Spiritual Abuse Recovery: A Journey of Fellowship and Forgiveness

One of the greatest ironies of the history of Christianity is that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power-political power, military power, economic power or moral or spiritual power-even though they continued to speak in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to His divine power but emptied Himself and became as we are.              Henri Nouwen, Name of Jesus






I am not in a good mood today. In some respects, the hope that springs eternal took a little header today. Today I heard from a mega-church pastor who took us to task about our uncharitable attitude towards another pastor. Although his identity will remain anonymous, we will be posting our correspondence with him in the near future. The reason that I am so dismayed is because our discussion with him focused on the issue of spiritual abuse. Once again, the issue of abuse was overlooked. It appears that the pastor’s feelings took precedence-concern for himself and other pastors. This response appeared to exhibit an utter lack of concern for those who have been harmed by poorly run ministries. But we could be wrong since, as he said, we are uncharitable and do not exemplify the love found in 1 Corinthians 13. We will leave this up to our readers to decide. We can take it, usually….

And then it dawned on me. This issue will not be resolved by appealing to those in power. Those who have been harmed will have to lead the way in pointing out  the Way of Love.

Some pastors will not understand until they are willing to see the pain in front of their eyes. They watch people come and go from their fellowship, never wondering why that smiling face suddenly stopped smiling and that fun Bible study leader got “burned out.” So long as they get a fresh new crop of members, they rarely question why Susie is no longer coming to church.

According to Orlowski in her book, Spiritual Abuse Recovery, most people who have been abused leave the church emotionally devastated. This leads them to detach from church and fellowship. (p129). She proposes some steps that will lead to spiritual hope and restoration. Once again, what we are presenting is an overview. We heartily recommend that the reader buy this book for a more in depth presentation.

Her overarching principle is this: one must learn to replace a faith based on the Old Testament law with love.



This is essential in the road to recovery. However, church leaders have misused the issue of forgiveness in order to force an individual to kowtow to further misery. The real process is slow, painful and yet, ultimately, freeing. We learn to forgive when we deeply understand how much God has forgiven us. This does not mean we overlook the deep pain that we have experienced. In fact, we must embrace the grief, not stuff it. In this progression, we come to fully accept that which we have lost due to the abuse that we have suffered. However, sometimes this process takes a very long time.



Time gives perspective and meaning to grief

Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV)

"Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt."


Joseph experienced the ultimate betrayal. However, over a long, long time, he was able to see the incident in a different light. Note that he did not immediately send a camel with a note of forgiveness to his brothers early in his sojourn in Egypt. It took time and, when he was finally ready, he waited until the perfect opportunity. He did not pretend to forget what had happened. In fact, he reminded them of the awful deed they had done by selling him into slavery.


On this blog, I have often stated that I am now grateful that I had the difficult experience at my former church. Through it, my eyes were opened to the pain of others. I saw the problems of legalism, apparent deception by church leaders, and experienced vindictive behavior as I was pursued to another church. Had this not occurred, I would not have believed the extent of pain experienced by those abused by their church.


I remember apologizing to a friend who got caught up in this debacle. He, too, lost his church. Yet, he said that it was the most important experience, save marrying his wife, in his life. He testified that understanding the truth is far better than living a lie.


Someone else criticized a woman who had gone through a tremendous amount of abuse. He felt that this woman was “over the top” with her expression of anger. However, there is no correct amount of time in which the pain is processed and over with. This woman had actually contemplated suicide after her experience and was deeply depressed. I am happy to say that she is well on her road to recovery today and is a member of a healthy church. Think of Joseph-his ability to forgive took years of heartache, success, and the perspective of time.


Forgiveness is never forced


How many of you demanded that your child say he was sorry for something he did? And then he says a quick “I’m sorry” and both of you know that he is not. I know I did but I learned quickly. It must come from the heart.


I have come to have great confidence in the ability of people to come around, at some point, to being able to forgive. Why? Because I know many wonderful people who have been abused and who have written to this blog. I am so impressed with the witness of our readers as they have struggled openly with their pain and sorrow while attempting to follow Christ in forgiveness. All of you have been an example to both of us.


Forgiveness is vital for the health of the forgiver


Forgiveness is more for the benefit of those who are doing the forgiving. It is the ability to accept what has happened, learn from the pain, let go of the anger, and to, once again, express a willingness to join in the fellowship of the believers. I knew that I was beginning to forgive when I laughed and laughed about a meeting I had with some pastors who were teaching the idea of early marriage. They said they wanted the married students dormitories to be in the majority of dorms on undergraduate campuses. At the time, all I wanted to do is run from a bunch of legalists. However, one day, about a month ago, I started laughing about the meeting and how desperate I was to get out of that church. As tears of laughter flowed, I found my insides changing.


Forgiveness is encouraged by warm relationships in the body of Christ.

The author says that we need to work through our “negative feelings of vulnerability, susceptibility, and defenselessness. By being listened to and affirmed by a sensitive confidant and eventually being accepted and loved in a healthy community, individuals no longer remain in the place of being a victim of spiritual abuse. For many, the road to recovery comes through others who have gone that way ahead of them.” (p. 133)

She goes on to quote Enroth from Recovering from Churches. “Christians who want to be helpful to those who have come out of abusive experiences must be sensitive, nonjudgmental, and accepting-even if they find it difficult to understand how something so bizarre could happen to another Christian.” (p.133)

This, perhaps, is the key to recovery. The community is made up of those who have been through a variety of experiences. The healed wounded can help the newly wounded. The author calls attention to 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NIV) “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”


Become a Berean to prevent further abuse (dedicated to Lydia)


The author refers us to some noble people. In Acts 17:11 (NIV) “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”


Don’t get burned again. Read your Bible. Examine the teachings. Be careful when secondary issues are elevated to primary importance-it is in this that abuse can flourish. Oh, and don’t let them tell you that noticing weird things is gossip. This is an abusive way to shut you up.


Once healing is on the move, help another who is wounded


God never wastes a minute of your life. This blog is an example of one small way to help others. Here is a quote from the book by a pastor who ministers to those broken by abusers in the church. “Many, once healed, have a great deal more to offer the Kingdom of Heaven than they realize, as God uses their scars, sacrificed to Him through their dedication, as He used His own scars for healing all mankind.” (p138)


Finally, find joy in your Christian community

Is your church experience a drag? Do you feel chronically inadequate? It is not supposed to be that way. Find a new church or a church body. This is my opportunity to thank my small group. We have been together through thick and thin. It is their joy and support, which carried me through some tough days. Also, my fellow glamorous bloginista has been the source of much laughter and support. Last, and by far not the least, is the community of believers, the Fellowship of the Wounded, on this blog who have been the spring of Living Water to this weary woman. I cannot wait to fellowship with you, face to face, on that great and glorious day.


And, to those of you who have blisters on your heart, I leave you on a light note. Have you ever wanted someone else to do the hard work and pray for you? I Phone has the app for you.


Lydia's Corner:Numbers 24:1-25:18 Luke 2:1-35 Psalm 59:1-17 Proverbs 11:14




Spiritual Abuse Recovery: A Journey of Fellowship and Forgiveness — 7 Comments

  1. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127


    Cheer up and be encouraged! The playing field has been leveled in the blogosphere. Isn’t it wonderful that nobodies like us and our readers can be heard around the world?

    Despite what this superstar pastor claims, we ARE demonstrating 1 Corinthians 13 to the victims of hyper-authoritarian pastors, and they are our primary focus here at TWW. It’s too bad that those in authority don’t seem to care for the downtrodden like Jesus modeled. One day we will ALL stand before God and give an account for what we did here on earth. That should really frighten some, especially those who have been given pastoral responsibilities.

  2. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    “And then it dawned on me. This issue will not be resolved by appealing to those in power. Those who have been harmed will have to lead the way in pointing out the Way of Love.”


  3. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Just to add a note: The issue of forgiveness is the one of the most misunderstood and twisted teachings in Christendom. So many pastors misuse it as a tool for managing people and problems in the church.

    You make a very good point that forgiveness is about our heart…about moving on.

    But forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation or fellowship. I am so weary of these churches that “re abuse” the victim who won’t “forgive” the molester. What they really mean is that they want visible reconciliation. It is about image or about sweeping it under the rug. Forgive, move on and don’t talk about it.

    SGM did this to Noel and I have seen it a ton of times in my mega career. She and her husband were told they had ‘an opportunity to forgive today’ before they were even told of the abuse to their 3 year old daughter. That is a total misrepresentation of forgiveness. It is sick and vile and misrepresentation of saving Grace.

    We can forgive all we want but it will NOT save someone if they are not in repentence. We should still forgive but that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation or fellowship. The scriptures teach different. It teaches we should flee from evil and we should kick out the immoral person so they CAN be saved. We are not to coddle evil.

    We are not to “enable” more sinning by a wrong understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness can also be defined as giving up the right to revenge. God had every right to destroy us but He did not. He took on the punishment for our sin.

    However, He will destroy those who have not repented, believed and lived for Christ when that day comes.

    I wish more people would do a deep study on all the forgiveness passages. They are not teaching us to reconcile or fellowship with evil.

  4. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Lydia, you nailed it in your discussion of forgiveness. I’ve heard it described as a “disposition to forgive” that we’re called to have before a person repents, because any reconciliation requires true repentance, including change, on the part of those who are in error. It doesn’t mean the abused or hurt don’t come to the place where they are at peace and have moved on and wish the offender good (in the form of the offender coming to repentance primarily). It also doesn’t mean sweeping things under the rug and condoning evil.

  5. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127


    Thank you for presenting the fact that, if you forgive another, that does not mean that they have repented and been forgiven by the only True Forgiver. There is not full forgiveness until reconciliation. By this I mean that the offending party says, “Mea culpa-I’m sorry.” Also, forgiveness is not immediate. It takes time and perspective-Joseph didn’t forgive until years and years later.

    In my case, forgiveness came when I realized I had to see this stuff in order to write. When I first conceived of this blog, I thought it was going to be a blog commenting on general issues of the day. Never once did I imagine I would be speaking about spiritual abuse on a regular basis.

    Thankfully, the nonsense that I endured was only about 1 1/2 years. Many, many people have been harmed over years and years. I believe their stories now and feel for the pain of years of suffering at the hands of ungracious leadership who exist to protect themselves, their pastors and to pretend that they really are so very important, far more important than the least of these.

    Don’t worry about me telling people to get over it. In fact, I am often amazed at how many people do get over horrible churches and ridiculous leaders. I am not sure if I could be so forgiving. I can tell you something else. I happen to know that these big manly pastors have a real hard time confessing their blame as well.

    I also do not believe that people should remain in abusive churches. I think many naively think that, if they try hard enough and show lots of undeserved love, the abusing entity will be transformed. It is very rare for that to happen. Read my response to a pastor this Friday.

    I also do not believe that the abused person must initiate reconciliation. In fact, they cannot do so since they were not the offenders that broke the unity in the first place. In fact, I categorically state that it is beyond all chutzpah to expect the aggrieved party to also say they are sorry. In fact, unless something changes real quick, I will be writing about one such situation next week.

  6. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    “God never wastes a minute of your life.”

    I needed to hear (well, read) that. Thank you. I’ve spent my entire life in abusive churches and am in the stage where I feel like things will never get better. Going to a one hour service once or twice a month (if that) is about all that I can take. Reading the Bible is less painful on most days, but even that can be difficult, depending on the passage. Thank you for the reminder that healing is possible.

  7. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127


    There is hope but sometimes trauma and pain can take a long, long time. Do not let anyone tell you to “just get over it.” Someday you will be at a place where you know the the King of the Universe dearly loves you unreservedly. People have used His Word to control others, to browbeat people into thinking that they are never good enough. Well, the King loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us Just The Way We Are,

    Jesus came to die because we can’t live up to perfection. That means that we can relax in our weakness because He has done the work. You have nothing more to do in that regard except to enjoy getting to know a God who does not condemn you.

    Your story is shared by many. Do not worry how much you can read the Bible or go to church. God is with you wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

    When you are up to reading the Bible do a word search on grace, love,and peace and just concentrate on those for a time. Go for a walk and see God in nature. Gaze at the stars and know the Creator who did that loves you.

    Do not condemn yourself or focus on your inadequacies. It seems to me that you have had enough of that for one whole lifetime. You are free in Christ and you are not alone.

    Please feel free to contact me via our email system. The link is in the “contact us” above.