Shattered Illusions

Part 1 of 7

A large number of people who leave churches have experienced spiritual abuse. One of the reasons I want to talk about this is because it is a reality in the lives of many who are a part of the blogging church conversation.

Spiritual abuse is trauma. The three characteristics of trauma are:
1. An external cause – Someone does it to you.
2. Violation – You are violated by an unwelcome intrusion.
3. Loss of control – It is unexpected and beyond your control.

The result is a shattering of the basic assumptions the person held about their world. For me, the shattering was the realization that things within the church are not always as they should be, and truth and justice do not always prevail.

Evil within the world doesn’t surprise me. Mistakes and misunderstandings in relationships don’t shock me. I have always believed that conflicts between christians can be worked through when both parties submit their will to God.

Intentional, malicious action against me by a church leader blew me away. The unwillingness of others involved to challenge the leader’s actions, but instead look the other way in denial, preserving their positions, shattered my trust in church leadership.

The tendency of those who have not experienced spiritual abuse is to minimize the experience. Honestly, it is something you do not truly understand unless you have experienced it.

Those who leave churches are often portrayed as overly sensitive, embittered, and difficult to get along with. While they may be reactionary immediately following their abuse, most recover and grow beyond that.

Their experience is a contributing factor in forming different expectations of what the church should be. However, their views should not be invalidated by the fact that they were born out of a time of pain.

This is likely the first of a series of posts.


23 thoughts on “Shattered Illusions

  1. Excellent post. Like yourself, I have experienced this, and it was a life altering event(s). The loneliness, the second-guessing, the longing to be vidicated, resisting the urge to strike out, etc.

    I look forward to the next posts.


  2. My first pastorate ended in a way that is eerily similar to what you have described here. The abuse, the lies, the manipulations, the cowardice of the other leaders who looked the other way, and the gullibility of the congregation that bought the whole spin-doctoring — hook, line and sinker.

    I was a total mess for a year at least. The biggest casualty was my trust in other leaders and “mature” Christians.

    One of the associate pastors tried to convince me that my leaving was like a divorce, because there was a split in the relationships.

    I replied that it was more like a rape — I had been violated and then, like many rape victims in the literal sense, was falsely accused of being the problem.

    It’s far too prevalent. But God is merciful and gracious, and brings healing to those who have been through these dark waters. I can also bear witness to His restorative power in my life.

    I look forward to your future posts on this. It’s a topic that needs to be honestly addressed; I think you’ll find that there are many, many who share your journey on this one.

  3. P.S. A good friend of mine had a prophetic word for me back in 1998, part of which was “God is going to restore to you, a love for the Bride”. And despite the ongoing struggle for a more missional expression of the church, God has been giving me a greater love for the Bride, which I am thankful for.

  4. Grace,

    I’ve written about this, too. If you like, you can see the post here.

    It’s a story of my personal path to what, where and why I am today.

    Painful curves, but still, God knows how to make good things happen out of the bad, too.


  5. Grace, my continued prayers for you. Your post has begun a powerful conversation here. Thanks for being willing to open yourself up. I know from personal experience that there’s fear in doing that, even among friends, for a long time. I was hurt by manipulative lay leaders. It’s been 10 years- and it took most of those 10 years to get past it. We settled in a church where God clearly led us for healing. They are loving people, who cared for us, and mostly didn’t hurt us. But now our sense of mission seems to be moving us away alittle bit at a time.

  6. Jamie, each phrase you used to describe your experience resounds clearly with me. I’m sorry you’ve been there too.

    Jane, thank you for the listening ears and encouraging words that you have already given to me when I needed a safe place.

    Robbie, I’m sorry for what you have also experienced. I agree with your comparison to the feeling of being raped. The violation and the shame projected upon us felt very much like that. The resulting shunning and disfellowshipping felt more like divorce. So maybe it’s both.

    God is faithful to bring healing. I still love His people but find myself a little more cautious and perhaps wiser in some ways.

    Eija, I read your post. I am glad that God has redeemed those things and brought you to where you are now.

    Thanks Cindy. It has been a year and a half for us, and time has brought much healing.

  7. Hi Grace,

    My husband has also used the violent words, spiritual rape, when he has been violated in different situations in church groups over the years.

    A friend of mine points out that there is a culture of silence in many churches to not confront hypocrisy or injustice in leadership. When someone does speak out, or blog or whatever, there is a risk of being misunderstood, misjudged, or worse, tarred and feathered and characterized as rebellious or bitter.

    It is good that you are bringing this out into the open Grace.


  8. Grace,
    Another ‘goodun’…seems like I’m an abuse addict…but I don’t think a divorce or another marriage is going to fix the problem…

    I’m thinkin…


  9. Yes Pam, I understand the culture of silence. I do not have a voice to speak of this in my local community.

    fr’nklin, I would not have chosen the “divorce.” Was it God’s plan to get me out? I don’t know.

    Thanks David. I hope if nothing else, it helps someone else to see that they aren’t the only one and to know that what they experienced was wrong.

  10. Hey…nah, not thinking of you when I talked about “divorce”. I was thinking about me. “Divorce” comes close to describing what I’ve considered…

    I, in no way, would EVER tell someone they were wrong for stepping out of the IC. My problem isn’t judging them…it’s envying them. We all have to follow our own path on that one.


  11. Hey fr’nklin, I totally understand and didn’t feel judged by you. I’m not sure I would have chosen to step out, but here I am.

    I trust that you will find God’s path for you, whether it’s in or out.

    Peace to you too.

  12. Grace, I wonder if that for some strang reason we all must go thought he shattering of our illusions of the ‘church’, and ‘leaders’.

    Looking at the life of David, Gideon, or even Samson, Idon’t think I would have followed any of them, however, I would acknowledge the anointing on them, and take proper action.

    People are people. I don not minimize the actions of those that abuse. I have been in your shoes. Abused and called names, abandoned by eldership and pastors, accused by the senior leader.. etc. But wasn’t Jesus?

    One of his close friends even betrayed him? Those around him sent him away to the cross alone…

    I poersonally wonder if we all must expereince a serious ‘betrayal of trust’, before we can move on towards true intimacy with Christ…

    I wonder…

    I recently was completely abandoned by the eldership in a church where I oversaw seventy young adults. The ministry was exciting, however, when the times were tough for me, there was no one there. I was heartbroken.

    I am currently on site in England, invloved in a different ministry, a healing and deleiverance ministry. Part of the ethos and Praxis is to minister to those that have been abused and to resource churches to restore teh abused…interesting dynamics…

    Press on… and pursue Jesus, he has people that willbe beside you, and see your restoration come about…

  13. Casey,
    I don’t really think that this is what Jesus wants in His church.

    However, I agree that when we experience betrayal, we can be assured that He understands our pain.

    I have also been involved in healing and deliverance ministry. I know that God can redeem the broken threads of our lives to produce a beautiful tapestry.

    I’m sorry that you have also had painful experiences in church.

  14. Good to come by your site. We can say we have suffered badly too at the hands or ruthless pastors and elders. We started last April and have had great support and encouragment from around the world for blowing the whistle on two excommunications from the same church. We lost a son in 1991 and this experience was 2 to 3 times worse. We recently has a Canadian magazine tell part of our story “Holy Terror” and the other abuse at the church. We are now back in a caring church but we are working vigorously to expose the problems and seek healing for the abusers and those they abuse. To see the article go to (you need to register but its free).

  15. spiritual rape. I hadn’t heard the term before but I can identify with the pain. it hurts

    will look at part 2 tomorrow – only so much I can cope with in one day

    you are not alone grace, maybe that makes it worse, when we honestly admit how messed up the church of Christ is.


  16. WOW- the leaders being corrupt and unethical is also what blew me away. I’m still reeling… VERY painful. Thank you for sharing this- obviously, by the amount of responses you received, this touches a chord with many people.

    God bless in your journey to healing!!

  17. I am overwhelmed with how I can identify with your articulation of what happened to me! I still doubt myself and feel like I was the problem because that is how it is being played out. But, reading these posts shows me my own words! I have used spiritual rape as a decriptive of my situation! Thanks. I am going to join in and keep your site as a favorite.
    Thank you so much!

  18. Thanks for posting this series on spiritual abuse. I hope this will raise awareness of the issue so that changes can be made to the current institutional church structure that over-emphasizes the unscriptural practice of the clergy/laity distinction we see in most local assemblies.

  19. Thanks for posting on this, glad we could share it with our readers. It really helped me understand some things I have experienced. Its encouraging to know that most come out on the other side stronger and following harder after Christ.

  20. Hi David,
    I noticed the series was linked. I am glad that the articles continue to minister to others when they experience spiritual abuse in their life.

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