How Love Bombing Sucked Us in to a Spiritually Abusive Church

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Yesterday, brad/futuristguy left a comment which was so good.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  Brad is so insightful in his understanding of spiritual abuse.  I’ve learned much from him.  His comment prompted excellent questions by reader, Interested Party.

I’ll quote part of Brad’s post which prompted Interested Party’s comment:

In my case, I got involved in what turned out to be a terrible and toxic church with “leaders” who instilled awful doctrines and practices in me. But all disciples have some kind of past to deal with. If not this, then the reality is, “Same root, different fruit.” We’re all susceptible to something, whether it’s abusive leaders/systems, or other kinds of blind spots, deficits, misbeliefs, doctrinal extremes … And so, we choose: get stuck and do nothing, or orbit around the past such that our activity makes it look like we’re going somewhere (but really, it’s just around in circles), or reconcile as best we can with people we victimized — and keep moving forward.

Anyway, I commend you for choosing to go back into the fog, Julie Anne. It’s never easy, letting the Holy Spirit take us into and through a deeper level of seeing the truth, find more healing, reconcile more of the damages done to others while in our state of enthrallment to evil … Thanks for continuing to share your journey with us and letting us learn from the insights you’re gleaning.

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Are Bloggers & the Internet Having a Direct Effect on Churches and Their Policies?

Before I get to the subject of this article, I wanted to give a brief update on my court case:  I’ve had a few people asking me on the blog and privately if my former pastor has paid the attorney’s fees.  He and/or the church did pay the attorney fees for the two defendants who were dismissed early on.  I believe this amount was just under $17,000.  Judge Fun has not issued an order for the fees yet for our portion, nor has there been any action on the plaintiff’s side to appeal.  So basically, my understanding is we are waiting for Judge Fun to issue the order to get that ball rolling.

“Church” as seen through the eyes of my now 10-yr old resident artist.

It appears that my case is winding down or is seemingly quiet for the moment.  The case victory means I am free to speak my mind on the internet within the rights of the Constitution.  Yea for Freedom of Speech!   Other bloggers like me are continuing to share their difficult church stories and their speech is protected, too.  My blog did not remove my pastor from the pulpit, but it has served the initial purpose of having a place to tell my story in hopes that others could identify spiritual abuse and we can all learn and heal from our experiences.

 

Has this blog served any other purpose?  Regulars may be familiar with my friend and reader brad/futuristguy.  Brad has experienced spiritual abuse and has been compiling information, following trends and patterns regarding spiritual abuse for years.  We’ve been observing how bloggers and social media are impacting the views of church by uncovering and creating document archives for church abuse stories, discussing the financial misdeeds and power plays of pastors, watching how churches handle sex abuse in church.  The internet has allowed us to get a close-up look at what churches are doing right and wrong.

 

Disclaimer:  I am keenly aware that there are in fact troublemakers in churches who are chronic grumblers and complainers who have posted negative comments online about their church.  This article is not discussing that problematic issue, but real cases of abuse coming from pastors and leaders in the church.  

 

It’s interesting to note that my church was a Podunk church of maybe 100 congregants, yet it made the headlines as if it were a mega church.  Most people in Beaverton probably didn’t even know of the small church.  The church is not on a major road and sits back behind a small housing development.  Reader, Kathi, is from the area and had no clue where the church was until I told her, yet, the media attention broadcast the church’s and pastor’s name far and wide around the world so that names Beaverton Grace Bible Church and Chuck O’Neal became publicly known as the church/pastor who sued a mother and former congregants for $500,000.  The internet and social media have put churches, regardless of size, on an even playing field.   What this means is that my single voice  – – –  or your single voice  – – – from Podunk, USA – –  can be heard just as loud as someone’s voice from a mega church with a celebrity pastor.  This is very important to note.

Mega-churches are certainly realizing the impact of social media and the effect it has on their reputation.  Take my case for example.  My former pastor falsely said in his Google review that a pastor from mega church Grace Community Church (Pastor John MacArthur’s church) told him it was okay to sue me.  (That is my paraphrase.)  This comment was picked up by popular Christian bloggers and went viral.  Even mainstream media picked up on this information and added it to their news stories.  This false comment threatened the reputation of Grace Community Church, Grace to You, and Pastor John MacArthur to such an extent that Phil Johnson, John MacArthur’s right-hand man, had to involve himself in my Podunk church’s lawsuit mess and issued a press release on behalf of John MacArthur and Grace Community.  Do you see the ripple effect?

There is a new reality for pastors and others who may be attempting to hide their spiritually abusive practices.  The internet has become a real threat to pastors who once found a safe haven in the walls of their church to continue their destructive behavior.  The internet has allowed individuals to voice their concerns LOUDLY.  Podunk pastors may not realize this new reality yet, but larger, more popular churches like Sovereign Grace Ministries, Grace Community, Mars Hill, and so many other Christian celebrity people and places are certainly aware of it.  

 

The BGBC/O’Neal lawsuit was pivotal to watch last summer because it discussed freedom of speech regarding church abuse.  Because of the clear victory in my case, a precedent has been set, giving bloggers added confidence to know that it is within their rights to publish their stories and express their opinions about their negative experiences in churches or ministries with strong words like:   spiritual abuse, cult, creepy. They can even discuss publicly online how churches handle sex abuse or sex offenders.  

 

My case represented spiritual abuse and also discussed sexual abuse and how it is handled by leaders within a church.  A huge case that has been in the headlines around the same time has been the handling of the sex abuse case at Penn State.  The world has been watching how Penn State staff, administration, and trustees handled (or mishandled) the many sex abuse cases connected with Jerry Sandusky.  This case has caused outrage across the nation as we have seen how those involved in that system, one after another, failed to take appropriate measures and/or report crimes to authorities.  

We have seen in many news accounts that there were far more efforts in defending the image of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State than protecting and defending innocent children.  This story has caused many universities and organizations to take a closer look at their abuse policies.  That is good.  I recently posted about mandatory reporters at church and how some states allow pastors an exemption from reporting abuse, yet other states will arrest church leaders who fail to report.  These are hot topics in churches and organizations across the States.  Hopefully, as church abuse cases are coming to light, church leaders will be taking a good look at their policies regarding sex abuse and spiritual abuse.  

My strong words were regarding my little church, but they represented a small sampling of what is happening all over the states in small churches and mega churches. There are a number of ongoing church situations similar to mine, with bloggers and members/former members sharing their personal accounts.  I think it is important to take note of these situations and observe how they are handled in the church setting, and also observe how other pastors and outsiders are responding.  Here are some that come to mind quickly:  

Calvary Chapel:  Abuses are noted in the Calvary Chapel family of churches.  A current situation is Pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia threatening to sue 4 former church members for defamation.  Other personal accounts of spiritual abuse are shared involving many Calvary Chapel churches.  

The Elephant’s Debt – This blog discusses Harvest Bible Chapel, Pastor James MacDonald and has uncovered financial corruption, spiritual abuse, first-hand accounts, etc

Sovereign Grace Ministries:  The blogs, SGMSurvivors.com  and SGMRefuge.com, deal with the heavy-handed abuse, sexual abuse cover-ups in the family of churches, Pastor CJ Mahaney’s abuse of authority, blackmailing former church leader, etc.    

Mars Hill:  Joyful Exiles and Mars Hill Refuge – these blogs are no longer “active” but the stories are there  – permanently archived on the internet.  These cover the heavy-handedness of Pastor Mark Driscoll in use of “church discipline,” his use of church memberships in controlling ways, etc.

 

I will be highlighting one of the above church groups in the next post because there’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on and it is important to keep tabs on this situation in light of church trends in dealing with spiritual abuse and sex abuse.

 

 

The Pressure to Serve in a Controlling Church

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A common trait of a controlling church is that you may be kept so busy, there is little time for anything outside of church.  I’m going to use SQ’s comment below to springboard two posts.  This first post will discuss the pressure to serve.   The second will focus on the effects of relationships as a result of all of that serving.

SQJuly 17, 2012 1:08 PMI once read that it takes a new believer approximately 3 years before he or she pulls away from old friends and an old life and completely immerses in church–how wonderful and how very sad. When we die to our old life and ways, there are sometimes behaviors (and even people) who need to be pruned. But not always.

We worked at a church for a few years. It was a wonderful body of believers with a pretty controlling pastor. We regularly put in 14-hour days and had to be at every event–no matter what–and something was going on every day.

One event came up, and it was suggested that we all invite our neighbors. I thought to myself, “Neighbors? We don’t have time even to speak to our neighbors because we’re busy-busy-busy about ‘God’s work,’ cleaning pews or attending meetings or mulching the flower beds or attending a spaghetti supper or whatever.”

Now, those things aren’t bad. They also offered opportunity for fellowship with one another. However, the Bible calls us to be salt and light. If we pull away from everyone who isn’t in our immediate body, just to whom are we salt and light?

If someone counsels another believer to cut off a relationship, there had better be a situation where that relationship would compromise the believer’s safety, integrity, or spiritual walk. It’s should never be because tension might exist. And if someone counsels another believer to cut off all relationships outside the church–well, that sounds like the smoke of hell to me.

In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
    but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.  Proverbs 15:6

Pressure to Serve


“Broom and dustpan” drawn by 9-yr old Resident Artist



SQ brought up one of the traps of a controlling or perhaps abusive church.  In many controlling churches, there is a strong emphasis on serving in the church.  Yes, of course, churches need help to keep the church going, programs manned, facility kept in good repair, clean and tidy, etc. But there needs to be balance.  Is service expected? When there is a ministry or service need, how is it presented?   Is there so much pressure that you feel guilty for not helping out? Have you had experiences like this? I’d love to read your story.

After BGBC, we attended a nearby church for 2 years which I call my place of refuge. I watched how the people served in the church. I saw their attitudes, interactions with each other and how they lived their life. Of course I cannot be completely sure, but in general, I saw that their acts of service did not hinder their relationships or that they were a burden to them. In fact, I saw that their acts of service only benefitted them and those around them. I wondered how this could be.  

In this refuge church, I eventually felt safe enough to get involved in music ministry. When I began to venture into music ministry there, I was told very loudly and clearly that if for any reason I was not able to sing or play the piano, just say the word and I would be free – they would find someone to cover for me. They wanted to be sure that my heart was right before the Lord and that serving didn’t become a burden.  I so appreciated these words. It didn’t feel controlling at all.  They cared about my soul.


A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
    but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.  Proverbs 15:13
 


The difference in the attitudes, the heart, the level of joy in serving was profound.  If you belong to a controlling church, serving can become a strain, outside relationships can be hindered, it can become like a job – you do it because you have to or there is no one else.  If you are serving in a thriving church, there probably won’t be the guilt, the huge sense of obligation. There is a sense of responsibility that comes from the heart that wants to serve, but it’s not burdensome. It’s a pleasure to be around these people and their joy can be contagious.

I haven’t read anything specifically on this topic and this is only my observation, but I have a hunch that the reason why the refuge church was so healthy is because their first priority was my soul, not my works or service. If my soul was fed, service would be a natural response.  Makes sense to me.  



All the days of the afflicted are evil,
    but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
 Proverbs 15:15
 




False Teachers Who Mark and Avoid Church Members

 

I received an e-mail from a missionary today who was involved in a church whose pastor used similar tactics with church members as my former pastor.  He sent me a link to look at and I realized I could easily replace his pastor’s name with my former pastor’s name;  he said the same thing to me after reading some of my blog.   We need to be able to see these characteristics and get our creepo-meters engaged so we won’t get caught in the trap again.

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A Parable of Suffering

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I’ve been excited about this next post and couldn’t wait any longer to share it with you!  The MSNBC.com article regarding my case brought a number of visitors to the blog.  One person was Craig Vick, who also is a pastor.  He read the blog and stayed, participating in discussions.  I appreciated the way in which he expressed himself as he dialogued with other readers.  He came here out of curiosity because of the court case and then hung around.   In the process, he learned about spiritual abuse as he read our experiences. 
 
The stories we share do not always create a warm, cozy environment for pastors, and actually might put them on the defensive, but Craig stayed, wanting to learn more.  He’s mentioned privately to me that the stories from the blog have influenced how he preaches.   He’s obviously taken to heart that anyone listening to him preach may have gone through experiences we have described.   His sensitivity has really touched me.
 
I think Pastor Craig has sensed the ongoing frustration that some of us have experienced  – that some people just don’t get this thing called “spiritual abuse”.   He sent me a little parable to illustrate my story (our story) and granted me permission to share it with you.  
 
Thanks, Pastor Craig!   
 
 ~Julie Anne (illustrations contributed by resident artist,  my 9-yr old son)

 

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Parable of Suffering
by Pastor Craig Vick 


P.R. O’Baton felt tired and generally unhealthy. He decided he needed to make some changes and looked for help. He found a book, Dr. Wolfe’s Way to Vitality, that promised to bring vigor and health through various exercises and a strange diet. Dr. Wolfe’s promises were so convincing that O’Baton bought a copies for himself and for the whole O’Baton family. O’Baton started doing the exercises and encouraged his family to do the same. After some mild resistance, he was able to get the family on board with the new diet as well.

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After the first week there was no real change. Dr. Wolfe, on page 13, indicated that this was normal and so O’Baton pressed on. Months went by and O’Baton began to feel worse, not better. His back began to ache all hours of the day. He had less energy than he had ever experienced before. To make matters worse, many in his family were experiencing similar symptoms. Dr. Wolfe, on page 47, said this was normal. It was the result of not being diligent enough. O’Baton believed it was his own fault he was doing so poorly. He could get better only by a more rigorous application of Dr. Wolfe’s book. 

After a year, O’Baton found himself in a state of constant, excruciating pain. His son, whose health had also degraded, had had enough and stopped following Dr. Wolfe. O’Baton was terrified by this. He was afraid that his son would discourage other members of his family. He was afraid that all he and his family had endured would be for nothing. He didn’t want to quit when he might be so close. Dr. Wolfe, on page 167, agitated O’Baton’s discomfort and fear with threats of failing health and even death to those who quit following his book. 

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O’Baton’s son got better. O’Baton got worse. He decided to quit using the book. By this time he couldn’t remember what it was like to live without pain. He was sick, exhausted, depressed and frightened. He was also becoming angry. He wrote a letter to Dr. Wolfe and told his story. Dr. Wolfe responded with a form letter. It indicated that anyone not experiencing success with Dr. Wolfe’s book was not following it correctly. O’Baton wrote again. Dr. Wolfe sent him a coupon for a discount on any further purchases of the book and expressed more than a little rage against those not finding health.  

Three weeks after quitting Dr. Wolfe’s regimen, O’Baton started to feel a little better. He went to see a doctor. He was still in much pain. The doctor was appalled at what O’Baton had done to himself. O’Baton was embarrassed and ashamed. He had followed a sham.  


One morning O’Baton noticed Dr. Wolfe’s book on Amazon. He also noticed that he could leave a review. He was still suffering the horrible results of following Dr. Wolfe. He thought to himself, “Maybe I can warn others to stay away from this book. Maybe I can spare someone else the pain I’ve endured and am still enduring.” He left a review telling his story and warning consumers. It was the only review. 


A month later O’Baton returned to Amazon and noticed several new reviews. All of the reviews were glowing. It looked as if Dr. Wolfe and friends were leaving disingenuous reviews. O’Baton’s lone negative review was difficult to find. He was horrified by this new state of affairs. His warning would not be seen. Others would be trapped by Dr. Wolfe’s harmful exercises and diet. Others would find their bodies wracked with pain. O’Baton started writing more reviews. Soon, others injured by Dr. Wolfe added reviews as well. For every negative review posted, however, hundreds of positive reviews would be posted as well. Dr. Wolfe knew how to hide the truth. Then, for reasons no one really can explain, the negative reviews started to disappear altogether. O’Baton was determined to speak out. He started a blog. 


Dr. Wolfe wasn’t happy. He sued O’Baton for ten thousand talents.  


Many visitors to the blog found solace there. They found a place where they could tell their stories and comfort one another. Many suffered permanent physical damage from following Dr. Wolfe, but still found comfort in knowing they weren’t alone. Other visitors, however, blamed O’Baton for all of his problems. They criticized O’Baton for not letting go of the ills suffered under Dr. Wolfe. They criticized him for being so critical. They criticized him for leaving negative reviews. They criticized him for starting a blog. They didn’t seem to notice or care about the suffering of many who had religiously followed Dr. Wolfe’s Way to Vitality.

 

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Survival Strategies for Hyper-Authoritarian and Repetitive Sermons

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I’m a little bit surprised if you are still reading my blog.   The last three posts were rigged to make a point and I took you on a ride without your permission so you could understand first-hand what it felt like.  I tricked you and purposefully kept the majority of the post the same, but altered bits and pieces to make you think I was giving you a brand new post.  The last post, I again interspersed the same message, but this time with growing feelings of exasperation and anger.   I’m still trying to wrap my head around the thought that a pastor knowingly did this week after week after week after week . . . okay, I’ll stop 🙂

I know how I felt with those repetitious sermons.  I felt like they were wasting my time, that he wanted to pound his message into my head, that it was a form of indoctrination.  They were loud, felt strong, and sounded like hyper-authoritative lectures.    I hope you were able to sense my rising emotions as I continued each post.

For the record, I normally only use the word “suck” as in,  “my little boy likes to suck his thumb”, not the way in which I used it on the previous title, “All Smoothies are Good, Sermons Suck.”  In fact, every time I see the title, I cringe because that is not how I speak normally.   But it was used because it expresses how one may respond when dealing with something like this.  Anger rose up from within me screaming:  STOP THIS INSANITY!  It’s interesting as I type these blog posts, I often emotionally connect to those times from years ago and the feelings come flooding back.

 I know many congregants were annoyed with the repetitious sermons, while others sat and endured it quietly.  We all react differently.  Some people zoned out and their minds drifted.  Others used the time to get some business done.  Here are some ways people zoned or preoccupied their mind so they didn’t have to listen to the repetitious sermons.  It was easy for me to see what was going on when walking out of the sanctuary to check on my little one in the nursery or to use the restroom.

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Some people worked on their checkbooks.
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Quite a few kids drew pictures.  I remember seeing some fantastic sailing ships with men and their weapons  (hmm, the thought that the drawings related to war so often never dawned on me before typing this).
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Grocery lists:  this was a popular way to bide the time
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Another popular response as I briefly alluded to above was to leave the sanctuary and go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, check the nursery to see how the kids were doing, go outside the check the weather, etc.

It occurred to me that I may have just “outed” these “mental escape” methods to the pastor because I know he and his “spies” read this blog.  Perhaps there will be a meeting soon to recruit spies to report this activity to the pastor – or install hidden cameras, or who knows what else.  When you are dealing with someone who secretly records conversations without permission, goes to houses unannounced demanding information, keeps detailed files of “sins”, even sins repented of and long forgiven, this would not be out of the realm of possibilities, sadly.

I ran across another N. Korea story on CNN this weekend in the midst of this series – how timely.  CNN covered a story of someone who defected from N. Korea and left his wife and 2 daughters behind.  This part especially struck me:

Oh, a native of South Korea, moved his family to Pyongyang in 1985 despite his wife’s reservations on the promise of a good job and free medical treatment for his wife’s hepatitis, but when they arrived he realized he had been tricked.

 

He says there was not a job nor medical help for his wife, just three months of what he calls, “lectures from day to night on North Korea ideology, history and brainwashing.” He was then forced to work in a radio station broadcasting propaganda.

There’s that brainwashing thing again.  That’s what it felt like for me.

My 25-yr old daughter, Hannah, who is also being sued for defamation along with Meaghan and me, discusses this in her Google review.  I’d have to look up which words/phrases are actually part of the defamation lawsuit, but here is her reaction to the repetitious sermons that she posted on the original Google review and might very well be in the lawsuit:

The entire time I was there, we never got off of Romans 12 (over a year).  I now think Chuck thought we were too stupid to grasp his “deep” concepts and so felt he had to hammer it in repeatedly week after week, and/or he likes to hear himself talk.  

And here is also Hannah’s response to my recent blog posts:

HannahJune 11, 2012 8:02 PM

So the last three posts pretty typical of his sermons from what I remember from personal experience, except that you would need to have at least 50 minutes of verbal oration and add only maybe 10 minutes of new material, which is in essence only delving into literally the three next words in the same sentence of the half a verse we’ve been “exploring” for the last 8 weeks.

Hannah remembers it as I do.  She was at the church for a little over a year and moved out of our home and 45 minutes away because she couldn’t handle this church and didn’t want to get sucked into it again.  We stayed a little over 2 years and by the time we left, we had only progressed to Romans 13:6-7.   So for the 2 years and 2 months we were there, we covered Romans 12 through Romans 13:7.

As I took good notes and checked the sermons noting key phrases were reused but in different order for the first 45-50 minutes of the sermon and then we’d hear fresh material for the remaining 10-15 minutes.  Hannah’s assessment above is correct.  My time would have been better served by reading the Bible on my own in the parking lot and then coming into the sanctuary 10 minutes before the end of the service to hear the new mini-sermon.

I brought these issues up to the pastor during our final meetings because the sheep were obviously disgruntled and crying out for food.  They did the best they could do to communicate this, but it fell on deaf ears.  Why did the crying sheep not matter?  Why did this relentless, authoritarian, repetitious loud preaching continue despite the cries of the people?   What kind of pastor ignores pleas from his congregants and plows ahead with his own agenda?  What purpose did this serve?  Who was this benefiting?

I look back on the wasted time, think of what it did to me spiritually.  I kind of wish I would have had the guts to do this during Sunday sermons:

Julie Anne’s knitting
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I always have a pile of UFO (unfinished objects) knitting projects that need to be worked on.  I imagine they all would have been done if I used my time more productively.  What a shame, because not much positive came out of that time.

I leave you with this comment from David Johnson that came through just as I posted this.  It ties in beautifully because repetitious sermons as we endured can cause one to be spiritually weak and their growth to be stunted.

David JohnsonJune 12, 2012 9:48 AM

What is to give light must endure burning. – Viktor Frankl

As I’ve been mulling over Mark 9:42, and how these words of Jesus may actually relate to Pastor Chuck, I’m reminded of what was said elsewhere concerning Mr O’Neal, How Chuck had better hope the Judge don’t get all Biblical on his butt, ’cause the Judgement, just might include a Millstone and a Boat Trip!

“And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, to fall into sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”

These ‘little ones’ refers to both children and those who are weak in the faith. On reading some of the comments on this situation at http://www.rawstory.com (where I, personally, found out about this madness a month ago) I read the words of many who appear either weak in the faith or possessing no faith at all being adversely affected by Chucks actions in ways that either cause them to stumble, or, more often, embolden them even deeper in their rebellion against the God who Chuck professes to be an Ambassador of.

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Justice: Becoming Free

“Flying Free” by 9-yr old Resident Artist

Now, on to much lovelier topics.  I really want you to read this . . .

I want to share a story with you about a person named Justice.  Justice is not this person’s real name and you’ll have to pardon the awkwardness of pronouns in this article because I am not going to reveal whether Justice is male or female for privacy reasons.

A number of weeks ago, I got word from someone who was formerly at the church that he/she had been reading the blog and wanted to contact me and tell me his/her story.    Because I’ve been getting so many e-mails from strangers, I wanted to see if this person was legitimate.  Justice gave me the names of a couple former members I might know for verification, so I contacted them.

Both contacts told me:  you must hear this person’s story.  Could this person really share more with me than I had already heard?  I didn’t think so, but agreed to talk.  We exchanged information and set up a time for a phone call.

The scheduled time came for Justice to call me and the phone didn’t ring.  Thirty minutes passed and the phone remained silent.  I sent a couple messages to those mutual friends on Facebook to see if they knew what was going on.  One of those friends sent me a message saying they were speaking with Justice on the phone at that moment.  I asked if they could tell Justice that I was ready to speak.   My friend replied that Justice knew, but he/she was scared to talk with me.   I thought to myself:  come on, you’ve read my blog,  I’m on your side, there’s nothing to worry about.

The fear that Justice was feeling hit me like a ton of bricks.  The fear was paralyzing him/her.   Justice, knew in his/her mind that I was a “safe” person to talk to, his/her friends had vouched for me, but Justice still had to overcome this fear.

By the time we finally connected by phone, I could feel the fear in his/her voice.  Justice acknowledged to me that he/she was physically shaking.

With perfectly executed timing, my children started arguing.   Isn’t that a universal phenomenon?  Parent gets on phone, children act up.  But what a beautiful time for Justice to catch his/her breath, hear that life is fairly normal at the Smith home with kids who act like kids and begin to argue when a parent is on the phone.  I think that interruption helped calm some nerves and that’s how we started the conversation:  discussing that crazy phenomenon of kids’ behavior while parents are on phones.    That broke the ice.  Thank you, dear children,  . . . . just this once.

After that intro, we started talking.   I heard story and then another.  The stories made my heart grieve.  I felt physically sick to my stomach.  I won’t share specifics of what Justice endured.  That is his/her story to share.

But here is a small part of Justice’s story.  Justice suffers from flashbacks.  Sometimes Justice would read a story from my blog and it would trigger his/her own memories from the past.  Justice would re-live what had happened to him/her all over again.  Sometimes it would take days to get rid of the memories so that the day could begin fresh.  This has happened time and again since reading my blog.   It’s hard, but it’s pushing him/her one more step to healing.  As time goes by, the flashbacks will diminish and be replaced with a calm peace with only a distant memory of the pain.  But at least the pain will not overwhelm anymore.

When you have experienced emotional trauma in your life, one of the most scary feelings is the sense of being alone.  The cycle of triggering memories and re-living the pain has been difficult, but it was very helpful to finally realize that while Justice had once felt alone in these memories, reading the stories of others made him/her realize that he/she was not going crazy and imagining these situations.  These experiences he/she read about really did happen to others and it made Justice realize he/she was not alone.  Even though the stories I have posted may not have occurred at the same time as Justice’s experiences, there was an emotional connection with the person in the story.

As time has gone by, this very timid and fearful Justice has gotten more bold.  Justice has realized how much he/she has lost because of his/her experiences at the church, and Justice wanted to speak out.  Perhaps you have read some of Justice’s comments.  Even though Justice uses “Anonymous” to post,  Justice now has a voice.  For once, Justice’s thoughts and words can be seen and read by everyone who reads this blog, including those who have and continue to shun him/her.  It is very powerful for someone who was hurt to finally have a voice.  That voice says:  I don’t have to hide anymore, I can tell my story, I can express myself, I am free from the being held emotionally captive and the fear.

Come to me, 

all you who are weary and burdened, 

and I will give you rest. 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, 

for I am gentle and humble in heart, 

and you will find rest for your souls. 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. 

(Matthew 11: 28-31)

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That is what this blog is about and I have been wonderfully thrilled to have a small part in this “gathering” place and discuss what was never, ever to be discussed.  People, if you have never experienced spiritual abuse, you need to really get this part of the picture – the emotional scars of spiritual abuse can take years and years to heal and only prolong in silence.  In order for healing, the truth must be exposed and the heart needs to feel safe to heal.

Amidst Justice’s daily past emotional demons, Justice continued to send me private notes of support.  Wow, that blessed me.  He/she told me that what I was doing here was so important and was helping him/her as well.

And then, Justice did probably one of the most powerful things he/she has done.  Justice, whose voice was once silent, decided that this story needed to be shared on a larger scale.  Justice and a dear friend took it upon themselves to let the local media know of our case.  Within only hours, the e-mails were coming in requesting interviews and Justice and his/her friend coordinated those efforts with me.

Justice, it is because of YOU that this thing went viral.  This was such a monumental feat for you to do despite the amount of pain you have suffered.  I know there are days that are paralyzing for you, but what you did not only affects you and members from our former little church, but you enabled the world to know about the problem of spiritual abuse.

I began one Google review and blog which started things,  but what you have done is amazing!  I’m having a hard time keeping up with the personal stories in my e-mail that are telling me “thank you” for doing this.  Reporters introduce me by saying that this story (Justice, YOUR story) has gone crazy viral all over the world and back and around again   And I have to publicly say,  Justice you did it!  I am so proud of your strength.

The pain that you have experienced is now being used worldwide for His glory as He has given us the opportunity to expose to the world what some churches have been hiding for years – the problem of spiritual abuse.  It’s time to clean up the churches.  There are so many spiritually abandoned sheep.  God is the Good Shepherd who tends His sheep and does not want to lose even one of them.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

I am so excited about this aspect of this story.  One person.  Just one person!  Do you see how valuable you are?  And I also want to give a shout-out to that dear friend who has stood beside you, showing you unconditional love, grace and genuine compassion.

Justice’s friend:  you know the true meaning of friendship.   Thank you, too!

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:12-13
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Legalism: Do Not Expose Your Thighs!

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And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Matthew 15:9 

 

My family didn’t have too many problems with modesty.  Prior to coming to Beaverton Grace Bible Church, we didn’t have any “formal” teaching on modesty.   It was a natural and seemingly obvious idea that one would dress in a way that would reflect an image that Christ would want us to have.  If God seemed concerned with the heart, so should we.  If certain clothing invited roaming eyes to zero in on specific body parts, then it made sense to avoid those styles of clothing.  This was a simple solution with no rigid rules, just basic common sense.

At Beaverton Grace Bible Church, we were told how we should and should not dress – specific guidelines, such as do not expose skin above the knees – especially the thighs.  We found very quickly that there was a lot of attention focused on this issue – and in my opinion, a very unhealthy amount of attention.  In another post I will discuss how I believe the modesty rules backfired.

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BGBC Non-Sanctioned Shorts, drawn by 9-yr old resident artist

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My son is 6’8”.  Yes, he’s a very tall drink of water.  It is very hard to find pants to fit him because not only is he tall, but he is very thin.  While there are Big & Tall stores for tall men, I’ve yet to see a Skinny & Tall store.  I was thrilled one day to find some shorts that seemed quite long.  This kid has never been picky about clothes and has always been so appreciative of the clothes I get for him and he was happy to wear his new shorts – the longest ones he had ever had.  I remember my heart ached when I overheard a teen tell another friend that my son’s shorts were still too short.  They were knee length, but I’m sure more skin was showing when he was sitting down.  Was I expected to sew my son shorts the BGBC-approved length since there were none to be found in local stores AND on the internet?  Ugh!

Thankfully, at the time, I did not take it personally, but realized that this was one aspect of what happens in a church with legalism:  people act unloving and unkind because the rules are more important than the heart of the people.  Some got caught in this trap of judging whether each others’ clothes would pass the modesty test and talked amongst each other when someone violated the rules.

Legalism,  which is an aspect of many spiritually abusive churches, robs us of deep relationships.  It forces one to focus so much on the rules and externals, it’s hard to look beyond them.  It pushes people away from you because they feel like they are being judged – and they very well could be.  I tell you, it’s nice to be at a place finally where I can see people for who they are without distraction of their tattoos, short hemline, cleavage showing, bulging biceps, piercings, you name it.  When you start accepting and loving people for who they are, those externals really are only external.

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LEGALISM: Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:9)

  • Adding basic rules to a faith which makes it more exclusive and isolated from “outsiders” who do not think, act, or believe as the “true” believers do is called LEGALISM.
  • Legalistic groups have their own authority figures who provide the rules “their” people are to live by. These leaders have answers for everything and their rules are considered nearly equal to the authority of the Bible.
  • Legalistic leaders see themselves as more than just leaders. They feel better, more spiritual and have fewer failings and temptations than “their” people. They become spiritual detectives looking for raised hem lines or hair over the collar as if these things prove what “their” people are really like inside. Abuse of power follows.
  • Members are to look to their leaders for the “standard”; how they should think, what they should do, and how they should dress.
  • The system teaches that the leaders know best and to challenge them is to challenge God.
  • As one chooses to become part of a legalistic system his or her freedom to choose is quickly lost. Appearances and associations become most important. If a member is confused about something the fault is with the member and not with the group.
  • Legalism emphasizes externals more than internals and people learn that appearance is more important than what they are on the inside and one’s life becomes a performance benefit for those who may be watching. (http://www.thelyingtruth.info/vot/legalism.php)

Just Who is Acting Like Korah Around Here, Part 4

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This post will wrap up the Korah series.   Earlier, I highlighted some “Korah” comments in the comment section.   The commenter identified as “Korah” and I made light of the Korah reference.   I want to give a little background to that situation.

I know who “Korah” is and know what this particular family experienced.  When they were accused of Korah-like behavior, it hit them to the core.  There were many tears, many “what ifs”, many questions.  There was much deep reflection and soul searching to see if there was sin on their part, looking back on things that were said, not said, etc.  These people are godly people who have hearts of gold.  When questions were asked of the pastor – it was done for the sake of the body, not for themselves.  It was commonly known that if the pastor was challenged, there could be repercussions.  They sacrificed much and took the risk to try to protect the body and there was a cost involved.  When you are brought down low, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, by words from someone you trusted and respected to be a man of God, those words can sting and sting deeply.

Now after all of these years, things have become much more clear.  When piecing together things, we discovered that Chuck recycled poor Korah’s name from at least 2007-2009.  Chuck was infamous for repetitious sermons and he obviously recycled his Korah diatribe on a number of people to wield his authority and threaten when they questioned him.

Once we saw the pattern and realized others were also called Korah for the same offenses, the sting no longer had power.  His pattern was laughable.  That is why we are able to make light of it now.  We can picture him pushing the “Korah” button whenever he felt threatened. It really was not a sign of strength to use and reuse the same Korah story over and over again against people who asked legitimate questions.   It was a sign of weakness.    As we have dissected the blog posts/letters/words over and over, the war-like words used to condemn people have become meaningless to us.  The combative tone and typing in all-caps shows weakness, not strength.  However, for those still in his fold, we still pray they will see the truth and be free from this anti-shepherd.

It’s very likely that using the Korah scripture in this spiritually abusive fashion was far more than we are aware of.  If you have ever been accused of having Korah-like behavior, of having the sin of Korah, or being a spiritual descendant of Korah, you are in good company.  You may have retreated privately – and maybe in shame.  Some might still be sitting in the pews at BGBC.  Others left quietly realizing that there would be no reckoning with a man like this.   There is one aspect that is very clear and must be acknowledged:  those of you who were recipients of the Korah message were defending the faith.  Standing for the truth was not the easiest path to take.  The sacrifice was real:   loss of job,  title or position, life-long friends, and church, heart ache, loss of sleep, challenge of faith, etc.    You were not being divisive, nor did you usurp his authority.  That authority which was proclaimed was false authority.  You stood up to him, you questioned, you called him out just as the Bible commanded you to do.  You sacrificed much and you deserve our thanks.  You will be rewarded.

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Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:12

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Read these verses on false teachers our responsibility in dealing with false teachers:

Jude 1:3-4

 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

and

vs 17-22

 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 Theysaid to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

Admin note:  This is a 4-part series:

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The Bully Pulpit

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“Pulpit”, from the eyes of my 9-yr old son

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According to Wikipedia.org, a bully pulpit is:  “An older term within the U.S. Government, a bully pulpit is a public office or other position of authority of sufficiently high rank that provides the holder with an opportunity to speak out and be listened to on any matter. The bully pulpit can bring issues to the forefront that were not initially in debate, due to the office’s stature and publicity.”

The correct definition of bully pulpit does not refer to a pastor abusing authority from the pulpit; however, using the literal meanings of “bully” and “pulpit” seemed appropriate to me when we were there.   Interestingly, I have been in contact with others who also used the bully pulpit expression in the same sense.

The Bully Pulpit

You commit a sin.  You either get caught, or realize the error of your sin. You initiate a meeting with your pastor to discuss said sin, or perhaps if you are caught, you are called into a meeting with the pastor to discuss the situation.

Let’s say everything is worked out in the meeting:  confession, contrition, repentance, and forgiveness between all parties, and with God.

You think everything is fine.  You’re forgiven. The slate is clean and it’s time to move on.  God’s grace is sufficient. Or perhaps it is not? This thought is so important: is God’s grace sufficient or is it not? Tuck that thought away. It is an important theme in this article.

Your heart is now clean and you look forward to attending the Wednesday night teaching. You get to start fresh and want to walk in the light. This is good.  Yea!

With your Bible in your lap, your hand ready to take notes, you ready yourself to hear the teaching. The pastor starts preaching. After the first few sentences a dark cloud descends on you. The teaching is regarding the same sin issue that brought you to the pastor’s office. Your heart starts racing.

He’s talking about you, and you know it. He doesn’t name your name, but you recognize certain details. You feel hurt, ashamed, and betrayed. This was supposed to be a fresh start. You have difficulty looking up at the pastor as he is teaching. You do not want your eyes to connect and give the perception to others that this was your sin issue.

You wonder if anyone else knows of your sin. You keep your head forward because you don’t want to see the eyes of others looking at you. You feel guilty all over again. You want to leave and weigh the options of leaving versus staying. You decide to stay, but quickly leave when people are dismissed so as not to mingle with anyone who might know your story. You especially don’t want to run into the pastor. This Wednesday service is not what you had hoped it to be. What purpose did that earlier meeting have?

A week goes by. You convince yourself to go back – that the pastor is going to move on to a different topic. You need to move on. The following Wednesday, you find that the message this week is Part 2, a continuation of last week’s teaching.  The wound has been scraped once again.  It bleeds. The same emotions from last week are overwhelming.

What should be healing, has not healed. It is like a scab that has been scraped off or picked.   It may get infected. Where there should have been a layer of new skin is now an open wound. God’s grace doesn’t feel sufficient. Does He really offer any grace at all?  It doesn’t feel like it.

What thoughts and emotions are going through my mind now?  How does it feel knowing the possibility that my sin has been exposed to others?  Will they still accept me, love me?  Will this open up old wounds in relationships?

On the flip side, if you are a congregant and hear a sermon like this, it makes you wonder who the pastor is talking about. You know how this works. You may have experienced it, too. You might look around and try to guess who was caught in this sin. What does this do to the unity of the congregation?  How does this make you feel toward the “sinner?” Does it draw you closer, or further away?  How does this make you feel about meeting with the pastor, knowing your sins very likely will be addressed publicly from the pulpit?  In a church this size, no names need to be mentioned and the sinner will usually be exposed in the form of holy gossip: we need to pray for sinner “Joe” as he’s really struggling.

This environment is hurtful for both the sinner and the congregants who see this played out before them. There is confusion. Sometimes this creates an environment where congregants begin to be on the lookout for the sins of others.

These informants feed the pastor news about members in sin.  These informants unknowingly create an unhealthy alliance with the pastor. They perpetuate this destructive cycle of “sin sniffing:”  sinner is confronted, meetings with the pastor occur, The Bully Pulpit lesson is taught regarding the sin. Informants are given pseudo grace by the pastor and their own sins may be overlooked because they have won his favor by sharing sin secrets with him.

The emphasis of the church seems to be heavily on sin and repentance, but not grace.

This….is…..not….right.

This is a travesty to the meaning of grace, the meaning of church, the meaning of a shepherd.

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Is Your Pastor Acting as Your Holy Spirit?

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Someone referred to an article in the comment’s section of this post:  You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Part 2.   As I read the original article, this paragraph struck me. 

From the article, ‘Authoritarianism in The Church” by Steve Martin

Sadly, in too many congregations today, sheep are driven by a man more like a callous meat packer than a loving shepherd. Many modern shepherds don’t even like sheep; its just their business. In fact, men are encouraged not to get too close to the sheep or emotionally involved in their lives and problems. So many pastors don’t actually like (let alone love) their people. They promote witnessing and world evangelization, they just don’t like to be around individual sinners. One need only read of our Lord’s loving compassion for the sheep-like sinners of His earthly ministry (Matt. 9:36, 14:14; Mark 1:40-41, 10:21) and recognize how far removed that is from many pastoral examples today. Sacrificial shepherd-love which lays down its life for the sheep has been replaced by loveless sheep management by uncaring sheep ranchers.

There was a big emphasis on evangelism at BGBC.  “Grace Bible Institute” consisted of 2-hr teachings on Sunday afternoons and was devoted to the topic of evangelizing.  Additionally, Friday nights were designated as evangelism nights and small groups would go out and evangelize in neighborhoods, local malls, public areas, etc.  Car washing events were planned in the summer on Saturdays specifically for evangelizing.  The radio ministry, pastor’s blog, and Sermon Audio sermons sometimes focused on evangelism.  One cannot miss the evangelism emphasis at this church.  That is all good.  However, if the sheep are hurting and are not being cared for, something has gone awry – the shepherd is out of focus of his primary responsibility – tending the flock.

Some may defend that the pastor did care for his sheep and their problems – that he did have meetings with people who were having issues.  Yes, he did have meetings, but were they done as a loving shepherd would tend wounded sheep?  We’ve discussed these meetings before – sometimes hours long, Bible verse after Bible verse read outloud, urging the sinner to repent, heavy-handedness, tears, etc.  (This type of control and authoritarianism exerted in meetings can have devastating results on sheep, but we’ll touch on that topic later.)

One issue that hasn’t been brought up is the congregant’s personal files kept by the pastor.  The pastor confirmed with me that he kept files on congregants.  I’m aware that pastors have to deal with many people.  Even professional and licensed counselors maintain personal files on their clients in order to follow progress and help them remember details so they can best help their client.  I get that.  But how were those personal files used?  It is my experience that the personal files were not used in a gracious way for shepherding, but in a berating and authoritarian fashion which takes me back to the yesterday’s quote:

3. Unbelief: many office holders do not believe the declarative statements and promises of God in the Scripture. They do not believe that Christ is Lord of His true church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. They do not believe that God the Holy Spirit is also Lord of the church, conforming God’s people into His image. They do not believe God the Father will exercise His Fatherly love and discipline over the lives of His adopted children. In their unbelief, following hard on the heals of their own prayerlessness, authoritarian shepherds develop the mind-set, “If I don’t make them do this, they won’t!” or “If I don’t make them do this, who will?” They really do not believe that the Holy Spirit will superintend His people and convict them of sin when away from the shepherd. Even as Christian parents must entrust their Christian teens unto the Lord as they drive the car down the driveway or leave for the university, so pastors must learn to trust God the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of His people when they are out from under the watchful gaze of their local under-shepherd. Sadly, such pastors create a “police state mentality” in their congregations where everyone’s life is carefully monitored and scrutinized for any deviation, and “sins” are to be reported to the church leadership immediately.”

2 Timothy 3:5
…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Galations 5:1
Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

Galations 5:16-18
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Part of the job of the shepherd is to lead the sheep to the true Shepherd and help them to hear His voice.  I did not see that happening.  There was an overemphasis on sin – not only the current sin issue, but old sins as well.  Bringing up old sin issues that have been completely dealt with, repented, forgiven from long ago is not beneficial.  There’s no grace and love in that.  (Love keeps no record of wrongs.)  Sheep were beaten down emotionally and spiritually.  It was as though the pastor usurped the authority of God by coercing the flock to heed his voice  – Chuck’s voice – instead of the voice of the Holy Spirit.   In this kind of “lording” environment, sheep will have difficulty hearing the Holy Spirit.   It is difficult to hear the gentle prodding of the Holy Spirit over the lectures and never-ending rebuking sessions in the meetings.

We need to ask ourselves if there is an unbalanced focus on sin in our church?  Is there love and grace shown by the pastor?  Does our pastor gently guide us to God or do we primarily hear the pastor’s voice?

John 10:27  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

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Children’s Church at Beaverton Grace Bible Church

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My children regularly attended children’s church.  Regretfully, my husband and I did not take note of what was being taught in children’s church.  We trusted everything was fine because we trusted the leadership.  It was shocking to me when I discovered after 2 years and two months that my children had been studying the same passage of scripture the entire time we were there.

My younger daughter was in junior high at the time and informed me that approximately 8 weeks was spent on the first two verses of Ephesians 1.  Take a look at this passage.  I’m trying to wrap my head around two months of teachings from these two verses alone.   How much can be extrapolated from these two simple verses?  How much needs to be extrapolated to elementary and junior high children?

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,  

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus:   

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:1-2  

Those children must have been bored to tears.  And now come to think about it, we did hear of situations where children were having “discipline” issues.  Is it any wonder?  How can you have the same two verses being taught over and over and over again without being bored to tears?  There was one study on Reformation, but the rest of the 2 years was Ephesians 1:1-17.  By the time we left, they were studying Verse 17 of the same first chapter.  That’s 17 verses in 2 years and 2 months period of time.  At that pace, let’s see how much scripture they would have studied.

Yes, I actually spent the time doing the math, adding 17 passages of scripture and years to figure this out to show how ridiculous it is:

Eph 1:18 – 2:11       4 yrs 4 months
Eph 2:12 – 3:7         6 yrs 6 months
Eph 3:8 – 4:3           8 yrs 8 mo
Eph 4:4 – 4:20         10 yrs 10 mo
Eph 4:21 – 5:5         13 yrs
Eph 5:6 – 5:22         15 yrs 2 months
Eph 5:23 – 6:6         17 yrs 4 months
Eph 6:7 –   6:23       19 yrs 6 months

It would have taken 19 yrs and 6 months to get to Ephesians 6:23 and there is still one remaining verse: vs. 24.  It really makes me sick that we allowed our children to be subjected to this kind of teaching.

Oh – – and not surprising, some of our kids do not even have the book of Ephesians in their Bibles anymore.   The Ephesians section was so worn, they fell out of the Bible.  Interestingly, we’ve heard the same story from other parents.

Beaverton Grace Bible Church’s mottos is this:

Our Motto is the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible!”, I’m wondering really how much of the “whole” Bible is taught, because it certainly wasn’t happening in children’s church.

To that, I would like to ask:  The “whole” Bible?  Really?  At what age will they be?  897 yrs?  Alrighty then.

There will be more to come on this topic regarding regular Sunday services.  Stay tuned.

Picture of a church drawn by my 9-yr old son