Rather than write a new blog, I went through some writing I did some time ago–one of the books I’m working on.
It was Karla’s turn to share her story with the support group. She spoke with courage and confidence of how she had come through abuse and betrayal in her marriage. I admired her strength and ability to forgive, uncertain that I would have done as well as she, given the same situation.
Karla’s confidence quickly dissipated into sobs as she moved into the story of her church life and how leadership in her church had played an active role in destroying relationships in a once close-knit family. Brothers and sisters that once loved to get together for social events hardly acknowledged one another, as siblings chose sides of church leaders and shunned the others.
The church Karla grew up in was not remotely like the denomination I grew up in. In her story I discovered that spiritual abuse is not only a Mennonite church problem.
Another friend, Amanda, left a strong religious church in her late twenties, but ten years later, she still adheres to their rules and guidelines even though she wouldn’t set foot in their church, unless it was to bury a dead family member. Her relationship with God is distant, at best, and she hopes that somehow wearing the right clothes and avoiding ‘sin’ will be enough. Her eyes are lifeless, her spirit hollow, vacant.
What is it about spiritual abuse and betrayal that destroys the heart and passion of an individual, often, it seems, beyond repair?
As I thought back to the religious abuse of my childhood and early teen years, and contemplated this question, something interesting happened in my spirit. I felt violated as the memories and feelings of a sexual assault that took place when I was seventeen, returned like an unwelcome stranger.
I asked God why the memories and feelings, that went with being raped, returned when trying to work through Spiritual Abuse. The answer? It is as if they blindfolded and raped you and told you I did it, or told them they could.
Spiritual Abuse portrays God as the rapist, not the gentle lover that Scripture portrays him to be—the book of Hosea, specifically. It makes the heart fear a deep and intimate relationship with our Creator.
The response and aftermath of rape is not the same in all individuals. Some victims develop such an intense hate for the opposite gender that their interest in relationships is virtually dead. Others develop a need for constant approval from the opposite gender, especially sexually, and frantically pursue every person that could potentially fill that desperate need. The end result, of either response, is not good.
In spiritual rape the same is true. Christians who have suffered Spiritual Abuse, have been manipulated or brainwashed into believing that God is a very harsh God, who says one thing, and acts or another. A volatile God who cannot be trusted but must be appeased. A God who says, ‘Jesus is enough’ but will toss you in hell for not keeping ‘the law’. And that law is usually whatever a particular leader needs it to be for his agenda.
If the agenda is ‘perfect image’, you will be called to toe a line. If you sin, you will be shamed and the church will wash their hands of you, even if you repent. Matthew 18 will be disregarded, to deal with it in private. You will be exploited as an example of what the church is not. For their own image, to present their own ‘holy standing before God’, they will publicly make a spectacle of you.
The bigger the sin, the more you will be shamed and exposed publicly. Big sin, big consequences. They forget that Matthew 18 says to go to the sinning brother alone. Only if the person does not repent, is it to involve the church leaders. Only if the person still does not repent, is it to be made public. (The rest of the chapter tells the fate of the church and individuals who choose not to follow this pattern.)
While disregarding Jesus’ teaching here, leaders will even say it is to help you, and make you careful not to sin again quickly. But it has nothing to do with following the way of Jesus, so it cannot help you, it can only crush your spirit.
This is Spiritual Abuse. It is not what Jesus offers you. It is not who God is. It is a blatant misrepresentation and violation of God’s heart.
If this is your situation, approach your leaders on it, and if the way of Jesus is not embraced, run from it, and don’t look back.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/