MENNO SIMONS… (Part 4): Excommunication, Love & Compassion

My intention is not to belabour Menno Simon’s teachings, but his views on Excommunication deserve further exploring, in my opinion.

The most outstanding, and maybe even astonishing, things I found was Menno’s views on how sin should be handled, when an individual comes forward in repentance. (The only exception to this, which he addresses first, and I will address after, is in a case of a criminal offence.)

When an individual sins (privately, as Menno calls it, meaning a sin that is not known publicly) Menno urges the church to deal gently and privately with the sin. If the individual confesses a sin to a ‘brother’, it is not to be taken to the church for discipline, with the exception of a criminal act.

“I understand that […] brethren are of the opinion that if some brother should secretly have transgressed on something or other, and, in sorrow of heart should complain to one of his brethren that he had thus sinned against God, that hen this same brother should tell it unto the church; and if he should fail to do so, that he, then, should be punished with the transgressor. This opinion is not only absurd but it sounds in my ears as a terrible one. For it is clearly against all Scripture and love, Matt. 18: Jas. 5:19-20.

Excommunication was, in one respect, instituted for the purpose of repentance. Now if repentance is shown, namely, the contrite, sorrowing heart, how can excommunication, then, be pronounced against such. O, my brethren, do not put this doctrine in force, for it will lead to sin, and not to reformation.

If we were thus to deal with poor, repentant sinners, whose transgressions were done in secret, how many would keep from repentance, through shame. God forbid that I should ever agree with, or act upon such doctrine! Lastly, I understand, they hold, that if any one, in his weakness, transgresses, and openly acknowledges his transgression, that they should consider him, then, as a worldling.

This, again, is an absurd doctrine; for, if the transgression was done through weakness, then, let us not be arrogant and too hard on the poor soul, lest we commit a worse fault.

Not the weak, but the corrupt members are cut off, lest they corrupt others. Of such unscriptural doctrines and practices I want to be clear. I desire that excommunication be practiced in a sincere paternal spirit, in faithful love, according to the doctrine of Christ […]

My chosen brethren, guard against innovations for which you have no certain, scriptural grounds. Be not too severe, nor too lenient. Let a paternal, compassionate, prudent and discreet heart, and the Lord’s holy word, actuate you.” (Exceprt taken from the Third Letter by Menno, “An Epistle […] to the brethren at Frenekar.)

In a nutshell, Menno discourages running to the church with every sin confessed to us. In other writings he instructs that relational issues, where ‘brother sins against brother’, reconciliation and forgiveness is to be pursued according to Matthew 18. He distinguishes between a sin against God, and a sin against each other, in that we cannot forgive a sin against God. An individual must seek forgiveness from God, but we are to forgive a sin against us. Where these relational offences, sins, and hurts can be resolved without church involvement, and the offender takes ownership, it is not to be handled at a church or public level.

All public sin, however, in Menno’s teachings, needed to be confessed publicly, but, again, he distinguishes between sin and offences that are not sin, if I understand him accurately.

Where a crime is committed, Menno does not allow for warnings and second chances before discipline. He addresses this, in the same letter, in response to having heard that there is a ‘violent dispute’, between two opposing views on excommunication. One would like to see church members get three warnings before discipline, and the other insists on heavy-handed, no warning excommunication. He speaks against both views.

His advice, to the one looking for three warnings, is, “I cannot agree with this doctrine. For there are some sins […] which require summary punishment at the hands of the (law). If we were to admonish transgressor thrice, in such cases, before they were punished, then the sweet bread of the church would be changed into sour bread, before the whole world. Therefore, act with discretion, and do not treat criminal matters, especially if they are public, the same as you would other carnal works, which are not considered, by the world, as requiring disgraceful punishment.”

To the other man he writes, “That doctrine is, according to my humble understanding, erroneous and against the world or Christ, Paul, and James. For averice (or, greed/pursuit of wealth), pride, hatred, discord, defamation and quarreling are carnal things which work death, if not repented of, Gal. 5:19-20; James 3:16; notwithstanding, they are not punished until after having been thrice admonished as the Scriptures command. I wish that it were taken into consideration, that, as “the wages of sin is death,” so also, the repenting, converted heart brings for life…”

There is no indication, anywhere that I have found, that Menno Simon endorsed the careless and quick excommunication over things that having nothing, whatsoever, to do with sin. In most cases I have seen, apart from the ones involving sexual immorality, or drunkenness, excommunication has been exercised over issues of opinion and rules not being followed, or some label such as ‘bad attitude, which usually comes back to a rule that is in no way connected to the word of God, the ten commandments, or any other sin.

For many years I have found this troubling, and believed that this way of operating was based on Menno Simon’s teachings. It has been healing for me, though I disagree strongly with Menno’s view on shunning, to read his writings and see how strongly he sought to honour God. No where can I find any indication that he made decisions based on protecting church image, hiding sins of the prominent, or any other perverse and selfish control.

It seems he tries earnestly to follow God’s word, while exercising his understanding of it, with fatherly compassion, a heart to restore, and no desire to wound or control.

His prophetic word or questioning, that if repentant sinners are dealt with harshly, then how many will avoid repenting for fear of being shamed, has come to pass. Every adult with whom I meet as a coach and mentor, as we work through the aftermath of abuse, we also go through a time of confession and repentance for hidden sins. Most, if not all, share sins of which they cannot repent at church, for that very reason. Many have looked at me, tear flowing down their faces, as they tell me they wish they could have that kind of openness at church.

I sat with a young woman this week, not yet nineteen years old, who had told me she is looking fora church. I asked her what she is looking for, what it is her heart longs for and seeks.

Her answer took me off guard, coming from one so young. I might have expected, ‘no strict rules’ or ‘no man-made rules’, even ‘a lively church that is fun’. But she said she wants a place she can go and confess and repent when she has sinned, without fearing shame or judgement. She wants to live a life of purity and holiness, and have accountability, fellowship, and prayer support.

“A place where I can go and confess when I have sinned…” No shame. No harsh discipline, unless it is a matter of crime.

I think Menno would have applauded her. And I think he would have done his best to give her such a church home.

Menno does address the issue of a person repenting, but not producing ‘fruits unto repentance,’ and says there is a time to discipline when the follow-through is not there.

In such a case, my heart tells me to come alongside that person, struggle with them and understand them, disciple them, teach them, and they are far more likely to walk in victory. I know this because of the number of people I have discipled, who have overcome addictions after months, and years, of strongholds. 

While I don’t see eye-to-eye with Menno Simons, I have appreciated the wisdom in his writings, and can’t help but wonder where the church would be, if the passion for biblical truth, practice and understanding had remained as sincere as his writing portray….

He addresses numerous times, in his writings, the sin of materialism and the pursuit of riches, among other ‘sins’. As I read that, I thought of the church today. Almost any denomination. What has more power, more pull, more prestige, than materialism and riches?

Changing the church, like any other transformation, begins with personal transformation. So my prayer to God is, “Give me a hear that loves You, more than anything else in the world. Give me a heart that understands your commands, and your desires, and the courage to live them. Create in me a heart that is clean, pure, true and tender, and fill that heart with compassion. And let that compassion flow to every person whose life I am blessed to impact, so that they will know You, through me.”

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©TrudyMetzger

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MENNO SIMONS, Complete Works (Part 3): Shunning & Excommunication

The practice of excommunication, with or without shunning, is not unique to Anabaptist churches, but seems to be most commonly practised among churches with Anabaptist roots. Excommunication is considered an ‘ordinance’, or ‘authoritative law or decree’, given by Christ and the ‘holy Apostles’, as Menno calls them, for the ‘church’.

Because of how frequently this ‘ordinance’ is abused, it is easy to simply turn the other way, and not even try to understand it. Tragically, in my own experience and that of my years in the conservative Mennonite churches, I saw this practice abused in most vile ways. One man in his sixties, or thereabouts, was excommunicated for listening to radio, but the lead minister, who later became the bishop, carefully covered for his son’s immorality, when it was discovered that the son had sexually violated numerous youth.

While the devastating reality is that his son had been dreadfully violated by a man in his late twenties or thirties–I cannot recall his age accurately–it was an imbalance to excommunicate one man for breaking a man-made law, while harbouring another who sinned outright, and directly violated God’s law. Over the span of several years, numerous members were excommunicated for violations such as bad attitudes, listening to instrumental music, watching tv, and various other ‘sins’, all while the young offender, and others like him, were protected.

For this reason I still find it hard to trust anyone on the topic of church discipline and excommunication. Every church I’ve had connections to, who exercised any form of the ban, did so with this same level of corruption at some level of leadership. Having said that, I am very aware that only some leaders knew about the corruption, and they intentionally withheld that information from other leaders, or misrepresented it. There are good leaders who try to do the right thing, and are not always well informed.

For years I skipped over Menno’s writings on the topic, and anyone else’s, for that matter. It all seemed to have become a perverse power trip in the hands of the wrong leaders, and hearing it from our ‘founding father’, as Menno was often referred to, didn’t appeal to me. What I read and understand in the Bible is a far cry from anything I’ve ever heard taught on the topic, and ultimately it is God to whom I give account for what I believe. Not a religion, denomination, or culture.

Recently, though, something drew me into this section of Menno’s writings and I was quite intrigued. He is completely on target in some areas, and as far off base as anyone I’ve heard before, in other areas.

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The most disturbing of beliefs, in my opinion and understanding, is the notion that an excommunicated spouse needed to be shunned by the other spouse, and the family. That view quite stunned me. Menno goes to great lengths to prove and convince his readers that it is not only in the area of spiritual ‘communion’, or the ‘breaking of bread’ that Paul commands the church to break relationship, but to very literally not speak a word to the person excommunicated, in conversation, beyond an ordinary greeting of ‘good morning’, or the like.

Taking this to the extreme of applying it in marriage, based on Menno’s article titled ‘Excommunication’ as well as ‘Questions and Answers’, then anything  beyond common greeting and politeness would end with the excommunication of either spouse, leaving no room for marital intimacy, deep communication, or eating together. And that is precisely what I understand him to promote.

Whether many Anabaptist churches still take it to this extreme or not, I cannot say, but that directly collides with Paul’s command in Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:5

New King James Version (NKJV)

“5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Menno’s extreme views on excommunication here, and Paul’s teachings cannot both be accurate. Since one is the scripture speaking, and the other is another individual’s interpretation of scripture, I take the former at face value, and assume the latter is missing something.

Menno Simons on Excommunciation & shunning a spouse 002

Menno on Excommunication & shunning spouse 001

By comparing scripture with scripture, it is clear that there was a misunderstanding of excommunication as Menno taught it in relation to marriage, but in other areas he was more biblical than any church I’ve ever known, who use the ‘ban’.

Menno quotes a lot of scripture throughout his writings, but rather than coming across as though he is ‘comparing scripture with scripture’, it seems as if he is using scriptures to endorse his particular view points. Viewpoints which he seems to sincerely believe are the most accurate interpretation of the intended message.

In studying further, and looking deeper at Menno’s use of the ban, these extreme views are brought into balance somewhat in his caution about using the ban. It seems he did not carelessly or casually use the ban for things that were not scripturally wrong, or sin issues–there is no indication anywhere that he would do so. And if someone disagreed in this area of shunning in marriage, and a spouse would not agree to treating their excommunicated spouse with extreme shunning, he extended grace.

In explaining this, he encouraged the church to be aware that not all commandments are equal, and a misinterpretation–or what I would call a disagreement with his viewpoint–should not be viewed with the same harshness as murder, adultery and other ‘abominable works of the flesh’.

Menno Simons on Excommunication & shunning a spouse 002

In this way, it seems, Menno differentiated between ‘sin’, and interpretation of ‘ordinances’. While strong, and very black and white in his views, when the issue presents itself in real life, his ability to reason through it is obvious. He doesn’t want to wreck marriages, and the strong tone in his writing becomes more mellow.

In my next blog we will explore further Menno’s views on Excommunication, with one view, in particular, that was pleasantly surprising. A view that, if we lived by it today, would give the Mennonite church permission to make confessions without fear of discipline. Many of the confessions I hear, day to day, from clients, would not be hidden so long, if fear of harsh discipline was removed…

… Be Continued…

©TrudyMetzger

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Spiritual Abuse Part 30__Redemption’s Journey: Jesus, I’m Coming Home! (1)

Only days after my whole world unravelled, I forgave my fiancée for lying. He promised to get his marriage annulled in the Catholic church and, after explaining that this would mean he had never really been married, I agreed to it. It all seemed right, and made sense, just like my religious beliefs had made sense. Somehow this would ‘undo’ his wrong against me. If the marriage had never happened, that would make the lie non-existent.

One of my greatest strengths had become my greatest weaknesses. As a child I wasn’t often angry and didn’t hold grudges. Forgiving by nature, I believe the best in people. As soon as my fiancée apologized, said he should have told me the truth, claiming he only tried to protect me, and promised to annul the marriage, it was in the past. A master at suppressing pain and living in denial, I determined life would be good again.

But God had heard me and He knew something about me that I had quickly forgotten—that I was lost and needed Him.

In no time at all my fiancée was driving truck, doing international runs. I travelled with him, to get out of my little room. To Chicago, Windsor, Sarnia and random places. And then it happened…. He had a run to Kitchener Ontario.

“I’ll go with you. I lived about two streets over from where you have to go,” I offered. Having forgiven him, I had no agenda, no intent to escape. He agreed.

When we arrived in Kitchener, I discovered that I had been over-confident. Wellington Street was very confusing and I had never been to this area, and my directions did more harm than good. I felt horrible. It didn’t help that my fiancée became quite angry with me.

There is a silver lining in every cloud. His anger brought reality, with all its negative, ugly feelings to the surface. This threw me back into the fear and oppression of childhood, bringing with it incredible loneliness, and reminding me that all was not well. In that loneliness I whispered a little prayer, “God, I want to stay in Canada. I don’t want to go back.”

 

We pulled in to a Short Stop at Fairway Road and Weber Street. It was all too familiar. I had lived two blocks one direction, and worked for Sears a few blocks the other direction. For a brief moment I contemplated making a run for it, but where would I go without money? It was December 4, and not the kind of weather to survive the streets with no experience. I resigned myself to my lot.

It was a cold night to spend in the truck, but financially it was the only option. Saturday morning, December 5, we got our load and headed for the Detroit border, where we had crossed countless times without any issues. That morning was different.

The officer was barely five feet tall, but, what she lacked in height, she made up for in authority. A stern little woman, she looked up at me, and spoke with a pronounced southern accent,  “ID please Ma’am.”

“I don’t have any ID, Ma’am,”  I said. She looked up at me, beady eyes cutting through me. I smiled. (That always worked with the male officers.) She glared.

“You don’t have any ID?”

“No. I cross the border all the time without it,” I said cheerfully.

“Ma’am, could I have your purse?”

Weird, I thought, but yes… I handed her my purse.

She took my large beige purse, undid the little flap, pulled the top open as wide as she could, turned it over and unceremoniously shook it until every crumb was on her counter. One item at a time, she picked through my stuff, saying little to nothing.

She held up a little piece of paper. “Who is this?” She turned it over for me to read.

“An ex-boyfriend. I forgot I had that.” Whatever she was looking for, or thinking, she was wrong about me. She continued searching and sorting. At last she finished, finding nothing of consequence. She walked to the computer.

“Ma’am, your home address, please, including the Lot and Concession? And your father’s name.” With that information she did a search. “Ma’am, that address does not exist in our records. Are you sure you have it right?”

“Yes.”

“Do your parents own the property or rent it?”

“Own.”

“How long?”

“Nine years.”

She did one more search. “Ma’am, you cannot cross this border without ID, or a deed to that property. Can you have a copy?”

“No.”

“Ma’am, then you can’t cross this border today. I’m sorry.”

Sorry? Seriously?

My fiancée spoke up for the first time. “But we’re getting married in two months. she’s my fiancée! I can’t just leave her here.”

“Sir, do you have fiancée papers proving that she is your fiancée?”

“No. I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

“Sir, then you will need to get fiancée papers and bring them to get her across the border.”

Small but mighty, she was.  It was useless to negotiate, debate or argue. She had shown no emotion and no connection. Just my luck, I thought, to have a cranky little lady throw her weight around and mess up my plans.

My fiancée had a seventeen hour drive ahead of him and only sixteen hours left to get there. He had no choice but to keep going, and leave me alone in Detroit.

I had reached a crossroad, and neither way was clear. Both came with risks.

 

I paced the dock for a while, debating my next move.  I could try to cross the border with a total stranger and make my way back to Indiana. It was high risk, but it was an option. Alternatively I could make a collect call home and see if my family would consider picking me up.

I weighed the pros and cons, and then made my decision…..

….To Be Continued….

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 29__Redemption’s Journey: A Desperate Cry is Answered

It took me off guard one evening, when my then-soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s boyfriend and I were alone, and he started to ask me about my background, my family, my former life.

“You know, Trudy, you don’t belong here. You should go home. This life isn’t for you.” He was high on who knows what all, as usual, but spoke with conviction. It wasn’t rejection—he genuinely believed that there was a better life waiting for me.

“No. You don’t understand,” I said, “It was hell back there too. It’s no different, no better. There’s nothing there for me.”

He went on to tell me how awful life was for them, and how messed up everything was in the world of drugs. “You’d be better off there. We have nothing to offer you.”

I thanked him and chalked it up to too much marijuana, and whatever he all sniffed and snorted or injected. The guy had issues—what did he know?

I would learn later from my mom, that he was not the only one trying to influence my return to Ontario. Though she never said anything directly to me, my soon-to-be- sister-in-law had taken it upon herself to track down my family and call them. She told mom that I was not in a safe place, that her brother was not capable of relationship, and that my life was built around his lies. She asked if my family could come get me. But there was nothing they could or would do. And it was better that way. I was not ready to have family and their religious culture involved.

Weary of having to support her brother and myself, my fiancée’s sister had kicked us out and that had landed us a tiny room at his dad and girlfriend Christa’s home. Never in my life had I seen a house more trashed. Boxes piled up. Unwashed dishes everywhere, stacked to high heaven, with old food dried on. Stuff. Everywhere. Old. Broken. Musty. It was overwhelming.

As their spiritual darkness surfaced, and the demonic and satanic things they dabbled in were revealed, I understood the chaos to be a reflection of that spiritual state. Who would have thought that there God would reach me, through a woman who was a self-proclaimed ‘daughter of the devil’?

Christa liked me instantly. I wasn’t sure about her, and all her demonic stuff, but was kind and cautiously friendly. I had long feared that I was vulnerable to the occult and demonic realm, due to whatever generational sin lay hidden. For this reason I was especially cautious.

I spent Thursday, November 26, 1987 with Christa while our fiancées worked on a vehicle. That time alone with her  changed the course of my life.

It was Thanksgiving Day in USA, and the turkey was cooking. While the turkey cooked, Christa and I decided to do the ‘sister thing’ and get dressed up. I did her hair and her make-up, and helped her pick out a cute outfit. My potential future mother-in-law, with whom we were to share a wedding day for a double wedding, was only 9 years older than I, and more like a sister than a mom.

I was putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup when she stopped me. “Trudy, you don’t belong here. This life isn’t for you. Why don’t you go back home? We have nothing to offer you.”

Déjà vu! If she had knocked the wind out of me with a punch, it would have been no more shocking. Was God speaking through these people? This was getting creepy.

Life would be better for me back home, she said. “And you should know that your fiancée has been lying to you. He’s not who you think he is.” She went on to tell me about the divorce and, after making me vow I would not say anything, showed the papers to me. She had been warned that if she ever exposed the truth, she would pay with her life.

Reality sank in slowly.

Christa offered me a joint and some booze. I accepted. What was I to do with this new reality? I still had no way home, no way out, no way through.

By the end of that day, in fearless Joan-of-Arc—though-none-too-wise—style, I confronted my fiancée. When his father discovered it, he went on a war path, and started to curse, threaten and yell at me. I had endured enough violence and death threats at home. I was not taking this silently from a virtual stranger. I marched past him, chin up, told him if he ever had anything to say to me, he would say it respectfully, and with that I walked into the cool November night, slamming the door behind me.

My fiancée followed, knowing that I was on a mission. And he was right. Once out of danger, the hopelessness hit me like never before. I ran through the residential area, looking for a busier street. A vowed that my pain would end. I was finished. I could take no more.

I ran until I could run no more, before falling to my knees, sobbing, vomiting and heaving, beside the street. There was nothing left to live for. God truly had abandoned me. My prayers for help had not been heard.

My fiancée caught up to me, talked some sense into me, and took me to a coffee shop. We wandered through the night, with no place to go, moving from coffee shop to coffee shop. His sister had kicked us out, his father was threatening to kill us, and neither of us had much money. We were at the end of our rope.

In the morning he called his sister, and she allowed us back one more time, but with boundaries. He would have to help out financially. He had a job when we previously we lived there but he never helped out financially, yet he never had money. Eventually it registered that all the stops at random houses had been for drugs, and I was too naïve to clue in. The hallucinations were drug induced, not an uncontrollable mental disorder as a result of being a soldier, as I was led to believe. This time he would have to take ownership and pay his share.

He worked in a blood lab until he was fired for beating up a black man. I was angry! Racism went against everything I believed and violence was what I was running from. How had I landed in the very world I tried so desperately to escape?

Little did I know that God was going to use these events to orchestrate my return home and, ultimately, to draw me back into relationship with Him.  My desperate cries, the prayers I had prayed, and the prayers others had prayed on my behalf were being answered.

 

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 28__Redemption: The Prayer

The final days in Indiana were dark. Hopeless. It was like stumbling through a black tunnel with no light and no way out, lost in the nothingness of empty existence. But light was ahead, I just couldn’t see it yet.

 

I filled out a job application at a fast food restaurant. I needed to make enough money to get out and return to Canada, even if I had to lie to do it. I looked it over, and crumpled it up. It was no use. I was living in the country illegally and had no right to work. It wasn’t an option.

Back in the apartment, in my little room, I returned to watching the tiny black and white TV, what shows I could get, to pass the time.  I dug through my suitcase, looking for something to pass the time. I pulled out my ‘Dear Jesus’ Diary. Moments later, my Bible, long neglected at the bottom of my suitcase, rested on my lap, as I read.

“What shall we say then, shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound, God forbid….” (Romans 6:1) I kept reading, reaching for life, reaching for hope. It had to be there…  “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ….” (Romans 8:1) I tried to imagine a life with no condemnation. Not easy given my condition.  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, no anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Was it really true that even the messy life, the demons, the sin the darkness that I lived with could not separate me from God’s love?

It was all there but my mind could not grasp it. My experience was so real, and so contradictory to that truth, that I was blinded. Still, my heart softened with reading it. Tears began to fall. I felt so alone, abandoned by God, but a voice stirred in my heart… ‘Reach up, reach out…’

Would He even hear me?

I prayed. The prayers bounced off the ceiling and fell in a shrivelled heap in front of me. At least that is how it felt. I thought back to my culture. They said God only hears women who prayed with their heads covered. I scrounged through the apartment and found a baseball cap. Maybe God would recognize it and hear me.

I placed it on my head as reverently as one can place a sports cap for the purpose of worship. I prayed again. They bounced again, like a bad cheque. (My! God is fussy!) Maybe the sports cap offended Him. I would have to find something else.

I saw a box of Kleenex and remembered the story in The Christian Example, our Mennonite church paper, that told of a girl who decided to wear a head covering and her parents didn’t like it. They took it from her, locked her in her room, and fed her only bread and water. To pray, she covered her head with a Kleenex. Maybe that would work. It was as close to the Mennonite veiling as anything I had access to and it seemed God had heard that girl, so I gave it a go. Again my prayers fell flat.

I feared I had sold my soul to the devil, that I had unwittingly signed some invisible contract or having blasphemed the Holy Ghost. The previous night I had experienced a demonic encounter that had left me shaking for hours, and convinced that I had committed the unpardonable sin. After the attempt at prayer, I was more convinced than ever that I had. I was doomed.

There was only one prayer left to pray, only one shot at knowing God again. He would have to reveal Himself to me. So I prayed one more time….

“God, if You will give me one more chance… If You will call my name one more time… and give me the chance to repent, I promise to give you the rest of my life. I will never look back or turn my heart from You again.”

Nothing happened. No fireworks, nothing.

I returned to ‘normal’ life, such as it was.

Back home, at the church of my youth, the girl I did cleaning with planned an all-night prayer vigil. It was held on my birthday, November 23, 1987, three days before my world caved in.

My prayers were an ‘awakening’, a sign that my spirit was opening up to God. Little did I realize, when I asked Him to speak to me, that He was already calling me back. I didn’t realize that the hopelessness was not from Him, it was the enemy trying to hold me back and trying to keep me bound.

But truth would win in the end. Freedom was  on the way. And much nearer than I could have dreamed….

 

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 27__Shunning: The Aftermath and Rebellion ….Continued (4)….

They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn. That was definitely true in my journey. I will share, without overwhelming detail, the darkest part of my story, not to give it power, but to show just how bright the dawn is.

 

The reality of the party life was harsh. I never intended it to become what it was. I started off with good intentions, though naive. One of my first wake up calls was just months after I hit the party scene. Hanging out with friends, a man, almost ten years my senior, offered me a ride home. Half way home, he pulled over on a back road, parked and reached over and tried to unbutton my shirt, fondling me as he did. I grabbed his wrist and stopped him.

“What are you doing? You’re getting married!” It had never occurred to me that he was not safe. His wedding was just weeks away, not to mention that I had a ‘unofficial’ boyfriend who had connections to him. Why would he risk it? His fiancée, being confined to a wheelchair, was never with us, but I assumed he loved her.

The attempt to use me–whatever his intentions were–was bad enough. What was worse, he spread rumours that I had made sexual advances on him on the way home.

The first problem with his story was that he was driving and therefore he had to be the one to pull over for the ‘attack’. Aside from that detail, from a common sense perspective, I can’t imagine what 16-year-old would make sexual advances on some random man so much older than her, at any time, let alone while driving.

I heard the rumours but didn’t defend myself. He was a typical perpetrator, using lies to cover for himself  while further victimizing me. A harsh introduction to my new world. Because of his connections to my friend, instead of addressing it, I ended the relationship.

One bad relationship blended into the next, just like one cigarette blended into the next, and one drink blended into the next. No direction. The only boundaries were my own. There was a line I would not cross in drinking, because I wanted to maintain control. I tried drugs, but again the loss of control did not appeal to me.

In relationships I had boundaries as well. Any hint of unfaithfulness, any sign that a man only wanted ‘one thing’, and he was out the door. No discussion, just an order: “Hit the road Jack, and don’t come back no more!”

Several assaults by ‘friends’ blind-sided me, and disarmed me. The first time a new a guy showed up, walked into my bedroom, stripped down and used me, I didn’t even try to stop him. He was older, bigger and male. No one had taught me to say ‘no’, to protect myself.  I had no voice. Even when he physically hurt me, I said nothing, did nothing, and simply steeled myself against the pain.  I just let it happen, and then immediately blocked it. It was many years before I allowed that memory into my conscious awareness again.

Days later, his best friend entered my room after a party, at 5:00 in the morning. I awakened to being stripped and raped. I don’t know why, but I found my voice. Maybe because I had already suffered through it once. I understood that he did not have the right to do to me what the other guy had done, and told him ‘no’. At well over six feet tall, and weighing over two hundred pounds, I was no match.

Only weeks later, I met a police officer at the old Lulu’s bar. When he pursued me, I told him I was not interested in a relationship, and told him why. He was very compassionate, relating stories of his own experience with rape scenes and victims, as an undercover officer, acknowledging how traumatizing it was to arrive on scene after the fact. After winning my trust, I went on one date with him. We went out to a local bar—he an officer, I an under-aged drinker—after which he, too, violated me.

Eventually I went to the police and filed a report so the rape would be on record, in the event that the guy ever victimized someone else. I never mentioned the incident with the police officer. He was one of ‘them’—I didn’t stand a chance going against the police force.

Shortly after filing the report, I started to receive strange, sometimes threatening, phone calls. At times it was only heavy breathing. No words. Other times a raspy male voice asking if I was alone, saying he was on his way over, and ordering me to get everyone out of my apartment within a certain time frame.

I was beside myself with fear and needed someone to talk to but didn’t know whom to turn to. I tried the ‘God thing’ a few times, but found no life in it. I wasn’t good enough, couldn’t measure up, so always I found myself again in the clutches of sin and bad habits.

In a final act of desperation, I called my sister-in-law and brother in California. I had to get away before I lost my mind.

My brother and his wife flew me to California to be with them. Over the next few months, away from the chaos of what life had become, I was able to hear God speak again. A desire to know Him was reawakened…

And just about the time I was ready to surrender, I met a man who set out to prove that he would provide, protect and care for me. We met on a bus—he en route to his home in Indiana, I on my way home to Ontario. For several days, as we travelled together, he watched over me, making sure I was ‘safe’. He told me about his red Camero and talked about what it was like to be in the army. He showed me his scars—in the chest and out the side—not far from his heart. He was retiring, at 42, and would be drawing a pension. I didn’t care about his age, though he didn’t look a day older than 25. He was a real hero. A real man…. someone who fought for his country, for freedom…

Little did I know….

We parted ways in Chicago, having exchanged contact information and with a plan in place. My pursuit of God was intercepted.

Less than two months later I was in Indiana, and almost immediately agreed to marry this man. Finally I would ‘belong’.

One by one the lies unravelled. He wasn’t a soldier, never had been. He was a twenty-five year old ex-con, drug dealer, and the scars were the result of a deal gone bad. The Camero belonged to his sister. He was a mooch living off his family, and had drawn me into it.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, was discovering that he divorced his wife after meeting me. Her name was tattooed on his arm, but he swore up and down that she had been a high school crush, nothing more. I believed that lie until I saw the divorce papers, dated around the time of our engagement. I knew better than to believe our marriage would last.

With no money, no green card, no connections, and having just turned 18, I was stuck. Or so I thought. But God had a better plan for my life.

The darkest hour had come and it felt as though it would last forever, but the dawn was about to burst into vivid colour. My life was about to change. Forever.

 

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 27__Shunning: The Aftermath and Rebellion ….Continued (2)….

Through the rise and fall of the eighteen months that followed, I rarely went to church, almost never contacted my family, and picked up some less than desirable habits. But that’s understated.

Ironically, it was at a Mennonite wedding, surrounded by white bonnets and plain suits, where I first got completely ‘plastered’ as my friends, unbeknownst to me, served me doubles from the bar. Not cool. I made an idiot of myself and had no idea what I was doing. I was brutally sick the next morning, flat on my back, still wearing a beautiful royal blue dress, nylons and shoes, with no memory of how I arrived in my bed. I never got that drunk again.

Friends introduced me to smoking and within months I was up to a pack a day. Drinking alcohol three nights a week, just for the party, wasn’t uncommon. I quickly learned that if you have a boyfriend, you don’t have to pay. Bonus. If you don’t have a boyfriend you accept offers from ‘gentlemen’, even from absolute strangers. (Usually that meant sharing at least one dance, even if he was not your type, or old enough to be your dad…. or grandpa. You did it for the freebie.)

I had no sense of personal identity or value, and simply did what I learned by watching society and culture, and adopting their ‘norms’. To use men in this way for the alcohol didn’t seem inappropriate at all. In fact, the thought never occurred to me that I was using people, or that even though it was culturally acceptable to do so, it lacked integrity. I had never been given the freedom to ‘think’, to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions based on what is right and wrong. I had only adopted a standard, a constitution. And society’s rules were very different.

All I had known was that the church constitution determined right and wrong within the context of religion, and I was no longer bound. If they were right, then I was going to hell. And if I was going to hell, I would party on the way down. No conscience. No rules. No constitution. If they were wrong, God would have to find me and prove Himself to be more than they made Him out to be. I wanted a Hero-God, not a villain.

 
Had I applied that same philosophy in relationships with men, I would have been better off. But I was so empty, so insecure, and so desperate for acceptance that I looked for only one qualifier in a man—he had to like me. That was it. If there was zero chemistry, that was fine, if he had nothing to speak of in looks, that was a non-issue, as long as he liked me.

Violence and death threats in our home had devalued me, and my culture had given me no reason to believe that I was liked, or even likable, so I craved validation. I even doubted that my best friends liked me. Was sure they just put up with me… pretended. When boys looked at me in church, and whispered, I was sure they were making fun of me, saying how ugly I was.

This is why, if a man could prove they liked me, or at least make me feel attractive, then he was good enough for me.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sleep with every man I dated, nor did I hop in bed with them the instant they liked me. If a man liked me, the person that I am, with my quirky humour, my hyper personality, then I gave him my time, not my body. Even if I had given my body, at this point it wouldn’t make any difference. That was then, this is now. Then I was lost and hurting, now I am loved and valued by my wonderful husband. He knows every little secret, and looks beyond all the ‘stuff’, accepting me for who I am.

I don’t fear that you will judge me either, because most of us have crossed those boundaries before marriage, whether with our spouse or another lover. Sure, we pretend we didn’t… Wouldn’t… Never! But that’s an illusion. I get ‘the confession’ with well over 50% of Christians I meet with. Whether it’s the ‘almost did it’ confession, or the ‘went too far’ confession, or the ‘never meant to go all the way’ confession.  Even the seniors. So let’s not pretend. It does nothing positive for the next generation.

 

 

And, if you can look me in the eye and say, “Oh no I di’ent”, then bless you. You are not part of the majority, even in Christian circles… including in ‘plain’ cultures. Most of us were not so discreet.  Am I endorsing or encouraging sexual indiscretion? Heaven forbid! I am suggesting we drop the pretenses. There is power and freedom in truth and honest confessions. It is the best protection for your kids. If you’re hiding it, they’re probably doing it… and hiding it too. You’ve given that spirit power.

I admitted in that little prayer room that I was not a virgin, so I don’t write anything to mislead you into thinking I protected or kept my virginity. I didn’t . Didn’t really know it mattered. Religion had taught me that sex was bad. Sin. It takes you to hell if you’re not married. I was going to hell anyway. Nothing lost, nothing gained.  If only I had known the truth…

….. To Be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

NOTE: In a future ‘Parenting Series’ I will write about teaching our children about sex and equipping them to face the battle, to value themselves, their virginity and what they are really protecting when they wait. (I know….  ‘how ancient of me!’… it’s the twentieth century!) However outdated the concept, virginity is a beautiful thing and our kids deserve to know the truth about sex.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 27__Shunning: The Aftermath and Rebellion

Rumours circulated through the Mennonite church, that ‘Trudy is now living with a man….  I heard he is divorced…. (Insert gasp, followed by a mournful,  ‘oh my!…  We will pray for her!” I’m sure I inspired more than one, “Ach my! Really? She’s doing that now?” followed by the shaking of the head and clucking of the tongue. Some things in life are too predictable.)

The ‘concern’ would continue. “…His wife left him… now Trudy is there…” This would be greeted with, “Do you know if she’s sleeping with him?” And the response, “Well, I don’t know for sure, but they certainly aren’t ‘abstaining from all appearance of evil’ so it sure looks like it….”

…and so on…

Granted, some of that is my imagination creating a scene, based on past experience, and using the rumours that I heard were making rounds.

I was crushed. Why would they do that? Murray was gone a lot. Yes, his wife had left him. Yes I was there. But the things they insinuated, that they did not say directly, left everything up to the imagination. They were wrong, but it still hurt.

Since all sexual misconduct seemed to be the responsibility of women and we were to protect men—dress ‘just so’, walk just right, don’t hold your head to high, and be careful with the eyes—I’m sure they had me pegged as a ‘free for all’. I didn’t do ‘just so’ with almost anything. I was far too carefree to think like that.

…I’m carefree….did I mention I love bubbles… and I’m ADHD…. Is this random?

Since the preacher’s son had made numerous attempts on me sexually, that could only mean one thing—that I was inviting it. In not so subtle ways, church leaders’ wives had tried fishing for information on me for years already, letting me know that I was the problem.

At one point one or two had approached my mother and recruited her to ask me if I had a crush on anyone and let me know I should not have crushes until 18. That was the church standard. (Feelings and crushes don’t follow church rules. They simply happen. Didn’t they know that? I tell my kids, “It’s normal. It’s all part of learning to know what kind of life partner you want, and connect well with.” Forget trying to make a religion out of it.)  And I must not forget… I was to tone down my sparkly eyes. They seemed much too inviting, too interested in boys.

With that history, I knew what they were thinking. For all the ‘modesty’ in the world, it seemed all of life revolved around sex. The way we walked—neglecting to note that God made our hips to rotate differently than male hips—the way we talked, laughed, dressed and pretty much everything else; it was all women taking responsibility for men’s thoughts and actions. In doing so, we became over-sexualized in the minds of men, and probably in our own minds as well. In the most tragic and subtle of ways, life revolved around sex, and not a healthy concept of it.

The rumours made me feel vulnerable, not to Murray because I knew he would never touch me, but in a general way. That was a set up for failure.

Other rumours said I had cut my hair… now I was wearing jeans and ‘worldly clothes’… Poor Trudy was fast-tracking to hell and word spread quickly. When the news reached me, I was still wearing a white bonnet and cape dress, but shortly thereafter I did a total makeover. Might as well live up to expectations. Besides, I saw no need to accommodate the culture any longer.

I left Murray’s home not long after. The time blends together in my memory, but sometime in the summer of 1986, I moved out. I couldn’t take the rumours.

I moved to New Hamburg to care for an elderly couple, and began an 18 month rebellion that could fill a book–and I am working on it–so I won’t ‘tell all’ here. A superficial glimpse will have to do.

I was angry—though I never showed the anger. I hated religion. I hated God—whoever He was, if He existed at all. If He was what they made Him out to be, then I already understood hell and mental torment. Why would I want to spend eternity with Him? If Jesus had really died and only ‘sort of’ paid the price, and if religion had God’s blessing with their abuse, and their ‘sanctified gossip’, also known as the prayer chain, then how was God to be trusted?

A volatile, inconsistent, angry God, did not interest me much. My Dad had played that role all my life, and one dad like that was more than enough. Two was definitely too many.

I would make it on my own, do it my way, without Dad, without God.

…To be Continued…

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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

Spiritual Abuse Part 26__Shunned…Continued…. (2)

I had stopped working as a cleaning assistant to the girl from my former church. Concerned that she was the ‘private investigator’, carrying home any information she gathered on me–whether perceived of true–I removed myself from ties with her.

Once again Matthew 18 was out the door, with no attempt to talk to me before firing bullets from behind the preachers. Though, if they were functioning true to character, they would have drilled her on it and left her with little choice but to say what she knew.

Needing an income, I had applied at various local business and was soon hired by Midtown Machining. I ran machines like, drills and presses occasionally, but mostly lathes, and I loved it.

When the owner, Mr. Bender, and his brother interviewed me for the position, I told them that my father was a machinist. Confidently, I assured them that I was the person they needed, having helped my dad run his equipment. I failed to mention that I had only done so twice–once at age 7, and once at age 11.  Still, I wasn’t lying–I had helped Dad–and I knew I would do well. And I did.

Each day I made little gun parts, measuring down to 1000th of an inch. Perfection was the order of the day and I was proud of my abilities. Only once or twice do I recall the machine settings changing. I had applied too much pressure and Mr. Bender was a bit frustrated with me.

Bruce, my supervisor, was a kind, fatherly man. He never ‘preached’ or made a big deal of it, but I knew he believed in God. We only talked about it a time or two.  It was almost as if God had placed him there to show me gentleness and kindness. Like Grandma Katie, he made me feel valued, and treated me with patience and respect. He took time to encourage gentleness and femininity in me–a ‘rough and tumble’ young tomboy of a girl, quite ‘fresh off the farm’.

Within a few weeks of being excommunicated, I learned of an opportunity not far from my work place. A Christian gentleman, Murray Bisch, needed someone to care for his daughters in the morning before school, and in the evening. I made the call, met Murray, and was soon the nanny to his beautiful little girls.

Murray’s home was a safe place for me. He treated me with respect and dignity. I never feared for my safety in any way in his home. Only once did he touch me, and that was after asking if he could put his hand on my shoulder to pray for me, as I wept over rumours in the church that I was now living with a man. When I heard the rumour, I was devastated. I was a virgin, not counting any childhood sexual abuse I had suffered. The rumours cut to the heart. Murray prayed over me that night, inviting Jesus into my pain.

He understood betrayal. He had his own pain and grief to walk through as a single dad. I didn’t tell him what the rumours were, but he saw my pain and laid aside his own pain, to show me God’s love.

Again, God had not abandoned me, but provided an ‘angel’ to be there and show His heart.


 (Photography and graphic design courtesy of Rod Fritz, HotRod Studio.)

God brought this connection full circle more than twenty years later. We now attend the same church as Murray’s daughter and her family. Murray’s son-in-law Rod does graphics and design for Faith Girls Unleashed, our women’s ministry, as well as for Generations Unleashed, a ministry that we are about to launch  for men and women.

A year ago Murray, and his lovely wife Doris, allowed Faith Girls Unleashed to move in with a group of women, and use their gorgeous property for a day! (See photos above.)

Nothing is lost or wasted with God. What the enemy set out to use for destruction in my life, through excommunication and shunning, didn’t go according to plan. For several years I turned my back on God and wrecked my life in many ways, but I came through stronger and better. Through it all, God brought many wonderful people into my life, and  connections that I could not see back then, as I stumbled through the darkness of my pain.

That is why He is the Redeemer. That is why I love Him… One of so many reasons!

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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