away “in house” because it might be “too soon”. They need to process what happened and heal from it. Often times telling it too soon to your congregant friends can cause more damage to themselves from all the people who get so angry over any negative about their favorite guru spiritual leader or whoever. Now, if it involves child abuse or something like that, I say call the authorities asap. But when it involves deception, star chamber treatment over disagreements, etc, people really need to process what happened. Write it down chronologically for later referral. But few people in the same church are going to accept your words and it can damage you further if not careful. It can also damage your career/business if any of those folks have that sort of influence in your town. Be careful.

    I really do worry about people healing from this. Sometimes telling your story IS healing. But not usually if you are trying to warn folks in the same church. And if you blog about it, be prepared to be sued. Many of these guys don’t fool around when their image is at stake.

    Best to get out, process it, write it down and then blog about it when you feel strong enough for the onslaught that comes. Like Julie Anne did! She is awesome!

    I know a person that it took him 8-10 years to tell his story (to anyone. Not publicly) after he had been completely financially ruined by a mega church. He finally told some people he had forged new friendships with after 5 years! His abuse was all done in star chambers and no one really knew what happened but him. He had no neutral witness to his side. He never thought he would be believed. He had to totally rebuild his families entire life from scratch. The biggest shock to him? he had more real help from unbelievers and nominal Christians than anyone else during those years. Why did he not tell his story? Because the church was so popular in the town he was in (including the pastor on radio, TV and hanging around local celebs like newscasters, sports figures, etc) he dared not take the chance of being further ruined.

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  23. The star chamber is where you are secretly ganged up on but don’t expect it. You think you have been invited to meet with people you can trust but have a disagreement with and you all are going to discuss it. You think they are coming to listen to you as an valued member of their church (or team, org, etc).

    What you do not know is that the issue has already been framed for you. And since everyone in the room has strategized BEFORE meeting with you, the outcome is already set, you just don’t know it yet. You are blindsided.

    Everything you say is turned back on you and you become the problem. The problem is YOU, not the issue you came to discuss. You might not even realize this is happening because after all, these are people you trust and they all are on the same page so maybe, just maybe, you got it wrong? You are even willing to consider their views! How nice of you being all fair and Christian and all.

    In most star chambers, the issue has been framed, you have been framed and there are no witnesses to your side of the story because you were fair enough to agree to meet with them first before discussing it with anyone. Sucker!

    It is psych ops. pure and simple.

    So NEVER have a meeting with any of these guys without your own witness along. If they don’t like that, tough. Then don’t meet. You already know what is coming if they object to your friend Joe showing up. :o)

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  24. People are not the problem. Problems are problems.
    You will want to discuss the issues. (He, they) will discuss your sins, what is wrong with you.
    The right thing doesn’t require an explanation or an apology.
    If people can’t comfortably, easily, and openly leave your church for another; flee.

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  25. That very helpful definition/description of star chamber, Lydia. Reading your words was so much better than looking up Wikipedia because you applied it specifically to spiritual abuse. Thank you!

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  26. Holy. Cow. I was star chambered. YIKES! You guys are so helpful. Keep it coming!!!

    Thinking about telling my story….if only to myself in writing! My husband and two close friends know, but that is IT. We got out before any kind of serious damage was done.

    As to telling anyone else, friends at the church, etc, I said from the beginning that if anyone asks, I will be completely honest and say exactly what happened. It is up to them what they do with that information. It was a tiny church, and only one couple have asked. I have indicated being willing to get together and talk, but they have not followed up.

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  27. “Thinking about telling my story….if only to myself in writing! My husband and two close friends know, but that is IT. We got out before any kind of serious damage was done.

    As to telling anyone else, friends at the church, etc, I said from the beginning that if anyone asks, I will be completely honest and say exactly what happened. It is up to them what they do with that information. It was a tiny church, and only one couple have asked. I have indicated being willing to get together and talk, but they have not followed up.”

    You go, girl. Do what works for YOUR healing and understanding.

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  28. Without knowing all of the details this could very well be a clause of personalities more than an abusive pastor.
    What one person sees as abusive another may see as being a strong leader.
    I once ran into somebody I hadn’t seen at church for awhile and asked why they weren’t coming. They said they were tried of Pastor’s baby sermons and needed a church where they could be fed some spiritual meat.
    It wasn’t three weeks later I ran into another person I hadn’t seen at church for a while and asked why they hadn’t been coming. The answer was that Pastor was preaching way over his head and they were too deep for him ,so he was looking for a church that preached the basics more.
    So I’m slow to judge that this pastor is “spiritually” abusive.

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  29. What follows is just my opinion, to take or leave:
    If a counselor or pastor in a church is off or counseling something that’s goes against love God, yourself, your neighbor then it might be time to stop the sessions and look elsewhere. You might be correct to assume the church agrees. IMO, it’s best to not even get counseling from a church counselor. Many have no training & don’t know what they’re doing. Go to an outside professional christian counselor if you decide to get counseling. Added bonus: It also eliminates any possible gossip about you within the church.

    Also, if someone speaks up about something that’s doesn’t seem right, many times the reaction seems to be to respond in patterns of silencing, manipulating, damage control and suing, apparently. Don’t be surprised if this happens to you. Count the cost up front. Take into consideration your kids & ways they could be affected. Don’t do it if it will damage them. Find other ways to speak up & maintain your anonymity, etc.

    However, with that said, a church may be in for a bigger surprise in what ends up being exposed if they decide to sue someone. What happens to their image can be far more damaging & possibly dwindle their numbers if they decide to sue, vs not retaliating against someone just voicing their opinion. Many victims have been very gracious by just telling their story or a part of their story, and churches would be wise to understand that. The underbelly ain’t pretty and overall disgust is mounting just based on what’s already out there.

    Lydia has great advice. Always take someone with you if you’re “called in” to the pastor/elders/any office or meeting… if only for the purpose of making sure you heard everything correctly. You might be floored. You may wonder if you really heard what you think you just heard. Again, don’t assume the best, assume the worst.

    I have seen first hand what goes on behind the scenes in a mega, much is not well. Fiduciary responsibility & controls can be very lax. Let’s just say tithes & offerings could be easy pickings. Not to mention what happens to the money once it gets to the bank. We are responsible for making sure our money is held & used wisely. Good thing about a mega? At least you can leave somewhat quietly.

    For all these reasons, do not sign a membership agreement. Ever. It’s a one-way street. It can only damage you. They are legal documents. If you are coaxed, prodded, made to feel guilty, about signing one then it’s not the church for you. Walk away politely. I don’t see any good in a membership agreement AKA legal contract, but I could be wrong.

    Many churches want you to live in lala land and “just trust us”. Trust is earned and should only be given when someone or an organization is proven responsible. A church is not an exception.

    I would love to just trust, it would be so nice & easy. I’ve done that & have been rudely awakened several times. No more. And now we are starting to see on a bigger scale the horrors that result from their “just trust us” lala land vibes.

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  30. What do you mean by “spiritually abusive”? That’s an awfully vague and loaded term.

    The article says absolutely zero about what Donna’s problem with the church was. I see she posts a comment above that gives some info, but still, it’s pretty vague. I don’t say this to be rude to Donna, I have absolutely no idea what the real issue was. And that’s the point. If someone says, “My pastor was a jerk,” you can’t just accept that without question and go on to discuss how they can most effectively go about bringing him down. Surely the first big question is, Exactly what did your pastor do that you object to?

    We live in an increasingly anti-Chistian culture. I think we should be very careful about publicly embarassing a church. Yes, if people in authority in the church are doing things that are clearly immoral — abusing children, stealing money, etc — than of course you should speak out about it, and not just quietly slip out and wash your hands of the matter.

    But let’s be real: very often when people criticize a church, they are out-of-proportion upset about questions of style or taste or details of organization, like the type of music or the day youth group meets. Sometimes it’s pure selfishness. “That nasty church failed to acknowledge how important I am!” Even if you are in the right, is your complaint worth damaging the church’s reputation? Is the church still doing God’s work despite whatever criticisms you have? How will that be affected if you go around bad-mouthing the church?

    Let me repeat that I am not saying that Donna is in the wrong here. I have no idea. But that’s the point. It looks like all the commenters here are just taking it for granted that Donna’s objections are valid and important. Not just that she is in the right, but that whatever her underlying complaint is, it is more important to expose this problem than to keep up any good work that the church is doing.

    Let me also make clear that I am not saying that we should not try to fix something that is wrong. But we’re not talking here about working within the church to fix problems. We’re talking here about deliberately trying to publicly embarass the church. There are only two possible results of this: either people ignore you and nothing happens, or the church is weakened or destroyed. Is the church so messed up that it should be destroyed so that more people are not misled by its false teachings or harmed by its corruption? Or is it just that someone hurt your feelings once?

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  31. Mark,

    I would say that Donna’s post of July 24, 2013 @ 7:51 PM does exactly what you are suggesting she should do. I also am satisfied that it is not acceptable for a pastor, at a stacked meeting, to be “angry, confrontational and defensive.” To tell you the truth, at this point in my life, and given even what little I have endured at the hands of preachers, were a pastor to have treated me like this, my reaction would most probably have been such that I would not have been given the opportunity to leave that church voluntarily.

    As to the question of churches’ reputations, it seems to me that, by their own doing, there is precious little left to protect in the United States. There are happy exceptions. However, every church I have ever participate in was mostly interested in attendance, fancy buildings and looking good. In retrospect it was all a lot like the time a certain community set out to build a city and a tower and a name for themselves. I have come to realize that, if the only credit I were to receive at the Judgment were to be for what was done with all the money I have given to various churches over the last 50+ years, I would be consigned to goats that are destined to eternal punishment.

    No, my default position is that any given church is suspect. The burden is on those who would demand a tenth of my income to demonstrate that they are doing the Lord’s work.

    People have been hurt by abusive churches and their pastors. Many have been devastated. Some of them come here. They are deserving of our support. I would encourage you to avoid finding fault with or even admonishing individuals here, at least until you have listened deeply and intently, with compassion and understanding. Until you have done at least that much, until you have come to the point you are actually weeping with those who weep, even your constructive criticisms cannot be heard by some. You maybe will do unintended harm.

    I recognize that what I have said may be difficult for you to hear. If so, please consider how your own constructive criticisms could also hurt, except that you could be hurting somebody who is already wounded. If you are somebody who has been wounded, and if I failed to recognize that, please accept my deepest apologies. In that case, I ought to have spoken with greater care.

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  32. BTW – Commenter Mark is new here. Welcome!

    This article was linked at a popular link site and so we may have more visitors. Welcome if this is your first time here. Feel free to join in the conversation. ~Julie Anne

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  33. Donna on July 24 7:51 said, “I also had problems with some of the teachings (ie: prosperity) and style of leadership…. the pastor said many times while he was teaching that if he didn’t pray for people in front of the congregation then they left the wrong way and not to fellowship with them….. The meeting did not go well. In my mind, I thought we were going to have a discussion. But the pastor was angry, confrontational and defensive. He didn’t listen to anything we had to say. I was stunned about how he talked to us….A couple days later, the pastor sent him a text and said we were wrong and don’t tell “my people” why you left…. I know of two families that have left since we left. They also received a hurtful texts from the pastor..

    Mark in reply said, “I don’t say this to be rude to Donna, I have absolutely no idea what the real issue was. And that’s the point. If someone says, “My pastor was a jerk,” you can’t just accept that without question and go on to discuss how they can most effectively go about bringing him down.”

    We don’t need to know every detail. I think Donna has been very clear. I think we know enough. There is bad teaching (prosperity), intimidation (bringing people to the front to “pray” for them), shunning (no fellowship), control (don’t tell), ownership (my people).

    Mark then you said “I have no idea exactly what the problem is” to go on to make points about the church being victimized and abused.

    Mark, I am responding to Donna right now with, “I am sorry, this is not how Christians treat each other.” Mark, does that man get a pass because he is pastor, in your opinion?

    Mark, I do appreciate your perspective, though. Do you believe God is in complete control of everything that ever happens? Do you believe in irresistible grace? I’m just trying to understand where you’re coming from better.

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  34. This thread has taken an interesting and important turn. This site started off as a place for JA to tell the story surrounding the lawsuit against her. It has since grown into a resource site for info on abuse in churches, and is now gaining a sense of victim advocacy.

    Most people don’t find this site by accident, and the core group of commentors here will stand with the people who report being abused. The churches and pastors already have a larger group of supporters and the financial resources from those supporters tithing. When someone says, “Don’t be so quick to jump on the churches”, we’ll respond with the inverse, “Don’t be so quick to dismiss the victim.” Many times in a church setting it’s a very small minority of people that get the realization of any abuse, so they feel alone and isolated, especially after they speak out and experience reprisals from the church leaders.

    We’re fortunate to have some pastors on our side here, and they have the heart and courage to listen to and stand with the victims instead of automatically defending the monolithic institutions. If you’d like us to be more fair and balanced to the church’s side, then it would go a long way to help that if you’d contact all the pastors and preachers you know, and get them on board with being more sympathetic to the victims of church abuse, because this issue will never be solved by polarization, only by meeting in the middle with mutual understanding. Until then, I think the core group of people here will continue to stand in the corner of the victim. We’re not a court of law, so we’re not going to require a complainant to satisfy a burden of proof to gain our support. Rather, we’d prefer to see an accused church or pastor engage in humble Christian dialogue to work to resolve a situation. That kind of response only comes from someone with the true heart of a humble servant; our normal human nature is to fight back.

    Christ stood with the oppressed and the outcast, and we here have decided that we will do the same. We strive to do so with a spirit of kindness and humility. Sometimes we fall short of that ideal, but that’s not going to stop us from standing with victims of church abuse. If that means we take the side of a false accuser occasionally, so be it. We’ll learn, grow, and move on to help the next person.

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  35. We live in an increasingly anti-Chistian culture.

    The church and its members bears a large amount of responsibility for the enmity towards Christians these days. Blaming everything on Satan or liberals or whomever is nothing more than a failure to take responsibility for the way the church has treated people, historically and currently.

    Is the church still doing God’s work despite whatever criticisms you have?

    If a church is oppressing, abusing, or ignoring the abuse of anyone, it isn’t doing God’s work. Any good they are doing likely has a self-promotional motive.

    We’re talking here about deliberately trying to publicly embarass the church.

    If a church isn’t doing anything to be embarrassed about, then they won’t have a problem, will they?

    There are only two possible results of this: either people ignore you and nothing happens, or the church is weakened or destroyed.

    That’s the logical fallacy of excluded outcomes. There are more than two outcomes possible, the best being that wrongs get righted, churches stand in solidarity to help everyone grow in Christ, and abusers and the power-hungry are called out to repentance.

    Is the church so messed up that it should be destroyed so that more people are not misled by its false teachings or harmed by its corruption?

    Some congregations certainly are, and they should close down.

    Or is it just that someone hurt your feelings once?

    That’s just condescending and dismissive.

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  36. Mark said, “But let’s be real: very often when people criticize a church, they are out-of-proportion upset about questions of style or taste or details of organization, like the type of music or the day youth group meets”

    These types of disagreements Mark mentions and lists are not what this blog is concerned about. I have not heard anyone mention carpet color, acoustics, parking.

    To bring those trivial topics up is an attempt to marginalize real problems being discussed here. Mark, it seems you severely miscalculate the brevity of what’s happening.

    When people see that their concerns are treated in this fashion, yet again on a blog where they’re seeking healing, it upsets them even more. It lights a fire for justice. It’s partly what drives them to speak up for the first time and for others to speak up even louder, to tell their stories, to contact authorities, etc. And maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. For that I thank you. You’re doing a great job. Have a nice day. 🙂

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  37. Wow, I’ve never come across that term in the context of spiritual abuse. I now have a name for what happened to me – star chamber treatment. Knowing you are not alone/insane/wrong helps immensely. Thank you! 🙂

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  38. I’ve been meaning to respond for weeks…I’m not easily offended so I wasn’t offended by Mark’s comments because he doesn’t know me. We were at our former church for over 20 years. There’s so much I can write but I just wrote what happened recently. I do want to thank Gary W, A Mom and Eric Fry for your responses and your support. I appreciate it. For now I’ve decided to tell former members about why we left the church only if they ask. I truly believe if you have Christ in your heart, you are a part of the Body of Christ… The Church, no matter what service you attend or what denomination you belong to. The Church is people, not buildings. I have nothing against our former pastor or anybody at our former church. I still have many of them as friends on Facebook. I have noticed a few people have unfriended me. I have to admit I was hurt by one friend (we joined the church around the same time) that unfriended me. It’s a healing process. I’m learning to follow Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to lead me. I appreciate the friends I do have.

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  39. “The churches and pastors already have a larger group of supporters and the financial resources from those supporters tithing. When someone says, “Don’t be so quick to jump on the churches”, we’ll respond with the inverse, “Don’t be so quick to dismiss the victim.” Many times in a church setting it’s a very small minority of people that get the realization of any abuse, so they feel alone and isolated, especially after they speak out and experience reprisals from the church leaders.”

    Bingo. Not only that but they have a bully pulpit and instant credibility with the average pew sitter just because of the title.

    Churches are to be transparent. But they have become bastions of back room dealings, star chambers and image management. I am not worried about their image. I am concerned about their purity.

    It is almost impossible to explain to someone who does not see it what it is like to be spiritually abused and alone. In fact, I know some folks who have been horribly spiritually abused who are in denial because they long so bad to “fit in” to a group. And people won’t like them if they know. The peer pressure among adults in a church is unbelievable. Most folks cave in to it.

    Mark, You might understand Spiritual Abuse better by reading “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by Jeff Vonderen. Many people attend churches that operate like cults and don’t even realize it. These are people, for the most part, who like to follow a human leader and think that is pious.

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  40. “To bring those trivial topics up is an attempt to marginalize real problems being discussed here. Mark, it seems you severely miscalculate the brevity of what’s happening.”

    A mom, I read many pastor blogs and come across that all the time to trivialize anyone DARING to disagree with them. It is like the pastors who made fun of bloggers by saying they are in their mom’s basement in their pajamas eating Cheetos. The President of the SBC NAMB said that one, too, about bloggers who dared question his using SBC money to start Acts 29/YRR churches only.

    His insult was meant to dismiss any questioning and marginalize those who questioned

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  41. “We live in an increasingly anti-Chistian culture.”

    Why? Because what passes for the church is seen as a safe place that is pure and always transparent? Can they see a budget? (wink) Or just sinners always sinning yet saved? You would think people would flock to that….

    They don’t trust us and for good reason. We like to hide our bad stuff too much.

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