Story #4 – Live Interview – A Story of Recovery from a Church of God Childhood – Part 1

This is a beautiful and touching story of recovery from a religious system with a damaging atmosphere.  This interview was conducted with a young lady who was saved as a child only to realize that several detrimental things from the church followed her and others into their adult lives.

  1.  She mourns very little connection with her natural blood relatives.  The church was considered her family where holidays and other times were not spent knowing her relatives.
  2. John 9:31 that God does not hear sinners’ prayers was drummed into the doctrine to such a point that often some adults from the church have trouble praying to God because they feel God will not hear them. (I want to address this later in a separate blog.  This was taught incorrectly and out of context).
  3. She remembers it as a male-dominated religion where the women and children did most of the suffering. (I remember a Joliet, IL Pastor of our group gathered young men together to apologize to them for things they endured as children, but it was an all-male meeting when overall girls suffered disproportionately more troubles to adhere to standards)
  4. She remembers the strong focus on God as a God of judgment and not much emphasis on God’s love.

approx. 15 minutes

What is Religious Abuse?

You may wonder what is religious or spiritual abuse?

It’s not anger at going to church when you’d rather stay in bed or learning scriptures you thought were boring or sitting through long tiring sermons. Religion can become abusive when it involves a spiritual system that has developed either around a particularly authoritarian charismatic leader or domineering spiritual authority leading a church or group of churches.

Religious abuse can come in many forms. From what I’ve experienced, it happens when leaders and people of spiritual authority use scriptures and religious doctrines to manipulate people into obeying or performing activities that benefit the leader or the organization and not the individual’s walk with God. When other people are being used for the personal gratification of a leader or an organization, that is religious abuse.

If I can convince you that you cannot keep a relationship with God unless you come to my church and my organization, that’s manipulation. If I use —

Hebrews 13:17 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

to say that disobeying me is like disobeying God, because God has placed me in authority and I make you feel that my opinion as a leader is equal with God, that is abusive.

Remember , everyone in such a system: parents, children, sisters, brothers are family units and are caught up in the throes of that system. It will affect your relationship with with your family and other loved ones.

When trust is placed in a spiritual system, and that system becomes damaging to personal development, normal growth, childhood and physical health, then that belief system is dysfunctional.

When the system does not allow you as a parent to raise your children through your own relationship and understanding with God, that system takes the place of God in your life.

When the system preaches that the only way to heaven is through their organization and their organization stops following the Bible, that’s abusive.

When the system hides and ignores wrongdoing and still preaches that they believe in moral purity, then it’s abusive to hold everyone else to a standard that the leaders no longer have a regard for. Whether a church starts out right or has right teaching is not the question. A church’s doctrine can be sound, but if it is not followed correctly or is followed in toxic way that affects people’s lives, then that is a dangerous system.

Story #3 Reclaiming Childhood After Religious Abuse

In our religion, having control over your children was seen as a ticket to heaven. This is the case for many parents in fundamentalist churches and belief systems. The theology is that God entrusts the child’s soul into your hands and you as the parent are responsible for bringing up the child in the fear of God. Unfortunately, what should be a beautiful thing becomes tainted with someone’s personal ideology of child rearing.

In our group parents were fearful of not spanking the child enough or dispensing enough discipline for any perceived disrespect or actual disobedience. Spanking was preached but how and when was not. It was often preached, “don’t go to hell for your children” and that light or mild correction (like Eli gave to his sons in the Old Testament) was tantamount to a sin that would land you in hell. Devout members of our churches would have to acknowledge that a lenient mentality toward child rearing would garner you the label of being a bad parent.

Sadly, another thought that persisted was that children were put in a category as just unsaved. They could feel that they were not fully accepted. The ideology was that they were not saved and therefore subject to the whims of the devil, including lying, stealing, or manipulating. Being a Church of God child “hearing all this truth” and still not being saved was often a bad place to be.  

I know many parents did not allow their children to even pray saying “you’re teaching them to hypocrite” based on scriptures like the following:

 


We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. John 9:31 ESV

 


The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
Proverbs 15:8

Both scriptures were taken out of context and wrongly applied. If a child was of a certain age and not saved, it was as if the parental bond that should be there was cut loose and now because you are accountable you’re treated like any other sinner.

Though not all parents in our denomination had this mentality, but it was certainly in the air. Children were not really seen as children. There were only two categories–saved or unsaved.  You were one or the other. Often, children had little identity aside from “are you saved?”. You were either “in” or “out”. If you were not saved, then you had one foot in hell and were part of the “the others”–the “world”  spoken of in I John 2:15 and if you were saved, and for whatever reason your parents could not vouch for your “salvation”, it could be snatched away from you at any moment. If any saved adult, in fact, felt that you were not saved, then you were in trouble because “Sister so and so” doesn’t believe you’re saved.

One former Church of God member whose mother was a long standing devotee of a Chicago congregation and wished to remain anonymous, described her relationship with her mom and wrote the following in 2016 when I posted the Apology to my daughter:

As an adult today with children of my own, I still desperately search for a female role model to “mother” me as I feel it was lacking immensely in our home. No warmth, no down to earthness, everything was the bible this and God said this and the pastor said this.

I remember trembling when Pastor Miller would preach because my mom would come home and beat the stew out of us for something old that we did or she believed we did, and me the oldest was often the most targeted, because of something Pastor Miller said in the pulpit. As a teenager I longed for a woman to talk to about my growing body, my yearnings toward the opposite sex, and just things that teenagers deal with, but my mother’s head was so in the church cloud she couldn’t relate to me at all, and I would often get beat or punished for some of the things I was feeling.

I have often said, My mother didn’t know how to love us maternally, she only knew the bible way and just enough to stay “saved” in her eyes. People today say it’s a wonder I’m so balanced, warm and loving towards my children, who can talk to me about anything, in fact I call them in my room often as we just talk and laugh.

To this day, I long for a mother and daughter relationship with my mom, but her head is still so far up the church cloud that she neglects her grandchildren the same way we were neglected emotionally. Like a poster wrote above, I grew up hating the church and just started melting and trying to see things differently the last five years.

I wish you would have a raw and open meeting with the saints at 46th and Drexel specifically and read these comments (anonymously of course) to them. Maybe some of the healing can begin.

 

This is a real person with a real story.  And it is not just in one location. There are many fundamentalist types of religious groups that operate along the same wavelength based on what they believe to be God’s standards for obedience. Some parents did not understand the repercussions of misinterpreting such scriptures. However, we as leaders should have known since we handle the word of God and too often mistakes were just passed along to the next generation.

Can we as Christians learn from our mistakes? Can we help others not make the same mistakes? Can we adjust our teaching to make room for the emotional and physical safety of our children? Jesus would want us to do that.

If you can relate to her story, start the conversation in the comments below.

Story #2 – Just Call Me Daddy (Audio Interview, Part 2)

This is part 2 to this interview, a chronicle of a family’s church struggle under an authoritarian Pastor.  Approx. 18 minutes. ( the beeps you hear are names and locations that are blocked).

Retro style microphone on  background