I was asked recently to review a book by Dr. Barbara Orlowski titled, Spiritual Abuse Recovery. I have been reading it and can relate to everything she has written in her book because of my past involvement in an abusive church. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has left or is contemplating leaving an abusive church.
When Barb emailed to ask me to read her book, we began to converse back and forth. I have really enjoyed getting to know her. She is a wonderful person who is passionate about helping others in the area of spiritual abuse.
One section that really spoke to me in the book was where Barb shared quotes from people who have been involved in an abusive church. In doing research, she had the participants respond to a questionnaire about their experience. I want to share some of those questions and the answers that were given. When I was searching for answers, it was such a help to know others had been through what I was going through and to hear them voice it. Can you find yourself in any of the comments these people made?
The following comments describe the reasons why participants left their church:
"There was a tremendous dichotomy between what was said by leadership, and the message they actually conveyed. They often spoke of the freedom we have as believers, as well as our individual value in God's eyes. But any attempt to think or act with any degree of freedom was quickly and firmly labeled as unsubmissiveness to leadership."
"The main problem stemmed from the fact that the leader was not submitted to anyone and yet wanted submission. His doctrine was off and his tactics were abusive and the church showed no fruit."
"It was clear that the pastor was never going to address any problems: present or future...I was told that the Lord spoke to my pastor, so if I disagreed, I was in error."
"We had invested greatly in this congregation. It was hard to understand how people in leadership positions could "put up" and even enable this kind of behavior by the pastor. Leadership and authority exercised by one person in a congregation is not only unbiblical, but is inherently abusive and destructive."
"The pastor had left such a trail of hurting and damaged people, and I felt I could no longer be a part of that type of destruction."
"We were falsely accused by the pastor of being rebellious and unsubmitted. The church we left is still being destroyed by authoritarian leadership, control, and abuse. It was a wonderful community of people that was ruined by false spiritual leadership."
"I believed so much of what they said. I towed the lines they put up. You need to understand something: these people (the leaders) were my life. I took care of their children for them. I put my own interests last and served them for years. I made it possible both physically and financially for them to exist. As far as the rest of the group, I really thought they would know our hearts and at least come to talk. Only one couple did."
"Our eyes were opened to seeing that our church was run by a manipulative and oppressively controlling pastor who had just enough charisma and mountain charm to bamboozle the masses into believing and following him as "God's anointed," appointed for this church and the surrounding area of the county. Adding to his ruling hand is an Elder Board of "Yes Men" of which the pastor was chairman."
The following are comments from those who felt that they had to leave a position or were asked to leave (were fired) from a church position:
"I got fired from the assistant pastor position for questioning the authority. Hardest part, for me, was to forgive myself for being duped by a pastor who I should have seen through much earlier on in the fourteen years I spent under his ministry."
"The senior pastor while able to be quite charming to the congregation and others in the community, was emotionally abusive to his staff in general and had become increasingly abusive to me my last year on staff. The dynamics in the office were often hard for me to understand, but in the last months working there I saw the pastor's behavior as deceptive, grandiose, and highly manipulative."
The following comment was given to the question: How did you process the negative and positive feelings after you left?
"I spent months going over things, over and over and over, tyring to figure out how they went wrong, what we could have done differently, examining my own heart, tyring to see if I was blind to the things they accused me of. That basically led me to a search to understand how and why something like this could happen. I began reading a lot about systemic, governmental, and relational issues in church, especially things related to the use and misuse of authority by leadership. Being able to understand what was wrong about our situation helped me to accept and deal with it."
A few other comments shared by participants included things they learned from their experience:
"Through this painful experience, I have learned to be compassionate and understanding toward others."
"I have a sensitivity for strugglers and a radar for fakers. I guard against heresy, always checking Bible references that speakers just throw out there to back up their opinions. I question practices and teachings that set off my warning lights. I have a heightened sense of discernment. I am very aware of the potential for the abuse of power in any setting, even my own. I am more candid and honest. I am less of a people pleaser."
"Church shouldn't hurt."
"It has made me examine the whole idea of the institutional church, and what happens when you give pastors authority and control, over their staff, over entire ministries. Who is the Church? Isn't it us? It has also made me value support groups more. The belief of these pastors is that more Bible study is all we need. Well it isn't. We need to be in relationships where we can begin to experience relationship with others, where authenticity and honesty are valued, where grace can be experienced."
"I am better than ever! Although there are ups and downs, I finally feel that I am beginning to know God personally. Although I know I have only scratched the surface in this respect. I have a hunger to know him that is not driven by fear or obligation. I feel far more rooted in grace now, not performance. And I firmly believe that performance and perfection is not what He wants in me either, but only that I would know how totally I am loved."
You can find many more of these comments and other great information on spiritual abuse in Dr. Barb's book, which can be found on Amazon.com. Follow this link. www.churchexiters.com