Theology

struggling to find a safe place in church

church building

Every time I walk into a church service, I feel fear.

Every time I listen to a sermon, I wait. Wait for the words to cut and make me bleed again.

Every time I open my Bible, I flinch at the voices in my head.

This is what being a Christian has become for me. I’ve been avoiding writing about this, because anytime I think about it, I feel exposed and raw. But… church, and Christianity itself, rarely feels safe for me anymore. I don’t feel protected, I don’t feel valued, I don’t feel loved.

I am told, by Christian leaders who have followers in the millions, that my existence as a woman is inconvenient for them, these powerful men. My body is distracting to them, merely a temptation. My feelings are unworthy of their attention– the fact that I have emotions and am willing to acknowledge their rightful place makes me week, inferior.

I am told that even though I am a victim of psychological, emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse, it is within my power to bring healing without their help. They only seek to challenge me to grow outside of my bitterness and hatred. Let it go, they say, in what feels like one voice. You are the one holding yourself back. And when I ask for space, for time, for safety, I am denied. We won’t cater to the lowest common denominator. It’s up to you to bring yourself to our level, not the other way around.

So I run to my Bible, and in the Gospels I find peace. If nothing else, I can cling to Jesus, the man who loved the broken. But every time I start feeling comfortable with a book like Romans, a man in my facebook feed uses chapters 8 and 9 to tell abuse victims that we are not living the life God wants for us. We’re not mature. We’re letting our “Christian depression” get the better of us. Let go and let God they say. Or, I try to find comfort in a book like Galatians, but then I reach chapter 5 and all I want to do is run and cry and scream because all I can hear from those verses is Samantha you are wholly corrupt and doesn’t the fact you desire comfort mean you shouldn’t have it?

And then I read an article, and I spend an entire week digging into yarek naphal, a euphemism for miscarriage, and I go searching, begging for answers. From the Christians, all I receive is silence. I send out letters to famous translators, to the committees that decided to translate it miscarry, asking them why, and all I get back is three lines that mean go away and leave us big, important men alone little girl. So I turn to Judaism, and that’s where the peace begins to come. Because I don’t know what to do, what to think about Numbers 5:27 and God forcing abortions, but they speak calm and comfort. Isn’t it possible that God understood their middle-Eastern Bronze age culture? Isn’t it possible that the Sotah meant protection for innocent wives, protection from jealous husbands who had no cause to be so?

And I struggle. I wrestle with God and his church.

Because I don’t want to leave. I desperately want to stay, but it’s hard when on Sunday morning it’s the men who get a four-week mini-series on how to be epic, on how men have a vision to change the world, but women receive thank you for being our mothers. A man can fight and win against the furies to receive honor, but women, we labor to bring new life into the world, and they give us a rose.

It’s hard when on Tuesday night it seems like no one in that room understands doubt and fear and struggle. If you’re an atheist, it’s because you’re denying God. You are blatantly ignoring mountains of evidence. You are “willfully ignorant,” and look, Peter says so and all I want to do is throw my Bible across the room and scream THAT BOOK WAS PROBABLY NOT EVEN WRITTEN BY PETER.

Some days, I can’t believe in anyone besides Jesus, but I don’t even know what it means to believe. I curl up in a ball and weep, desperately clinging to the last shred of faith it feels that I have left. And then I go to church, and it feels like that last shred is being torn away from me in a cloud of dizzying confidence and practiced ease.

I wonder– am I the only one in this room who doubts? Am I the only one who struggles? I see hands being lifted up, and bodies swaying, people around me sing-shouting about the mercies of God, and I want to know do you know what that means?

I feel like a liar, a cheat, a charlatan. I sit in church, I lead Bible studies, and I realize that I can make-believe, I can pretend. The confidence, the self-assurance? It’s coming from me. I can read Esther and try to find something in it, something worth sharing, and I arrive at Bible study with my neatly-packaged truism about being like Mordecai, who didn’t know what to do, where to turn, but who didn’t spend time agonizing over it– he only did what he thought to be best, and left the rest to God. And that should be us, I say– we can only play the cards we’ve been dealt. But, mostly, I identify with Haman, and I try to say that, but there’s a nervous titter. Haman, the man who wanted to commit genocide? And I think yes, because he’s the only human character in this entire book. Haman is the one who feels real to me.

And I hate that the words of the Bible have been used to damage me, that I can still hear the voice of my cult leader screaming in my head, telling me all I need to know, and I hate that I can listen to someone I know beyond all doubt is a wonderful, loving man, who will say the exact same words. He doesn’t scream them, but he doesn’t have to.

And I hate that walking down the hallway to the auditorium feels like being led to slaughter, that the only thing that’s waiting for me in that darkened room is all my fears. I sit through the song service because of my physical pain, and I know that people probably aren’t staring, but I don’t want to look around, because I’m afraid that they are. Afraid of the people from my childhood that would have seen, and would have told me that the worship of God deserves my respect. I listen to the sermon, barely breathing, because the pastor is a good, good man, a man I know has lived through brutality, but I wait. Wait for him to say the one thing that could start to unravel me. And that won’t be what he wants, I know that, but that doesn’t help. I shrink into my seat and fight with myself just to listen.

I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one struggling. Here, from my readers, I hear the same struggles. I see them played out all over the internet, on twitter, on blogs, in comments. Slowly, I realize that twitter is more my church than anything else has been. I have more communion in talking to friends I’ve never seen than I do in my church building, with people who are looking me in the eye.

I want this from my church: I want a safe place to come, knowing I am not the only one with questions, and walk with people who aren’t more interested in comfortable answers than they with walking in the gray and shadowy place with me, the place where answers come rarely, if at all.

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  • Lisa at Broken Daughters wrote a post about how she’s struggling with similar issues recently. (WordPress wouldn’t let me post this comment with a link, but her post is called “The Great Punisher” if you’d like to Google it. The experiences you’re both struggling to heal from sadden me, because we non-fundamentalist Christians aren’t doing enough to counter the abusive theology you’ve suffered and are still suffering from. You’re instincts are right about the Jesus of the gospels; Christianity is supposed to bring peace and comfort. It’s a pity that so many people pretend the bible begins with Genesis 2, ignoring the fact that in Genesis 1 God created male and female in his image, equally. If you’re finding safety and fellowship on the internet, then please keep doing that. Some of us are proclaiming a message of grace and healing, but we’re not doing enough to be heard.

    • Karen, thank you for this lovely comment.

  • I do *so* understand what you are feeling. I’ve been through this myself. I want to tell you what I’ve found that allowed me to heal, but I don’t want to dismiss what you’re feeling now. Waiting for that other shoe to drop. Waiting for the stupid assumptions. Waiting for the dismissal of your thoughts and feelings. Waiting for the dismissal of *reality*. It just sucks the life out of us, doesn’t it.

  • You are definitely not alone. I can barely go to my baby sister’s musicals at her Baptist church without panicking. It’s awful. I absolutely believe that God is real, and present in my life, but I want nothing to do with the churches and church people that have hurt me.

    I know Elizabeth Esther struggled with attending Evangelical churches, and she eventually converted to Catholicism. I’ve been attending an Episcopal church as of late (I converted long before my ill-fated marriage), but I’m not entirely certain I’d be happy there still, although I love how the Episcopal church is gay-friendly.

    Most of my Baptist friends have converted to Orthodoxy, and they are urging me to consider it, but I’m hesitant. I know they like the Orthodox church because of the rules and traditions. That’s exactly what I don’t need. I’ve had it with legalism.

  • I totally identify. Completely, totally!! I haven’t had the ‘heart’ to tell my Christian friends I don’t attend church anymore. I get so many flashbacks. I love God completely but I can’t handle the church anymore. Even ‘liberal’ churches remind me of the past too much with the worship order and traditions. Not sure what to do now.

  • You are not alone in any of this. That’s the best I can offer. Me too.

  • I would recommend turning it all off for a season. Wherever your heart best connects with the indwelling God, invest your time, energy, and thoughts there. And just let the other things fall quiet until you are later able to better sort what is good and what is not. When the sting is fresh, the temptation is to reject it all, and miss the good that was presented with manipulation, prejudgment, control, etc. If you can do it in the context of a church community, then do it. If not, then find/make a community that supports the journey. Don’t lie to yourself and think that their are not masses of people processing the same mismatched framework of thinking. They just may be too fearful or distracted to step away from what they know to trust the inner voice that is stirring them to let go.

    Personally I stopped reading Christian books and listening to Christian music (for about 4 years now). I focused on family, relationships, and learning to trust love again. Still finding my way out, but the tendency to react is weakening over time. I don’t think you can lead anyone else to a safe place until you have found your own.

  • Well, the Lord may, as Ms. Goltz’s comment observes, offer peace and comfort, but He also said that He came not to send peace but a sword. That families (birth families or the families of believers) become divided or sow enmity with false beliefs and an absence of empathy is part of the deal. This is by no means a statement of acceptance–indeed I am an admirer of a righteous protest–but this is the pain one must face, even the lingering pain that flows from chronically evil experiences with church early in life. There are, as we all no doubt know very well, a wealth of online commentaries on this (a couple are noted in the comments above), so perhaps at least online it is not an entirely lonesome struggle. People blog about their troubles, and many have had these sorts of troubles.

    By the way, …

    Most of my Baptist friends have converted to Orthodoxy, and they are urging me to consider it, but I’m hesitant. I know they like the Orthodox church because of the rules and traditions. That’s exactly what I don’t need. I’ve had it with legalism.

    … as I’ve been Orthodox all my life, I should say that it’s never struck me as an especially legalistic faith. Tradition with a capital ‘T’ gets some emphasis, as it should, and our liturgical life is quite sophisticated (owing in no small measure to the accrual of centuries of, you guessed it, tradition), but legalism is not necessarily inherent. I think it could depend to some extent on the locale. I live in a big city, and the churches I have known here are actually a bit too much the opposite: seldom– no, come to think of it, never have I heard a priest challenge the parishioners about hard matters. I did attend an Orthodox mission in the country when I was in law school, though, and on top of the location the priest was a convert, and he brought a hint of a harder form of preaching to his sermons, but not much. I’ve also noticed in other country church (and monastery) visits that the folk there are a bit more old-fashioned, but not really legalistic. Even in big city Orthodox churches there are still one or two of the grandmas from the Old Country who can be a bit hard too, but generally the Orthodox I know are rather casual. Perhaps too much so.

    In any case, Orthodoxy is worth a look, if you’re curious, fancystephanie. I’d say be careful which Orthodox Web sites you look at, cos some of them actually do come across as harsh or legalistic,on the one hand, or nebulous and just plum lame-brained on the other–but it’s the Internet. We’re all pretentious and unrealistic blowhards on here (and I, of course, am the chief).

  • This is so powerful, I can just feel the raw emotion in the words.

    It sounds like this church, and ones like is most definitely not where you need to be at this point in your life. Have you ever tried the Unitarian church? Maybe you can find the spirituality you are looking for in a place that isn’t so stepped in the Bible and the Christian culture that has caused you so much pain.

    If you ever need to talk privately, Samantha, my blog e-mail is ramblingsofsheldon@gmail.com

  • You say that you know you’re not alone, so this is old news for you, but I feel for you so strongly. My own experiences have been different in many ways, I think, I also feel church is unsafe for me. I have long considered going to an affirming church, like a UU or even a Metropolitan Church of Christ, but I always find an excuse to avoid it. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to touch religion again. I feel like, if I try to examine my remaining shreds of faith too much, they will just disintegrate, and I KNOW I can’t go back to the churches of my youth.

    Well-meaning people can sometimes do the greatest harm. I have also been treated cruelly by those who were only trying to help me in the church and my family. For me, most of the triggers were my sexuality, unsurprisingly.

    “Even if you think what your parents is doing is wrong, the word of God says that there is blessing in obeying them. By disobeying, you are living out of the will of God, even if you are right and they are wrong.”

    “Your pastor is your God-given authority. If you disagree with him, you are disagreeing with God.”

    “You are not crying because of the way your family treated you. Your tears are the conviction of God.”

    “You need to remove the idolatry of your love for HER from your life.”

    “God wants you to be happy, not live this disordered lifestyle. You only think it will make you happy.”

    “We are not afraid of your period of rebellion. God has told me that you will come back to us one day and repent. I only hope you are not too broken by then.”

    All of these things, and so much more, tore me down and drove me to the brink, while I desperately tried to find safety in the church. Instead, the longer I stayed, the worse it got. I can’t do it now. I’m too angry. I’m too scared. Mostly angry. My mother sent me an ebook that is about “overcoming offense with the church.” I haven’t touched it. I know she only wants to help, but I’m not ready to let go of my indignation and anger with the church yet. I am not ready to “get over it.” Sometimes being angry and indignant is what keeps me sane and confident and happy with myself. It reminds me that I have worth, despite what all of these people led me to believe. Someday I will be ready to overcome these things, I hope, but not right now. And I don’t think I should have to feel guilty about that.

    • “Sometimes being angry and indignant is what keeps me sane and confident and happy with myself. It reminds me that I have worth, despite what all of these people led me to believe. Someday I will be ready to overcome these things, I hope, but not right now. And I don’t think I should have to feel guilty about that.”

      I so agree with this, sometimes our anger helps us to be stronger, to be willing to stand up to those that have trampled on us for so long in our lives, and helps us to finally be able to stand up for ourselves.

      It’s part of the healing process, when we are trying to figure out who we really are in this world.

      • Yeah… people say “if you haven’t forgiven someone or if you are still angry, that means that they control you.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true. If you can’t move past it and live your life and be fulfilled, then yes. But if that anger and indignation is what keeps you from falling back into patterns of abuse, then it is quite the opposite. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Thank you for your honest words. I am fortunate to be in a congregation that cherishes the doubts and turns away from the easy, convenient answers. A church that provides space for honest and authentic sacred conversation where people can share what they no longer believe and uncertainty about what they do believe. We honor each other, we embrace diversity, and difference. We are an American Baptist Church, but to the farthest left of the denomination. Feel free to contact me at revepat@gmail.com.

  • Gail

    I wish there was a way to physically gather together with the all the people that have been destroyed or battered by brutal leaders. To share, weep, and love each another. I know, someday we will, but that day seems so far away right now.

    I remember hearing Dr. Dan Allender say, “If someone you know has ran away from God, pray for them, but leave them alone. God is much better at bringing his lost sheep home in His way & His time than you ever will be” (paraphrased)
    When I heard him say that I was smug tight in the bonds of rigid doctrine, never dreaming that I would be crushed in heart & soul by the church & her kids.

    I ended up in the pews of the Catholic church 4 yrs. ago after not stepping inside of a church for six years. The priests at the church where I attend are kind, intelligent, their homilies are no longer than 20 minutes, and they don’t scold, shame or yell.

    It has been a place a place to rest, however lonely, that is why I need blogs like yours & Spiritual Sound Board, and a few others. You gals offer healing by naming the raw truth of what the men with clubs have done to my soul. I feel less alone, understood & affirmed, and sometimes loved when a kind word is spoken.

    Thank-You rings hollow, but, I don’t know how else to express the gratitude that when you write you don’t have to pull a happy, shiny, fulfilled, satisfied face, or a I’m over it, all healed, victorious voice, you speak for me as I struggle, and Jesus comforts my spirit through your honesty.

  • This post makes me cry. I want so badly to go to church and like it. But it’s so triggering. It’s like all the junk comes up, and I leave depressed.

  • I understand your pain. I joined another church which supports me, and in which I am free to minister to both children and adults. If evangelical churches give you panic attacks, don’t go to them. My family is still very fundie, and the conversations got so bad on Memorial Day weekend that I’ve decided not to visit them. When I feel emotionally able, I telephone home to catch up, and I can always find an excuse to hang up if the lingo starts. I’ve been out of evangelical Protestant church for nearly 10 years, and I always forget about the lingo. I know what you are talking about. Certain phrases will still tie my stomach up in knots. I have an uncle that I love dearly, he was doing some trolling, and found me here. He gave me a rather hard time. I copied his comments, and I’m glad I did, because he took them down. Or, maybe you did. Anyway, it’s not about going to church; it’s about going to a safe church when you are ready. If you’re not ready, then don’t go.

  • notleia

    Sometimes I relate to you so hard even though our problems and circumstances are distinctly different. It’s kind of an existential experience.
    I don’t like going to church anymore, but with me, it’s an issue of being bored out of my skull. The same verses, the same interpretations and lectures, the same asides about the evils of the mainstream culture woven in nearly everything. But for me there aren’t really any triggers, just playing mental Bingo and/or drinking game of the same old tired lines and catchphrases. Eye-rolling at the Fox News-ish paranoia. Sometimes I remember how I used to feel guilty — was made to feel guilty — when the subject turned to the EvilBad of sex, but it’s so liberating to not feel guilty anymore and not give a damn, but it’s also so constraining that I’m still expected to sit there and listen to it.
    It ties into how I related to your post on your agnostic period. If I’m not already there, I’m headed there fast. I went to college and studied English and turned socially liberal. I get more out of blog posts like yours than I do in six months’ worth of sermons.
    But I don’t know if I’ll “come back to the fold,” even if it’s a different, more liberal fold, like you did. But it would really, really help if I found a place that didn’t seem to count smug conviction as a virtue.

  • Morgan Guyton

    Ugh! I hate churches where men get sermon series on being epic. It’s amazing how nakedly the neo-patriarchal movement is exposed as being little more than a marketing strategy. I hope you find a church where men don’t have to be in charge to go there.

  • You are not alone. You are safe. You are loved. Thank you for your honesty. I echo the thoughts of others who encourage you to give yourself grace and find a place of solace. Much love. -Cheryl

  • Gosh. Thanks so much for writing this. I’ve tried and tried again to feel at home with churches, but it always ends up the same way. My husband and I will go for a few weeks, just looking to connect with other people who love Jesus.

    And just like you, it’s like I’m always waiting for that moment when the sermon turns to modesty, or the unfitness of female leaders, or about how the Bible conveniently mandates whom I should vote for, and that’s it. I go back to sleeping in Sunday mornings and grabbing lunch with my friends who aren’t Christians, and yet somehow *get it* more than the church people do. They don’t try to have all the answers or fix me. They don’t ask me to agree with them as a prerequisite for full inclusion. At least so far, I always get the feeling in a church environment that they’ll love on you but always hold you at arm’s length unless you sign on to the full agenda, and that bothers me.

    Months ago, I ran across this article from Slacktivist that summed it up. “We wind up unwittingly suggesting that if you’re not already a Good Person and you don’t already have it all figured out, then you don’t belong here — that sinners aren’t welcome in the body of sinners. That’s backwards. Being a sinner is actually the only prerequisite for coming to church.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/01/25/mark-driscoll-is-a-wee-little-man/

  • Yanna

    The only thing I can say is that I know what to mean. I really really do.

  • Franklın Ampah-Korsah

    Can ever a man Love and Hate God at the same time ? What does it take to Love God and what does Hating God entail?
    Samantha dear sister, if you get the answers to these , you would eventually find the much sought after peace we are all yearning for?

  • Franklın Ampah-Korsah

    By the way I am a Fundamental Christian because I believe in the Fundamental Principles of Godliness which the ethical life of Jesus emphasizes i.e….to “love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, AND to love our neighbour as ourselves”. Samantha , dear sister, I guess you have a Fundamental Christian knocking on the door to your beautiful site hear, am I welcome ? Does my definition for Fundamentalist Christianity match yours? If it does not , then whichever group of people you describe as Fundamental Christians may not be Christians at all .

    • Of course you are welcome. I want a varied and rich audience, and representatives from as many perspectives as are out there.

      However, your definition of “fundamentalist,” at least in my experience, is not the common understanding of fundamentalism. I’ve actually written an entire series on defining fundamentalism, including a large amount of input from my community about what their experiences with fundamentalism have been.

      Here are the links to that series.

      defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/definitions-and-a-history-lesson-part-one/
      defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/definitions-and-a-history-lesson-part-two/
      defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/definitions-and-a-history-lesson-part-three/
      defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/definitions-and-a-history-lesson-part-four/

      and:
      defeatingthedragons.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/what-christian-fundamentalism-means-to-us/

      Hopefully that makes my stance more clear.

  • That John Piper link is shocking. It’s almost hilarious – if it weren’t so awful – the way he says “women has thoughts” as if that’s an insightful thing to say.

    I feel a tension in the pit of my stomach and an urge to run as soon as I step into a church. And I’m a man – the misogyny isn’t even aimed at me. It must be so much worse for you.

    For me, leaving church was the right move, but I’m sure you have your reasons to keep going. I hope the church does more to make women and abuse victims feel welcome. I honestly think blogs like yours make a difference.

    • I can’t stand the misogyny and homophobia either, and I don’t feel comfortable in churches. It’s not just my change in beliefs in recent years (I’m an agnostic now), but as someone with mental illness (depression and possible autism), I don’t feel welcome in churches due to that.

      There is so much misunderstanding about mental illness in evangelical/fundamentalist churches. I had a pastor who despite his beliefs, was a good man, but even he thought that worry/anxiety was a “sin” because it was a lack of not trusting god enough. While I was still a Christian, and going into the deconversion stage, that really stung.

  • You are not alone, your struggle is one many women have felt for decades now. I left well over 30 years ago. My discontent caused panic attacks. Now? I follow my heart in seeking answers right for me. I listen and seek guidance, but not from man’s edifices.

  • I just wanted to comment here to extend my gratitude to each of you. Hearing your kind, loving, gracious words, was exactly what I needed yesterday. You helped.

  • Raven

    Oh kiddo. I just stumbled across this piece from myriad links…and I just wanted to say a couple of things–1) If Jesus seems like all that’s safe–then hang onto Him like Mary at the tomb! Who says you have to keep reading anything but the Gospels for a while? Who says you can’t disconnect from associations that hurt? Not Christ–He understands. Just hang onto Him. 2) Forgiveness does not mean that you’re not angry with someone. It means you leave their eternal fate in God’s hands (where it is anyway). Forgiveness does not mean that you stop talking about the yucky stuff. Forgiveness does NOT mean that you never make another person uncomfortable. Forgiveness does NOT mean you let someone put you in a position to be hurt again. 3) I wish I could give you a hug.

  • Don

    My father was a minister. The church which ordained him — The United Methodist Church — exists today but though the name is the same, it is not the same church nor the same theology. When I find myself in a church — for a wedding or a funeral mostly — I can picture Dad standing in the pulpit but I can not imagine him saying the things that I hear ministers saying today. In the time of Dr. King, Dad encouraged people to become agents for change and to work to make the world a better place. He did not speak often of miracles or salvation so much as he spoke of how God can accomplish much more than we ask or think but only in accordance with how the power works within us. Now I hear messages telling me I must fear God’s wrath and I know that this is not my Father’s church. I stopped looking for it more than 30 years ago. My Father’s God is still there inside of me the same as ever but no one speaks for him anymore so for me, it’s all personal.

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  • I was raised a Catholic. When I left my first husband, I needed a safe place to go to, seeking rest and enlightenment I would go to church. Instead I got condemnation and judgment and was told by a Catholic I reap what I sow.

    I drifted through new age, buddhism, zen buddhism and I found myself in a Christian church near my place called New Life.

    In this church I never felt condemned. In fact they celebrate women. I learned that Jesus is all about love, peace and joy. For the first time I understood what Jesus is all about.

    All the hatred I felt? I realized it wasn’t about me, it was about what I went through. The church helped me make peace with myself.

    If you are seeking comfort, the church isn’t where you should look for it. Keep your eyes towards Jesus and do not waver. =) He never condemned, He understands, comforts and loves.

    It’s personal between you and Him. The church is actually within you. =)

  • You are not alone. I agree with some of the other posters here that maybe not going to church regularly would be healthy. We (Original Spouse, Original Kids, and I) are currently at a point where we go to the Sunday morning service once or twice a month. But we also participate in a couple of the ministries of the church we attend. Giving service is helping us heal without being as triggering as being in the sanctuary. Also having a new pastor who is very innovative in how she presents her sermons is helpful. (We were never abused as badly as you have been, but our wounds are taking a long time to heal.)

    Another thing we’re doing is reading aloud, together, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. I found a good translation in the Kindle Free section. That and also Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us.

  • Ginger

    Thank you for sharing this. Your feelings are valid.

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  • Lisa Baker

    Thank you so much for your brave sharing. The wounding of vulnerable people in our churches needs to be brought out into the open. After concieving a child outside of marriage i was given the choice of being shunned by the only “family” i had or being put through a public humiliation and public discipline in the worship service. I was told that the male elders would watch me and decide when i was worthy to recieve communion again. My humiliation was absolute and devestating. My situation was between me and God. This happened 25 years ago this week, and i am still crushed by it. I have been to the church elders at the Maryborough Gospel Chapel ( Queensland Aust.) and they will not even speak to me. I have written them email after email. Ive been to see our federal MP. Ive spoken to lawyers, who all say I have a case for defamation of character but I am out of time. People say to me why dont you forgive them? I have tried to forgive them and “get over it” as so many have told me I should, but it is breaking my heart. Ive gone back to my childhood Catholic Church, where we have a wonderful priest, but even that brings on panic attacks. I cannot attend any kind of Brethren or Evangelical church withoutnanti anxiety medication, it is that bad. I am angry with them for coming between me and my God. I have asked them for a public apology, explaining to them that I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, as wel as sexual and physical and financial abuse in my ” church sanctioned marriage” but they do not care. I joined this church as a newly married woman at 18 after living on the street in this strange town for more than a year, and i believed everything they taught me. They even put a group of us women through ancourse called The Philosophy of Christian Womanhood. It cost as much as a weeks rent in 1983, and was all about submitting TOTALLY to EVERYTHING our husbands wanted from us and accepting any form of bad treatment as something that God had planned for us. I look back now and cant believe how naive I was. But if these men are true christians, why wont they tell the truth about what they did to me. This business has caused extreme psychological damage to me, and I am still in counselling to try to deal with it. I totally understand only wanting to read the gospels, because the Jesus portrayed in them is someone I can love trust and worship, but some of Pauls writings fill me with disgust. I have found some solace in an old Carholic practice called the Liturgy of the Hours, which isnpraying the psalms, where we are allowed tomexpress all of our emotions. Until I found this site, and a couple of others like it, I thought I was alone in the world. Churches should be places of the worship of God, and the love and support of each other, not a way to control and punish people. God bless all of you for being brave enough to speak out and take this step toward healing. Lisa

  • Brian Cox

    Samantha, thank you. I hope you are still around to get this.

    Though I’m a man, you told my story. I’m short for time, so I will save you the details, but I have come to the conclusion, after 11 years of fervently and earnestly trying to make church work, that no fundamentalist, bible believing church can ever be a safe place for an intellectually honest person.

    I recoiled when you mentioned “willful ignorance,” because one are the very words that describe those who willfully ignore the vagueness and contradictory information in the Bible. Honest, probing, difficult questions are met with insinuations of heresy or dearth of faith. They rely on our fear of exclusion to keep honest people in line. I stopped playing that game, and it got very interesting. I finally refused, in a small group environment, to take my pastor’s disingenuous explanation at face value. I refused, unlike the rest of them, to proceed from the assumption that the Bible is infallible even when it is being ridiculous or when its teaching doesn’t correspond with my experience or reality. The pastor lost his cool.

    I decided I could no longer be part of such a church (this was my fourth in 11 years) and still be true to the mind, heart and intellect God gave me. Fortunately I have a tribe of wonderful misfits I belong to, with whom I am always safe to ask honest questions and grow toward my Higher Power. I won’t be alone.

    I pray that you come to the same peace I find every day. I fear you won’t find it in church.

    Again, thank you. Wonderful sharing on your part.

  • E-Stu

    Beautiful article, Samantha. Thank you for writing it. I, too, feel the struggle to find a church where I can feel safe to be me, to be open about what I really think and feel. I think sometimes it just takes time, speculation from the outside a little bit, and most importantly courage, the last hurdle to jump to experience belonging, intimacy, and a place for growth. We’re all in this together, remember that.