Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Justice: Becoming Free

"Flying Free" by 9-yr old Resident Artist

Now, on to much lovelier topics.  I really want you to read this . . .

I want to share a story with you about a person named Justice.  Justice is not this person's real name and you'll have to pardon the awkwardness of pronouns in this article because I am not going to reveal whether Justice is male or female for privacy reasons.

A number of weeks ago, I got word from someone who was formerly at the church that he/she had been reading the blog and wanted to contact me and tell me his/her story.    Because I've been getting so many e-mails from strangers, I wanted to see if this person was legitimate.  Justice gave me the names of a couple former members I might know for verification, so I contacted them. 

Both contacts told me:  you must hear this person's story.  Could this person really share more with me than I had already heard?  I didn't think so, but agreed to talk.  We exchanged information and set up a time for a phone call. 

The scheduled time came for Justice to call me and the phone didn't ring.  Thirty minutes passed and the phone remained silent.  I sent a couple messages to those mutual friends on Facebook to see if they knew what was going on.  One of those friends sent me a message saying they were speaking with Justice on the phone at that moment.  I asked if they could tell Justice that I was ready to speak.   My friend replied that Justice knew, but he/she was scared to talk with me.   I thought to myself:  come on, you've read my blog,  I'm on your side, there's nothing to worry about.

The fear that Justice was feeling hit me like a ton of bricks.  The fear was paralyzing him/her.   Justice, knew in his/her mind that I was a "safe" person to talk to, his/her friends had vouched for me, but Justice still had to overcome this fear. 

By the time we finally connected by phone, I could feel the fear in his/her voice.  Justice acknowledged to me that he/she was physically shaking.

With perfectly executed timing, my children started arguing.   Isn't that a universal phenomenon?  Parent gets on phone, children act up.  But what a beautiful time for Justice to catch his/her breath, hear that life is fairly normal at the Smith home with kids who act like kids and begin to argue when a parent is on the phone.  I think that interruption helped calm some nerves and that's how we started the conversation:  discussing that crazy phenomenon of kids' behavior while parents are on phones.    That broke the ice.  Thank you, dear children,  . . . . just this once.

After that intro, we started talking.   I heard story and then another.  The stories made my heart grieve.  I felt physically sick to my stomach.  I won't share specifics of what Justice endured.  That is his/her story to share.

But here is a small part of Justice's story.  Justice suffers from flashbacks.  Sometimes Justice would read a story from my blog and it would trigger his/her own memories from the past.  Justice would re-live what had happened to him/her all over again.  Sometimes it would take days to get rid of the memories so that the day could begin fresh.  This has happened time and again since reading my blog.   It's hard, but it's pushing him/her one more step to healing.  As time goes by, the flashbacks will diminish and be replaced with a calm peace with only a distant memory of the pain.  But at least the pain will not overwhelm anymore. 

When you have experienced emotional trauma in your life, one of the most scary feelings is the sense of being alone.  The cycle of triggering memories and re-living the pain has been difficult, but it was very helpful to finally realize that while Justice had once felt alone in these memories, reading the stories of others made him/her realize that he/she was not going crazy and imagining these situations.  These experiences he/she read about really did happen to others and it made Justice realize he/she was not alone.  Even though the stories I have posted may not have occurred at the same time as Justice's experiences, there was an emotional connection with the person in the story.

As time has gone by, this very timid and fearful Justice has gotten more bold.  Justice has realized how much he/she has lost because of his/her experiences at the church, and Justice wanted to speak out.  Perhaps you have read some of Justice's comments.  Even though Justice uses "Anonymous" to post,  Justice now has a voice.  For once, Justice's thoughts and words can be seen and read by everyone who reads this blog, including those who have and continue to shun him/her.  It is very powerful for someone who was hurt to finally have a voice.  That voice says:  I don't have to hide anymore, I can tell my story, I can express myself, I am free from the being held emotionally captive and the fear.

Come to me, 
all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest. 
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, 
for I am gentle and humble in heart, 
and you will find rest for your souls. 
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. 
(Matthew 11: 28-31)

That is what this blog is about and I have been wonderfully thrilled to have a small part in this "gathering" place and discuss what was never, ever to be discussed.  People, if you have never experienced spiritual abuse, you need to really get this part of the picture - the emotional scars of spiritual abuse can take years and years to heal and only prolong in silence.  In order for healing, the truth must be exposed and the heart needs to feel safe to heal.

Amidst Justice's daily past emotional demons, Justice continued to send me private notes of support.  Wow, that blessed me.  He/she told me that what I was doing here was so important and was helping him/her as well.

And then, Justice did probably one of the most powerful things he/she has done.  Justice, whose voice was once silent, decided that this story needed to be shared on a larger scale.  Justice and a dear friend took it upon themselves to let the local media know of our case.  Within only hours, the e-mails were coming in requesting interviews and Justice and his/her friend coordinated those efforts with me.

Justice, it is because of YOU that this thing went viral.  This was such a monumental feat for you to do despite the amount of pain you have suffered.  I know there are days that are paralyzing for you, but what you did not only affects you and members from our former little church, but you enabled the world to know about the problem of spiritual abuse. 

I began one Google review and blog which started things,  but what you have done is amazing!  I'm having a hard time keeping up with the personal stories in my e-mail that are telling me "thank you" for doing this.  Reporters introduce me by saying that this story (Justice, YOUR story) has gone crazy viral all over the world and back and around again   And I have to publicly say,  Justice you did it!  I am so proud of your strength.

The pain that you have experienced is now being used worldwide for His glory as He has given us the opportunity to expose to the world what some churches have been hiding for years - the problem of spiritual abuse.  It's time to clean up the churches.  There are so many spiritually abandoned sheep.  God is the Good Shepherd who tends His sheep and does not want to lose even one of them.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:27

I am so excited about this aspect of this story.  One person.  Just one person!  Do you see how valuable you are?  And I also want to give a shout-out to that dear friend who has stood beside you, showing you unconditional love, grace and genuine compassion.   

Justice's friend:  you know the true meaning of friendship.   Thank you, too!

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.   Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15:12-13


  1. Thanks Justice! May you find complete healing in our great Physician, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Romans 5:3-5 "...we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

    Julie Anne taught me about 'cyber hugs', so consider yourself cyber hugged by another BGBC Survivor!

  2. There are times when people who haven’t experienced the same thing we have can act as advocates and infuse us with strength during our weakness and need. However, this whole series of incidents seems to be one of those times when God empowers and works through people with direct empathy - spiritual abuse survivors themselves who have such a similar experience that they know from the inside out what it’s about.

    The Lord truly has used the voice of Justice to bring hope and encouragement to hundreds of people who have been reading and commenting and beginning to tell their own stories in all of this. Julie Anne, thank you for sharing this snapshot of a providential behind-the-scenes story; “Justice,” thank you for your overcoming courage and tenacity; and “Justice’s” friend, thank you for being part of a chain of divine dominoes that is bringing light into the darkness …

    1. I think it really was Providential. It hit me all of a sudden and I cried and cried thinking of it all - how it's not just me, it's US, all of us sharing our stories, bringing out the awareness. We all are working together in this cause.

    2. Hi, Julie Anne,
      This is not a comment on this particular post, but on the blog in general. I have bookmarked it and hope to come back and read more of it soon. I just didn't want to leave your site without giving you a word of encouragement and thanks.
      There are many cases of spiritual abuse and they don't always indicate that the church has gone all the way to becoming a cult. I think by their very nature non-denominational Bible churches are in danger of falling into church abuse, because evangelicalism puts the charismatic pastor at risk of becoming prideful, especially if surrounded by deacons and/or elders who don't call him or her to task.
      I have a long history of church membership, starting with a rather legalistic Bible church when I was a child and progressing through attendance at eight more churches in various cities as an adult. I left the last one, a large church with multiple Sunday services, when the elders decided all the services had to sing the same songs and all the Bible classes had to study the same chapter of the Bible at the same time (the same one the teacher was preaching on that Sunday)!
      One of the things I've learned is that we can walk away with our faith intact and keep on praying for those who are still involved.
      Keep up the good work -- it seems like you've found your ministry, at least for the time being.

  3. really cool....and thanks for sharing! Praying this case gets tossed out soon....

  4. I have long shared on my support group (and others) that you never know who you may help by sharing. And look what has happened here. :) And something else holds true in this, is that you will never know some of those who are helped, just by one person sharing. One person, indeed, makes a difference.

    I have had in person support group meetings and people are always nervous beforehand. Lots of fears. But they push through them and overcome and much comes from meeting others who understand. We are having one near Columbus, Ohio in late June.

    Understand this about unhealthy churches- fear permeates the teachings. So it is no surprise when those who leave, or even simply think of leaving, grapple with fear and triggers.

    Kudos for pushing past the fear! And keep sharing, find a safe and healthy place to work your way through the issues, and know that there is life outside of unhealthy and abusive groups.

    1. That is a good point about fear. I'm reminded that so many people were in a constant state of fear about their salvation - constantly questioning whether they were really saved. There's no joy in that!

    2. Hi Lois,

      I'm from Columbus Ohio and would be really interested in hearing more about this event. My situation was nowhere near as intense or excruciating as many of the people who have spoken up here but it was definitely manipulative and had elements of abuse. I'd appreciate any information you could share and I know of others who could benefit as well. You can email me at sarah [dot] hyatt [at] me [dot] com.

      Thank you!

    3. Sent you an email, Sarah. If anyone is interested in the support group, please see as that will explain a little about it. You might also be interested in our Facebook page, where I have linked to a couple articles about the Beaverton situation.

      Julie, you may be interested in an article I wrote years back on comforting people. It is a role you now play.

    4. Thank you, Lois. I appreciate it.

  5. Hello, I just wanted to say I completely understand. I am a military spouse also and move a lot too. Finding a new church that teaches God's Word at what He said and not to there own views is hard. I have also been asked to leave one to may church's because my boys have special needs. I really do understand. Know that you are in my prayers threw this all. I Pray Thats GOD'S WILL BE DONE!!! Because HIS WILL IS PERFECT!!! BLESS YOU!!!

    1. Thank you. That really saddens me to hear that you were asked to leave because of your boys with special needs. God cannot be happy with that! But actually, you were better off not being there!

  6. Although I am not a Christian and thus do not attend church, I have heard many horror stories from people who are churchgoers. I am so proud of you Justice for being so very brave and telling your story. May God bless and keep you. And to Julie, thank you for also being so brave, and might I say bold, in your pursuit of justice. Thank you both.

  7. I am one of those who never would have learned of this without the lawsuit. I realize it is painful and hurtful and incredibly stressful but Romans 8:28.

    If all that happens is people think twice about easily trusting who works with their children, then that is all things working together for the good of those who love God (the part of your story about questioning someone with access to the children). You are obviously called to his purpose. Too many people easily trust the church. I even have a pastor friend whose teenage daughter was raped repeatedly by a teacher - this happened in church after worship on Sundays. Their were no danger signs or rumors or past history, but we tend to trust those who help at church. Everyone who works with children in every church in the world may be beyond reproach, but it is our responsibility as caretakers of these children to ask questions, always. Are background checks done? Is there two-deep leadership? Are there windows in all Sunday School room doors and on the pastor's door? Trust is huge in helping people grow in their faith. A little hassle can ease people's minds and open their hearts to the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

    But even beyond that, your story reminds us that as Christians, we are called to question one another in all things. Would the disciples have ever learned without it?

    1. Excellent, excellent comment, Jaci.

      Just yesterday, someone sent me a personal e-mail telling me of a situation of a pedophile who was in the church, but the pastors did not inform parents. This dear mama never let her boy go to the restroom by himself anywhere . . . . . except church, where she felt it surely was safe.

      We tend to put our guard down at church. Yes, it's good to be comfortable, but we must always be vigilant about safeguarding our children. We must never forget that sexual abusers most often abuse those they know. The church is an easy target with close relationships, gatherings outside the church, etc.

      I think I may use your post to springboard on that topic, too. Thanks so much!

    2. In the case of a registered sex offender, there are ways to deal with the situation that allows the person to be part of a church community while also allowing families to know their children are safe. Not everyone needs to work with children. Churches can also explore using the "Safe Sanctuaries" program to train volunteers who work in the children's ministries.

      Consider if you do expand upon this topic, that 95% of victims of clergy sexual abuse are women. We tend to think of that as an "affair," thus ignoring the power relationship that exists. BGBC's doctrine (yes, I had to see it all for myself!) states that the elders are the authority and the church people are to trust them. That's the perfect situation - women are taught to trust their pastors and believe them when they are told that a situation is okay, or of God, or that something is under control, as in the situation of a sex offender with access to children.

      I think your biggest message is that it's okay to not trust every word that comes out of a minister's mouth. They are people, just like you and me. Like you and me, they have faults and failings. I know a lot of ministers. The ones I have the most respect for question themselves and acknowledge their failings.

  8. I can't help but smile as I think of how this kind of preacher and your 'ex' are all 'livid and purple in the face' right now--for they've lost control over the situation--they're being exposed. I smile and thank the Lord how He worked this out. Your ex-"preacher" has now shown the world just HOW unBiblical he is and what un-Christian attitudes he always had and has now helped your voice reach the world. (They tried all this on me and it hurt and demolished the trust my husband had in me--even adding false accusations toward me to finish us off). They added their unBiblical addendums to Scripture:(their) "rules" about no phone calls and emails--with the attitude of 'how dare you use the mind and voice God gave you? You're to be one of our zombie followers and drink the Kool-Aid'.) Forever through Biblical history, tyrants have tried to silence the 'watchmen' in any way possible--using every trick imaginable. A judge surely would see that you are not trying to cause your 'ex'preacher any harm by retaliation, (he is causing his own demise thankfully)-- but you are under conviction to expose things that will hurt others the way you and I have been hurt. You and I have just said in our situations: "Hey, look out. Wait a minute. The 'emperor' (in his own mind) has no clothes on people!" The Lord has called us to be 'watchmen' so He has given you a way to do it. I praise Him with you!

  9. Your story is POWERFUL. My Story is POWERFUL. I've begun again to tell my story. I was a member of a small Baptist church and still years later am affected by the "Pastor's" treatment.

    What some may not understand is that when "Asked to leave" ...its done under cloak and dagger, and is meant to be swept under the rug. My "Pastor" became ENRAGED when I called a couple members to say goodbye. He said I was "Poisoning" the well, etc. (I am looking for the emails he sent to me". Months later, I called a member I had tea with regularly, and thought perhaps I could stop by. They in turn, called the Pastor who left a scathing reply on my answering machine, "THE TIME FOR TEA IS OVER".
    Keep on. Your words encourage and strengthen others.

    1. I have touched on this topic a number of times (I think the tag is "leaving the church").

      Isn't that the oddest thing - as if a pastor thinks that once you are part of their fold, you are always a part of your fold? Why can't some pastors let their congregants go? What's UP with that? It's the most bizarre thing to me.

  10. Hang in there. God will prevail and I really believe one day He is going to rain down his punishment on all these so-called "Christians" who twist things around for their own self-serving needs. Studies show that the evangelical movement is in serious danger of collapse because of this very type of behavior your former pastor has displayed. And that collapse can't come too soon for me. We do not need cults and hypocrisy poisoning the public's view of Christianity. Jesus is about loving your neighbor and taking care of His lambs.

  11. I must confess myself mystified as to the nature of 'Justice's' complaint, which seems to be lacking in a certain, shall we say, precision. What exactly is it that he or she is alleging was done to him or her?

    1. That is Justice's story to tell if and when he/she chooses to disclose. The purpose was not to discuss the specifics, just the process and how his/her strength in the recovery process contributed to making this one of the most popular news stories in the Nation and drawing attention to the real issue of spiritual abuse.

  12. Just a thought to any readers, what is spiritual abuse? After all, this is why Julie Anne reviewed on google, to warn others. Then started the blog, to educate herself and others...interesting what wikipedia says...knowing this isn't THE ultimate authority but layman's terms this site does give some pertinent information...ULTIMATELY I believe the WORD of GOD defines what 'we' have gone through very clearly in Matthew 7 as well as other texts.
    This isn't really about blasting a man or a church, its about understanding the pain and confusion that has taken place. God's Word is healing and life giving. I am so very grateful for a forum where I can come together and begin to understand the pain I have endured. I thought it was just in the 3 and a half years since leaving, now realize its been the last 17 years of being under such my OPINION.
    Praying for God's care in this whole mess, for HE cares for me.

  13. @Fredericka
    I am Justice. There are details to my story. Unfortunately, part of the oppression and fear that comes from being in a spiritually abusive relationship (in this case at BGBC), is exactly that fear. Fear of being pursued and hunted down as I have watched pastor chuck do to so many people I know. I don't have any fear that he would call what I have to share defamation, I fear him trying to come back into my life to shame me, ridicule me, lie about me, and try to reinsinuate himself into the lives of my family and friends. I still have friends at BGBC. Oh, not those who are permitted to speak to me or of me, but friends that I hope that someday God will bring back into my life if not before we meet in heaven, then there. I know dozens of people who have left and I have watched chuck try to manipulate them even though they were gone from his church. And as more people leave, it's actually heartbreaking to watch some of them try to repair relationships - even among families - that chuck has destroyed with his LIES from his pulpit. And his victims are left questioning not only who they are to our Heavenly Father, but to sort through everything said about the other "defectors" in order to learn what was true and what was fictionalized.
    I agree that Julie Anne's purpose wasn't to create a shocking forum to hear description after description of specifics on abuse by chuck. It was to create a safe haven to reach out to those in pain, and to shed light on a topic that I think even most christians are loathe to admit exists. We believe in a Heavenly Father who loves us so much that He is not willing that any should perish. He lays it on our hearts, even commands in His Word that we are to reach out to others, speak His truth in LOVE, in order to draw more of His people into a relationship with Him. It's hard to accept, and then to admit, that your pastor/church is preaching a gospel of works and hatred or intolerance, when in your heart you know that God is NOT that, and He is so much more. Our heartfelt desire is not that any of this should cause another to stumble in his walk or that some would use this as vindication to turn their backs on God. This was started to reach out to those who are hurting, minister to their brokenness, start the healing by surrounding them with God's love and let them know they aren't alone.
    I will share more as time goes on, if this is allowed to continue to be that forum. But not to heap more coals on chucks head. It is because my fervent prayer for years has been this: if by my story, just one person can find healing, comfort, courage, and draw close to the Great Physician, then I will know He has graciously allowed me to do work for Him, and again fulfilled His promise to His people, that He is in control even over the affairs of men as Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive".

  14. My heart goes out to Justice! Having come out of a spiritually abusive church myself, 15 years ago, I can appreciate what he/she has been going through. And, it sounds like Justice may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Love and prayers for his/her healing...

  15. @anon 9:46
    I am indeed suffering from ptsd. And dissociative disorder. Unfortunately I grew up in an abusive home, married a horrible abuser who spent many years abusing me, and beating me down. I "fit" perfectly in chucks church. Chuck had rules that if you followed you were good. I wanted so much to be good! When people post on here "why didn't you leave if it was so bad?" it breaks my heart. When you are in an abusive relationship there are so many reasons you don't leave. This has always been so hard to get across to people who don't know abuse. It is one of the most misunderstood and most difficult things to explain. When you have been trained to believe so little in yourself, you don't believe you have the right, and it is almost impossible to see the options. God has been so gracious to me and the biggest blessing He ever bestowed on me has been my children. First, they have given me a way to comprehend His love for me, additionally, in my marriage, my birth family, and finally the church, they gave me the strength to stand up to protect them - EVEN WHEN I DID NOT BELIEVE I COULD PROTECT MYSELF. Julie Anne has taken that farther. She is giving me a voice, hopefully someday a name too, to cry out against the horrific manipulation and abuse that almost silenced me for all time. God is my healer, my protector, but I have learned through these years that He absolutely sends angels in disguise to hold our hands and hug us. Yes, put all your trust in Him, but remember, He created us to be relational beings so of course He puts people in our lives to satisfy our human need to be loved and recognized.

    A note to those of you who feel Julie Anne is not forgiving: You are wrong. I know her. And many prayers are said for chuck and his congregants. None of it has ever been hateful. Calling out the injustices perpetrated at that church is not a way to seek revenge on him or to withhold forgiveness. It has been done to shine the light into the darkness, to expose what is going on. If you aren't intimately involved in the story, or don't know someone who is, you actually don't know of the numerous attempts to speak to chuck: alone, then with christian witnesses, even christian mediators. This wasn't requested one time, but MANY. I don't know of any time that chuck has agreed to meet any of those requests, other than a few times meeting one on one leading him to tell the person who came to him "repent or leave the church". Many of us, unable to address chuck went to another church employee to address our concerns and have that person talk to chuck. He was FIRED. For sharing our questions/concerns. Afterwards, from the pulpit, chucks explanation was that this person was in unrepentant sin and had to be removed. NEVER DID CHUCK ADDRESS THE QUESTIONS/ISSUES THAT THIS PERSON BROUGHT TO HIM. But the point was made, DO NOT QUESTION CHUCK. I am not referring to arguing with chuck. I'm referring to being able to ask questions such as "why do we not allow women to speak in Bible studies? Is there a Biblical precedence?" Sometimes the questions weren't even thought of as argumentative, such as "could we put together a kid's program to teach them in "younger" language some of the Bible stories we all know and love?"

    Thank you a thousand times, Julie Anne, for bringing us to a place where we can ask questions. A place where we can come together to seek God out. A place where we can believe I John 5:13, and Phil 1:6.

    My family and I are praying earnestly to God today, that His truth will be shown, and relationships restored. Restored to Him, and also friends and family that have been torn apart may be reconciled.

    Peace and grace to you and yours, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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