Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” Henry Ward Beecher
The story you about to read was a difficult story for the writer to tell. For purposes of this story, I shall call her Faith although I do know her identity.Yet, it is a story that needs to be heard. I have spoken with her at length on the phone and was impressed with her wish to be vulnerable. I am not sure if I could be as open as she is.
The astute reader will see crucial elements in her story that add incredible complexity to what some would say is a simple account. Please note her history: she was born to a mentally ill mother. She sought solace from pain, not having ever experienced a healthy relationship with her parents. This form of comfort came in the form of pornography and associated behaviors.
Faith looked to the church and saw hope in the Christian faith but she was let down by poorly educated people within her SGM church who did not comprehend that some of her problems would warrant intensive intervention. So, they settled for "holding her accountable." And this was a bad mistake. It would delay necessary treatment for a long time. Remember, a struggling person may not have the resources for determining her need for professional intervention. The church places itself in a vulnerable position by eschewing professional intervention..
Faith was willing to share her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I have a close relative with this problem and it is a serious and difficult diagnosis. A Wikipedia article does a great job giving an overview of this diagnosis. LINK Please note the high risk of suicide and self harm. A church which tells people that they do not need outside intervention may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their reasoning if a suicide attempt is successful. Trust me, it won't help the church in the court of public opinion.
A church places itself in a precarious position when it attempts to play doctor. If they had encouraged her to seek professional intervention, Faith would have received dialectical behavioral therapy and medications. With such help, there is a very high rate of success. Faith's church, according to her testimony, advised that she receive no outsider intervention. In so doing, they may have contributed to a less than optimal recovery.The earlier the intervention in this situation, the better the chance of recovery.
Recently, Faith, buoyed by the apparent glasnost with Sovereign Grace Ministries, asked if her former church might help her with counseling costs because of her difficult financial circumstances. She thought they might be open to helping her, given that they encouraged her to seek counseling only within their church.
Here is their response via email.
"I told the guys i'm 50-50 on this one, and because i'm involved in it (edited to remove name), i recused myself and put the ball in their court for a decision. Their decision was that it would not be appropriate for us to help you in the way you asked. i regret your funds are low and i hope you can get the help you need somehow."
Now for a request from us to our readers. Faith has vulnerably shared her life, diagnosis and experience. This takes alot of courage and she has opened herself up to criticism. Faith is actively involved in working through her issues. Please encourage her, not condemn her. She grew up in difficult circumstances and was primed, from an early age, for potential problems. Her church did not help her with the intensive therapy she needed. Frankly, there is no excuse for churches not to recognize serious mental illness. The average pastor or church member is not "competent to counsel" in these circumstances.
Warning: Explicit Material
This is a short version of my story, so first, some background. I grew up in a large family (seven children) with a mentally ill mother. In spite of the chaos, God planted a seed in my life as a child that kept me from rejecting him, no matter how crazy my life seemed. Even though I knew Jesus was my savior, through my teen years, my life did not reflect him. My mother was hospitalized many times and my father was self-employed. So, my sisters (the youngest 3 kids are girls) and I pretty much fended for ourselves and developed unhealthy relating patterns with boys in a search for the love we weren’t getting at home. I love my parents, and I am learning that they themselves did not have the necessary emotional or spiritual skills to effectively train their children. During these years, I also developed a rich fantasy life to escape the pain, which was accompanied by masturbation and moved into pornography.
I managed to escape and graduate from a Christian college. After a year of bouncing around, which led to me moving back home, I found a great job. After a few months I had the resources to move out on my own. After several months of a long commute to church, I decided to find a new church closer to where I was living and working. I had a good college friend that was attending CLC, and I liked it when I visited. I had been exposed to charismatic beliefs in college, and encountered the power of the spirit, but the excesses and the health and wealth teachings turned me off. It seemed that People of Destiny/SGM was the best of both worlds, charismatic with solid teaching. I discovered that there was indeed one in the city where I was now living, so I checked it out. This was in the early 90’s. With my background and distrust of the psychiatric system, I was a prime target to fall into the trap of the love bombing and the teaching against what they termed ‘psychobabble’.
I knew I had baggage from my family of origin, but when I inquired about counseling, the leaders convinced me that I only needed them – that as I matured in Christ, my life would get better. I was counseled to not look back to deal with the past, and to only look toward the future. However, now I see and understand that the past was affecting my present life. My first moment of cognitive dissonance came a couple years later when a couple of leaders wives confronted me about “dependent relationships”. They had given me an article to read, and I remember thinking “yes, this describes me, but I see a lot of the people act this way in their relationships, and they are praised for these actions”. I felt that the gist of it was that it was ok to relate to your ‘authorities’ in a dependent way, but not okay to relate to other regular members in this way. Their only advice to me was to repent of my behavior and trust God. Anyone who’s ever struggled with emotional dependency knows that it’s not that simple.
I spent the next few years trying to figure out how to be a woman that a good man would want to marry, and how to walk in purity. Finally God brought me a good man in January 1995, however he did not attend a SGM (PDI) church. My leaders convinced me that I needed to end the relationship after a couple of months because he did not intend to become part of our church. This good man loved me so much and missed me, so he did attend for a couple of months later that year, but then just disappeared. Through some sad circumstances (that’s a whole other story), we reconnected the following January. I remember telling my care group leaders, if he asks to pursue the relationship again, I’m going to say yes (I’m so glad I had the gumption to tell them what I was doing instead of asking for their permission☺). He started attending our church and we got engaged in May.
Shortly after this I got my own PC at home, and I was living alone with little accountability, so the porn addiction reared its ugly head. The pastor’s wife knew about my past struggles in this area, so I confessed to her that the struggle had returned. She told me to just keep fighting and that once I was married that struggle should greatly diminish and maybe disappear. However, after I got married it got worse. A couple years into our marriage, in the throes of struggling with infertility, the addiction had escalated to cyber sex almost daily. Once again I went to the pastor’s wife and confessed. This time I outright asked about finding a counselor to work with and for some accountability. I was told I only needed to repent and put on purity and that my husband was the only daily accountability I needed.
For the next several years, I had long stretches of successfully not acting on my urges, but then I’d fall back into the porn for a short bit. Finally after the arrival of our second child, I found myself slipping back into the cyber sex. This time my husband and I both went to the pastor and his wife, and asked for help. Again their only help was to encourage my husband to hold me accountable. A very unhealthy dynamic developed between my husband and I. He kept hearing how a man needs sex and I kept hearing how I should never say “no”. This teaching just reinforced the way we had turned sex into a way to relieve our stress. In my efforts at turning off the urges to view porn and masturbate, I ended up turning off my sex life almost completely. This led to extreme struggles with guilt because I kept hearing how I should not say “no”, and my husband was getting extremely frustrated because I was saying “no”.
Through the years there were times we thought things were amiss at our church, but each time we questioned leaders, we allowed them to get us back in line. Fortunately a couple of years ago, I reconnected with my college friend that had introduced me to PDI/SGM. She and her husband had just recently left the Chesapeake, VA church –the story of what happened there has been widely discussed on the blogs. My husband and I naively thought we could go to our pastor and discuss the stuff on the blogs and influence leadership to change some things. We found out that asking questions and refusing to get back in line and be quiet quickly gets you pushed out of the inner circle. We were also changing our views on some of our parenting, which led to us being chastised several times by our care group leaders. After enduring several meetings of everything getting turned back on us over the next year, we finally left last February.
It is has been a difficult journey, one we weren’t sure our marriage would endure. Who likes to lose so many ‘friends’ at one time? We are fortunate that we did maintain some outside friendships and have no other family involved in SGM. God immediately led us to a great church in our neighborhood that has been a place of healing for us. I am now finally getting the intense therapy that I should have gotten years ago. I have a really neat Biblical Counselor (Larry Crabb persuasion NOT CCEF affiliated), and a licensed therapist who is a believer. It makes me sad, because the work is harder than it may have been because of the added spiritual abuse I endured on top of my childhood trauma. I am glad to be free of the abuse, and grateful for a strong husband who has led his family well through a couple of difficult years. As we heal, our marriage is only getting healthier and stronger. We are looking forward to good things with God.
Lydia's Corner: 2 Kings 1:1-2:25 Acts 13:42-14:7 Psalm 139:1-24 Proverbs 17:19-21