Tears literally poured down her face as she spoke the words, sheer desperation in her voice, yet with hope and confidence in her words. “Trudy, they want me to repent and come back to believing what they believe. But I can’t do it. I just can’t do it now that I know Jesus.” These were the words spoken by a young woman–meaning my age or younger–who spent her entire life going to church, practicing a religion. After one encounter with Jesus, she saw that her congregation didn’t teach Jesus, but taught religion.
She went on to tell me how her family felt she had shamed them by leaving. They felt rejected even though she repeatedly told them she cared and loved them. It wasn’t good enough. If she refused to return to her congregation, she was not welcome in the family. She was shunned.
The church pursued her as well, telling her she would go go hell if she did not repent and reinstate her membership. By all external appearances she still held to every rule, every standard. What had changed was her belief system. She traded religion for relationship and she could not keep silent about that relationship with Jesus. She spoke with respect and honour even though she was deeply wounded by her family and the church.
Eyes pleading, she asked, “Trudy, what do I do? It hurts so bad!”
It is difficult to look into that depth of pain and know there is nothing that can be done to resolve the circumstances. The circumstances may never be made right. In that moment the only thing I can offer is to bring Jesus to the pain, and the pain to Jesus. The only thing I can do is help people in this situation understand how God sees them, how He loves them, how He grieves with them, and help them see in the Bible, that God is not like that!
I have heard these testimonies of pain frequently. The above story is not a one-time event, but a blend of repeated cries from women and men, deeply wounded by, typically well-meaning, religious leaders. Usually the leaders—be it Bishops, Priests, Elders, Ministers, Preachers, Pastors or other leaders—are only trying to ‘protect the flock’ from what they perceive to be deception or sin. That never makes it right. Spiritual abuse is wrong in every way, regardless of the intent of the heart, because it completely violates the heart of God and misrepresents who God is!
God called leaders to ‘shepherd the flock’–using biblical terminology, 1 Peter 5:1-3–not to control through manipulation and abuse. Never did the right to control enter into the equation in God’s leadership guide and it is not to be part of New Testament church life. Never can it or should it be accepted or blessed as such. We’ll touch on that again in another post.
Does this mean a church should be a ‘free for all’ and ‘do as you please’ with no one to hold the church accountable? By no means! But that’s a topic for another day. Today is merely an introduction to a very complex and multifaceted problem.
The topic of spiritual abuse has been on my heart for weeks, but how does one go about tackling it? I’m not certain… but I’m about to find out. I want to spend a few blog posts looking at some of the ways that often well-meaning humans misrepresent the heart of God, especially within the context of spiritual abuse either in churches or Christian organizations. Iwill not attack on them—that would serve no purpose whatsoever—but rather looking honestly at the pain, and then hearing what God says in His Word, for the purpose of inner healing. In the process we will explore the impact abuse has on victims because of lies they believe about God and themselves, and find God’s truth to break down the lies.
We will look at what we do know about God, based on stories in the Bible and especially drawing from the life of Christ, and explore the mystery of His heart and His character. Since He is Emmanuel, ‘God among us’, it seems most appropriate to watch God and learn the right way from Him. The best way to become like someone is to study the individual as closely as possible on a personal level. Jesus is ‘God in the flesh’ and therefore the best example and role model.
When we know someone personally and someone else comes along and tells the untruth about them, we are much more likely to take a step back and say, “No… I know that person. That can’t be right.” So to know Jesus, and know Him intimately, equips us to stand against the damage of spiritual abuse. Ultimately, spiritual abuse is rooted in misconceptions about God. If we know God intimately and personally, we have nothing to fear from Him or people around us—“…there is no fear in love…”—but when we don’t know Him we can be tossed about by the control and misrepresentation of men and women who profess Christ, but live out of selfish ambition.
Knowing God is the key to standing against spiritual abuse, manipulation and any form of spiritual control. God placed us here with the freedom—or God-given right—to choose our path, our faith, our allegiance. It is wrong that any human would try to take away what God has given us as a gift, and attempt to control and manipulate the mind through fear. God did not. Why should they?
That does not, however, remove God’s Word as Truth and authority. It doesn’t mean we should disrespect leadership. That is also not biblical.
In this series, as always, but especially here, I welcome feedback, suggestions, questions, thoughts challenges and anything you would like to share. I don’t have all the answers, but God’s Word does, so that is where I will go for answers. My one request is that we speak kindly and respectfully when we disagree, and that we don’t do any personal attacks. This can be a very sensitive topic and stir up a lot of anger in those who feel violated. The anger is not surprising or wrong, but what we do with it is critical. If you have suffered spiritual abuse, please don’t name the individuals responsible—I can’t approve that for my blog. If you need to vent or get something personal off your chest, or if you need prayer, email me at info(insert ‘at symbol’)faithgirlsunleashed.com and I will respond and will pray for you. Alternatively, if you would like contact information for a professional counsellor, I will be happy to do my research and try to connect you with someone in your area. (Canada and USA only) I am a certified life coach, speaker and trainer, not a counsellor.
As much as possible, I will post at least once a day—on a good day twice. If you share a story or a question, I may refer to it in my blog but will not share your name, location or any details that would expose you or make you vulnerable. If you do not wish for me to refer to it, please explicitly say so.
I look forward to finding God’s light, in a dark and painful journey. There is hope in every dark experience.
© Trudy Metzger 2012