Author Archives: thrugracealone

Spiritual Neglect

Spiritual abuse is a term we’ve come to understand, many through experience. My recent experiences have made me wonder if we should also discuss spiritual neglect.

I found no articles about spiritual neglect, no discussions about it’s impact, but it is quite possible that it is as real and impactful as spiritual abuse, and perhaps even more widespread. An article on emotional neglect from Psychology Today backs the possibility.

Child neglect includes the following: “Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Approximately 25 States… include failure to educate the child as required by law in their definition of neglect.” (https://www.childwelfare.gov/) Emotional neglect (of adults or children) includes “failing to provide emotional support that one should provide, given one’s relationship to the other… [and] emotional neglect involves neglectful omissions, that is, omitting to do things that tend to promote emotional well-being.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/)

Following these definitions, spiritual neglect might be a church or religious leader’s failure to provide for the spiritual well-being or spiritual growth of individuals. Assuming that people go to church to find fellowship and community, enjoy a safe and peaceful place to share, as well as to learn about God and worship God, spiritual neglect might include things like failing to provide sound Biblical teaching (or failing to provide teaching from a variety of perspectives–ie telling people they can only learn from the pastor), failing to be friendly to those who come, being exclusive, shunning, or being emotionally distant or uncaring to those seeking fellowship or spiritual support or guidance.

Biblical teaching includes strong teaching on loving each other, having mercy and compassion, being kind, patient, good, and gentle. People seeking a biblically oriented group of people would naturally expect these things to be displayed by the group, and not to just certain people or at certain times. When a group that considers themselves Biblically based fails to provide these things-characteristics that Jesus and later the apostles taught Christians should portray-a form of spiritual neglect may take place.

You may read some things about spiritual abuse and think “nothing THIS bad ever happened to me.” Please remember that no matter what anyone else’s story, you also have a story. It’s not just the worst abuse that is harmful. ALL abuse is harmful, and all abuse is wrong. But even if you don’t see yourself as having been spiritually abused, you may have been hurt by a church. And you may have been spiritually neglected. Neglect is also harmful, and it is also wrong.

Have you faced or witnessed spiritual neglect? Could you add to the description above or share your story? There are people willing to listen, and I would welcome your input.

 

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Mothers Day

I cringe every year in May. Mother’s Day is coming.

After years of hearing sermons about motherhood being the highest purpose or calling of a woman, of guilt trips because I’d never had a child, of thinking I was weird for not wanting children, for being humiliated by the “inclusion” of “the rest of us” by saying “Ok, all the mothers stand… now, all of you ladies stand, we want to honor all of you. If you’re an aunt, a daughter, a sister… you’ve probably helped raise a child in some way. Stand up!!” Ugh. If I could have just remained seated, but I couldn’t. And so the guilt tripping sermon about the highest calling of a woman being something I had not the least real interest in and a month or more of wondering if I should adopt or try artificial insemination just so I could be “normal” culminated in the embarrassment of standing in front of a group of my acquaintances to acknowledge I was, indeed, female, someone’s daughter, and an aunt. But not a mother.

Thank you for today. You talked about Mothers Day from a historical perspective. I tuned you out. But you fairly quickly moved away from the mom stuff and on to a very good sermon about loving one another. You didn’t give all the mothers corsages or some gift in front of the congregation. You never pointed out which of us were and weren’t mothers. You didn’t ask the ladies to stand if they had this or that many kids or if they had this or that many grandkids. You didn’t even preach on motherhood.

For the first time in many years I didn’t regret going to church on Mothers’ Day, and I breathed a tentative sigh of relief. There was one more trial in sight, because there were candy bars given to each mother at the door on the way out. I hesitated to leave for the same reason I hesitated to come-surely this would be the moment when I would have to admit I wasn’t a mom or take the candy bar and act normal while cringing inside. I walked by the table and the person giving them out smiled, but not with any expectation or gesture to indicate I should take one. And nothing was shoved at me. No questions were asked. No one poked me and told me “Someday you will… just have faith!” Not once.

It was the best Mothers Day service I’ve probably ever been to. One where I didn’t feel embarrassed to be me.

A conversation with a pastor

I emailed the pastor of the church I’ve been attending:

I know Refuge is complimentarian, but what to what degree? On a continuum, there might be “men and women are fairly equal, but women don’t preach” on one side, and on the other might be “women should remain silent, submissive, barefoot, and pregnant” on the other. That’s a very broad spectrum. I know you don’t fall on either side, but where in the middle of that does Refuge fall?

Regarding Ephesians 5, could you please define ‘submission’ as you understand it?

Yes, I’ve known they are complementarian, but the subject had never come up and women are very involved in the church, so it was easy to ignore. His response was interesting:

Mary, those are great questions!

For complementarian, we do believe that men and women are created equal (Gen 1:26-28) but they are created different (Gen 2). We were given different roles, but we are all gifted in different and unique ways. In Genesis 3 we see the abuse of those roles, especially in the curse – “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Those are abuses of the way God designed us to be…working together and in harmony. So, how that all plays out in our world is tricky, but it is a posture of our hearts. So, we believe that the role of “elder” is reserved for men, not at the top of the food chain, but the bottom. To carry weight, to stand in the gates and protect the sheep from wolves. As elders, we believe that if we are doing our roles well, that every person in the church (male and female) ought to feel the freedom to serve in every other capacity. We don’t want to lord it over people, we want to serve and guide and protect.
As for “submission,” we are all called to submit, but it’s more invitational and not coercive. That means we see submission as a willful act, not a forced act…if that makes sense. In a marriage situation, that means that husband and wife work together, but the husband takes on the accountability to lead well and his wife helps him lead well – encouraging him when he leads well and opposing him (not in rebellion, but in encouragement) when he is doing things that are destructive to himself, to her or to their marriage. We see that playing out very similar in the role of elder.
Paul, in Ephesians 5 says that the church is to “submit” to one another. Wives are to submit – willfully trust and/or fight to trust her own husband (not all men), but also, that is balanced by the call to men to “give up their lives” for their wife. We do not believe that means women are to be silent, but are to be “helpers” as God called Eve in Genesis. I hope that makes sense. There are a lot of loaded words in there 🙂 so please ask for further clarity if needed.
The first sentence feels a bit condescending… and a lot fake. Women are “equal but different”… to a degree this might be OK. There are physical differences between men and women, and every person is different. I’d never realized that some translations say that the woman will desire to control her husband, and never thought of the verse as a warning before. It is these sorts of things that make me enjoy being there, even if I don’t agree with them on many things. That he adds that men are to be elders “to carry weight, to stand in the gates and protect the sheep from wolves…” is very triggering to me, since that was taught in the unhealthy group I came out of. Pastors in my experience are undershepherds who tend to run at the first sign of a wolf. And sometimes people need to be protected from them. And people aren’t sheep. The Lord is my shepherd….
Yes, there are a lot of loaded words there… and a number that are triggering to me. My background includes a LOT of misuse of the words and verses surrounding “submission”, “shepherd”, “accountability”, and even “protect”, to the hurt of those who had trusted the leaders using them.

I’m not sure I understand what you mean by this statement: ‘In Genesis 3 we see the abuse of those roles, especially in the curse – “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”‘ I thought this was a statement of fact, a consequence of sin, rather than abuse of roles or part of the curse. (It’s my understanding that the ground was cursed and the serpent was cursed, but not Adam and Eve. Though sin did carry consequences, God didn’t curse them.) Or do you understand the passage more as the NLT puts it: “And you will desire to control your husband,but he will rule over you.” (I was a little surprised to find that as a translation, having understood it to mean her focus would be on her husband, on gaining his attention and affection, and that he would have the authority and sole decision making ability in the marriage. It wasn’t a verse I’d looked up or consider I might need to “untangle” from possibly poor teaching.) Could you explain?

Notice he doesn’t respond fully:
Yeah, I know those words are loaded and I would rather help redeem them than just dump them, but I am so very sorry that you’ve experienced the dark side of those words. That is, unfortunately, way too common.

The statement from Genesis 3, the relationship between Adam and Eve was also broken in the rebellion. In Genesis 2 we see them work together in harmony. Adam did not “rule over” her and Eve’s desire was not “for her husbands position.” They were secure, they worked together, they thrived in their relationship with God and with each other. I think we see the redemption of that in Ephesians 5. Part of that brokenness was each of them abusing or abandoning the way God designed them to work together. So, instead of working in harmony, their relationship became contentious. Adam (man) would be tempted to abuse his authority/headship, to use it for personal gain or self-protection. I think we have all (I hope) experienced some good practices of authority, but we usually don’t recognize it as authority. If you’ve ever had a good teacher or boss or someone who you knew would support you and you felt a sense of freedom with them. A good boss, for example, doesn’t threaten or govern with fear, but helps to push or encourage you to be your best. That’s good authority.
On the other side, Eve is tempted to “desire her husband’s position.” I think the temptation there kind of carries an “undermining” tone.
These discussions might be better over coffee or something so we can give a gentler tone to some of these words, because my fear is that you might hear these words wrong, and I really don’t want you to. I want you to feel confident and cared for and it sounds like you’ve experienced a lot of the opposite of that.
I am sorry for your past experiences. I really am. I appreciate you asking questions and I want you to feel a freedom to do that. We try as hard as we can to not have any “back rooms” or “hidden agendas” or anything that we hide up front. So consider that an invitation to keep asking and clarifying.
Hmmm… dump them? I’m not sure where he came up with that. The idea that Genesis was redeemed in Eph 5 is something I don’t understand. The sudden turn to “good” authority irritates me, too, mostly because I don’t see the point within the conversation unless it is to draw a parallel: there are good bosses and teachers so therefore there must be good authoritarian husbands. Hopefully I’m wrong, but to then move to Eve and parallel to a negative reinforces my distrust. Then comes the invitation to discuss in person… and again a condescending tone, followed by a statement out of the blue that they try not to have any hidden agendas. Once again, this raises red flags.
I responded, and have not received a response in nearly 24 hours:
Thanks for the responses. I don’t think most ‘authorities’ who support and encourage us to do our best see themselves as authorities. They lead, but they are just as apt to follow because they don’t see their leadership as a position and don’t view it with any permanence. Because of that, they are free from the fears and insecurities of authoritarians and freer still to do all things well, as are those around them. At least that’s been my observation.

I have learned good things [while at this church]… some things taught and some that drove me to study things out on my own or piqued my interest in a topic that I hadn’t already untangled. There is quite a bit that is believed that I don’t agree with, but I’m used to agreeing to disagree as long as I’m learning and don’t feel threatened or shunned for coming to different conclusions. My past experience is what it is. However, because of it, and because of what I learned from it, I am more cautious… and wiser, I hope.

I am available for coffee or whatever… But fair warning that any discussion of these things will not end or even slow my questions.

I may be too hard on him. He may have triggers from what I said as well. I’ve learned at this church, which is good. I’ve begun to want to study and pray. Those are good things. And there is no church in existence where I wouldn’t see red flags. What do you see? What do you think of my questions and his responses?

The “place” of a woman

A woman’s place in the church and in the home… I’ve had Ephesians 5 quoted at me so many times, and frankly it’s quoted all the harder at those women who are intelligent and capable, not “rebellious” or “unsubmissive”.

I don’t feel comfortable with women pastors. It’s my personal preference; I condemn no one for having a different opinion. However, that’s where my agreement with complimentarianism ends. I don’t disagree with Ephesians 5, but I do disagree with the too frequent misuse of it and a few other verses to condone abuse within Christian homes and communities.

Submission. It’s a term that has been yelled at me, preached at me, a term used to condemn and manipulate me and to relegate me to the sidelines not because I’d done anything wrong, but because I was born with two X chromosomes. Because of how God made me, I’ve been taught that the following were acceptable behaviors toward me and other women:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse – such as rape of a wife by her husband
  • verbal abuse (referring to women as heifers, discussing them as housekeepers, extra income, child bearers and keepers, and objects, but never as people to love and collaborate with)
  • child neglect (the man and his desires have precedence over any other person in the household-the wife is to submit and the children to obey)
  • stalking (if I didn’t want it, I should have married)

The problem with these is that when this is the “love” demonstrated by the church and “godly” men, when they go on to say that these are acceptable because if the women enduring these things would only submit more (meaning put up, shut up, and take whatever was done to them), God would surely step in and prevent more harm, when these are allowed or ignored, they undermine the rest of the passage in Ephesians, for if Christ loves the church and gave himself for it, if he loves the church truly and completely, but will only stop abuse if the woman accepts it and says nothing, does nothing, and if the husband who does this to her moreover is also supposed to be demonstrating the same love for her as Christ does… then she is doomed, because neither loves her well. She is relegated to the position of slave, with only what value someone else – her abuser, her accuser – places on her.

Consider this: In the church, which happened first, the church’s submission or Jesus’ love? He loved first and he loved well. The church still struggles with submission. If this is the case, then in marriage, if it can be compared to the relationship of Christ to the church, the husband should love without demanding submission in any form. Submission can’t be commanded anyway. If, though, the husband loves well, submission from the wife will come. She will trust the one who loves her more as she learns more about that love.

Shattered Worlds

I sat in a membership class at a church tonight–not planning to become a member, but it’s a good way to figure out what they are really thinking. A lot comes out in membership classes that aren’t discussed on Sunday mornings.

And tonight’s class was on church community… and church discipline. I was expecting to be guarded. I wasn’t expecting the leader to begin by making a list of all the things we hold dear (family, friends, God, etc) and then reordering them so that there was a cross (to represent Jesus) in the middle and all the other things (family, friends, etc) around it. And I realized what went most terribly wrong for me: when Jesus and a church group or doctrine are too closely combined and Jesus/church becomes the nucleus of your life and most of your friends, family, etc, are in that church too… when something goes wrong in that church it doesn’t just make you redirect and refocus on Jesus. It blows your world apart.

I started shaking. I couldn’t stop. I don’t think I was shaking had enough for others to notice… at least I hope. But then there was the second ‘hit’… church discipline. And I started shaking harder. Nothing was said that raised any red flags; there were actually things said that were surprisingly healthy. I also suspect that there were things not said, but that could be more my lack of trust in anyone or any entity that says those words.

Everyone disappeared afterward, so I am OK. But the idea that it wasn’t just that church fell apart, but that my world was shattered when I left… that is both helpful and frightening. Too many churches end up being the center of people’s lives along with Jesus. And that’s not good. Not good at all.

The blessing of death?

I went to an Ash Wednesday service tonight. In it the minister started talking about the ‘curse of death’. I did a Bible search. Nothing. And he continued, focusing the purpose of the ashes on that, ‘the curse of death’ and tying in Genesis 3:9. In context:

14So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.
15And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspringa and hers; he will crushb your head, and you will strike his heel.”
16To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

The problem is this: death is not a curse. The serpent was cursed, the ground was cursed. Man was NOT cursed.

So why death? I’m not sure, but death is not only a consequence of sin, but a means to salvation. It is not a curse. It was Jesus’ death that lead to our repentance (dying to ourselves and our sin) that leads to our new life. The New Testament is full of symbolism of death, and none of it is negative. Even Paul’s statements such as “I die daily” and “to live is Christ, to die is gain” are positive. I believe this was part of God’s plan from the beginning–he made us mortal. He removed us from the garden and put an angel to stand guard of the tree of life:

22And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Why? Not because God was cursing us. Because he was protecting us from something much worse than physical death-which was merely the consequence of sin. Eternal life in a sinful state, separated from God, this would have been worse. This is what the fallen angels experience. If Adam and Eve had eaten that fruit (of life) there would have been no sacrifice, no blood, no savior.

And so death is not a curse. It’s our redemption, through Jesus.

Happy Lenten season. May you find life even in death.

Drowning

I’ve been drowning on the inside.
Now I’m coming up for air,
grasping at whatever is near
to keep
from going
under
again.

For four years, I’ve felt more and more rejected by those who are supposed to be most loving and accepting, and that feeling of rejection has slipped into other parts of my life. Did God reject me? Am I wrong to ask questions? Why do I have questions? Can I believe and still have the questions I have?

Don’t call me a Christian. It’s not that I don’t believe… sort of. But I’m having trouble with belief, with faith, in a world that is so black and white. But isn’t Christianity about black and white, good and evil, easily distinguishable from each other and with a clear good and bad? Maybe for some, but not for me. Not for someone who sees in grays. The absolutes? God is good. God is love. Jesus is my savior. Beyond that… a sea of grays, difficult to navigate in a polarized society, in a black and white church.

Ah, to fellowship. To be able to talk to others, to ask questions, to discuss the Bible at length without being expected to come to any conclusion, but simply enjoying the many aspects of a multi-faceted, infinite Creator God, challenging, tasting, accepting, being accepted.

And I am drowning. Lost in a sea of questions, and pulling anyone who comes close under with me in my panic for a breath of air. Hungry for understanding, confused by the polarities, and frustrated by so many who see monochromatically, one dimensionally a world and a God full of infinite possibilities.

Exclusivity or Inclusion?

Seven years ago, I left a spiritually abusive “church”. By the time I left, the group had undermined my self-confidence and my desire for a close relationship with Jesus. I saw God as angry, punishing, and legalistic. In order to survive, there were things I radically changed my views on that others consider orthodox… and began experiencing a whole new side of exclusivity and elitism forged under the banner of Christianity. They weren’t Christian, but it was hard not to begin thinking of church in terms of those things, since they seemed reflected in the eyes of so many who called themselves by that term and who attended and even led those gatherings.

When I moved the first time, I hoped to find a church. Instead I found coworkers who told me that because I didn’t share their (locally predominant) views of Christianity, I wouldn’t be able to do my job well enough and excluded me from conversations, then came back later to explain what they disliked about others in their larger group. Local church members seemed unwelcoming and unfriendly, leaving me feeling excluded and unworthy. And then I moved again.

I thought that in moving back to the area I was raised in, I would find a good church. That didn’t happen. One Sunday School class drastically decreased in size after I asked a question regarding a member’s repeated condemning statements about their child. Several were ‘fluffy’–there was very little discussion about the Bible or God, and a whole lot of talk about pop culture or politics or how bad the world was getting. Some organized mainly to fulfill outreach programs (while failing to reach out to each other), and others were simply social clubs. Another preached several sermons on Katelyn Jenner and began inserting media clips of his favorite shows and commercials into sermons rather than Bible, leaving me completely lost–I am virtually clueless about pop culture and didn’t go to discuss any current high profile figure’s statements, operations, or daily lifestyles. I went to discuss and share Jesus, but those conversations were missing.

And then came the elections. By the time a pastor’s wife friend of mine posted to Facebook “I don’t even know how someone can call themselves a Christian and vote for someone who [supports certain political stances]” and Christianity began being used (again) as a political platform–“vote for me! God bless America!” (which translates “see, I’m a Christian! I used the word God in a sentence, so I should get your vote!”) I’d had it. How can I call myself a Christian and take a different political or social stance? Perhaps because I hold a different perspective on what holding that stance actually means. But my gut reaction was “Then don’t. Don’t call me a Christian. I don’t want any part of this.”

I’ve spent several yeas now feeling like a religious outcast, perhaps a leper. “Unclean! Unclean! I voted this way!” “Unclean! Unclean!!! I don’t think people are condemned to hell if they drink a glass of wine or live in a monogamous relationship without a marriage license or don’t make it to church every Sunday or don’t give 10% of their gross income to the church… hey, I don’t necessarily even believe in your version of hell to begin with! Unclean!”

Being outcast by the group that is supposed to be known for and represent Love takes it’s toll, perhaps especially when you have done everything that should make you part of the group… except to remain silent and refuse to talk about things that matter or to consider other viewpoints to the issues being discussed.

I’m tired of religion. American churchianity has exhausted me and left me with less understanding of God than I started with. And I was done with it. Until… until I visited one last church last weekend. And met a group of people who agree to disagree, who don’t say only one mode of baptism is right and don’t fight over grape juice or wine. They compromise nicely, it seems so far, on many points that people may view differently, even when using the same scriptures. And though compromise is a bad word in many religious circles, they explain it and view it as loving. It isn’t that they don’t have opinions on some of these issues. They do. But instead of force-feeding those opinions to others and then making a list of everyone who disagrees and shoving them into their personal version of hell, they offer open discussion and acceptance.

There is immense healing in that-the kind of healing that borders on miraculous.

 

Spirituality?

Humans tend to fail at the whole ‘being spiritual’ thing. Maybe that’s because we weren’t called to be spiritual. We were called to be God’s, and that’s actually a very different thing.

Church Hunting

I left my former unhealthy church seven years ago. Since then I’ve been a part of several churches, but in the last four years none ever really felt completely like home. Close, but not quite. Three moves, two more than 100 miles, hasn’t helped.

There is no reason why a person needs to go to church, but for me, it would be good to connect and learn with other believers in a face to face environment, and traditionally that means church. I’ve been to many in my current area, but none was a good fit. On Sunday I hit an all time low–I didn’t go to one I’d planned to because it seemed to be some spin off of shepherding, missed another, went by two others and inquired about classes only to be pushed toward service, questioned about my walk with God, and told it was dangerous to look things up that were being preached about. Hmmm.

I finally went to another, but I’d lost interest. That afternoon someone recommended one that was having a new members’ class that night. I went, just to find out. And loved it. For the first time in years I’ve been listening to sermons… and not getting bored or irritated with the number of stories and urban legends slipped in, not tired of the politics pushed… the sermons are focused on the Bible and seem based on good study. For the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to the next service.

And I’m scared. I’m scared that I’m too excited, too happy. That something will be wrong, and that by being happy and excited I’ll miss it, because once many years ago I was happy and excited about finding a church, missed something, and ended up in a UPC for 19 years, committed to something but not to the right thing.

It’s a weird place to be, scared and excited and happy and not feeling that any of those is right, knowing that I should be free to feel happy without being scared, angry that it’s because of my past church experiences that I am so hesitant to be happy without being concerned today.

The difference this time is that I’m going into things, even if I’m happy and excited, with both eyes open. I’m checking things out, looking into what they teach, and identifying concerns. I’m not, as in the past, trying to prove to myself that they’re right, or looking for anything that shows what they teach, but am making a strong attempt to see them for what they are and understand their beliefs and perspectives while maintaining my own.

Whether I will join or not, I don’t know. I doubt it. I’m not looking for something to join at this point. Instead I’m looking for people to connect with, and that’s a very different thing. And it’s possible, just possible, that I’ve found that much.

I can be happy about that.