An Open Letter to the Church that Raised Me
Hi. Remember me? I’m the 30 year old mom who sat in the head pastor’s office and begged the church to protect my 4 year old. I’m the twenty something year old veteran in an abusive marriage that was shamed in your lobby. I’m the 18 year old rape victim who lost her child due to assault who was struggling to stay alive who was not supported, instead, security followed me around, and still, to this day, I get watched like I’m about to snap. I will never escape the stigma YOU allowed.
I want to share with you some things. I did not walk away from the religion you teach. I walked away from the people who teach it, and the people who use it to abuse those around them.
I was raised in many different flavors of American Christianity. Four Square, Independent Baptist, IBLP/ATI, Calvinism, Assembly of God, Non Denominational, I know you all. I was an Awanas kid. I did apologetics. I know the book inside and out.
It’s taken me 30 years to do this publicly. But it started when I was a child, watching the church that was our whole life simply cease to be there for us, virtually overnight. I listened to the Pastor’s wife make horrible comments about us almost a year later in public. Yes, I remember. 20 years later, it’s burned into my mind. You selfishly, and heedlessly, made horrible comments about a child’s mother in her presence. For you, it was just a random week night at the rec center.
For me, it was a formative memory.
I could give example after example after example of the horrors that I have been subjected to by “Christians” but I just have four more I want to share. (These don’t even touch the surface)
A woman who literally saw me be born shamed me, humiliated me, and said “Wouldn’t it be better to forgive, let God handle the punishment?” instead of supporting me when I came for help when I was pursuing charges against my abuser who attempted to strangle me to death. This woman works with sexual assault survivors. THIS is what she told the broken woman she has known since birth. THIS is who I see at weddings. THIS is who will never meet my children. I will never give her the opportunity to use religion to abuse my children.
In the lobby of the church my parents STILL attend something similar to this: “It was your responsibility to please your spouse. It is impossible to commit rape against your spouse. If you had just done what the bible said, none of this would have happened. You are bitter. You need to forgive.”
A pastor (this pastor is gone now) at the same church: “It’s your fault your daughter has health issues. If you hadn’t divorced your husband, God wouldn’t be punishing your daughter.”
I was harassed by one of the church’s armed security guards for months. Intimidated. Physically followed around. Screamed at. All because I wouldn’t engage with him in any way. This man lost his mind because I wouldn’t say hello. Now…I did the right things, I told my parents because this person is a sibling’s ex father in law. I continued to “keep the peace”. I walked away. I didn’t cause a scene. In the state of MN the experiences I went through inside the church falls under several cases of felony harassment.
Then. He did it in front of my child.
And still. I kept the peace. I didn’t make a scene. I went to get my dad. They asked me to speak to the pastor. So, we did. I have the full conversation recorded. Instead of listening to me, the lead pastor kept repeating “that’s your interpretation.” “That's your perception.”
All we asked for was for him to be removed from the security team and for them to work with him. That’s it. They said they would get back to us.
I begged them to protect my four year old. I wouldn’t have done anything if it hadn’t impacted my child. He still has nightmares. He regressed in many ways. This is STILL impacting my family, not to mention what it’s done to me.
56 seconds. That’s all it took almost two weeks later for the pastor to inform me that nothing would happen. This individual had been talked to. That’s it.
I cried. I screamed into the abyss. I called my parents. My mom asked me to go talk to the female lead pastor, who was in the original meeting. I gathered up everything in me, and I gave it one last shot.
I cried for about 10 minutes, sharing the impact, AGAIN explaining these are felony charges, pleading for support, not for me, but for my child. I got “I’m so sorry, I can’t say anything.”
I am trying. I am trying to see these people as people, as flawed as I am. But here’s the thing. This god you teach, calls you, as church leaders to a higher standard.
James 3:1 “not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
Even by the church’s own teaching, there should be a plurality of leadership, accountability, and responsibility for the pastor’s congregation.
Their own teachings preach against hypocrisy, double standards, and warn against harming children. This church prides itself on its support of police officers and the military. It is well known to this church that I am a veteran with PTSD, and well known to the individual who committed these acts.
And yet, nothing.
These are not isolated incidents, these incidents spanned denominations, genders, generations, and leadership roles. The underlying issue of sweeping abuse of all kinds under the rug inside American Churches is well documented, instead of swift consequences, the survivors are told to forgive, move on, good enough is good enough.
From the Sovereign Grace scandals with CJ Mahaney, in part allegedly covered up by the father of purity culture himself, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and others) to First Baptist church’s innumerable scandals (A.V Ballenger, Jack Shaap, Jack Hyles, and more), to Douglas Goodman, (sexually assaulting four church goers, jailed and now in ministry again), to Earl Paulk, (sometimes considered the father of religious sex scandal) to Joe Barron, (mega pastor caught pedophile charges), to Josh Duggar, to countless others, the pattern is clear.
Abuse is rampant, from financial, to sexual, to physical, inside the church. The very nature of how religion is taught in mainstream American Christianity perpetuates this abuse. In the same breath that an all loving, all knowing, ever present God is taught, so is the pattern of manipulation, abuse, and control.
I cannot fathom a “loving” parent punishing a child with illness, cancer, and more due to the mother leaving an abusive marriage. The constant pursuit of persecution, long suffering, and trials is starkly contrasted with an all loving father.
How am I supposed to believe when all I see, even inside the bible itself, are temper tantrums, abuse, manipulation, and horror? The bible contradicts itself, almost as much as those who practice it.
I’ve only covered some of the issues, but the one thing my 30 years growing up in American Christianity taught me is that there’s no hate quite like Christian love. I haven’t touched on the subtle mental abuse, shaming, gaslighting, and overall manipulation. This letter is not directed at any one church, but all of them.
So why didn’t I leave earlier? Because I was conditioned to believe if I tried hard enough, if I hoped hard enough, if I believed better, prayed harder, trusted more, that it would get better. Because I still, in the broken little girl part of my heart, wanted to win the love of this elusive heavenly father.
So what changed?
I heard my four year old son scream “leave my mommy alone, you’re scaring her” in a church lobby at an adult man in a leadership position.
My four year old stood up for me more than any adult, past or present, inside a church ever had. I knew that I couldn’t subject that perfect little boy to another moment. I failed him still, I allowed my desire to do it “right”, to let the church have a chance, to not cause a scene to overrule what I knew in my heart was right.
I will forever regret not dialing 911 that instant. I should have made the scene. We fixed it. The police report has been filed. Magically, the lead pastor called both my husband and I within an hour of us informing the other pastor that we would be filing an official report. We did not return the calls.
This is my plea to those pastors, do better. Be BETTER. Take the stance against abuse. Be as bold protecting your own congregation as you are protecting the building. You have a full team of self proclaimed “highly trained” security staff. What about the people inside? Do MORE. Good enough is no longer good enough. I am ashamed of your behavior, I am disgusted by the abuse, and I am discouraged by the lack of compassion and empathy.
This is the woman who the week before this happened, you applauded my strength, perception, and awareness when it related to standing against the church split, and the abusive behavior of those who lead the new one. Where was the support when I used all those same things to come to you and trust you to be BETTER?
This is a letter to the first church that scarred my soul, do more. Good enough is not good enough. Believe the people who tell you something is wrong. Your church is riddled with affairs, gossip, cattiness, financial misbehavior and more. DO MORE.
I know the comments on this are going to all about how I should trust God, hope more, forgive more. I know I’m going to get bible verses and theology thrown at me. My message to you? I can give as good as I get. I can go back to Hebrew and Greek and beat you at your own game. Please don’t turn this into that.
Don’t excuse your own behavior with no one is perfect. I fucking know. I am not expecting perfection from Christians. The bar is so low, it’s not even on the floor. I’m just saying pick up the damn bar, fix inside your own buildings, take out your own trash before you start heaping condemnation on the world outside that building. Practice what you preach, pick it up, and hold yourself accountable.