Monday, April 13, 2009

"Not of My Making" Virtual Book Tour blog

Haunted by the Ghosts of Spiritual Abuse

First I want to thank Aida for allowing me to visit and post to her blog. I pray that I am worthy and will not disappoint her and her readers.

I think it is fitting that this tour should start the day after Easter. Seven years ago I was forced out of my church during the latter part of Lent. Full recovery from my wounds took six years. It was a long, painful struggle and now, the day after Easter, this post is a kind of resurrection or rebirth for me. I have found my voice.

Still, there are small things that trigger sadness, grief and fear. Writing this post has been one of those small things. Last week I read through some of Aida’s more recent posts but what caught my eye was the quote from Isaiah 43: 18 -19. “Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past.” My stomach churned. Was I dwelling on the past refusing to move on? I have been accused of that by my former church mates and a couple of reviewers. But then I turn to my favorite quote from Elie Wiesel’s Night:

And yet, there has been a change in our behavior. First of all, we express ourselves. I force myself to share the secret that consumes me. I try to make the ghosts within me speak. Does that mean that the wound has healed over? It still burns. I cannot speak of it. But I can speak – that’s the change …

By telling my story I am moving on. I also know from psychological research into memory, that I cannot will myself to forget without it having negative consequences for my mental health. For years I repressed the memory of the sexual assault by my Uncle Frank who I adored. Not able to bear the pain of his betrayal and being too young to understand what had happened to me, I repressed the memory. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even write about it in my journal. In the end I paid a price for keeping this secret. I became depressed, anxious and suicidal.

I was fortunate to get competent professional help and overcame my depression. I married, had children and earn my doctorate. Part of my recovery involved returning to church. I chose Unitarian Universalism because I believed members to be more tolerant than in other denominations. Things went well for a number of years until in 1993 I shared my qualms about calling a lesbian as our minister. I was shunned and blacklisted making it difficult for me to become a full participating member of other congregations near my home. This struggle eventually culminated in my being forced out of a Lutheran Church when they condemned my husband and me for ending the placement of our 16 year old Sudanese foster son. Members of my church refused to believe he had stolen a camera and was physically threatening. They encouraged and even condoned our foster son’s leaving our house when he was grounded. For the full story I encourage you to read, Not of My Making: Bullying, Scapegoating and Misconduct in Churches.

I am certain that God does not expect or want us to forget abuse and other evil things. Instead we are to speak out against them and seek ways to prevent further abuse. So what are the former things Isaiah is referring to? I asked my priest, Fr. Lance at All Saints Anglican. He told me that this passage refers to the covenant between God and the Jews and is also a Messianic prophecy about John the Baptist and Jesus and the New Covenant. God makes all things new and the past is “forgotten” as we accept God.

So this passage isn’t commanding me and others like me to forget the abuse and not speak of it. God wants us to stop worshipping idols and follow his commandments. For a period of my life I wasn’t doing that. I left Christianity and replaced faith with science, rational thought and humanism. I denied man’s sinfulness and need for God’s saving grace. My move back to Christianity was slow and gradual and is one of the reasons I was forced out of a Unitarian Universalist church. Now I think God was trying to speak to me but I was slow to get it.

At first I thought the problem was a specific congregation, next I thought it was a denomination, finally I realized the problem is in all faiths, all congregations. People sin. Part of that is a tendency to bully and ostracized people who don’t agree with us or who we perceive are not like us. If we believe that since we are true Christians we are above all, we leave ourselves open to sin. Just as democracy requires eternal vigilance, so must we be mindful of our tendency to vie for status and power at the expense of others. I hope you will read Not of My Making and after having done so will consider what you can do to discourage bullying in your schools, churches and workplaces. The book is available at http://www.pluckpress.com/ or Amazon.com.

Thank you for taking your time to read this post. I am available today, April 13th, to take your comments and questions. May God’s peace be with you.

Margaret W. Jones, Ph.D.

17 comments:

lionwoman said...

Margaret, your book sounds like one I want to read! I am glad that you have found your voice... one thing I've realized is how robbing a person of their voice is one of the most effective way to steal their freedom. I'm finally finding my voice on some things after years of being shamed or admonished into silence.

I am sorry again to hear hwo far and wide the battle scars are spread in the organized churches of all denominations.

Margaret said...

Thank you for your kind words. Yes, I have found my voice. Efforts to silence me were abusive and like you said, stealing my freedom. They were trying to put me into a box of their choosing. I am glad to hear you are finding your own voice, too. Remember people often pass blame for their sin onto you. Although something shameful may have happened to you, doesn't mean you are shameful. Spiritual abuse is more common than churches want to admit.

Mary's World said...

Hi Margaret, I can't wait to read your book! I think it is great that you have found your voice to speak out against the types of bullying that occur today in many areas of our society. Although we work in different areas of dealing with abuse...it is still abuse and to find that you have found your voice and are using it now to help others is very empowering for those that have not yet been given the opportunity to use their own voice!

Mary
(aka: cancermoonwolf on twitter)

Cat Mimirsblud said...

Margaret,

Your story has moved me quite a lot and I was wondering something. I am currently collecting story of abuse in different religious paths, in order to illuminate religious prejudice/abuse perpetrated by others around us and would like to include your story. Would you mind corresponding with me? I too have been abused in many different ways, one of them religious, and I think it has to stop. Too many good people are being wounded by such cruelty and I don't think ANY God would condone such a thing, not when we are all supposed to work together. I am not christian but have MANY friends who are and would like to name you among those friends. If you are intersted, email me. I would also like to read your book. I think it would be very enlightening. You're right, to blame another for your own actions is cruel and I think it's WONDERFUL that more and more people are finding their voices!

Blessed be!

Aida said...

Margaret, I love what you've shared about speaking out. As you said, "Spiritual abuse is more common than churches want to admit."

They won't admit it and they'll do whatever they can to silence those who speak out. Bullying, shunning and threatening are some of the tactics used in the institution.

Several months ago, I found my voice and began speaking out against spiritual abuse in my blog. People need to know that the possiblity for abuse exists in ALL churches. Wherever there are leaders who are insecure and seek to protect the system at all cost, abuse will occur.

Thanks for visiting my blog and sharing your story.

Margaret said...

Mary, so nice of you to stop by. The one thing my adversaries wanted was to silence me. Each person I reach and tell my story is one small victory.

Margaret said...

Cat, I certainly would be willing to correspond to you via email. Are you on Facebook? You can email be that way. You didn't leave your email address. Tell me more about your project.

Cat Mimirsblud said...

my email is kmason21227@gmail.com and I am available for ANYONE to tell me their stories of spiritual abuse. It doesn't matter if it was from christians or pagans, etc. I want ALL of it to be out in the open! The more people speak out the BETTER!

Cat

The Cult Next Door said...

Thanks for the quote by Wiesel- so much truth in those words!
Many, many people measure "healing" by an abused "sheep" ceasing to speak of the truth.
The fact is, we should 'De-tox' from the toxic control enviroment by speaking the truth.
God bless!

Margaret said...

I love that quote from Wiesel. I often share it with my clients who are suffering from PTSD. You are so right to say others want to measure healing by silence believing if you speak about the trauma it indicates you are "not over it." How can anyone be "over it"? It changed my life. What am I are supposed to do? Ignore an important part of our personal histories? It would be like telling the story of the United States and ignoring the Civil War.

Bino M. said...

Margaret,

I am a late comer here. Thank you for sharing your story! I think we all can learn from each one of our unique stories. Thank you for being bare, honest and authentic. I have added the book to my wish list which I would read eventually. Thanks again!

Margaret said...

Bino, Sharing my story has been part of my road to recovery. I needed to do it to survive. I hope other survivors gain hope and courage from it and that bystanders learn to say no to bullying and bullies learn to be kinder.

Charles said...

Margaret, I read your blog...and maybe I missed something in the context before and after this quote
"It doesn’t say anything about rights but rather about obligations to care for one another. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:9-10 “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”

Do you think that these instructions do not imply good manners and being civil? I think it is implied as part of the whole approach to interaction with others.....Or did I miss the point?

As I started to scan through the first book review I began to see that you have gone the extra mile in trying to understand those who have acted poorly towards you. I have always done that...but have found out more times than not that the problem lies with the other person... and I will not waste tons of energy to try to fix them, but instead just pray for them, pray that I will be able to forgive them, and drop the whole thing in God's lap. I do not have the time or required energy to follow through on straightening out someone elses quirks, especially if they are not open to cautious and gentle discussion. I will always make some attempt to resolve a problem,, following the precepts set forth in the above quoted scripture from Romans, but sometimes people just have to get over it. If they have a problem with me and can not say so to me...like it says in Matthew, then I just will go my way and continue along with my business. If I wrong somebody unintentionally, of course I do want to know. I have found that I can apologize for things that were not my fault and if someone feels that they are one up on me after that...fine. It is then their problem, but I have done what is right. And I forgive them...as I have been forgiven for all of my own ...quirks. Did I miss the point ...tell me if I did. Or did I misunderstand you altogether???

Margaret said...

Charles, There is a difference between being civil and being kind. Jesus often confronted others about their behavior. He was not being civil. If you read my book you will learn that while I was grieving the loss of my foster son the minister and my church mates responded by shunning me and blaming me for my foster sons failure to adjust to our home and America. When I needed them most they were intentionally absent. It is a very hostile thing to do to others.
It would have been better if I had left the church as soon as they started shunning me. But it took me a while to figure out what was going on and that it wasn't my fault and there was nothing I could do about it.

asurvivorsthoughtsonlife said...

It makes total sense to me that one must speak the truth in order to work through it...whether it be to speak it just between them and Yahweh/God or to speak it out loud to one's self or to speak it to another. It can be spoken through writing, through art, through music or song, through speaking. There are many ways to "speak".

Silence may eventually come in the sense that there is no longer a need to speak. At that point, it becomes a choice to speak. We speak to help others heal...just as we spoke to receive healing. We listen to others just as we needed others to listen to us!

Thank you, Margaret, for this wonderful post!

Aida said...

Survivor, I love what you have to say here and how you described the different phases we pass through as we talk about our experience of abuse.

When I was at the abusive church, one of the pastors and I became friends and I was able to vent my hurt to her. It really helped me during that time and even though she later turned away and continued to follow that pastor, I will always appreciate what she gave me during that time.

After I left, I met with some others who had also left and we spoke about our experience and actually joked about it at times. Now, I have no contact with them either since that was really the only thing holding us together. Now, I don’t usually speak about my experience or even think about it. The only place I speak about it is in my blog and I do that only because I want to see people free and whole.

“Silence may eventually come in the sense that there is no longer a need to speak.” That’s where I am. I no longer need to speak about it but I do so that others may be set free.

Margaret said...

The burning need to talk about my dechurchings was satisfied with the publication of Not of My Making. But there is a temptation here to drop the subject and "move on." That certainly would be easier at this point. It is a lot of work to raise awareness about this cancer that afflicts our churches. I could simple withdraw and join the hundreds of other people who either sit silently in the pews or no longer attend church. I fear at times that I will do that and go back to keeping the history of my abuse secret. But if I do that I will just be another bystander who has chosen to allow abusive systems to continue unchallenged. I don't want to do that. So I keep on while finding solace in God's grace.