Sunday, September 17, 2017

Parting shot? Dealing with triggers when we want to move on?

Will this be my final post? That would be nice; but I don't know for sure. I keep thinking that, and then, something else comes up. Yeah, OK.

Well, suffice it to say that you my regular readers know that this blog is about my dissent against Antioch Community Church of Waco, TX and her respective church affiliation / "non-denominational" denomination, the Antioch International Movement of Churches.

As I've worked to move on, the reality is that no sooner do I think that Antioch is out of my life, that I'll encounter a trigger that will throw me a bit. The good news, though, is that the triggers are... mostly getting easier to handle. Sometimes, though, if I dwell on things, the stuff will sadly consume me until I repent.

As much as I still sometimes get angry when I encounter something related to Antioch's Unbound anti-human trafficking ministry or Chip and Joanna Gaines and/or HGTV's Fixer Upper and related show(s) or even Baylor, what I realize is that at the end of the day, I just gotta shut that junk out of my life and move on. If I can educate someone on why this stuff is problematic, great; if not, y'know, there really isn't much I can do. People don't often care that the same church that granted the world Chip and Joanna Gaines has also not been fair to many other people -- and has played possibly a fairly substantial role in my having a good deal of difficulty becoming a contributing member of society.

Guys, I think that there just comes a point in time in which people just aren't going to know, aren't going to understand, and/or aren't going to care. Life moves on. Yes, the triggers come. No, it isn't fair. But life isn't fair.

Guys, there just comes a point in time when we gotta realize that this is an imperfect world that will not always grant social justice. In those cases, the best we can do is do our best to rise above the injustices we have faced and move on. The triggers will come some days. They do. But they don't have to stay and consume us.

At any rate, I don't want the triggers consuming me. I want to live and be free of my past.

It isn't easy. I get it. We do the best to shy away from the triggers, and they sometimes come, anyway. I find a lot of them in the Church. Well, little by little, I am working on reframing them. Little by little, I am starting to see a lot of them from a little bit more of a hopefully biblical perspective.

It takes time to get away from the toxicity. I get that. It comes in time if you work at it and ultimately decide that you'll trust God to help you go back to a healthy church, despite situations in your past, in which He may have made you feel betrayed and abandoned. I definitely get that. And I don't have the answers on that one. Not really. I can only offer my best guess on that, and I struggle some days.

But look, I believe that God is good and is worthy of our worship. So, there comes a point in time when remaining caught up in this junk ends up counter-productive to our witness for Christ. How long we need to be in this wilderness season will depend on each person. It is not for me to say what is right or wrong for you. I can only go based on how I sense convicted by the Lord for my own walk. I trust Him to do the same for you.

I don't view Antioch-Waco or the Antioch Movement as healthy church groups at this time; but that could change in time. And I hope it does.

For any of you interested, my family is tying out a new church. I am hopeful that we may start to call the church home. For that part of my journey in the recovery from church abuse, please check out my new blog, Coming Across Hopeville.

And I would point out: while I have been starting to go back to church a little, I am not reading much of the Bible at this point. A little. Sometimes. And now more often than before. And I am still wary of mind control / indoctrination. But God is good, and I think He is helping me. So, I want to try.

I hope I haven't been too repetitive on this blog. Please forgive me if I have. Blessings to you guys for sticking it out with me. = )

A new church and a new blog? I hope! =)

Hey guys,

Ok, so! Believe it or not, a local church where we live has not yet managed to run me off. So, uh, we are starting to.... go to church?!

Uh, yeah. I think so.

It has a good kids' ministry, and the church has some.... interesting views with regards to the LGBT community, women, divorce and non-Christians.

A little over a week ago, I sat down with the church's teaching pastor to discuss my background and the church's position on situations like spiritual abuse, the role of women in the church, and the LGBT issue.

The pastor recognized right away that Antioch was coming from an unhealthy Shepherding Movement-type background. He was also familiar with healthy and unhealthy usage of the charismata.

He recognized that I had been through some rough stuff, and he even told me to trust my instincts: that if something didn't seem right, to feel free to up and leave.

His position on women in the church and in the family is similar to my own. We both happen to be predominantly egalitarian in our beliefs, understanding most of the historical restrictions on women as being due to cultural issues in the time period of the Early Church that made the restrictions appropriate at that time.

The church itself does not have female elders or pastors at this time, from what I can tell; but I am so far left with the impression that the elder issue is for accountability of the senior pastor, who right now happens to be a guy. Does this mean that the church bars women from serving as pastors? To be honest, I don't know -- and they themselves may not know, either. As of right now at least, they are deliberately trying to leave things a bit more open-ended when it comes to issues in which Christians can be in disagreement. This could lead to problems down the line, true; but problems can occur at any church, especially the longer we're involved.

I asked the pastor how we as believers should go about navigating conflicts among fellow believers. He did not have any further advice for me than what I was already working toward: doing what I reasonably could to be respectful and assertive; communicate well; and further develop negotiation skills.

So, granted, I'm not sure what to do if and when a problem were to occur in the church. The best I can think of is to try to work things out, but mostly: not take it personally; allow God to heal my family; and seek out a more appropriate church if we end up left behind again.

Not a perfect solution, but what else can we do, really? You got any insights?

But anyway, I was surprised by the pastor's response, related to the LGBT community: the pastor shared with me that although he believes that marriage was really meant to be between one man and one woman, that the church -- I think, anyway -- would recognize same-sex marriages. His reasoning was that he concluded that it was not realistic to expect LGBT individuals to change their identities to heterosexual -- that that would be a matter of imposing a burden on LGBT individuals that would be greater than any imposition we would impose on straight folks. So, the idea behind same-sex marriages would be the sense of a covenantal relationship, as opposed to promiscuity, child molestations, etc. He recognized that many Christians would disagree with the church on their position, and he conceded that at the end of the day, they might be right.

Well, that certainly gave me some food for thought, that's for sure.

Now, if you're wondering about the whole divorce / remarriage issue, well, he takes Christ's teaching on divorce in historical context, which showed how Christ was helping to protect women in His culture. If you look at it from that perspective, divorce in situations of spousal abuse can be accommodated while also taking into consideration situations in which there is no infidelity.

You might not agree with that view. That's OK. You don't have to. To me, while the pastor's reasoning does not follow literally what the Bible says, I believe that it ultimately more closely reflects Christ's intention. But, I recognize that these issues can be contentious, and that you may adhere to a different interpretation. To me, that does not make you any less right or any less a fellow brother or sister in the Lord. These might just be areas where we'd disagree.

Oh yeah, and as for unbelievers, the church recognizes that sometimes unbelievers have been right about how we Christians have acted, and how the things we will say will sometimes not be all that helpful, because of the lack of relationship. The church would love for dechurched and unchurched folks to come and find Christ.

So, I came away from my conversation with the church's teaching pastor, feeling as if perhaps I could belong at this church, at least for now. At any rate, my family is giving it a try. They are not as organized as Antioch, which is both good and bad. The church's leaders do not make me feel inferior to other people. They do not lift up member / leader X as some sort of example to emulate, so I don't end up feelings as if I have to measure up to someone else's standard. The messages so far have been messages about Christ's love and His desire for relationship with people, even as the pastor has been challenging us to emulate Christ's example. We read Bible passages in a sections, as in expository preaching, not Antioch-style proof-texting. I believe that to be a healthier way of viewing Scripture. They are encouraging people to join small groups, and many people are responding.

So, I don't know what will happen, but the people seem fairly nice, and so far, they seem to be more supportive and understanding than controlling and dogmatic. I am hopeful that things might work out here. We'll see.

I'm taking a bit of a risk, but I am starting a sequel blog: Coming Across Hopeville, named after a valley and tiny country town near Dolly Sods, called Hopeville, WV. (The North fork of the South Branch of my good 'ole Potomac River runs through Hopeville Canyon and is known for being a good location for whitewater trips. A nearby town is called Cabins, WV. I believe that they have rental cabins there.) My hope is that in this sequel blog, I might be able to present a personal testimony of what it can be like to suffer sometimes heinous church abuse, leave the church for a while, and yet, with the Lord's help, still recover and return to fellowship in the Body of Christ.

I don't know what will happen. But, it won't work if I don't try. So let me try. = )

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Ghosts" from the past

An old haunt

Today we drove past an old haunt for my husband and me -- a local Christian retreat center that my husband's and my former post-Antioch church would visit annually around this time of year for a church-wide outdoor baptism service and potluck.

I remember the last time we went: we had been gone for a while and just showed up out of the blue. A lot of folks were glad to see us, even though I wasn't so sure what to think of them, to be honest.

As we passed through the area, I realized that they had probably had it just a week earlier; but how if they hadn't, we could go. And that left me wondering: how would that go, if we showed up?

From non-denominational semi-charismatic to "fundevangelical" charismatic

I know what the church believed when we left. They had started out as a bona-fide attempt at being a genuine non-denominational church but had become increasingly Antioch-like charismatic Evangelical by the time we left.

I liked the church when I first showed up. The people were nice, and many folks made a genuine effort to respect one another's backgrounds, whether Christian, and differing in opinion on theology, or non-Christian. The church started out with a very kind-hearted, engaging, empowering yet laid-back mentality. It was just what I needed, coming from Antioch. That's how I got involved. But, the church changed over the years my husband and I were involved.

When charismania and unaccountable leadership harm a church

About a year before we left, I think, there had been a church split, because the founding pastor's wife left him. The pastor was single when I arrived at the church, and he married a gal from another part of our state, so she didn't really know any of us or know our church before those two got married at a church picnic. The pastor thought that God had told him that he would marry the gal, so he thought that things would work out -- even though those closest to him were trying to tell him before he got married that they had strong reservations about the relationship. I felt that way, too -- that the relationship would be rocky at best -- but everyone knew that if I spoke up back then, that the pastor would have just accused me of being jealous -- and we all knew that that would have done more to sour my relationship with him and his wife and cause problems at church, than it would have done good. So, even though it went against what I knew to be right, I just stood by and supported him -- as did a lot of other people who thought the same thing I did.

A longer-term negative residual fruit of Antioch's abusive false doctrines

Honestly, I should have told him, left the church over concerns of lack of accountability of leadership, and just not taken the judgment and gossip personally; but Antioch's indoctrination was so strong in me at the time, that I sincerely believed that I was spirtually weak -- and that made me too weak to say what I knew I needed to say, and too weak to leave.

When you accuse someone of demonization, that can have residual negative effects on people for years. Antioch accused me of being "demonically-oppressed", and I never lived that down the whole time I was at Antioch. (At last check, I think that Antioch-Waco's Jimmy Seibert still believes that my alleged "demonization" was my fault. I tried talking to him about that. The church secretary told me that I was not allowed to talk to him when I tried to schedule an appointment to talk to him. Not ever, under any circumstances, permitted to talk to him. Why is that? Is he God, that he gets a pass from honoring the Scriptures? Makes me glad I'm not at Antioch-Waco anymore.)

Tragically, it would take me years to recover from that and similar negative labels the Antioch crowd has placed on me. So please, don't assume the worst of people. You probably know very little about the faith journey of someone you may perceive as being unspiritual.

So, this unfortunate residual effect from my time at Antioch, tragically contributed at least a minor role to a church split in another church in another state -- and at times to other difficulties -- because Antioch weakened me, rather than helped me be the bold, no-nonsense woman God created me to be.

Church fallout

I.... cannot find the words to describe this pain that our whole church felt. We were much smaller than Antioch-Waco -- grand total of around 200 people, if that, although many more knew of us -- but a church split is still a tough pain to get through. Lots of people left at least temporarily, simply because they didn't want to attend a church that didn't have a pastor. Frankly, I find that stupid, but that's just my opinion. Our team of elders did a great job running the services, and I thought that it was really about Jesus rather than a human pastor, anyway.

Are we here to serve God, or Caesar?

For me (and perhaps also my husband), the final straw was when the church's leaders did not let us members vote on whether or not to become a 501(c)(3) church. They just went and did that, even though it was debatable whether or not it followed church by-laws. I stood opposed to that decision, because 501(c)(3) churches are legally bound to follow government law, even when it violates Scripture. That is based on U.S. Supreme Court case law. Your organization cannot be both 501(c)(3) and also violate law. If it does, then you lose your 501(c)(3) status, anyway, if you're caught.

Anyway, they changed the church to that status, because they really wanted to find a pastor who was nearly identical to the founding pastor who was having to step down. When they did, the one they found was not an American. This left me puzzled. Did they really not find a single suitable American pastoral candidate in the large stack of applications they received? I find that hard to believe.

So, they needed the 501(c)(3) status, in order for the non-American new hire to be able to acquire the appropriate visa to live here in the US and serve as the pastor of an American church.

Please, enough with the control already!

Now, even all this I could have maybe endured, but the new pastor wanted to seemingly assume command and make a lot of changes right away when he did come -- and it was obvious that he was a more overt charismatic than our old pastor had been. Before long, the church was becoming increasingly Antioch-like in beliefs, nature, practices....

I wasn't going to submit anymore to controlling leaders, Evangelical bias and charismania that isolated some of us.

I had had enough.

So I left, along with my husband and daughter.

And for the most part, I don't regret it. If people want to view me as an unbeliever, so be it. Those are not the types of people I'd want to hang out with. I am done with the judgment and control and the lie they call "love" -- even as most of them have done almost nothing to help my family and me in our times of need, even when I asked for help.

Jesus is good, but lordship over others is not

So, as I think of this baptism service, I think of how awesome it is for folks to be turning to Jesus, yes -- He is the real deal -- but I think at the same time of how thankful I am to be free of the human corruption in church spiritual abuse, and how I have no desire to go back to that.

I don't mean to take my sweet time to return to church, but at the same time, I'm glad that I am. I am a individual, and no one should have the right to push me around in the name of religion or Jesus or the Bible or whatever. God loves me more than that, even when people don't.

Jesus didn't give us that level of authority over other people. He spoke out against it.

Why should we have to lie in church?

So, I wish I could say that I'm strong enough to go back to a baptism service and be gracious about things and be sincere. But, I don't know if that would be true.

And I'm tired of lying.

Processing compounded church problems

It's sad that things end up like this sometimes. Yeah, a lot of this is due to problems related to my post-Antioch church. Absolutely! But, the problem that happens when you come from one bad church experience and end up in another, just because you happen to be there at the time... it all ends up compounded. Working through that can be pretty tough.

I don't mean any ill will toward the folks in my post-Antioch church whom I wish had treated my family and me better than they did. No, the issue here is primarily that I want to be honest with people and not have to feel pressured to lie to fit in, just because it's a church function. That's.... just not the type of church and not the type of church people I want to be around, that's all.

If I have to lie to fit in, then why do I need to be there? That would seem counter-productive to me.

A new church: a better fit? Maybe

That said, there is a church closer to us that is OK we could try going to tomorrow. Maybe. I've had meh OK experiences with them so far. They're about the closest I've found to date. I dunno. We'll see.

The part that makes me angriest of all

And the other thing? There is one thing about this church and the whole situation.... I don't think I've written about it anywhere, and I don't want to. It is related both to Antioch's influence on me and events in my post-Antioch church. The problem landed me into sin and damaged my marriage for a while, until I could unlearn the false doctrine poison that got me into the mess in the first place. The Antioch and sometimes post-Antioch church false doctrines that led to this problem left me so angry about the sin and mess that this problem was a huge catalyst to me starting this blog. (I don't mind being angry for a little while. I just prefer for my anger to serve as a catalyst to help bring about (hopefully) some sort of positive change. That's not to say that I don't make a huge -- and to many, a negative -- mess along the way, but I'd like to hope that the eventual overall outcome is positive.)

When false doctrine slips in, where are the teachers, and why aren't they checking for biblical understanding?

When a church's teachings in time lead you into sin, there is something very wrong with your church's teachings. I had to learn this the hard way. But I repented as soon as the theological poison cleared enough for me to do so.

Now, you may say that it was my fault for misinterpreting the teachings. Excuse me, but the only teachers who don't check for understanding are bad teachers. I used to work as a k-12 classroom teacher in Virginia. Any classroom teacher who works for a decent school district and can't show that their students are actually understanding and learning from the material you are assigned to cover, gets fired, just as they should! Remember what Jesus said: that those who cause little ones -- believers -- to be led astray, would be better off thrown into the sea with millstones around their necks, whereby they would drown (paraphrasing of Matthew 18:6). Church teachers absolutely do bear at least some responsibility for misleading fellow believers who misunderstood something. Because let's get this straight: I never intended to get it wrong. It simply happened in the course of time, as teachings got twisted.

So, my advice to you guys? Read the Bible for yourself. Ask God to grant you discernment -- to guide you and protect you from misunderstanding Scripture, and to protect you from evil. And if you truly believe your church's leaders to be wrong, stand up and tell them so. Do not be afraid of them. They are mere humans. If they tell you that you are wrong, but you believe that they are the ones in the wrong, don't be afraid to leave. When they truly are in the wrong, one of the best things you can do is tell them that you are leaving, because they have chosen not to repent, and then follow through, trusting God to provide you with a biblical church.

The Bible says that we will each give an account of ourselves to God (Romans 14:12). You are responsible for yourself, not the response of your church's leaders. If they do not want to do what is biblical, that is not your fault. Do your best to do what is biblical, even when others will not.

Charismata NEVER outweighs Scripture

As for the charismata: it is not Scripture, so it is not nearly as important. If it were, it would be in the Bible, clear as day, with no need of some special, modern-day reinterpretation or special revelation or whatever. While charismata may be a by-product of Christianity, Christ is our focus, not the charismatic gifts. The Bible should be our authority, not charismata. When charismata becomes our authority, that is witchcraft and New Age-type stuff, not Christianity. Wrong religion. Don't let charismania detract you from pure devotion to Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

I do need to go back to church somewhere and read my Bible more. This is true. And I don't have everything right. But I don't want to lie -- or be controlled more by people.

My relationships with my former churches is not what I wish it were. I hope and pray that things change in time; but we'll see. In the meantime, while I wish that I could go back and not feel awkward about things, I'd have to admit that my relationship with many folks is still awkward. But, at least that's an honest answer. I'd rather be able to admit that until things can change. And at least I'm not on anyone's timetable but God's.

So, for now, I think I'll pass on the whole baptism service -- as much as I miss the people and the service. Hopefully someday, I'll be stronger, and be able to be gracious about things. Maybe next year.

Until then, let me at least not put myself into a position, such that I'd be inclined to lie and hide. I find that a waste of valuable time that I could be spending with my family. So for now, family time it is -- and I am thrilled to be a polyglot and have a three-year-old who wants me to teach her some Chinese! =)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Update: Reflecting on Scripture

Now that the latest annoyance has (hopefully) largely subsided (I think), here's what's been going on:

Lord, please grant me good health

I'm concerned about a physical health issue, possibly stemming from a combination of both non-Antioch factors (family history and likely genetics) and Antioch abuse. 

Because of my rocky relationship with the Christian Church since my time with Antioch-Waco, every time one of these events comes up, I find myself having to re-evaluate whether or not I still trust God.

Initially, I typically find myself thinking, "Why is God putting me through this mess, too? Was the spiritual abuse He had me go through with Antioch-Waco not enough?" And it will really just make me feel very vulnerable and alone, because a lot of Christians have shown me that I cannot really trust them -- and I learned from my experience with Antioch-Waco that I cannot trust God to protect me, because He doesn't always protect people from evil things. 

While a part of me would like to get back to church, I am very leery of the cultish mentality I often find among churchgoing Christians anymore. It's not for no reason that for more than two years now, I have been bouncing from one church to another, wary of committing anywhere. I am genuinely happier skipping church, because church will tragically often feel like a mind control cult to me anymore, and I just honestly prefer to be able to think for myself and make my own decisions, rather than feel pressured to believe or do anything, based on some subjective, human preacher's / church members' understanding of the Bible.

The Lord's conviction about my attitude and behavior

But, as I was thinking about this, frustrated at feeling as if God were unfairly targeting me more than many others, I sensed the Lord's conviction about a few things. Not everything, but a few things.

Do I know if this were truly from God? No, but it would seem to me that it were from Him.

For what it's worth, my impression:

He was very gentle with me. He was not like judgmental, condemning churchgoing Christians on social media. No. He did not cast that first stone at me. Even though I was wrong to see things from such a selfish / self-centered perspective, He understood that churchgoing Christians have often antagonized people like me. He knows that we are both wrong and both right, just in different areas.

He didn't tell me exactly that I would be going to hell if I didn't go to church.

He didn't tell me that I was a sinner or worse off than others because I hadn't read my Bible in some time.

No, but He did challenge me to do one thing:

He asked me to remember the ways He has blessed me.

And I started to remember. He has not been the One to do evil things to me. No, the ones who have done that, have been people. Imperfect individuals. And I myself have harmed folks, too. 

But as for He Himself, He has blessed me, and He has challenged me in healthy ways.

He has acted toward me just as any loving, well-intended father would.

I would know: that's what my dad is like.

Shortly after this, He also gave me a sign. I had seen it before -- only this time, I saw it, in connection with a vision, I guess.

I had taken a break from cramming Arabic, in the hopes of someday teaching my daughter. We were at our local library, and my husband was watching our daughter, so that I could study. (My husband is just awesome like that.) Anyway, I needed a break, and it just so happens that there is a pond next to our library, with a walking trail along it. So, I went old-school and went on a stroll.

And after a while, I saw it: 

Hidden behind some trees was this small outcrop of what I suspect to be something akin to mudstone. It was breaking apart in a manner similar to the shale / coal blossom my family would walk past on the trails around the lake at our summer home -- the ones that led to the waterfalls. 

I wish you could have seen our summer home place back in the day, before the tornadoes tore out the virgin Eastern Hemlock stands in 1997. The cabin association was a very quiet community and had communal property that included a small, private lake -- and a large, virgin stand of Eastern Hemlock provided this amazing canopy over our three waterfalls, I think each one with a swimming hole down below. 

Man, I loved it. I really was blessed growing up. A part of me hopes that heaven is like that. To me, it was that beautiful.

Now, 1997 is 20 years ago. I get that. But you know what you can do? Go to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia, or visit Swallow Falls State Park in Maryland. Those waterfalls somewhat approximate what I saw as a kid, albeit on perhaps a grander scale. (For the record, the river for Swallow Falls / Muddy Creek Falls, the Youghiogheny, is pronounced "Yock-uh-GAIN-ee".)

****

Update: I suppose I should also mention New Germany State Park, which is a beautiful little state park with a lake that also reminds me of my old summer home's lake. Like nearby Herrington Manor State Park, which I believe has a walking trail connecting to Swallow Falls State Park, they offer hiking, tent camping, swimming and boating in the summer months; cabin rentals year-round; and cross-country skiing in the winter.

And of course, you have Deep Creek Lake in between New Germany and those other Maryland state parks. You want a Texas-sized lake with potential lake house rentals in Maryland? That would be the place to go.

And the Dolly Sods Wilderness from which this blog gets its name, is within a short drive's distance from Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. Definitely beautiful areas. I am very thankful that the Lord has shared this region with me.

****

But anyway, what does any of this have to do with Scripture?

For me, a lot.

God convicting me like that and then reminding me of His kindness toward me, convicted me to try once again to make sense of Jesus' hard teachings -- in light of my background with Antioch, and my informal study of cultism and thought reform.

Picking up my Bible and reading some of Matthew

As I read parts of Matthew, some of it made sense. But then I got to the part about taking up my cross -- and how those who find their lives, will lose them, and, well, to be blunt, that's the type of stuff that cult leaders will tend to say -- and there is an element of control in that.

When I consider my time with Antioch, this much I hope I learned: I have limitations. A lot of them. There is a lot that I am not capable of handling, period. 

The problem with the expectation in Scripture here is that this is where Christianity's cultish tendencies stem from. Individuals who cannot say no, so that they can recharge, will burn out, trying to fulfill these expectations. And every day that I listen to Christian radio -- and at times in church -- I am bombarded with the teaching of giving of ourselves in an unhealthy manner: 

until we burn out.

Doing this, no matter how much we read the Scriptures; no matter how much we forgive or do this or that; no matter how much we refrain from doing X, Y or Z, we will burn out. 

We will forget who we are.

And we may come to hate God in the process, too.

Now, I realize that lots of folks will say, "Oh, but God helped me make it". Yeah, well, what about all the people God did NOT help make it? You know, the ones who don't go to church anymore? The ones who don't identify as Christian anymore?

Are you really going to say that they were faithless? What if they had faith but maybe just needed some extra support that no one was willing to grant them?

Needless to say, I had to accept that there were limitations to this passage. But then, I would say that even other passages in Scripture help to set up the guidelines a little better -- to show that yes, there are limitations even to this teaching after a while. And as I read further down and consider the concepts of finding vs. losing a life, this much I realized:

Can we entrust Jesus with our lives and souls?

We're going to lose our lives one way or another. So, the real question is, do we trust Jesus enough to hand our lives over to Him?

He promises that we'll find our lives in Him. When we consider death and the dissatisfaction of this life, it would seem that in the end, the only enjoyment we might get this side of eternity would be fleeting. So, which would be more worthwhile: enjoying our lives here, or serving Jesus?

Enjoying our lives here might be an easier life; but there is ultimately a sense of dissatisfaction in our safe, self-centered lives. I mean, think about it: who likes self-centered people? They're not all that fun in the grand scheme of things -- and they certainly aren't reliable when the going gets tough.

So, when I think of finding vs. losing my life, and wondering whether or not I can trust God, it seems to me that it's likely worth a shot -- yes, even with the risk of cultism.

Will God protect me from fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord who may have cultish tendencies? In most cases, probably not. That is where I may simply have to learn to put my foot down and say, "Y'know, Jesus taught us not to control each other. If you are going to treat me like this, then I will leave in search of folks who make a good-faith effort to love their neighbors as themselves."

But, what of non-Christians? Well, it would seem to me that we'd do well to apply the principles Jesus and Paul taught. I find that doing those types of things, helps quite a bit.

Is God a human trafficker?

Sometimes, listening to Christians or reading resources like Watchman Nee's Spiritual Authority or Mike Breen's / Three Dimension Ministries (3DM)'s Building a Discipling Culture, or Dr. Robert Coleman's Master Plan of Evangelism -- each resource alleged to be an influence to one degree or another in the Antioch Movement -- I wonder if God is a human trafficker. I mean, good grief, Watchman Nee allegedly taught that using our ability to reason was immature at best and sinful at worst, as it allegedly kept us from obeying God! (Of course, he also allegedly taught that God's authority was far more important than His love for us. In Spiritual Authority, there was maybe a mention of God's love once; but I lost track of how often Nee referred to God's authority, it was that often.)

I'd like to know how this mentality differs from that of a human trafficker, such as a coyote, pimp, cult leader or slave driver, because I fail to notice the difference. It can also resemble a relationship in which one might find domestic violence or child abuse. These cases demonstrate a relationship-of-sorts, but not one any of us would want -- because the one in control in these types of situations doesn't genuinely care about the one under authority.

Now, I realize that Paul referred to us being either slaves to sin or slaves of God. Well, there's a problem with that: if I am God's slave, then I am not choosing the faith of my own free will. And yet, if I decide to choose it on my own, then it would seem that Paul insinuated at that point that simply by me using reason, that I have automatically chosen enslavement to sin -- even though God and Jesus both used reason.

For a couple examples, see Isaiah 1:18 and Matthew 7:9-11. Passages in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as well as in the Old Testament writings of the prophets -- and for that matter, passages, such as Paul's arguments in Galatians -- often seem to me to support the idea that God gave us the ability to reason as part of His plan for people to come to faith in Him, not to confuse us or send people to hell for not understanding His plan.

And good grief! Last time I checked my Bibles, wisdom and discernment were spiritual gifts, not temptations from the Devil!

So, what do I do with passages about us being God's slaves? Personally, I take them with a grain of salt, understanding that they are ultimately an imperfect representation. Frankly, I would be inclined to favor passages on a healthy parent-child relationship analogy over those referencing slavery. I mean, the way I look at it, we intrinsically recognize slavery -- human trafficking -- as evil -- a human rights violation. So, why would we want to view God in such a negative light? I don't, and that's why I approach bible passages on slavery -- and for that manner, those on racism / xenophobia and poor treatment of women -- with caution, recognizing a lot of that as related to the cultures that Christianity was working on changing for the better.

Now, I will grant you that the "God's slaves" and soldier-type analogies do remind us of God's authority, true; but they need to be balanced with other passages that remind us of how good and kind God is -- that He is worthy of having that authority. That is the part I often find lacking from many a Christian teacher. I hear a lot about authority and obeying. I don't hear much about love -- and when I do, it's often what I call "fake cult love", because of the sense of control that will (in my opinion) go beyond God's boundaries, due to human misunderstanding of the Scriptures.

Because let me be blunt with you: if God were an evil cosmic sadist, I wouldn't give a rat's butt that He'd have all the authority in the universe. He could go ahead and destroy me and send me to hell. I would still hate him for being cruel. So, I follow God, because I'm hoping that He really is good and kind -- and I am thankful that He has authority, because I need a good, kind God who is actually able to stop the evil in this world.

So, I don't think of God's a human trafficker; but I think that people sometimes misunderstand the Scriptures and become confused about Him because of that misunderstanding -- and I can certainly understand that.

That said, I do think that there is benefit to God having authority: when God is good and has the authority to stop evil, that is a good thing -- something I dare say that we cannot live without.

Conclusions on Bible reading and church attendance

So, can I get back to reading my Bible? Probably.

Do I want to read my Bible, so that you would have more respect for me? Um, no. Definitely not. When it's about appearances, then I'm better off not reading my Bible.

Do I want to do it for God and myself? Yeah, because I think that's the right thing to do.

Now, but what about a church?

There is one church we've gone to a couple of times. If God helps me through some things, maybe I could stick around. Maybe. And if not, that's OK. I'll wait. And trust God to help me. And not worry about what other people think, because my relationship with God is really between me and God.

Honestly, I wouldn't even bring this up, except that I know that some of you out there are like, "I don't know if I could ever go back to church." I definitely get that -- from experience. I am motivated to go back by and by, so that those of you who aren't sure you can do it, can see that yeah, it can be done -- and see how it worked out in my case.

I don't know if I'll be successful, but if I am, then Wandering Dolly Sods may finally come full-circle: at that time, I could say that I entered the wilderness, trusting God to get me through it, and He did. =)

Sorry if this seems repetitive of earlier posts. Y'know, it's just one of those things where I have to choose day by day, moment by moment to follow Jesus. And once you become concerned about spiritual abuse or cultism in the Church -- or worse yet, in the Bible -- that's some seriously tough stuff to work through. I am well aware that I'm just making up this journey as I go along. (Don't get me wrong: I'm sure God is guiding me. It's just that if free will is real, then I have to be able to remain in the faith as a result of my bona-fide free will, rather than the coerced will of a cultish shadow of my true self.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Update: More adversity, but I trust that God is in it

******
UPDATE, August 15, 2017

Below is my post on another problem I ended up having to navigate after Antioch: a child abuse investigation on me in Arizona.

My husband and I were accused of child abuse on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017. We were visiting a church in Arizona that Sunday -- for the first time. I was just trying to do the right thing and go back to church.

Our hell started the following Wednesday, just in time to ruin Easter festivities for us.

We haven't been back to that church since, although I did reach out to the church, to ask if their childcare workers accused us of child abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this, not the least of which is that bearing false witness against a neighbor is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. I'd hope that church staff and vetted volunteers would know that.

I was exonerated June 6, 2017, but wasn't informed of that until July 27, 2017. After getting the run-around from the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) multiple times, I was able to get this document by contacting Arizona Governor Ducey's office. I had the documentation within about two days of contacting his office.

I'd have to take a look at the document to see if it does indeed also clear my husband; but presumably, the answer would be yes. I would also note that there was a typo in our address, so there is the possibility that we did not receive the documentation, due to a clerical error.

If there was such a clerical error, then were there other errors in the report? And is this a fairly common problem with Arizona DCS, such that it might affect a judge's decisions in a court of law? I worry that that could be a possibility.

Boy, was it a pain dealing with Arizona DCS. I feel sorry for the folks who get caught up in their system. And I pray that God reform Arizona DCS and similar child welfare groups nationwide that have similar problems.

Bottom line? If you're a parent or caregiver of a kid, read up on child abuse investigation laws and procedures in your state -- and be aware that in many cases, child abuse investigators don't necessarily follow U.S. constitutional law. But, if you are accused and you stand your ground and stand up for your civil rights, you may be able to put them in place. But in many cases, the onus is actually on you to hold these folks accountable to U.S. constitutional law.

And, for the record, a lot of jurisdictions essentially assume you're guilty until proven innocent. I didn't know that. It's an inappropriately low burden of proof called "a preponderance of evidence", which I think is what Arizona DCS has been using. It should be "clear and convincing evidence".

For more information on child welfare reform, please visit the blog of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), https://nccpr.org/. Their solution papers on Due Process and Services are pretty good. I also found their issue papers informative.

May God reform Arizona DCS into a healthy, accountable, transparent organization that promotes justice for all. And may God heal and restore affected families whenever possible. In Jesus' Name, amen.

And for the record, Lauren Daigle's Come Alive (Dry Bones) was one of the songs that was popular on K-Love in the Phoenix area when we were in town. Seems quite fitting to me. You might also want to consider Jeremiah 31. ;)

Oh yeah, one last thing: I am actually working on a couple of new blogs: one on my efforts to promote multilingualism in our daughter, and one on my after-hours studies of Arabic (and possibly a couple others as time goes on). These blogs -- and Laurel Hemlock -- will likely be slow going. =)

******

Hey guys,

If you've followed this blog in the past, well, I've mostly finished it, I think. And really, I do need to move on. My kid is too cute not to watch grow up, y'know?

But, I wanted to give you an update on one thing: our family has moved around periodically for my husband's work. While we were in Arizona, we were apparently accused of child abuse. After I returned home with our daughter, I was investigated by our local Virginia Child Protective Services investigators, who, from what I can tell, concluded that there was nothing wrong.

Since that time, we've been pretty much left alone.... although Arizona's Department of Child Safety (DCS) is allegedly responsible for providing us with the paperwork clearing our names, and they haven't done that yet -- and our home visit with local CPS folks was over a month ago.

Seems like a while to wait on paperwork, in my opinion. But, whatever.

Anyway, in the process of going through this thing, I have discovered that Arizona DCS may possibly be a pretty messed-up organization. Some folks have alleged that Arizona DCS has deliberately worked to keep their families torn apart, despite their best efforts to meet all requirements for next-of-kin to take over as the surrogate parents, or for the parents to demonstrate that they've sufficiently rehabilitated themselves to have their kids returned to them.

Because DCS and Family Court documents are kept confidential in Arizona, it is difficult to know for sure if there are widespread problems. However, if those allegations and my family's experience are any indication, then it would seem to me that Arizona DCS may need some serious oversight.

At last check, The Arizona Republic -- a Phoenix, AZ-based news outlet affiliate of USA Today, I believe -- has been running an exposé series on Arizona DCS.

This in in addition to an alleged Arizona CPS whistleblower interview, recorded by ABC15, Phoenix, AZ.

So, if you have children and find yourself in Arizona, please, be careful. Just FYI.

For my blog on this incident, you can check out Rachel's Children. After a short bit, I'm hoping to move back to my blog Laurel Hemlock and move on with my life.

Being a parent is fun but hard sometimes. Being a parent with a background in a sometimes cultish / abusive church is a bit tougher, especially when you can sometimes run the risk of discrimination in situations like accusations of child abuse.

Please pray that God would protect my family. And please pray for the families affected in Arizona -- and that Arizona State Legislators would amend the laws in a manner that would better serve children and families.

Thanks, guys! Blessings to you all! = )

Monday, June 5, 2017

Antioch, FOMO and overcoming

I try not to get on here that often anymore, but periodically I'll be reminded of some insight I've found helpful in the recovery process.

Reflecting back on my time with Antioch-Waco's college ministry (2000-2005), it's dawned on me that I was encountering a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out):
  1. Fear of missing out on a sense of a tight-knit community;
  2. Fear of missing out on some fun activity or some social events with peers in the college ministry if we focused on our studies, rather than heed the "encouragement" by leadership to be heavily-involved in church; 
  3. Fear of missing out on some great ministry opportunity, travel experience or blessing from God if we didn't have our act together in small matters, like reading the Bible everyday, performing our work well, and refraining from getting angry at people -- as we would say, "Faithful in the little, ruler over much";
  4. Fear of missing out on a needed "deliverance" from alleged demons, or of missing out on a desired healing if we didn't stick around and comply completely with everything expected of us from Antioch's deliverance ministry programs (largely Dr. Neil Anderson's / Freedom in Christ Ministries' Steps to Freedom in Christ and Bible verse memorization / internalization, although sometimes also Theophostic / Elijah House-style charismatic root issue and / or "demon summoning" sessions -- I know that from personal experience with one of Antioch-Waco's counselors);
  5. Fear of missing out on an opportunity for spiritual growth, that great ministry opportunity that hadn't come yet, or some blessing we've been waiting for, if we stood up to Antioch's leaders or left Antioch for another congregation;
  6. Fear of losing our Antioch friends if we left for another congregation; and
  7. For some single ladies, possibly a fear of having a harder time finding a mate in some other local churches, from the appearance of there being a smaller pool of available guys in some other local congregations.
Now, don't get me wrong: I'm sure that some of what Antioch taught has helped some people remember God and His desires a bit more; but I do think that overall, the effect for a number of folks was probably one more along the lines of developing: 
  1. unscriptural beliefs and practices, including passing negative judgment on others and their motives (viewing others with a sense of arrogance and sometimes even suspicion or paranoia when the other party doesn't do things Antioch's way or isn't party-line Antiocher);
  2. elevated levels of fear and anxiety; 
  3. learned dependence; and 
  4. an atrophy of sound reasoning, decision-making and autonomous living skills. 
At any rate, that's what happened to me, and I think that I'm probably not the only one who had these problems. Along with the socio-psychological implications were also theological ones. For example, I came to view God as basically evil, cruel, uncaring and demanding -- a deity whose level of "love" for us was directly proportional to our level of compliance to the church's requirements. This was definitely not the Christian God I knew in my prior church.

But anyway, it took me around 15-17 years to figure this one out, and I got news for ya: Antioch's usage of FOMO on some blessing, ministry opportunity, etc? 

LARGELY HYPE. Held me in bondage for years and led to a lot of problems in my life.

You see, you can go overseas with other organizations. You can even go on your own if you want to an have the time, health and funds. You can serve even in ministry in other organizations. God can speak to you without ever having set foot in an Antioch congregation or Lifegroup. And even if demons are hiding in every bush, they generally don't bother me, now that I've left Antioch. I personally have found it far more effective just to pay attention to God and enjoy my life. Doing that, I find that "demons" don't overtly harass me like they allegedly did at Antioch-Waco.

If you're worried about not having a sense of community, please don't be. By me living in the larger society, I have access to a more diversified support network that helps to keep things balanced. Unlike with Antiochers, I don't have to worry about the church abandoning and betraying me if they decide that I'm not busting my butt enough for God. I've been through that. It's a horrible feeling.

If you are single and looking for a mate, get on E-Harmony, Match.com or some other dating service -- or better yet, find some activities you enjoy and start meeting people. For example, I enjoy paddleboarding and used to ride a motorcycle. I'd also like to try hang gliding and mountain climbing, and I enjoy hiking / backpacking and camping, composing music and learning languages. My husband enjoys cooking, riding motorcycles and hiking / backpacking / camping (and I really like the fact that he can cook!). Seriously, be yourself, and go out and meet people. That's how we have fun, and that's how I started dating my husband. (And if you're in a "Hey, there aren't a lot of available singles in my area" region, then move somewhere that has an active singles scene.)

You see, when it comes to missing out on things, it seems to me that I missed out on more by staying at Antioch and letting life pass me by, than had I left Antioch for a church that would've been a better fit for me. All those promises about God rewarding me for persevering, or for doing X, Y and Z right? They were in my case largely a sick joke. There was little gain from it, and a lot of loss. I know I didn't persevere that long -- just five years, plus the years after Antioch, in which I continued with what I was taught -- but y'know, call me human, but I just think that's a bit of time for an impatient American to wait -- especially when you don't typically have to wait that long for deliverance and to be used by God in church ministry and / or missionary work. Honestly, sometimes it's just a matter of getting away from a toxic environment to one where people actually value you and the contribution you offer.

I know that some Antioch leaders would pooh-pooh other organizations that would work to empower imperfect people in ways that involved less time (and in my opinion, red tape). That is unfortunate that some Antioch leaders would criticize other Christian missionary organizations and churches like that. Don't buy into their arrogance. God uses these other groups for His purposes just fine. I know from experience. God does not criticize them, so I think it to be wrong for Antioch to criticize them.  

So, next time Antioch tries to use FOMO on you, know that you can say "No thanks", and that if you choose to say "No", you may actually end up missing out on less, than had you stayed.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Trusting God and Christians in light of church abuse

This post is intended as sort-of an "epilogue" post to the main commentary on this blog. I wrote it, because the only information I found addressing this subject were pieces by authors and ministries I figured would probably make light of the evil of the abuse, and because of my recognition as a survivor of the need to eradicate the evil of abuse from the Church.

If you haven't been on my blog here before, Wandering Dolly Sods came about because I needed a safe space to process the spiritual abuse I endured in my college church.

I had been through Christian and secular counseling. I also spent several years on psychotropic drugs under the care of a few psychiatrists, predominantly as a result of the abuse (my opinion). All these things helped a little, but they did not help me much in the long term, because none of them were effective even at acknowledging that the problem was mostly the abuse I had endured, rather than a psychological condition or a sin I was not willing to repent from.

When I finally was able to recognize that I had been spiritually abused and was not actually spiritually weak, demonized or despised by God for some unknown reason, it was a huge relief -- because I finally had hope that I actually could recover.

But, it begged some questions:
  1. Why did God allow me to be abused?
  2. Why didn't God show me right away what the problem actually was, and what to do about it? Why did He have me wait many years before revealing to me through the Bible and the common sense of level-headed Christians that I had been abused?
  3. Where was God as I was going through the hell of the abuse?
  4. Why has God continued to allow me to suffer from the longer-term ripple effects of the false teaching and abuse I endured?
For years and years, I had no good answers to these questions.

It felt as if I had a Savior and a Lord, but not a Healer or Deliverer in my time of need.

God directed me to that church. Why would He send me to fellowship with Christian leaders and church members who would abuse me in Christ's Name?

My abusive church taught me that God loved me -- and that because of that, He would heal me instantly. All I had to do was repent of my sins and have faith.

Well, I did my best to do those things.... only, God didn't heal me. Not until a long time after I had left that congregation. The healing has come little at a time, like peeling off the layers of an onion. 

As the years have gone by, this is what I have concluded:
  1. Abuse, sickness and other tragedies in this world are evil things that happen because of the fall. Because they are evil, I needn't give thanks to God for them, but rather, be thankful that God is good in spite of the evil we face.
  2. God seems to use both good and evil events to refine our characters and hopefully draw us closer to Him. The blessings we receive from Him remind us of His love and kindness. The evil in this world serves as a reminder that God is so much greater than all the evil we face -- and that in Christ, we have hope for a future in a perfect world, regardless as to the evil we end up enduring this side of heaven.
  3. There is NO excuse for Christian leaders abusing people. They should be the ones setting a godly example of gentleness before others. Unless they repent of their abuse, they are leaders who should be removed from leadership if not excommunicated from the Church, so as not to malign Christ's name.
  4. Secular authorities should not be setting the example for everyone in standing up for justice against abuse. The Church should. Using cop-outs like "the Church is full of sinners" doesn't cut it, because even non-Christians recognize that abuse is evil. This is an issue of church discipline -- and when necessary, excommunication. Also, I believe that what Paul was talking about with Christians suing each other in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 6) may have been an issue of that congregation not treating people justly (Micah 6:8, Matthew 6:33).
  5. Abusers can be clergy (church leaders), laity (non-leader members) or a combination thereof. They can also be influential Christian commenters on social media who are not leaders in their local congregations.
  6. Abuse often comes about through ignorance, false doctrine and / or pride / narcissism. 
  7. Abuse can come about through misunderstandings. However, it is the responsibility of the church's teachers and leaders to make sure that those who hear their teachings and / or are under their leadership, understand the teachings and leadership decisions correctly. Any time someone wishes to teach but is unwilling to check for understanding, they are not truly a teacher. I am a former public school teacher. My work was judged, based largely on how well my students actually demonstrated that they understood what I was teaching them. It was my responsibility as a teacher to make sure that my students were understanding what I was trying to teach them. I could not simply assume that they understood. So, I expect church teachers to be held to the same level of accountability, rather than use the "misunderstandings" excuse to deflect responsibility onto those they were teaching. Let us remember that the Bible teaches us that teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). The "misunderstandings" cop-out is unacceptable for a Christian teacher. If there is a misunderstanding, then the teacher should be the one responsible for reaching out to the one they offended through the alleged misunderstanding and working to clarify things or make things right (Matthew 5:21-26).
  8. From what I have observed, Shepherding / Discipleship Movement one-on-one discipleship groups tend to lend themselves more easily than other leadership and discipleship models to pyramidal leadership hierarchies, spiritual abuse, thought reform and cultism. 
  9. Survivors of abuse -- and for that matter, survivors of bullying -- do well to recognize their worth as children of God and stand up for themselves.
  10. From what I can tell as an abuse survivor who does not work in mental health or law enforcement professions, the best thing an abuse survivor can do seems to me to be to confront the abuser with their abuse -- in other words, let them know what they're doing wrong, issue enforceable negative consequences for repeat offense, and then consistently enforce those consequences -- rather than enable the abuser to continue to sin. This may mean leaving the abuser -- especially if the abuser is violent and / or manipulative. Obviously, if you or children are in danger, or if an illegal activity is going on, get yourself and any children out of that situation. Get help from civil authorities as you need to: domestic abuse shelters, child protective services, police, etc. I believe that that is why we are taught to submit to governing authorities (Romans 13). This is not an issue of forgiveness or lack thereof, as you can forgive the abuser, even as you also call the police to get help.
  11. Reconciliation to an abuser is not possible unless the abuser genuinely repents. The onus is on the abuser to genuinely repent. The onus is not on the abuse survivor, because the problem is not survival of the abuse, but rather, the abuse itself. That said, we as Christians are to forgive. But, the abuser's / offender's repentance -- and reconciliation to them -- are not necessary to forgive the person.
  12. There is nothing wrong with questioning the sincerity of an abuser's repentance. It takes time to rebuild that trust. There is no rush to reconcile. If the abuser or one of their supporters insists on reconciliation, do not reconcile. You should never feel pressured to reconcile, because that pressure is an indication that someone is more interested in manipulating you than respecting you and your discernment.
To try to answer my questions, I'd say:
  1. Why did God allow me to be abused? I'm not sure, but the abuse, evil as it was, did help refine my character.
  2. Why didn't God show me right away what the problem actually was, and what to do about it? If He had, how would I have grown from the experience? Why did He have me wait many years before revealing to me through the Bible and the common sense of level-headed Christians that I had been abused? I don't know. I wish I had learned sooner, but my college church taught me one way of reading the Bible -- a way that made it nearly impossible for me to understand the truth in the Bible for what it actually said.
  3. Where was God as I was going through the hell of the abuse? He was right there beside me. And unlike what my senior pastor would seem to me to imply, I believe that God did not condone the abuse he and his leaders were subjecting me to. I further believe that unlike some leaders in my college church, God did not judge me as "demonically-oppressed" or "spiritually-diseased", but rather, that He witnessed the abuse I was enduring. Was I innocent in my ordeal? Not entirely; but I truly believe that the main issue was spiritual abuse from the leadership and harmful teachings in my college church.
  4. Why has God continued to allow me to suffer from the longer-term ripple effects of the false teaching and abuse I endured?  I'm not sure, but the healing in the peeling back of layers of problems has left me more dependent on God for my healing and deliverance. I count that a good thing in the end, even though the delay in complete healing has inconvenienced me -- and society as a result -- on several levels. Also, the delayed healing has shown me how hurtful and ignorant the comments and thinking of many well-meaning Christians can be to abuse survivors like me. Without recognizing this as a problem, the Church would have no hope of repenting of this hurtful, unhelpful tendency.
Conclusions about God

So, I have concluded through all this that unlike what my college church unwittingly taught me, God is good, not evil; and He loves me, rather than hates me. 

Going back to church

But still, what do I do about going back to church? For starters, I have had to show a lot of patience and realize that a lot of people just aren't going to get it. I am starting back slowly and cautiously, and I may remain on the sidelines for some time. Any church where the leadership demands involvement is not a church for someone like me -- because I need church leaders who are more patient and gracious than that.

Trying to find a suitable church for my family at this point has not been easy; but there are some healthy ones here and there that might work. I am hoping to try one soon. If we are fortunate, it may work well enough.

Will I ever get seriously involved? I'll admit: I am hesitant at this point. I will take a "wait and see" approach, trusting that God will make me stronger in time.

It is hard when most Christians do not understand. But, I realize that I must be patient and recognize that most of them may never get it this side of heaven. This does not mean that our brothers and sisters in Christ are bad people, no, just ignorant sometimes -- and that in and of itself is, from what I can tell, not a sin.

Reading my Bible again

I remember what it was like getting to the point that I wanted to throw my Bible across the room, because I could only read it in a twisted manner that brought me no hope. What I would say in that regard is that there are other Christians out there who have different ways of reading the Bible. By considering a variety of perspectives, I have been able to overcome at least some of the bias I learned from reading the Bible in my college church.

God brought me through my hell and spared me from apostasy and death

So, whereas I once thought long and hard about becoming an anti-theist / atheist or about reverting to my pre-Christian religion of universalist deism, I have come to realize that God actually is good; that He hates spiritual abuse (Ezekiel 34, Matthew 23 and the letter to the Galatians, among many other passages); that I can trust Him; and that with His help, I can remain a Christ follower.

If you had asked me these things sixteen years ago when I was going through the hell of my abuse, I couldn't have said those things; but the Lord in time did bring me through that evil, even though I was quite angry, nearly rejected the faith, and could have died in the process. But God had greater plans for my life, and He brought me through that process.

Some folks don't make it..... and still others return to the faith in time

I know that not everyone makes is through this mess. I get that. It is by no means an easy process. But, it is ultimately a personal decision. Can God be trusted? Not everyone comes to the same conclusion on that. Some people conclude that God cannot be trusted and convert to atheism / anti-theism or a different faith, or even commit suicide sometimes, presumably because of church abuse. Some folks become embittered at God for a while, and then eventually convert back to Christianity. It all varies so much. 

What I find, though, is that the standard Christian leader / churchgoer response of refusing to nip in the bud church abuse seems to be playing a pretty big role in folks understandably leaving the Church. I don't blame folks for leaving Christianity for that reason -- especially since I almost did myself for that same reason. Perhaps in time, our churchgoing brothers and sisters in Christ will start to pay more attention and realize that we have been oversimplifying things and at times neglecting some people's needs. If this mentality were to change in the future, I imagine that that would help portray Christ more positively in our pluralistic society.