Hurt at Church? Help is on the Way

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow you've gotta put up with the rain."

Dolly Parton


Enhanced Rainbow by Barb Ver Sluis

I am grateful that Dee shared her painful experience in yesterday's post.  Based on the comments we have received, it has resonated with quite a few of our readers. 

I remember Dee's phone call like it was yesterday.  As soon as she ran out of Pastor P's office totally distraught, she called me from her cell phone. Her sobs were almost too much to bear, and my heart ached for her!  You see, she had called me just before she and her husband met with Pastor P and asked me to pray that it would go well.  Dee and her husband had been attending the church for quite some time, and this was their final step in gaining membership.  Over the course of a year, she had shared with me so many wonderful things about the pastor and the congregation, and it made me want to visit the church, which I once did.  I remember shaking Pastor P's hand when Dee introduced us.  Dee and her husband had absolutely no idea that they would be denied membership when they met with the pastor.  I acknowledge that they were extended an invitation to join the church by e-mail several weeks later (after Dee's husband met with their former pastor), but the relationship with their prospective pastor could never be the same. 

One of my favorite verses in all the Bible is Genesis 50:20, which I believe applies to this unfortunate circumstance: 

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."   (NASB)

I can honestly say that I don't believe we would be blogging today had it not been for these 'providential' circumstances.  During this time I had some rather unusual church-related things happen as well, and our eyes were opened.  We now know that God meant it all for good, and look what has happened as a result!  We are pouring our lives into this endeavor and hopefully providing encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are having similar experiences in the church.  God is good!

Now that the rain has subsided, a beautiful rainbow has appeared to bring us hope for a brighter tomorrow.  I am happy to say that the silver lining of those ominous clouds is the ministry that is blossoming here at The Wartburg Watch.  We never in our wildest dreams imagined we would be interacting with so many wonderful people worldwide!  We probably don't say it often enough, but you, dear readers, mean so much to us!  We believe this forum is a microcosm of the body of Christ, and we are so encouraged by your faithfulness.  

With regard to spiritual abuse, a quick Google search reveals an overwhelming number of websites dealing with this growing problem.  We strongly desire that those who have been hurt will be fully restored.  In an effort to help bring about that result, we want to recommend some specific resources that we believe will be helpful. 

One of the most important books we have come across is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, written by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen.  Each of us has read it, and we wrote a cursory review less than two months after starting TWW.   Johnson, has served as pastor of Church of the Open Door, just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota, since 1980 and VanVonderen is a Board Registered interventionist who regularly appears on A&E's Intervention.   Johnson and VanVonderen wrote their book back in 1991, and it continues to be published because it has helped so many people. 

Dr. Barbara Orlowski's websites are excellent resources, and we especially recommend them.  They are Abuse Resource Network, Church Exiters, and Spiritual Abuse Recovery Network and are listed below.  She has also written a book entitled Spiritual Abuse Recovery, which we reviewed starting with this post.

We are committed to helping those who have been affected by abusive church tactics, and we are setting up a permanent page here at TWW listing those resources.  Here are some of them.



Churches That Abuse

Spiritual Abuse Recovery

The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

Toxic Faith



Abuse Resouce Network

Battered Sheep

Church Abuse

Church Exiters

Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual Abuse Recovery Network


Barbara Orlowski

Bent Meyer


We know that some of you are extremely knowledgeable in this area, and we would appreciate your helping us compile a list of valuable resources.  If you have suggestions, please mention them in a comment or send us an e-mail (see "Contact Us" for our addresses).  Together we can help bring healing to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ as well as to those who have left the faith. 

I want to end by dedicating this song to Dee and those of you who have been hurt.  A Hawaiian musician named Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, who was just three months older than me, has brought joy to many people's lives with his incredible gift.  Throughout his life he was obese, which led to serious health complications.  Sadly, Israel died in 1997, but his legacy lives on through his beautiful music.  Please be encouraged by his rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.


Lydia's Corner:  Isaiah 45:11-48:11   Ephesians 4:1-16   Psalm 68:19-35   Proverbs 24:3-4 


Hurt at Church? Help is on the Way — 46 Comments

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    I had written a long piece about how disillusioned I became when I saw that Christian churches had no problem being just as awesomely abusive as the cult of Scientology, but I erased it, because nobody wants to read that. I will say, however, that seeing Christians act even worse than Scientologists towards their own sheep as well as others outside the fold did cause me to consider other questions about Christianity that I’d suppressed.

    And yeah, I’m outside the faith now, and it’s entirely possible that I could be in the same place today even if I hadn’t observed Christians behaving badly, but it was the behavior that got me asking questions about what I actually believed in. It’s hard to stay part of a group that engages in really awful behavior, even if you believe (at that point) in the doctrine, well, because seeing the fruits of really awful behavior can become really hard to live with. And, granted, there is no perfect group out there, but when you see the same types of behaviors, over and over and tiresomely over again…well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.

    For my own sanity, for the fact that I couldn’t sit in a church service without crying my eyes out because the words being spoken were triggering in so many different ways, like nails being hammered into different parts of my soul, I had to stop going to church. Just thinking about this now is making me cry.

    I’ll leave these here–they’re news stories about the hearing going on in San Antonio on keeping in place a restraining order Scientology got against a former top executive who wrote a letter on January 1. If what I’ve observed in the past is any indication, we’ll be seeing similar behavior on the part of the churches in 3…2….

    Village Voice:

    Tampa Bay Times:

    San Antonio Express-News:

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    I had never heard of Pastor Deacon Fred Smith from Landover Baptist (which doesn’t exist). Sadly, some Christian pastors really talk like he does, and he was using satire! Is that where Mark Driscoll got some of his ideas about priests wearing dresses and an angry God coming back to judge the rebellious unbelievers? Have you ever seen him speak in D.C.?

    For those not familiar with Pastor Deacon Fred, here’s some info.

    Landover Baptist Church

    “The site was created by Chris Harper, who obtained his Master’s Degree in English Literature from George Mason University in 1993 after being expelled from Liberty University (founded by Jerry Falwell) in 1989 for producing a satirical radio show which Liberty’s administration found offensive. Harper frequently appears at atheist conventions playing the character of “Pastor Deacon Fred Smith”. The website is owned by a company called Americhrist, Ltd.”

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    Great post. You and I have sure could have used these resources a few years back, eh?

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    Thanks. It was great to see Dr. Jon commenting on yesterday’s post!

    As you said yesterday, finally putting down what happened on virtual paper was cathartic for you.

    I hope those who have been hurt will follow your lead and write about their painful experiences. I believe it will help to bring emotional and spiritual healing by acknowledging the pain and then seeking some short of help (books, websites, and/or counseling) to process what happened and move forward.

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    Click on Bill Kinnon’s link. I had me a good laugh. It should become one of our theme songs. The Travolta version of walking in love….

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    Eagle – that perfectionism seems (to me) to have come from certain streams within low-church theology. (Especially Methodism and associated Holiness movements – not meant as a slam against Methodism!)

    I honestly think that a lot of what you encountered is peculiar to American evangelicalism… and for me personally, learning more about the history + the history of Pentecostalism (and later, derivative movements) has helped me be able to see where certain things – things that deeply affected me – came from.

    I have an analogy that I want to use, but I want to preface it by saying that I don’t want to sound like I’m letting abusers off the hook. I can’t – because I’ve been hit hard, too.

    But here goes… Did you ever play “telephone” when you were a kid? You know, that game where you sit in a circle and someone whispers a sentence into the ear of the person next to them, and then they do the same – and by the time it gets to the last person in the circle, the sentence bears about zero resemblance to what the 1st person started out with?

    I think we are often like that about God, and about religion (no matter what religion it happens to be). We hear garbled “transmissions” from the pulpit (or wherever) and instead of investigating on our own, we accept them as The Truth. (I think younger people are especially prone to this – at least, I believe that I was… even though I had plenty of questions, there were others that “slid” for a long time.)

    So often, I think people are in the pulpit to get a reaction from others… that there are MANY people in the ministry who are emotionally and spiritually immature, if not downright messed up. (Of course, there are the good folks, too.) But… someone who cannot deal in a mature, adult way with their own life is NOT going to be able to give much real help to those who are seeking it.

    And i fear that far too many denoms allow people to become minsters (ordained or not) without any real evaluation of whether these people are fit for pastoral work.

    All this to say that I am so sorry that you were hurt so badly. It should not have happened.

    I wish I could take it away.

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    I have read the books on spiritual abuse (quite a while ago now) and found them very helpful. For some of us the biggest problem is being able to put a name to what is happening to us. Then we can start the long slow road to healing. Blessed are those who find themselves a healthy church as a refuge while they are healing. But I have several friends who can hardly bear to walk in the doors of a church because they have been hurt multiple times. One very close friend asked me only the other day, “Where is the power of God at work changing people, when so many people in churches are so unloving?’

    I have had a sense, for quite some time, that God wants to create a central sanctuary online for His children who have nowhere left to go in the real world — a place where people can move beyond the theological differences that so often divide us. Thank you again for the work you are doing

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    Lynne Tait,

    In some ways I feel like we are just getting started in helping those who have suffered from spiritual abuse. I believe the first step on the road to healing is acknowledging that it has occurred. We hope that those who have been hurt know that they are among friends and supporters here.

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    Better yet find a church with imperfect people who know it and then grow together – not one better than the other. Martin Luther said to “Go and sin boldly.” What he meant was to admit who we are and live it out with the community of believers. Yes, I know, they are hard to find.

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    Keep posted. By the end of next week you may find you have a future in prophesy.

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    What an excellent post. It seems that you both have walked so long with us and yet, I feel like you, with the outpouring of people who are coming out of the woodworks I, too, believe it feels like you’re just getting started in some ways. It’s amazing to look at how far you’ve come and to be excited to see where you are going..

    Btw: I love that version of Somewhere over the rainbow. Everytime I hear it, it makes me smile.

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    Here’s another quote from Luther along the lines of what Dee was saying to Eagle: “May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian church in which everyone is a saint! I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, (and) who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

    I’m not sure one could ever find a church where all the people are imperfect and know it. I think that the “super pietistic” phase is just something Christians often go through when they are young. And, as Numo was saying, the “holiness” “perfectionism” “Keswick theology” “prosperity gospel” stuff makes it much worse.

    What has really helped me was finding a circle of friends that have grown past that. Perhaps we started out with those ideas; it’s what we were taught. But as we got older, the storms of life, our own failings, disappointment in the false guarantees, etc, forced us out of this point of view. In Lutheran-speak, I’d describe that as moving from a “theology of glory” to the theology of the Cross. — We can still love those who are in the “trying to be super Christian” phase, but i’ve been so blessed to have as my closest friends those who also have had many of their previous ideas trashed by real life, and are aware of their ever-present “old Adam” and how small our steps toward holiness in this life really are.

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    Numo said: “And i fear that far too many denoms allow people to become minsters (ordained or not) without any real evaluation of whether these people are fit for pastoral work.”

    This is so profound, and I’m amazed at how little it’s talked about. Future posts on this, Dee and Deb? 🙂

    My husband and i went to BIble college out of high school, and were stunned at how they assumed we were all so spiritual, and all so called into the ministry! IT’s like they were putting these really young kids on a pedastal, the last thing we needed, YUK! We ended up not finishing there, in part because of that. You would not believe the guys there studying to be in the ministry! Ha, we were even aware how weird it was WE were doing that, with some issues that we had. LOL.

    Hmm, since BIble colleges and seminaries are institutions that need pupils and money to keep going, I’m not sure we’ll see them rejecting many potential students any time soon. And then, once you have that degree or piece of paper, people treat you as somehow qualified. You can go preach at a church and meet people for a few days, and get hired when they really dont’ know you from Adam. Something wrong with this picture.

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    Re: saints.

    A saint is one who is a redeemed sinner, knows that, lives humbly, and works to live as a priest to those around them, loving them in the name of Jesus. A saint is not someone who is holy, but someone who strives to be the hands, feet, face and voice of love to those around them. A church should be full of saints, and an ego desert.

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    So that, every redeemed Christian should be considered a saint, bound for heaven, because whatever sin remains in their life, it is recognized, confessed and forgiven.

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    Where is the “LIKE” button?

    Excellent comment Another fan!

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    Thanks for sharing this link. I just read Peter’s post and left an affirming comment which ended with this:

    What is Christianity coming to?

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    I just thought it was kind of funny that Lumpkins (a staunch supporter of the Caners) was saying…leave LU but go to a school where there’s a dishonest president! I’d go listen to Driscoll and report on it if I thought I could even stand listening to it. Ugh.

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    Thanks for the posting the link. I’m an LU grad, and this is tremendously shameful. I commented there too.

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    Awesome post! So proud of you and Dee for all you do for us wounded souls. Lots going on in my head that I want to say. More comments later… 🙂

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    Thank you for your kind words. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

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    I don’t get LU sometimes. I can’t judge their motives, but they do seem to be caught up in the Christian celebrity stuff. I heard the ad on the local radio today for Driscoll being at LU and was rather surprised.

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    I’ll weigh in. Several years ago my wife and I came out of a similar “church” (and I use the term advisedly) situation. Like many of you, we weren’t newbies to the faith: we’re both pushing sixty, and we were saved in the early seventies at the height of the Jesus Movement.

    Since the implosion we’re still licking our wounds, but even in our baffled pain we’ve come to one incontrovertible conclusion: God may have some truly messed-up kids, but He Himself is worth following. As wounded as we are, we’ll not let the callous anguish visited on us by the warped people who bandy His name so blithely keep us from doing our best to be led by Jesus’ truth, beauty, faithfulness, and forgiveness.

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    Well, it begins. And well it should Did you see? They linked to Bent Myers story here at TWW. This will convince our detractors that we are now “traitors” since Slate is considered “lefty.” Thank you for letting us know. Keep us posted. More will be more coming, I am sure.

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    John Robinson

    I agree with you. “As wounded as we are, we’ll not let the callous anguish visited on us by the warped people who bandy His name so blithely keep us from doing our best to be led by Jesus’ truth, beauty, faithfulness, and forgiveness.” Fromm pain can come great beauty as Christ’s own pain has taught us. Our focus should be on Christ, not men, as an old friend often says.

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    Dee – I LO’d over “‘Slate’ is considered ‘lefty.'” 😉

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    LOL’d, that is!

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    Sophia will be happy to know that her blog got linked and mentioned in Slate! Congrats Sophia! I hope that it brings more readers and responders to the issue.

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    Sophia’s husband’s blog was also linked to in the Slate artcile! (Bad grammar; no time to fix it. ;))

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    Have you guys heard of TrueFaced? It’s a book that has encouraged me in my situation. I’ve been reading 2Peter today. My question is is how do you know if you’re not a wolf or divisive person? I feel like I have to keep reminding myself of the dysfunctional “rules.” What is the difference between a pastor writing their thoughts that make it unhealthy, whereas my story is having a voice? But then, I swing back around and go back to the Word, am astounded by God’s grace, and looking back at the monuments in my life to point back to the victories in my life. In my marriage. In my family. But, I really hate having to process and fight the battle in my head again and again. It gets easier, though, the farther I’m from it… I’m going to check out some of those sites.

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    Avast Dee & numo!

    Muff is the only soshalist lefty here!

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    Were you impressed? TWW made Slate! Did the soshalist lefty in you smile??

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    Actually, Deb and Dee, Slate linked to TWO stories here: the Bent Myers one and the “tutorial on Spiritual Abuse” one. The tutorial was linked in the very first paragraph under the word “accusations”. (WenatcheeTheHatchet’s blog was also linked right next to it.)

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    Well, you are right! You get the alert reader award! Now we are surely doomed. Two links in Slate??

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    Thanks again for your post and these resources. I am familiar with Jeff VanVonderen’s work on Intervention and have researched some of his work in the area of spiritual/church abuse. I’m glad to see you’re recommending him. Funny thing, I was researching books and resources when I found TWW, and I haven’t found it necessary to fully delve into them yet. You, Dee, and the TWW Family have met so many of my needs during this time of church abuse/abandonment and the subsequent spiritual crisis and confusion. Through this ministry, I am finding my way and getting my bearings.

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    “When I think of church I think of a place for the perfect, the elite and when I think of a Christian I think of a self-righteous, arrogant individual who is condescending toward the world and superior.”

    I’ll preface my comment by saying that I know genuine, loving Christians who are committed to Christ and truly live out their faith in their relationships with others and the world. They aren’t arrogant, elite, or exclusive. They know they’re imperfect and their lives are imperfect. They’re out there. I know several of them.

    With that said, there are many out there who fit your description, Eagle. My husband and I have often seen this too. I’ve witnessed materialism, superficiality, exclusivity, callousness, and “country club” church attendance that left a bad taste in my mouth and is completely contrary to Christ’s teachings.

    One time my husband was meeting with two other men in a church we attended. The three of them were leading a large ministry in the church called Celebrate Recovery. At the time, my husband had left a job in which his commission sales had gone down quite a bit, so he decided to try another business. We were spending gobs of time and money (we didn’t have) trying to get his business off the ground. He kept plugging away despite the obvious, because he continued to get (futile) promises of success by the company. It was a nightmare. We had a toddler, a baby, and another baby on the way. When asked how we were doing, my husband shared his troubles with these two men, who were his “friends”. He didn’t ask anything of them, and he only gave them the highlights of the situation (as is my husband’s style – unlike mine). 🙂 He said he will never forget it – they just sat there and stared at him “like I’d just eaten a turd” (my husband’s words), then there was a moment of awkward silence until one changed the subject.

    Sometimes, when Christians see other Christians struggling, it contradicts their prosperity beliefs. It doesn’t jive with what they’ve heard for so many years – Come to Christ (and tithe by all means), and you’ll prosper, you’ll have plenty of money, all your prayers will be answered, everything you want will come to you, you’ll be free of sinful struggles and lusts, and so on.

    On some level, it’s easier to give money, food, goods, or time to ministries for the poor or to go out witnessing to the unsaved. After all, those are God’s commands to us. It’s MUCH harder for some to reconcile their prosperity gospel with a fellow Christian’s real hurts and problems. (Ironically, that’s what Celebrate Recovery’s mission is – to help one recover from their hurts, habits, and hang-ups.)

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    LU is desperate to be “relevant” – another word I’m growing to despise. Jesus Christ didn’t strive to be relevant. He didn’t give the people what they *thought* they wanted. He made Himself, deliberately, the opposite of “relevant”. It’s tragic that the truth, the Gospel, is no longer the focus. I believe there will be a hefty price to pay.

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    By the way, I thought Peter Lumpkins was being sarcastic about going to Caner’s school. I don’t know the history.

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    Some people who have been involved with the Ed Young Jr ministry have commented on this blog and others that they will only allow young, good-looking people have roles in greeting the newcomers.I personally know of one situation in which a man was on the advising committee to build the new church building. he was a contractor or architect. I forget which.His business went bankrupt. He was removed from the building committee and proceeded to be ignored. They left the church, deeply wounded. In case the PR “checkers” from FC are checking for accuracy or to see if i know what i am talking about, his wife’s initials are PG.

    Wendy, today’s church has decided that American ideals are the gauge of success in church. Lots of people, lots of money, and lots of well-dressed people with nice cars is the goal. Or as one pastor said “Bums in seats and bucks in plates.”

    The longer I live, the more I see all these “perfect” people starting to have troubles. And they have a hard time dealing with it. because they though God was supposed to “bless them” Wall Street style. They did not read their Bibles. All of the disciples save John died martyrs death (and John was exiled.) So what’s up with that?

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    LU has been advertising heavily on Fox News-stressing their online learning. No real mention of the Christian aspect.

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    Umm…okay, Is Slate a big deal? I don’t know what it is 😉

    And NUMO,

    where is my husband’s link? I couldn’t find it!

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    You have hit the big time. They are well known in the news industry.

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    “All of the disciples save John died martyrs death (and John was exiled.) So what’s up with that?”

    I know! From watching these celebrities one would think Paul had a villa in Corinth and sold his sermons on papyrus while on the speaking circuit.

  44. Pingback: Hurt in Church? Or on the Internet? « spiritualabusesanctuary