Your God reveals Himself to you,
not just information about Himself.
~ Steve McVey, Grace Walk Ministries
Hillary's note: I've invited Lisa Bertolini, founder of Spiritual Abuse Awareness Month, to share the personal background which inspired it and why bringing awareness to this tragic reality is important to her.
by Lisa Bertolini
t's been nearly two years since I exited fundamentalism with deep gaping wounds in my soul. I knew that God exists, and I love Jesus, so I knew I would continue to walk with our Lord but I couldn't face gathering with others in churches just yet. Fifteen years of mind control had done it's damage to my mind and heart and I needed to be unraveled from it all. My husband, myself, our children, and a few others who exited the same week we did began meeting several nights a week to sort through our emotional and spiritual distress. We covered our dining room table with Bibles, concordances, Bible dictionaries, and the Hebrew/Greek Interlinear Bible. We needed to know what we believed and why we believed it. We no longer sought to know what the institutional church believed and why they wanted us to believe it. We needed to know who God is to us personally. We had been told before that we needed our own walk with Jesus, not our parents walk and in this case not our former church's walk. We needed our own unique walkabout with Him.
We each went through days of various emotions, from anger of being spiritually abused and lied to, confusion, and long days of crying. Breaking away from a church was like going through a divorce. It was incredibly painful. Some days were better than others. Some days I felt like part of me was dying. Some church members, who we had once called 'family' would ignore us as we passed by them in the stores, and others would send hate mail and leave awful comments on my Facebook page. I was going through such a difficult time and I couldn't go back to the same church family with my pain. I had tried talking to some in leadership, but they chose to side with higher leadership and ignore my pleas for help. They sided with the leadership that was causing me so much pain. We tried the Matthew 18 approach to no avail. It could never reach the church level of accountability, the leadership would not allow it to get that far. So I felt outed. I had to put up with it or walk away. For my own sanity, I needed to walk away. My husband and children were all hurt as well. In varying ways by different people in leadership. The abuse trickled down through the hierarchy and into the people. Now that we were out...now what?
Of all the websites I searched for about spiritual abuse, most of them were centered on specific denominations. I was discovering that the characteristics of these denominations abuse was the same. Most of them simply focused on the abuse, but not much on the healing. How do you find another group of people that will love you and help you sort through these feelings and the pain? So many Christians rejected our testimony and labeled us as rebellious or gossips. I couldn't wrap my brain around why they would be eager to help if it was a strange neighbor who was inflicting such pain on us, but since it was a 'church' and a 'clergy' they denied the abuse existed.
My husband confided in a few select pastors in town and they sympathized and listen intently. That was a huge relief to us. We had found a select few who were willing to help us through this difficult process, including a home fellowship we attended for several months after leaving the church. There is a misconception about leaving a church that I would like to clear up. Just because someone leaves a church, does not mean they left God. The true church is the Body of Christ worldwide and each town has local believers who gather in several homes, churches, and even in coffee shops. It's not the location or building that makes it a church, it's the people.
I believe firmly in gathering with other believers. The fellowship of the Body is a natural part of being part of the Body. Humorously, Sci-Fi movies teach this powerful truth when a robot clone falls apart, its body parts look for one another in order to get reconnected. Being a part of the Body is about being connected. But how does a wounded believer go about finding that place where they can be safe and heal? It's not easy, but it is possible.
Leaving a church can leave you feeling numb, depressed, hopeless, wounded, angry, and some days in a fog that doesn't seem to lift. It's called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you can heal from it. I began crossing paths with others who have been through similar experiences and we began communicating through email and Facebook groups and discovered that we each had such similar experiences, wounds, and we all longed for fellowship again. Each person's healing journey will be unique.
After I read 'Quivering Daughters' and saw the dynamics of her Facebook page, I asked her if she wanted to partner with me on a new blog that offers resources for others looking for help. It would be a blog that doesn't pinpoint any particular denomination, but rather the characteristics themselves and articles to promote healing and inspiration to our souls. We created http://spiritualabuseawareness.com and I selected January as our month to raise awareness. Spiritual Abuse is a delicate issue and not easy to stomach for many Christians, but it is something we all need to face.
The government can't do a whole lot to protect us from spiritual abuse. They don't want to touch religious issues and church governance. This is an issue that must be handled within the Body of Christ. The most the civil authorities would be able to intervene with is physical and sexual abuse or IRS violations. Spiritual Abuse is an entirely different matter. Raising awareness about this type of behavior is what Thomas Hewlys did when he rejected the authority of King James over his spiritual walk with God. Standing up to religious tyranny is what Martin Luther did against the Roman Catholic Church. Spiritual abuse can lead to physical abuse if it is allowed to continue for too long, as what happened to Anne Hutchinson. Her firm beliefs in grace and equality of women landed her in jail, was neglected, and miscarried the child she carried, while in bonds. Just because one church has abusive leaders, doesn't necessarily mean the entire movement of that church is abusive. Although sometimes a vast majority of a denomination can be. It really depends on who is in power in those churches. They key is this, if Jesus is the Head of the church, you will have a healthy fellowship. If man takes control and thrives on power, it can lead to a dangerous outcome.
No matter what denomination you are struggling in, or have escaped from, there is hope, there are genuine believers out there, and authentic functions of spiritual leaders who can help guide you through the process of healing. You're not alone.
If you or anyone you know would be interested in contributing articles to the (growing) website, www.spiritualabuseawareness.com, please leave a comment, send me an email, or contact Sisterlisa here.
You may also be interested in a new film dedicated to raising awareness about aberrant groups and spiritual abuse.