Spiritual Abuse Part 19__The Rape of the Soul

Rather than write a new blog, I went through some writing I did some time ago–one of the books I’m working on.

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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/

Spiritual Abuse Part 18__Jesus, Among Other Ways to Heaven

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are”
Matthew 23:15 

“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water
Jeremiah 2:13  

 Meeting with Christian men and women, most of whom are recovering from spiritual abuse, or still muddling through it, I have learned something interesting. Many are very bewildered about who God is, and what salvation is all about. Spiritual manipulation and abuse has all but silenced the voice of God and warped His identity.

Almost without fail, when I ask the person across the table, “Who is God to you?” or “What do you think God thinks of you?”, I get very broken answers. When I begin to tell them truth, based on God’s Word—often reading from the Bible or quoting it, the tears begin. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “I’ve never known that God.”

That, my friends, is a shame!  That we can tout Christianity as ‘the answer’ but not even teach the basics of who God is as a kind, gentle, loving Heavenly Father—our Papa—and how He sees us, is a tragedy. One of the saddest things I have seen in my life is when a man or a woman ‘keeps the law’ and ‘toes the line’, but has no relationship with Jesus.

The hopelessness I have heard and seen in the past few weeks is not what we were created for and it is certainly not what Jesus died to give us. He is hope.

Not everyone I meet with is in that place, but many are, and most are religious church goers. There is inner rage, bitterness and sense of betrayal. Some struggle with suicidal thoughts. Some suffer abuse at home from husbands as well, and are emotionally divorced but living religiously in marriage. Some are afraid of what they are capable of doing to a partner. Some are abused by parents through manipulation, mind control and fear-mongering.

Some pretend to ‘have it together’ at church while, admittedly struggling even to acknowledge God in personal experience. Some have not prayed in years. It is all to ‘dead’ and meaningless. All are caught in the entrapment of lifeless religious experience.

Why do I write this? Mostly in hopes that pastors and leaders who are spiritually abusive get curious about what I write and see that their congregants are lost and desperate. On the prayer that they will give a new answer to these people. The real answer.

After I talk to people about who God is and how God sees them, I begin to unravel their ‘performance’ beliefs. What do you have to do, and keep doing, to be saved? What things, if you stopped doing them, would cost you heaven?

That might seem a foolish question to some readers, but if ever you have been caught in a system that taught you a ‘salvation list’, you will understand. If not, take my word for it, it is brutal and fear based.

When the individual identifies what performance is required for salvation, I write down these words: “Jesus said, ‘I am THE Way…” I underline ‘THE’. And then I ask them how many ways there are to Heaven.

There is only one way. Jesus said, ‘I am THE Way.’ Either He is a liar and religious leaders are right when they add a list, or the religious leaders are liars, regardless of intent, and need a revelation of truth.

I assure every person I meet with that their cultural and religious practices are not sin, in and of themselves, and it’s okay to uphold those practices but they cannot be associated in any way with salvation, otherwise Jesus never needed to die. It has to be one of the other.

Jesus is not one among a number of ways for us to get to heaven. He was God, Himself, dwelling in the flesh. He is the only Son of God. To reject Him is to reject salvation, and heaven.

Jesus is THE Way. There is nothing more that you or I can do to make ourselves acceptable. Nothing. He paid the price. He said, “It is finished.”

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/

Spiritual Abuse Part 16__Men of God, Rise Up! Protect Your Marriage!

By nature I default to the stronger leader as long as the leader stays grounded on Biblical truth. I also default to male leadership, most likely because of my upbringing, and because my husband truly is a leader worthy of my respect, honour and… yes, the ‘s’ word… submission.

Tim is a man of integrity, unlike any I have ever known before. We have been happily married for eighteen and a half years. Well, most of them were happy years. We did have some very rough times as well. Times when we were not certain our marriage would make it. Or at least I wasn’t certain. Tim never, for even one millisecond, entertained another option.

About eleven years ago I had given up on our marriage. I wanted out. It all felt too complicated and I felt I had lost myself somewhere along the way. I started to look into other living options, started to plan how I would survive without Tim, how we would share our five children and not make it a big ugly fight.

 

Leading up to this, in the first seven years of marriage, Tim and I had never had a ‘fight’, really. We had disagreements but, for the most part, we are as compatible as two people can be. So why would I want to leave a man who never treated me abusively, or harmed me emotionally or physically? When life was ‘peaceful’, why would I want out?

We had grown apathetic in our marriage. We merely co-existed. We didn’t understand each other. We were both ‘nice’ and kind, but the depth was lacking. I wanted desperately to ‘know’ him and ‘be known’ by him. I wanted him to pursue my heart, to enter into my inner world, and I wanted to be part of his. Yet, both of us had retreated.

Add to this a health crisis, on my part, that left me physically weak and psychologically fragile, and I simply could not cope with distance in our relationship. Dark thoughts and hopelessness invaded my heart and mind.

When I proposed to Tim that we part ways, peacefully, and told him I wanted out of the marriage, he was crushed. The pain I saw in his eyes that day, told me more about his deep love for me than I had understood before. He heard my heart, no defences. I shared with him how abandoned I felt, how distant I felt from him, emotionally, and like I was the one who constantly had to keep our marriage alive.

Tim showed leadership that changed our marriage. He stepped into my heart, so to speak, and got to know who I am. He apologized for hurting me, for not protecting me and not ‘knowing’ me.

I don’t know how it came about, but Hilco and Joyce, a couple from the church we attended at that time, Koinonia Christian Fellowship, came to see us. They listened to us, prayed with us and gave us some basic tools to help us fight for our marriage together.

Beyond being ‘nice’, he made a promise to know and care for my heart, and invest himself in building our marriage, in protecting me and fighting for me and our children. Being a man of his word, he did just that. This leadership has continued over the years. We’ve had gaps, but through those ‘seasons’ we learned to fight ‘together’ for our relationship.

The greatest gift Tim has given me, over the years, is his unconditional love. No strings attached, he has embraced me, as I am. In every situation, when the storms hit, and ‘life’ threatened our marriage, he has taken it seriously and ‘tuned in’ and sought God with me. He has always treated me as equal, and has not withheld important information from me, and has included me in decision-making.  He hears me, and listens to my advice and then together we make decisions, with the final call being up to him, in many cases.

This respect, and feeling valued, has made it easy for me to submit myself to Tim’s leadership.  I trust his heart toward me and know, without question, that he longs only to bless me. (He does this from his heart, but the pay-off for him is pretty good too.) On the flip side, there have been times when Tim gave up something he felt strongly about, or wanted, because I was not at peace with it. That is part of healthy relationship.

We were created for relationship, for mutual respect, and in love to submit to one another. Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church. Lead with a servant heart. Spiritual Abuse makes room for control, abandonment and expecting to be served, but that is not the example that Christ gave you. You will win your wife, if you hear her heart and validate her feelings. Take time to pursue her—she longs to be the apple of your eye. Be quick to say, “I’m sorry”, if you have wronged her. It will build trust. Pray with her. Get to know what makes her ‘tick’ and speak her love language.

Ladies, be patient with your husbands as they learn a better way. Encourage them. Be your husband’s number one cheerleader. Don’t leave that for another woman.  Believe in him and support him. It is a two-way street, and God has given us a lot of influence over our husbands. Above all, pray for him and with him, rather than trying to change him.

Gentlemen, fight for your marriages, it is worth it. Take it from someone who almost lost the best years of her marriage. Someone whose husband refused to let pride stand in the way.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

Go to first post in this series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/