It began one year ago today. A simple plea that some questionable activities be stopped on the computers I administered at my old church turned into an all out war aimed at silencing me legally, vilifying me to my friends and destroying my work towards ministry. Eventually, the war grew so that it also took aim against my family and friends. I have discussed each one of those matters in the past and if I wanted to, I could document them meticulously. That's not my point today. Today, I am writing about the aftermath that makes it hard to even remember what life was like before.
Ultimately, the face of church abuse is not the legal contracts or ringing phones, programs or policies. It is relational. A gaping breach of trust occurs of a magnitude that is (I suspect) impossible to relay. And whatever the manifestation, such a breach is going to have long lasting aftershocks.
I remember visiting a larger church when I started the search for a new church home after it became clear I could not remain at the old church. I observed how the building of the church I was visiting had many rooms and, instead of thinking how great it was that this church was doing so well, I found myself wondering how many people were being abused in the bowels of the building.
As crazy as the thought was, it was tied to what I had experienced and know that others have experienced. If numerous cases of abuse could happen right under my nose, at the very church I grew up in, it is easy to start wondering about other, less familiar churches. How does one allay such fears?
I have a hard time trusting anyone anymore. I suspect ulterior motives in people whom I would have previously trusted without a second thought. I feel the fear and nausia of last summer well up inside of me again whenever I hear certain “trigger” words that related to what happened. My mind is more scattered and I have a harder time focusing on projects I need to complete.
The active assault may be over, but the damage remains. By God's grace, I can overcome the damage inflicted by the abuse. I am overcoming it. But, I would be lying if I said I have overcome it.
My family was at that church for at least five generations. I think of not only the loss of friends who knew me for most of my life, but also people who knew my grandparents for decades, knew great aunts and uncles, and so on. Families whose stories were intertwined with my family's stories. All of that was rent from us and for what purpose?
Some people from the old church have contacted myself or my mother to tell us to “get over it.” The thinking goes, if anything, we are being sinful and hurtful for not being “forgiving enough,” that if we write anything about what happened to us, it must be for revenge.
These people drastically misunderstand what happened and how great the ramifications of it are. I do not wish my experiences on them, but if they had faced the sort of fierce, sustained, abusive force from a pastor and church leaders that we did and escaped beaten, battered and somehow vilified, I don't think they would feel the same way about us. At the time when we most needed the loving care of our church family, many of them, people I would have thought we could lean on in a time of need, simply stood there and pointed at us accusingly.
I think if the roles were reversed, they would hope someone would be trying to stop the abuser rather accusing the abused.
How can anyone assume it is better to cover and excuse abuse than help to stop it? How can so many people care so little when their own church perverts the gospel? How can this be what the Body of Christ looks like?
It is not as if my old church is unique in this. This is a story that is told too many times in too many churches. One only needs to look to the headlines and spot the latest coverage of the scandal in the Catholic Church to see a large scale attempt at coverup. We as a church need to recognize how damaging church abuse of any sort is and refuse to tolerate abuse or subsequent coverups. Instead of protecting abusive leaders, we should help to aid healing in their victims.
How did we as a Church ever come to believe any other reaction was noble or even acceptable?
The sorts of things that happened to my family are wounds that cannot be expected to heal quickly. To have your pastor attempt to mentally break you into confessing things you did not do, repeatedly betray explicitly requested confidences, attempt to cover all of those deeds by trying to force his victim to sign legal agreements protecting the pastor, go on the attack against anyone who questioned his actions towards us and so on… these are scars that last.
I have seen and experienced politicking, blackmail and vengefulness of a level I had only heard about secondhand. At times the mental abuse was so intense I started to believe the lies the perpetrators said about me. I understand now how mental torture can cause a person to snap and believe almost anything just to end the pain.
If people really want to help Christ's Church, instead of seeking to quiet those who have been hurt, they should be a voice of the injured that seeks to end abuse.
The accusations are wrong when they suggest I write for revenge. The obvious question to those accusations is why I should not write about such a significant life event for plenty of good reasons. There has been an assumption from the beginning that those attacking us were free to talk as they saw fit, but we were somehow obliged to help them keep their deeds in the shadows.
My goal now is not an expose, however — I still have kept my original plan not to name names.
My goal is to help people understand what church abuse does so that they might realize that the status quo cannot be accepted when it is damaging and destroying lives. People need to hear real stories, not abstractions, to understand why it is so important to stop this disease in the church. Moreover, people who face abuse need to hear real stories so that they can understand their own situations are not normal and are not biblical — they need to be told God does not support abuse and is with them as they refuse to legitimize abusive leaders.
If people would just stand up, it would not happen. But, abuse does happen.
In the story of my life, it burst forth on May 4, 2009. One year ago.
It seems like lifetimes ago.
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