The following is a story shared by a survivor of spiritual abuse. She has courageously chosen to share her testimony, hoping it will help someone who has walked through a similar experience. If you are experiencing abuse, know that you are not alone and know that there is escape. I have found that, every single time, the voices who insist that they alone speak for God are, in fact, simply full of their own hot air. If they believe God isn’t dead, then why are they trying to speak on God’s behalf? The position isn’t empty, folks. Stay in your lane. Anything other than this is spiritual abuse.
Sometimes when you go through difficult things, you feel like you’re completely alone and no one could possibly understand what you’re going through. Being rejected by those you once thought were your closest family and friends is one of the most painful things you can experience.
My parents divorced when I was young and I grew up with step-parents. Situations like this can be hard on children, especially when they grow up in a culture that makes it seem like families are always perfect and parents stay together forever. But, this wasn’t the case for our family. Our family fell apart when my brother passed away at ten months old. In my grief, I turned to other avenues to find fulfillment and happiness, hoping to fill the void in my heart. I started attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist church to help put my shattered heart and life back together. It didn’t work. I was never taught how to heal from loss, grief, and rejection. I was instructed to simply “forgive and forget” the hurt and to move on with my life as if nothing had ever happened through the “power of Christ”. (This is NEVER the correct way to heal from things.)
Shortly after I started attending the church, I became the victim of a sexual assault at my high school. I would never wish that experience on another human being, though I know countless women, including friends of mine, have experienced this. Ashamed and terrified, I sought help again from the leaders of my church. However, instead of giving me support, avenues for help, or assistance in reporting the assault, I was immediately removed from youth group and banned from working in any other ministries of the church for a year. I was punished for being the victim of a crime. I was blamed for my own sexual assault. These same leaders then attempted to pressure and coerce me into a public confession in front of the entire church so I could “repent” from my “sin”. My story was disregarded; I was treated more like an animal than a human being, a valuable woman, made in the image of God.
I was shattered by this experience, but still blinded by a desperate desire to please God and please the people who insisted they represented Him. At their counsel, I decided to attend an IFB Bible college. From the moment I arrived, it was hard for me to be there, but I pushed the “rebellious” thoughts away and told myself to stay because “God wanted me to be there”. Every moment of every day in this place, the women lived under unbelievable restrictions. I constantly felt like a naughty child, embarrassed of sins I didn’t even know were sins. The pressure from the staff made me feel like a rabbit being watched by hungry hawks. Though I desperately wanted to please God, I was frustrated and discouraged all the time. The only good thing that came out of my time in that place was having the chance to meet my husband and grow closer together through God’s grace.
After my husband and I graduated from this college, church leaders began to pressure us into a “ministry position” with which I was not comfortable. Still, I quieted the common-sense questions in my mind, hoping, trusting that these “men of God” were right in their demands on my life.
Following the directive of college staff members, we sold or trashed the majority of our belongings and moved to a different state with what we could fit into two small cars. We did this to accept an unpaid position as an assistant pastor and pastor’s wife. Both my husband and myself started work at “secular” jobs immediately when we arrived at the IFB church whose eight remaining members were disgruntled and unhappy before they even met us. We were to be their fourth pastor.
When we started to improve, modernize, and make the church building more hospitable and welcoming, the members became uncontrollably irate. Things began to escalate out of control quickly. We have never felt so alone in our lives as we did during that time. We pleaded with God to help resolve the situation. But the members simply became more hostile. We quickly began to feel unsafe. The mask of radical fundamentalism slowly peeled back as I watched these members stalk us, constantly driving by the church every time we were there, driving by our jobs, and trying to figure out where we lived. I was pregnant with our first child when we received the first of multiple death threats from the self-proclaimed Christians we had come to serve.
As we went through the process of reporting these threats to our local police department, my husband and I started to question the legitimacy of the denomination we had served our whole lives. These people were willing to terrorize a young, pregnant couple to get their way. The denomination as a whole fostered an environment that cared more about rules, religion, money, and buildings, than it did with the lives of the people inside those building. I asked my husband where we were instructed in the Bible to follow a certain religious denomination. We began to study the Scriptures for ourselves, for the first time, free of the distorted lens of denomination-fueled pride. We started to see clearly. This Christianity thing is literally all about a relationship with Jesus. The churches we had trusted and believed in, most of them resembled modern day Pharisees, not a humble man from Bethlehem. How could pastors with red faces, bulging veins, and flying spittle stomping up and down and screaming at people from behind pulpits really be an accurate representation of the still, small Voice of God. I was told the church is supposed to be a hospital for hurting people, but the last thing hurting people need is a misrepresentation of God and a portrayal of an angry, vicious Christ. I believe the evangelical church is being blinded to the reality and realization that there’s more to life than all of these standards and pressure to conform to religious demands. The real question I’ve started to ask of myself is “What does God want me to do?” instead of “What do other people who claim to speak for God want me to do?”
The farther we’ve walked down this road of honest searching and questioning, the more friends, family, and supposedly “loving” churches have disowned us and attempted to destroy us. While I was acceptably submissive and silent, I would never have imagined the ramifications of daring to ask questions.
But the moment we decided to walk away from the IFB denomination, our lives immediately transformed. Our marriage is amazing now and our relationship with Christ is so much better. I’ve learned that life is about a relationship with God and others, it’s not about blindly following and obeying other’s expectations and demands.
If you’re reading this and feeling scared, doubtful, or overwhelmed because of pressure from the church, please don’t let yourself be controlled by the church or a pastor. You are your own person. One day, we hope to start our own church where we can spread the message of God’s unconditional love and share the invaluable lessons about spiritual abuse that we’ve learned the hard way.
Authored by Dannielle (last name withheld)
Edited by Katie Pridgen