I guess some people will be reading this blog and think it’s an unfair critique of church life based on their own experience, and to be fair the abuses I talk about were not part of my experience for the first 6 years of my church life. I spent the first 6 years in evangelical Plymouth Brethren churches, ironically the Plymouth Brethren’s were renown for spiritual abuse, and yet I did not experience it there, or witness it for that matter. It’s true that women were not allowed to speak in meetings, but at that age it was a non-issue for me. Had I stayed, it would have become one I’m sure. The abuses happened in charismatic churches, those allegedly led by the spirit. When people can claim ‘God told me’ to justify everything they say and do, combined with the assertion of a God-given right to have authority over others, especially in circumstances where extraordinary spiritual experiences are happening, makes for an environment ripe for domination, control, gaslighting, manipulation and other abuses.
In the second church I attended during those first 6 years, a couple of older men in the church, who were elders, drew me into their families and took me under their wing. I spent hour upon hour with them, in car rides, sharing meals, walks in the country and working alongside one of them them in youth work. If this was happening in the current social climate it would be regarded as distinctly iffy, and in fact my mother said she’d been approached by concerned neighbours who thought ‘my boyfriend’ was too old for me. I found it hilarious that because I was being picked up so often by one of them for one reason or another that they thought he was my boyfriend. In reality it was all entirely innocent and I lapped up the distilled wisdom of their life experiences and walk with God, and appreciated their insight and guidance in my own experiences. I took it somewhat for granted at the time, assuming this was how church was for everyone. From my later vantage point I realise they were amazing and exceptional men, and I am deeply grateful for the bedrock of spiritual wisdom they laid down in my life that enabled me to survive the storms of emotional and spiritual abuse that were to come. Deep down on the inside I had an unshakeable belief in the love of God, that the abuse couldn’t ultimately kill. I know this is not true for everyone, just my very use of the word God is probably making some feel as nauseous as the thought of going to church makes me feel. If you’re not comfortable with using the term God, substitute whatever term you feel comfortable with, he doesn’t care – and no I don’t actually think God is a ‘he’ either, but ‘it’ doesn’t work for me.
Coming next: The force to overcome obstacles