Random Rants, Reformed Theology

I am a victim of church abuse

I am a victim of church abuse.

As a poor and young church musician in the late 1990s, I was taken advantage of and guilt-tripped into serving to the point of exhaustion. You may blame my own stupidity for this, but no pastors actually took me aside to explain the concept of free grace. During a time of unemployment I was told by a pastor I had to tithe on my tiny unemployment checks.

I was a devoted staff member at another church for several years and was fired without cause, and without warning. Later I was told by other pastors who were “wondering where I had been” that they expected me to continue going there and serving in the music ministry, for free. It makes me think of the line in The Godfather— “It’s not personal, it’s business.” But how are you not supposed to take it personally when your livelihood depends on your work?

Years later my wife and I were horribly mistreated at a church we had helped to plant, simply for exercising our rights as members to be the only dissenting votes in the matter of a constitutional change which would have actually prevented our own eligibility for ministry. As Secretary of the Board, I had made several recommendations about this constitutional change. We were bullied before the vote as they tried to bring us in line, and then put under discipline after it, even though we had already resigned our membership. Congregational polity is an illusion when you demand unanimity through bullying.

As a result I have come to deeply appreciate Presbyterian polity. It is good to have the accountability that is provided by a plurality of elders as well as inter-congregational councils (synods, presbyteries, general assemblies, etc.). I also appreciate churches that actually require seminary training, rather than just ordaining anybody with charisma who can say, “The word ‘therefore’ is there for a reason.”

These are a few of those details which I mentioned I had “only vaguely alluded to.” I think I’ve been less specific about such things in the past, but there is a growing online community of like-minded people who are coming out about their own situations. It’s made me a little bit braver, but I think it has also inspired me to want to speak out in a way that could actually bring encouragement to them. It helps me to know they’re there, but I hope it would help them to know there are others of us, as well.

  • Lee Irons (whom I credit with exposing me to the Framework Theory) was censured by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church because his wife Misty had written some articles about how the idea of homosexuality not being a choice was completely compatible with a Calvinistic doctrine of Original Sin. (“None of us have been able to choose away all of our own sins,” she wrote) When Irons refused to exercise his so-called God-given authority as the “head” of his wife and force her to recant, they kicked him out. He has provided extensive documenation of his case.
  • Rachel Held Evans writes and blogs about the divergence between American misogynistic Fundamentalism and the gospel of grace she reads about in the Bible. “I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals.”
  • Joyful Exiles – When pastor Paul Petry raised questions about changes to the constitution, he was fired. I totally identify with this guy. Again, there is extensive documentation.
  • Matthew Paul Turner is a “former fundamentalist” author and blogger who often seems to be a Mark Driscoll watchdog.
  • Elizabeth Esther has also experienced a whole lot of church abuse, and is one of the many bloggers I found during the Schatz case speaking out against the Pearls’ child abuse teachings.
  • Kevin MacDougall, former band mate and partner-in-crime, is also a commentator on American Fundamentalism and the Republican Jesus, and has coined the term “talibangelical”, for which he deserves a Pulitzer. [Edit: he says it wasn’t him; see comments below…]
  • N.T. Wright – A 21st-Century C.S. Lewis, some conservative Calvinist denominations have labeled Wright a heretic and declared that anyone who likes him ought to be excommunicated. Chances are he knows a lot more about God than you do.
  • Biologos – This resource has been so helpful to me since I started down this path a few years ago. It was founded by Francis Collins, who was the first to decode the human genome, who left Biologos to become head of the NIH. The mission of Biologos is to promote the fact that faith and science are not incompatible. In addition to regular posts from scientists in various fields, their blog also features posts from the likes of Tim Keller and N.T. Wright.
  • I’ve linked to it before, but it’s worth doing it again. Ronald M. Enroth’s book Churches That Abuse is available online in its entirety. I used Instapaper to read the whole thing, and I was quite amazed as I found I could relate to almost every single chapter.
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5 thoughts on “I am a victim of church abuse

  1. Thanks for this — I agree with all your bullet points except the one on N T Wright, about whom I’ll have more after Easter, if you are interested.

    All blessings to you and your family — so glad you went Presbyterian!

  2. Aw shucks, man, thanks! I can assume responsibility for all of that except the term “talibangelical,” which I saw somewhere as a one word reply to (I think) a news story on Rick Santorum (not sure where it came from originally)… All I know is, it deserves some circulation. 😉

    As for this entry, good stuff as usual. There are so many of us who can relate, but so few of us proportionately who tell these stories. We need to! As living epistles of the spirit, we have a duty to write the vision, so those who read it can run with it and be spurred on by what IS and what SHOULD BE.

    (I think I just evoked Paul and Habakkuk at the same time, mixing their metaphors in the process. I am okay with that.)

  3. Aaron–
    I am new to these blogs to which you refer, but not to spiritual abuse, having left a similar church movement in the mid-1980s and having experienced similar treatment. Talk about deja vu… One of the foremost experts on the subject was the late Paul Martin, a former elder in the same church as I, who founded Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, in Athens, Ohio, around that time. It’s still an amazing resource for anyone recovering from spiritual abuse.

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