spiritual abuse and how it shaped my identity

broken piano

My fundamentalist church-cult was incredibly small. I remember at one point counting around seventy people and thinking that it was a huge number. But, on average, we usually had around thirty or forty people regularly. At one point after my family finally got out, I sat down and made a list of all of the families the church-cult had hemorrhaged over the years we attended. I estimated over two hundred and fifty people– the church-cult had gained and lost seven church bodies in ten years.

I know many of their stories, now—have told a few of them, here. For one man, it was because the leader of the cult called his unbelieving wife a whore the single time she visited—in her nursing scrubs. She had come straight from work, and the “pastor” had called her a whore, to her face, because she was wearing pants. She died in a car accident a few weeks later.

When one family joined the church-cult, the leader invited himself for dinner, and when he arrived, sat at the head of the table—and told the husband and father that he’d sat in that chair for a reason—it was to show that he was the authority now.

One Sunday evening, the leader walked up to a woman who was grieving the loss of her mother to cancer, and screamed in her face during his sermon that she was giving Satan a way into his church by allowing demons to oppress her through her depression.

After a new couple joined the church, he told the newlywed husband that he had made a grave mistake by marrying a Chinese woman, but how it was now the husband’s responsibility to make sure his wife knew who was the head of the home.

I tell you these snatches to communicate the breadth of the spiritual abuse that happened. It was small, it was not well-connected. It was one church, one man, one insignificantly tiny congregation. Most of the people who came didn’t stay very long—but some of us did. My family was one of those who stayed, for reasons far to complicated to explain now, and because of that, I grew up in this environment—where a spiritually abusive pastor was the only kind I knew.

The spiritual abuse that was focused on me was integrally connected to my identity. The only significant part of my identity in this patriarchal and Quiverful-laden environment was that I was a woman.

However, I had something special: I was a talented pianist. I’d loved music since I was a baby, had started learning to play the piano when I was a toddler and by the time my family reached the influence of this abusive leader when I was ten, I was fairly accomplished. About a year after we joined, I was capable of becoming the church’s pianist. I also began accompanying the Ladies Chorus, who sang every other week. I absolutely loved it. I loved practicing for offertories. I loved coming up with arrangements of hymns for the Chorus. I loved improvising during the “invitation,” coming up with a new way to play every verse of “Just As I Am”—no matter how many verses we sang.

Slowly, so slowly no one in my family noticed what was happening, the church-cult and its leader took over our lives. My mother has an angelic voice, so she was frequently called upon to sing “specials.” I would play for her, and I appreciated all the attention we got and the praise the leader heaped on us. At one point when I was about twelve or thirteen, though, the leader started calling our house late Saturday night and telling my mother that he “wanted” her to sing in the morning. Sometimes these calls came so late at night that mom had to drag me out of bed so we could practice. These late-night practice sessions, at first, started off fairly well. I was excited—I felt honored that the leader had felt “moved by the Spirit” for us to perform in the morning. Over time, though, resentment grew. I didn’t want to stay up until two or three in the morning to perfect a brand-new arrangement. Me and my mother started fighting, and at one point I told her to tell the leader of the cult no—I was not putting on a “special” in the morning with no notice. If he wanted us to sing, he should have called earlier.

She agreed—but the next morning, the leader came to me and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to refuse him again—because I wasn’t really refusing him, I was refusing God. It terrified me, and made it absolutely clear that telling the leader “no” was a sin. The only thing I could offer God, as a woman, was my talent as a pianist– to deliberately withhold that ability, regardless of my feelings, was the rankest sin.

Every year our church hosted a “revival.” Over the years it became incredibly obvious to me that the leader of our church-cult told the guest evangelist of “problem members” and their “sin”—and the evangelist would target them. Supposedly, being an “outsider,” we were supposed to receive his rants as “divine revelation.” One evangelist came more than any other, and his son, Jason*, a talented musician, usually came with him.

When I was fifteen, the Ladies Chorus sang during one of these revivals, and after the service was over a few of the teenagers were talking around the piano. Jason sat down at the piano, and began sarcastically mimicking my arrangement for the song; he openly mocked its simplicity, which he dismissed as “easy” and “child’s play.” My fifteen-year-old ego was devastated, so the very next night when Jason walked me to an unlit area behind the church, I went with him willingly, happy he was being nice to me. He assaulted me, ignoring my weak attempts to stop him. When I tried to tell the pastor’s wife and daughter about what had happened, they dismissed me, telling me to “quit being so jealous because he was a better pianist than me.” I needed to surrender my pride and accept that men are just naturally more gifted, and I shouldn’t object to that.

As I got older, playing for the congregational singing became excruciatingly painful. Part of it was the church’s spinet piano—it wasn’t capable of producing enough sound, so I had to practically beat on it for it to make enough noise. My grandfather knew how much I loved playing, so he donated enough money for the church-cult to buy a new piano. The leader took me along to the music store for my opinion—which he proceeded to completely ignore. He decided to purchase a “student” piano—a piano that I was incapable of playing with my wrists and arms in the condition they were. After a few weeks of trying to play but then having to wrap my arms in ice packs to dull the pain, my mother took me to the doctor. I had tendonitis, and if I continued playing the piano I might need to have surgery.

My father told the leader that I wouldn’t be able to play for church anymore. It was a phone conversation, and I remember sitting at the kitchen table, listening to my father argue with the leader, with me listening and sobbing. Losing the ability to play for church was devastating, and for years after this I often attributed my feelings to pride. I believed that I was just upset about losing the spotlight, about not being able to show off anymore. Now, after healing some from these wounds, I can see what was really happening. My existence had been reduced down to whether or not I could play the piano. Everything about who I was in that environment was tied to my talent. The only thing I could possibly bring to God was my music. The only way I could serve him in church was through the piano. The only way I had any value as a human being was tied to this ability– because, as a woman, I had nothing else. A woman is not allowed to speak, for it is a shame unto her. A woman is not allowed to question. A woman is not capable of leadership. A woman cannot hold responsibilities, because she is innately untrustworthy. The only thing I had access to in this system was music. When I lost that, I lost everything.

After I stopped playing for church, I went into physical therapy for almost a year. It was a painful road back to health– although no one ever fully recovers from tendonitis. It plagues me every day– wrist braces, ice packs, and plenty of Advil are always within easy reach. My mother also found a new piano teacher that could work within my limits and focus on healing my body so I could keep playing. Both of these allowed me to practice, but I literally had to start from scratch. I was playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for months in order to re-learn my technique.

About six months into this process, the leader’s wife approached me in the parking lot. She took both of my hands in hers and looked me directly in the eyes. “Samantha, I’m frightened for you,” she began. “Christina* says that you’re still talking piano lessons.” I nodded my head solemnly. “Why aren’t you playing for church, then?” I tried to explain, haltingly, trying to tell her how much pain it caused, but she interrupted me. “No, no– you don’t understand. If you keep on playing the piano, but you don’t use your talent to glorify God, he will take it away from you. If you think that God will let your rebellion go unpunished . . . God will not be mocked, and you can’t serve God and mammon. You know that. You need to repent and come back to God– you need to be willing to play for Him, even if it causes you pain.” Again, I tried to explain that I was trying to preserve my talent, to make sure I could physically be able to play in the future. She just put her hand on my head and told me to remember what she had said when one day I woke up and God had taken it all away.

The terror crept in. I was sinning. I was being selfish. How dare I to presume to know more than God. I wasn’t trusting him to heal my wrists– I was depending on my own might, my own power. The arrogance. But my parents wisely forbade me from trying to play the piano in church again.

A few months later, my uncle died. My parents and grandfather left to take care of the funeral and the estate, leaving me and my sister behind in the care of one of the leader’s daughters. The Sunday morning while they were gone, the leader gave a message on the Parable of the Talents. Halfway into the sermon, he launched into one of his “illustrations.” I will never forget his words.

“There is a young lady, right here, sitting in this church service. She has a prodigious talent for music, and has used that talent here, in this church, to bring glory to God, as is her duty. But now– oh, now, she is being stubborn. She faced one solitary, tiny, easy little trial, and at the first sign of hardship, she gave up. She turned her back on God– and now she is open rebellion before Him. She has decided to put herself first. She’s decided that she is so much more important than any of us. Oh, she’s better than us. She wants to make sure she can become some famous musician and leave anything truly important behind her. She has forsaken the worship of a Holy and Righteous God, and she better look out, because he’s going to come for her. One day, she’s going to wake up and God will have reduced her to nothing. She thinks this talent is hers, to do whatever she wants with it? She’s wrong, and she will face the consequences.”

To this day, thinking about those words immobilizes me. I want to disappear, to melt away, to run and hide. While he was ferociously screaming down at us from the pulpit, I remember desperately trying not to look at anyone or anything– it felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. I remember looking to my right and seeing one of the married woman scoot further away from me, and looking across the aisle to see faces turning around, craning their necks to get a look at me.

I got home, picked up the phone, hid in my mother’s closet, and called my parents. They were horrified– but not surprised. He had done this before. He had done this so many times before. When they came home, me and my father went to the leader to confront him. Oh, no, he said– I had misunderstood him. I had mistaken him. He hadn’t been talking about me at all– it was very clearly intended for someone else.

He looked me straight in the eyes and lied to me. Lied to my father. He said I was too young and immature to really understand his true meaning. After all, and he laughed a little bit, how can you expect a girl to really understand anything?

That was the moment that I left that cult. My family didn’t leave it for another four years, but I stopped being present. I began ignoring everything the leader said. I took up journaling and writing during the church service– under the pretext of “taking notes.”

But, in many ways . . . it was too late. The spiritual abuse I had endured for years had their result. I became afraid of stepping inside a church building. I cringed at common passages and phrases. And I was trapped inside a system that told me I was worthless. That I was less than any other human being. I had no power, I had no voice. Any ability to make choices for myself was gone, scrubbed away by a fundamentalist indoctrination.

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  • Hearing this story makes me want to cry. I am so, so sorry that you went through all of that. It totally makes sense why the congregation was so small. Thank you for telling your story so that light may be shed on these destructive practices.

  • Anodos

    Wow, reading this… my heart just breaks.
    I counted at least ten different things in this article that I too have had to work through. There is so much here.
    We attended a church for many years that was very much like this… though our pastor was a bit more subtle about it. He wouldn’t call people out in front of others, but he was the same in every other way.
    These churches leave a voice in your head… a voice that fights you every step of your way to freedom. If you dare celebrate life, if you dare enjoy yourself, that voice will be there reminding you of the terrible god condemning you for it. That terrible god you learned about in sermon after sermon. The voice will remind you of problematic passages in the bible. Passages that make your heart stop. It condemns you and does its best to scare you. It can send one into a panic.
    It doesn’t work to just tell the voice it is wrong. I’ve tried many things to shut it down, but the one that has worked for me is truth. How many years of my life have I spent digging for truth with which to combat the lies? But without truth that voice has some measure of panic inducing authority.
    I remember reading in the bible itself that truth would set me free. This confused me as a boy. I would think, “I have truth. That’s what my pastor tells me, anyway. So why am I not free?” I would never question the pastor, so either the problem was me… or maybe this is what freedom is supposed to feel like?
    Ah, but truth really does set one free! My problem as a boy was that I was lied to and told it was truth.

    • You are so right– the only thing that I’ve found that can liberate me or heal me at all is discovering the *real* truth.

      Our church-cult leader didn’t start out this way– it just got worse and worse over time, and we kept hoping that if we just showed him that what he was doing was wrong, he would stop. But he never did.

    • Yes, exactly. Our string of pastors were mostly not openly abusive, a couple of them were even, I think, true pastors, caring and decent, but the elders often had the true control and the general environment and the slant of the teachings did it’s damage anyway. I lived in fear, in pain, and in chains, and I couldn’t figure out why there was no ‘righteousness, peace, and joy’ in the Christian life that I could see. Everyone around me was just as miserable. But we had the truth, so we must be free, and happy! Be happy! So we all wore hideous fake smiles and pretended and lied and lied some more. To this day it makes me physically ill, shuddering and on the verge of panic to walk into a church building or open a Bible. The horror and terror of that life scarred me deep, and I’m still working my way through a healing process.

  • Before I was born, my mother was the pianist at my parent’s church. She was told by her minister that this was her “gift from God.” Like you, she’d practice, and practice, and practice, only to have to switch song or learn new songs at a moment’s whim.

    Then…I was born. My mother started noticing problems with her hands and feet. Numbness. Loss of balance. Later, my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. As her health deteriorated, she physically wasn’t able to play the way she had before. She tried to explain this to the minister. He spouted the same sort of nonsense about the devil and allowing Satan to get a foothold. As a woman, she had very few gifts to bring to the church. Playing the piano was HER gift.

    One week, she came to church, ready to play…and she was told that the church had found a new pianist. She wasn’t playing that Sunday…or ever again. Just like that! No warning. Nothing. In that sort of culture, it was more than just “a slap in the face.” It wasn’t as though she was getting paid to play. The church had previously told her if she DIDN’T play, it was a sin. If someone, ANYONE, had come to her and said, “Look, we understand that your health is important,” she would have understood. But basically, various members of the church felt that her illness was a sin, she wouldn’t stop sinning (being sick with MS), and therefore she couldn’t be allowed to hold the position of pianist.

    My father was furious for the way the church treated my mother. Eventually, he convinced her that they NEEDED to leave that church.

    It took a LONG time for my mother to go back to her music. By the time she began to heal somewhat emotionally, her hands couldn’t cooperate. She never played in a church again, only at home.

    As a child, and through my teens, We attended various churches. I can’t tell you how many times ignorant people accused my mother of not having enough faith. The thought being, if she had enough faith, God would heal her of Multiple Sclerosis. I can’t tell you how much their thoughtless words fed into her depression.

    My mother passed away over a decade ago, complications of MS. Every few years, I still run into people who think my mother’s illness was due to a lack of faith. Ridiculous!

    • It’s amazing to me how churches like this can read Job, and witness God point-blank telling Job’s friends that they were *wrong*, and still act exactly like them. This attitude happens so often to people who struggle with chronic illness- it happened to my mom, it happened to my mother-in-law, it happened to me . . . It’s horrible.

      • my parents experienced “Job’s Comforters” when my mom went through cancer. It really makes me sad when Christians somehow twist Job’s friends into the people who were right in that “story.”

      • Agreed! Job was mentioned MANY times.

        It took me a long, LONG time to come to terms with all of this. Truthfully, I never thought my mother’s illness had anything to do with faith, but I often asked myself, why would God allow bad things to happen to good people?

        It’s only been within the last 5 years that I’ve come to terms with my mother’s illness and death. People get sick…because we’re ALL going to eventually die. It’s not about good or evil. It’s not about the kind of person you are. We ALL have some sort of pain that we have to deal with. EVERYONE has pain. EVERYONE. I’m not sure why “pain” is the elephant in the room, but it’s amazing how many people suffer in silence because they think they’re the ONLY person who has pain. In the culture I was partially brought up in, nobody really talked about their pain, emotionally or physically. They either didn’t talk about it at all, or wore their pain like it was some sort of personal cross that God or Satan had put on them to carry. Foolish nonsense!!! Pain is normal. Pain is NOT a sin. We’re all going to die. No matter who you are or what you do, from the time we are born, our bodies only have a finite amount of time on this earth. This SHOULDN’T come to a shock to anyone, but not one person is getting off this planet alive. 🙂 Death is NOT a scary thing. Death is a part of life. Our bodies are made of flesh and bone. They aren’t meant to be around forever…and that’s OK. 🙂 I learned that with all this in mind, our focus shouldn’t be on WHY did this happened in the first place. That only leads to depression. Even if you HAD this amazing answer to the “why,” (besides human flesh eventually falls apart), does it change anything? No! There’s still pain.

        In my own experience with chronic pain, I’ve had to come to terms with all of this on a personal level, too. I may not always like it, but I have to work within the parameters I’ve been given, in order to live each life to it’s fullest.

        When I stopped questioning and started accepting…I found freedom. Sure, there are things I may NEVER be able to do, because of pain. But there are TONS of things I CAN still do. YAY!!! When I stopped living as if I had all the time in the world, and allowed my pain to remind me that we only have a limited amount of time on this planet, I began looking at my life differently. I was a BIG procrastinator. I’m still battling this bad habit, baby steps, but there are things I’m doing NOW that I’d been putting off. Whether I like it or not, I may not always be able to physically DO everything I want to do. This is NOT pessimism; this is reality. I have a family of my own, and friends, and lots of good people in my life. Focusing on where I am, right NOW, has helped me become closer to the people I care about in my life. It’s foolish to live as though they’ll always be around or that I will always be around. Life is precious. Each day is precious, a gift. I haven’t exactly been thrilled to learn this life lesson, but it is what it is. Chronic Pain is NOT a punishment, it’s a part of life.

        • Thank you for this! I’ve been struggling with this question too, as I’ve gotten various comments from family and others about my chronic pain and why it’s there, and I know they’re wrong but I have had trouble finding a healthy way to look at it myself. I like your perspective on it, thanks for laying it out like that!

  • Ohhhhhh my gosh. I’m on the verge of tears. This is awful. Thank you for telling your story. I can’t place where I picked up the same idea of not using your talents and losing them, but I thought the same thing for years about writing 🙁 I figured since it had been so long since I had done it, that God was going to take it away from me.

  • oh this. ugh. I’m so sorry <3

  • rae

    Seriously. OUCH. Perfect example of how the church causes not only spiritual and emotional pain but physical pain as well. I just have no words to say, just that I understand. I get it.

  • I’m so sorry this happened. Thanks for speaking out and sharing your story.

  • You certainly don’t need my permission but I do want to lend my affirmation that your feelings of church are valid. Of course you feel that way, of course those common phrases mean terrifying things to you. And even if you never step foot inside those doors, any church doors, you are still a valuable member of the body.

    • Thankfully, after a year of not wanting anything to do with Christ, Christianity, or pretty much any church anywhere… I found one person I could cling to: a living Christ. I realized that nothing else besides Jesus really mattered.

  • O Samantha my dear sister!

    May God continue to sharpen and polish your gifts toward the building up of the body of Christ—for the Father’s ultimate glory and for your complete joy (see John 15:1-11). Keeping in mind: the nature of our reality according to the Word of Truth is that “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29).

    We know by way of the Spirit that our gifts are not subject to recall, but are uniquely given to each member of the body for the mutual edification of the community.

    After having read your above account this is what I’m thinking: Where there is a church culture that lacks true love and understanding for her members—there will be a church culture that lacks a sincere love and knowledge of Scripture. I believe these two issues hang together. Also, there will be a stifling of the Holy Spirit in these bodies. Certainly in these fundamentalist cults there is a spirit operating that is NOT the Spirit of Grace, Truth and Love—the Spirit whose house we are.

    And certainly—if yours was my church environment—as a Spirit-filled young man who was intimate with the Word of God I would have challenged the pastor—respectfully, of course, probably even openly—and called him out for leveraging lies against members of the body of Christ. But that’s me. So I ask—where were the other Davids? Where were the other righteous brothers and sisters who knew their God and His Holy Scriptures? Where were they? I’m guessing the ones who did speak out—or in other words the “rebellious ones” who couldn’t be controlled and managed—were systematically displaced and run out of church as “heathens.” They left, no doubt, for a healthier expression of church.

    The insanity of false pastors like this begs for a Scriptural answer to a most critical question concerning the nature and scope of spiritual authority. What (or Who) is the source of this authority, and to what end is it employed? Who may wield it, and for who or against is it wielded? And so forth.

    As I’m presently formulating thoughts toward answering this question I’m wanting my personal understanding of spiritual authority to be in line with the pure teachings of Scripture. I’m at least convinced that a loving, Spirit-filled girl of seven who knows how to wield her Sword of Truth has greater spiritual authority that any Bishop of Babylon. Her identity as a child of God and her ruling position as seated with Christ at the right hand of the Father provides her some incredible power and protection as she crushes the heads of serpents and scorpions. [Note this particular instance of authority is granted to be used against the enemy, not the church.]

    I see I’m being a bit long-winded here, so I’ll end my comment with an idea that is rather new to me. Fwiw, I am a 44 year-old man who has spent my entire life in some type of organized church—minus the last 13 months.

    Here’s the idea: in the church at large there is a promotion and practice of a false system of authority. I’ve only recently realized how this ecclesiastical apparatus of power and control has actually and effectively come between (and even against) Christ and His Saints. It’s an inhibitive structure. But I’ll stop short of saying more, except that because of this the Church suffers greatly, the Saints suffer too as they are often inhibited from using and maturing in the gifts that God gave the body to be exercised by all.

    Some people cling more to the idolatrous lies of their pastors than they cling to the Chief Shepherd and His Word.

    And fwiw my spiritual life has not suffered from no longer attending an organized church. It in reality has deepened and continues to mature…

    Thank you, Samantha, for the sharing of your stories!

  • That is truly horrific. I hope that you are now able to enjoy music for what it is and for yourself.

    I am grateful that I never was in a situation that abuse (to me at least – one church turned out to have a pastor who was secretly sexually abusive to some female members). I know what you mean, though, about music being the identity. I have been a violinist since a young age, and have learned other instruments since, so wherever I have gone, my skills have been in demand. I know what it is like to be looked on a a coveted commodity: a powerful weapon for furthering someone else’s agenda. That feather in the cap that can attract members to the church.

    After my (much less awful) experiences in my teens and early twenties, I attended our current church for a full year, without mentioning ONCE that I played an instrument. I NEVER let on that I played in an orchestra, and intentionally sang softly to avoid attention. Eventually, after I had observed that I was accepted and embraced without the music, I felt free to play again in a church setting. And I really to love it. I just can’t take the micromanaging and the control, and the feeling of being used that results from ministers with their own agendas.

  • I can really relate to this, especially with the music. I used to be asked to play every Sunday for church at one of our old churches, and whenever I refused, I always felt like I was the bad guy, and the person who played instead treated me like she hated me for making her play. I don’t think I will ever play in a church setting again, simply because it holds so many uncomfortable and painful memories for me.

    I totally know what you’re talking about, when you said that the tendinitis just doesn’t fully heal. I still have aches in my wrists and shoulders, and it’s been 6 years since I had to stop playing the piano.

  • Liz

    Due to medical malpractice, I had laryngitis for over a year. It took 6 months of speech therapy to restore my voice to something above a whisper. I was a light soprano (not operatic) with a range of almost 3 octaves. Currently, my range is about less than 2 octaves, one above and one below middle C, and there is a asymmetrical ‘warble’ right around my passaggio. Sometimes I can sing well, but those moments are rare, my confidence is gone, I no longer sing in church.

    I have had many people approach me and ask why I no longer sing in the choir.

    One response to my explanation hurt pretty badly. I do not blame ‘the church’ or even ‘fundamentalism’ or anything quite so broad. ONE lady had an unthinking moment and said something she’d heard that sounded spiritual or wise about pride. But instead of focusing my anger at that woman or the church I attend or something as faceless as fundamentalism, I turn to My Father who knows my heart, I let him comfort me, and I know that ALL things in my life have a purpose, even the hurts.

    Was I proud of my voice, sure, why not. I have tried my hand at almost everything, sewing, crafting, crochet, cross-stitch, programming, photography, graphic design, writing; as my husband would say, my hobby is finding new hobbies. But through it all I sang. Loosing it was like loosing a leg.

    THAT is what I still ache over. If an Olympic runner looses a leg in a car accident, no one tells him he was too proud of his legs, so God took one of them away. They RECOGNIZE the tragedy. Julie Andrews suffered something similar with a far worse outcome, and while I’m no Julie Andrews, I recognize the tragedy, I feel her pain.

    And maybe that’s the reason; through the Grace of God I can use this experience to become a more compassionate person rather than an angrier one.

  • I am so sorry you experienced this, especially as a child. What you went through is so contrary to who God is. Jesus would have wrapped you with tenderness.

    My husband and I went through something similar. As part of the “praise team” he had to practice away from home two nights a week, wear coordinating outfits with other team members, and get the performance just right. It went against everything that defines my husband, a humble man, and it took him away from our family the only two nights that were not already made busy by church activities. My writing was also controlled. Anyone who used their gifts for anything outside of the church was taking away from “building the kingdom.” As a result, we were isolated more and more from “the world” until what was left of us looked nothing like Jesus.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know it is hard, but you did it well. I look forward to reading more.

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  • Physeter

    Holy shit….
    I found your blog through Libby Anne’s “Love Joy Feminism,” by way of a link to “No Longer Quivering,” and I’m so happy you are able to share this now. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but this is really shocking…it’s hard to imagine how somebody could be so selfish and cruel to build up power for himself by destroying a young girl. The world needs to hear what goes on in places like this. Thank you so much for being brave, and I’m so glad you got out.

  • Thank you. I found this post on an fb wall. My wife was raised in a fundamentalist church in N.C. where money laundering & sexual abuse happened within a strangely thriving community. For the first 3 years of marriage my wife awoke to nightmares that have often left me wondering what ELSE happened in that congregation that I never knew about. You so eloquently have described what my wife has sought to explain through many anecdotes. Thanks, again.

  • redheadedsinger

    I was raised Roman Catholic and around 16, I started attending a Southern Baptist Church and became a Christian, not that I wasn’t before but RC’s never talk about the personal relationship with God. After attending that Church for 12 years or so, I was in the choir, I was a soloist, I volunteered to do all the choir publicity, taught Sunday school and devoted my self to the church.

    Things changed in that church and I found what I thought was the perfect replacement– a ministry to street children, a para-church organization and what I didn’t realize at the beginning, but a cult. All the things you talk about in your article about being called out in the service, about devoting all my time and money and believing that we had the word of God and the work of God on our side. The sad thing is, when I started, I really believed that God loved me– in a sweet immature way (even though I was 30 when I started attending), and today I say I got that love beat out of me. It was incredibly bad but I thought I was in the right place and that it was my last chance to be a real Christian because if I didn’t make it there, I would never get to heaven.

    I stayed because I wanted to belong somewhere. I became a member. I stayed involved 12 years. I was constantly told I was a screw-up and that I would never achieve anything that God had called me to do. I was in the worship group but was constantly told that I was taking the glory away from God when I sang instead of glorifying him. I was told that I was inferior because I could never lose weight and nothing I did would ever be good enough. I left when I decided to adopt my son, a 14 year old abandoned boy who was one of my students. We, after all, were working with abandoned kids. The leader welcomed my son but the 2nd and 3rd in command became my biggest detractors and told me that I would ruin my son’s life and that I was the worst thing that would ever happen to him. I believed that I had to adopt my son, that it was the right thing to do instead of telling him to “be warm, be filled and go your way,” So I left.

    They never saw that I have a good heart, that I love people and I go out of my way to be compassionate and generous. People say that I saved my son’s life by adopting him but he saved mine as well. Who do I show unconditional love to but him, who shows unconditional love to me but him. We have had our trials but we have come through them successfully together. He is 30 now and is an incredible man. Today, I am a school guidance counselor in a high school, I am a licensed mental health counselor and I am a survivor of spiritual abuse that almost destroyed me. I don’t always want to go to church on Sunday– I sometimes want to stay home and sleep in. I don’t feel guilty if I don’t go, if I don’t tithe or eleventh or twelveth (giving 11% or 12% on the gross, of course) and I don’t participate in the life of the local church.

    I do miss the closeness and the fellowship but I don’t trust the system. I don’t believe that they have my best at heart, that they just want to use me for what I can do. I can do a lot more than I ever thought but I don’t volunteer anymore. It is not in my DNA to give my all regardless of how great the music is, how many orphanages they support, how many meals they give away at the holidays or how culturally relevant they are. I suppose I don’t trust God and totally believe in his goodness and I don’t spend a lot of “Quiet time” and time seeking God and that I have been told is the cause of my problems with the church– but I don’t think so. It is really hard to trust when I believed the “man of God” who put me down and told me God was not happy with me… so I still have some residual effects 15 years later. It would be so great if I was free of the nagging feeling that he was right despite all I have accomplished since I left them 15 years ago.

  • merengco

    I am a man who was not homeschooled, now a university professor, who is reading these blogs about homeschooling out of curiosity. My heart just breaks reading about what you went through. I hope that you are able to heal and that one day those memories of hurtful words won’t haunt you.

  • Lisa Kramer

    Wow. Reading this, I barely kept from gasping. I too can play the piano, not nearly as well as you can though. I am sorry that you went through that. At my church I wasn’t someone who’s identity lay in being able to play the piano. I did not experience that. I am not at all minimizing what you went through. I cannot believe a leader would call a woman a whore for wearing pants. While I never experienced anything close to that, I am horrified that you did. I’m glad that you are doing better now. What that leader did is nothing short of despicable.