Church Survivors: I am Listening

Spiritual Abuse Week

It is Spiritual Abuse Awareness week in the corner of the internet I travel. It is being hosted by some truly amazing people and producing some truly amazing posts. I am learning a lot, but I confess that initially, my reaction is not to sit and listen and hold the hands of the survivors, but instead to politely interject: Not every church is like that. Please, there are some great churches out there!

I suppose that I could say that it is simply because I love the church. But, if I am honest with myself, if I sit quietly and wait for the Spirit to tell me, it is because I am uncomfortable with how blessed I have been in this way: I have never been to a spiritually abusive church. I can unequivocally recommend all three churches of which I have considered myself a member. The truth is this, just because I haven’t experienced it, does not mean that it is not real.

I remember when my body was sick. When a friendly pat would feel like an angry punch. I remember how much more it hurt when someone rolled their eyes at the pain in mine and told me it shouldn’t hurt that bad. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it did. Denying my pain did not make it better. It only made me feel like my pain did not matter.

I remember when my body was sick. I remember my dear friend and team-mate Sara noticing my smallest ticks, following me into the bathroom to check on me, and carrying my bag when she knew I could no longer carry it, but could not ask for help. She understood, even when she didn’t understand.

Last weekend I had the privilege of sitting across from a new friend as we drank coffee. She shared her story. It was a story totally foreign to me. One of power, where I had known only love, one of pain where I had known joy, one of rejection where I had known acceptance. I thought, as I was listening to these stories that were so clearly true, but foreign to me, that perhaps this is what it was like when I attempted to describe my once sick body to my healthy friends.

Spiritual abuse survivors: I see you. I am listening. I value and honor the stories you are telling. I am your Sister in Christ; I will carry these burdens when you can’t anymore.

13 thoughts on “Church Survivors: I am Listening

  1. One interesting thought, which I really intend to write about one day, is that this is why some people find blasphemy so powerful and so freeing: in some situations, it can provide a very necessary release valve.


  2. As someone who’s suffered from what I now consider to be spiritual abuse, I really appreciate this post and am going to spend time seeking out some of the blogs that are writing about this issue. I think that the analogy you draw to when you were sick is particularly apt… A lot of phrases that Christians tend to use when they talk about their faith to others are very triggering for me, and while at some level I know that when I have conversations and people offer to pray for me or try to tell me about God’s love for me, they’re trying to be loving… it often gets translated in my brain is trying to manipulate me into a belief that they’re going to use for their own benefit. It sadly makes it difficult to trust people.

  3. People are hurt by careless and cruel remarks in the church just as they are hurt by careless and cruel remarks elsewhere. That doesn’t excuse us in the church, of course. We are held to a higher standard than the rest of the world.

  4. This is a problem. I met with a friend last Thursday and listened to her disgruntled remarks about the church. I understood how she felt, but unlike her, I realized that those who commit spiritual abuse are imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Their sin is just different. I’m sorry to say she didn’t understand , but she’s open to visiting my wonderful church, so all hope isn’t lost. I’ve suffered from these “well-meaning” Pharisees before, so I hope to someday show my friend the truth.

      • I realized that my first comment may have been somewhat less than useful so I’m going to elaborate…

        I’ve been following the blogs listed above during spiritual abuse awareness week. I’ve read nearly every story, and I have my own. I don’t know what particular topic your friend was addressing with her “disgruntled remarks” but the subjects being discussed here are not trivial. The survivors I’ve read about (and myself) are way beyond “disgruntled.” We’re angry and we have every right to be. We’ve been manipulated, coerced, shamed, shunned, silenced, devalued, dehumanized. Accused of lying. Accused of undermining and usurping authority by daring to defend our very right to exist. We’ve suffered physically and mentally as well as spiritually.

        We don’t need you to show us the truth!
        It would help somewhat if you were to acknowledge that our version of Truth is every bit as valid as yours, but frankly, we aren’t holding our breath waiting for that to happen. (We can’t afford to let our recovery be dependent on what anyone else does or doesn’t do.)

        It really didn’t take me long to figure out that those who abused me were imperfect sinners.
        But they AREN’T just like the rest of us.
        And therein lies much of the problem.
        I was taught from Day 1 that my religious leaders were Ordained and Anointed by God. Touch not God’s anointed! (meaning that you can’t speak a negative word against them no matter how true it is.) Questioning their judgment and authority is no different than questioning God. There are no checks and balances, no system or entity exists that can hold them accountable for their words or deeds. Women, in particular female children, are NOTHING compared to them. Because, hey, God says so!
        Even when they cross the line from being imperfect sinners to committing felonies, they usually get away with it because no one in their world (or the victim’s) is willing to stand up to them.

        You can’t just tell us “Not all churches are like that” and expect us to immediately ‘understand’. It’s going to take a long, long time and a long series of healthy interactions before you’ve earned our trust. In the meantime, not talking about us (right in front of us!) like we’re lacking the wisdom you possess would go a long way.

  5. I really appreciate what you have written here. A lot of people think we need to just get over it. Trust me, we’re trying! I have a chronic illness that I would love to just get over, as well. It isn’t happening, though, and I have to learn how to use it for God’s glory. Same with the effects of abuse.

    • I, too, have chronic illness. And I attribute much of its cause and continuation to the abusive spirituality and abusive sexuality that I grew up with and was taught to deny. My body simply had enough with the ignorance and “turning the other cheek” and “get over it/let it go/forgive”, the victim-blaming and “think about the abuser as just another sinner like you.” My body wasn’t and isn’t going to let me lie to myself or anyone else about it anymore.

  6. ” I will carry these burdens when you can’t anymore.”

    I have been following the Spiritual Abuse Awareness blog-o-rama and none of them made me cry like this line. I was spiritually abused as well as sexually abused by my spiritual leaders. I buried the memories and lived a long time in denial, and just plain ignorance (who’d ever heard the term spiritual abuse back in the 70s?). Just accepting that my experience in church and at home was abusive has been a heavy burden. Having also to carry the burden of proof to Christians has been more than I could carry sometimes, and I have simply walked away from many a conversation and relationship when it got too heavy.

    To hear you, a total stranger (really, total. I just found your blog today via a link to your rape/consent post), state so positively that you will share the weight of my experience….I can’t really even put it into words how powerful a statement that is. I am crying now as I haven’t been able to cry is many many months. Actually, maybe I’ve never cried in such relief, for the simple joy of knowing there is someone who is prepared simply to be with me without judgement or a to-do list.

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, from the depths of my very happy (and soggy) heart.

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