Admin note: An earlier post (Happy Tears), we discussed going back to church after abuse: what helped, what to look for, what to avoid, etc. The list was compiled and so I am posting it here (in order to have a link) and will also post a link to it in the "Spiritual Abuse Help" tab at the top of the page. A big "thank you" to those who contributed. Feel free to add more and we'll keep this list growing. What worked for you just might be the thing that works for someone else! Please share!
PS - Special thanks to a new friend and blog reader who volunteered to compile this list into a much easier-to-read list, highlighting the most important points that were posted in the comments and tied it all together beautifully. I appreciate this help!
wallflower, after leaving BGBC visited more than 10 churches until she found the right one for her family. wallflower’s advice: “Keep trying, dear ones.” You will know you found the right place by the grace and understanding and compassion and utter freedom in Christ that is evident there.
Beloved in Recovery wrote, “Many years ago, I used to be judgmental of the "church hoppers" who couldn't settle. I was taught to scorn them by those in leadership. I suppose it kept others from doing the same, because we didn't want to be scorned. I used to think "it was them." But now I stand with them and say "It wasn't us ... it was YOU!!!" ...the leadership in these abusive churches.”
Even though Penny Holgate was so hurt and betrayed by her last troubled church she still recognizes her need for fellowship and is praying for healing and asks for the prayerful support of others as she embarks on finding a good church home. Prayer is essential.
Holly encourages us, “Please don't stop looking for a church. There are plenty of good, healthy ones” out there.
Shirley reminds us that “church is not about some building or organization or programs.” We are the church by nature of being born of the Spirit into the Body of Christ.
Carol makes a great point: “Maybe REAL church, the one that makes you feel complete and full of love and wonder is where you least expect it to be... Sometimes the most spiritual, peaceful, and deeply moving experiences happen in Nature.”
Stalked Blogger recognized the need for moving slowly, the need for wisdom and discernment. SB wisely and quietly left a second church when (she?) fell victim to their judgmental spirit. Because of the ever prevalent tendency for many to misunderstand and judge wrongly, I believe SB’s advice is for us to wait and observe, to wait until others get to know your character before sharing your past experiences of abuse.
futuristguy recognized that survivors make good "spiritual barometers" for our experience has matured us and taught us how to measure “the environment of safety and healthiness there.” We can be assets to the church for we have “had [our] senses trained to discern between good and evil” (Heb 5:14). What may appear on the surface to be good weather, may actually just be a bright and sunny covering for some foul darkness beneath. Church “leaders would be wise to listen. They can't build healthy ministries if they don't understand how things can go desperately wrong. We are walking testaments to the dark side of church life...”
futuristguy continues, “The discipline of discernment is a sort of spiritual investigative reporting. We must do a lot of work to accomplish it. But it’s not all up to us. In biblical discernment, we rely on the Spirit to give us insight continually as we gather facts and make observations, analyze the material and develop tentative perspectives, and pray and process with others and refine our interpretations.
“Did you catch the phrase that said, “process with others”? If we consider discernment as a communal practice instead of simply an individual procedure, I think we will come up with better insights, fewer gaps in our perspective, and a more balanced and timely approach to our responses.”
When we come out into the shared light of the faithful ones the darkness loses its power over us, the lies begin to dissolve. Instead of bondage and self-condemnation we embrace the self-affirmation of the faithful and the life-giving freedom we have in Christ.
mustang sally recognized the value of this website that affords us all an opportunity to tell our stories and to read about the experiences of others. She writes, “it helps to know that I am not the only one who has been 'through it'.. for a while I thought that 'I' was the problem; I now see that was not so.”
Jeanette Altes reminds us that when we walk away from an abusive church, this is not a walking away from God. Quite the opposite. After twenty years of not be involved in church, she tried again. But failed for some time to recognize the “brainwashing and mind manipulation” of the church she settled into. She confessed, “Because of my abusive childhood, I was all too willing to accept the blame and responsibility for anything the seemed wrong. Must be me.” The sick, controlling Pastor would not permit her to leave.
This is a reality that must be recognized, there is a spiritual bondage that paralyzes and blinds. Once you’re free of it, you ask yourself, What sort of spell was I under? Why did I allow myself to be so deceived and controlled? Jeanette tells us, “unless you have been under that level of mind manipulation and spiritual twisting, there really is no way to explain. The fear of "being out of God's will and losing our salvation" was very real.”
The truth of the gospel is that once God has taken us as His own we can never loose our salvation. For Scripture tells us,
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39 ESV)
Nothing can separate us from the love of God, no one, not even our selves. We are eternally secure in the One who died and lives and intercedes for us to the end that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Jeanette speaks for so many of us, “I know I need fellowship, and let's call that "church." But I am not really sure what "church" is supposed to look like. And I have to wonder if God is cleaning house.”
Craig adds: Look for self criticism. As the leaders describe past conflicts do they quickly acknowledge their own mistakes and sins? Talk to members. Ask them where they agree and disagree with the leadership. Listen to how other churches are described. (JA note: some churches present an elitist attitude and talk down other churches - not good!) "If there's a conflict between a member of your
church and the leadership, how did you go about resolving that conflict in a Biblical manner?
Ken: I think the best shot at not being abused is to prayerfully observe the church, its leaders--and note how people act, and how they are treated.
Look for humility, brokenness, and a deep fear of God and love for all people in a pastor. Listen to how he speaks of those who disagree with him, his church's doctrine.
Does he smirk at doctrinal systems that he does not agree with, and present them as silly, unbiblical, even satanic, etc., as compared to his system (which, of course, is perfectly clear, biblical, etc.!)
Does he speak of gays as if there are none in the room--and they wouldn't be welcome if they were?
Does he spend much time criticizing other churches, and those who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ, such as the Catholics and Orthodox?
Is he critical of mission/evangelistic organizations with whom he disagrees as to their style and such, and does he encourage you (his loyal church member) to also be critical? Is it hard to be a divorced person, or an addict in recovery, or a relapsing addict, in his church?
Does he bad-mouth the local and federal government a lot, and disrespect governmental leaders?
Finally, a couple of BIG things that I would observe: Are the women in his church confident, assertive, and respected, regardless of the church's views on the egalitarian/complimentarian debate?
Are the children "normal"? (By that, I mean, are they free to do the goofy, messed-up things that ALL kids do, or are they so "locked down" that they live in fear of failing and displeasing their parents and pastor?)
And, last but not least--do your family and friends (who know and love you) see this church you're looking over as a good place for you, and for your relationship with them, or do they have reservations
about it, and about how it makes you treat them?
What is your policy when you become aware of physical/sexual abuse in the members of your church?
Wise words from Joy: The problem with asking questions of wolves in sheep's clothing is that they will answer as sheep. It is only through their actions that they'll be outed as wolves.
An Attorney reminds us: Has the church ever shunned anyone and how was that decided?