“…it was almost seven years before I had overcome the psychological damage caused by their cult-like control and spiritualization” (Harold L. Bussell, “Unholy Devotion,”(Zondervan, 1983), p. 116). This is still available on Amazon as of today.
“Experience is an odd teacher. First comes the test; then comes the lesson” (Ernie Reisinger).
What Pastor Reisinger meant was that God allows us to go through something from which we learn a valuable life lesson. The experience opens up biblical passages in a new and bright light.; we see a familiar passage differently and we never read it the same old way again. If we apply it to ourselves, we grow in grace and in the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Abuse in the Christian community is especially painful as Mr. Bussell relates. It is so unexpected and confusing. There is the test. The lesson comes through the pain and emotional suffering.
My reason for writing this is because of the psychological damage that results when pastors, elders. or deacons fail to protect their people. Abuse hurts. Double that when it comes from such an unexpected source as the church’s leaders. As Harold Bussell learned, it can take a long time to recover. The danger is that those abused will just give up on the local church. The following is a brief summary of my own experience and what I learned from it. I hope it will help you be on the alert for this type of abuse and seek to prevent it from going as far as this did.
THE TEST: “A Witch Hunt”
The leadership decided to address the lack of church growth by passing out a church survey. They made up the questions; it was to be turned in without our name on it. The only thing is they didn’t like what they read. You won’t believe this but a witch hunt ensured. The pastor and one elder tracked down those of us who had expressed negative ideas—by matching handwriting samples?—and the abuse started. I lived to regret talking to the pastor on the phone about my survey responses. I had no witness to the conversation when he misrepresented my comments to another elder. I was not the only one who was suddenly in trouble. Other women were phoned or visited without any witness to how harshly we were treated. We had not talked with each other about our opinions of the survey questions, but now we talked about how we were being treated. Of course, then we were accused of gossip and spreading division. So we felt guilty if we talked to one another and isolated if we did not!
But, there was lots of “pillow talk, and so, one elder stepped up the attack. Obviously (to him), the women did not submit to their husbands any more than they did to the church leadership and their husbands were not leading! More visits were made, including to John and me. We listened and said we did not agree. But, the elder had a last parting jab, “You must have deep-seated problems with authority. Perhaps you should look into your childhood for the root of it.” I was so angry that I thought he might be right. It took me years to get past that sword-thrust.
The church eventually dissolved completely. Everyone went their separate ways but not without bruised feelings about church in general.
I never filled out another church survey. I never met alone with an accuser again or continued a phone conversation that became an attack. This loss was a severe one. The church had been doctrinally within the scope of historical Christianity. We read sound Christian literature. We had been a very close fellowship. It could have become a major force for the gospel. After it dissolved, we felt like we had moved away from family. We had to start all over with new people and a new church, but I was still on-guard and waiting to be hit again. I poured my energy into education. The good lesson was that I respected my husband even more. John never participated in the witch hunt and never believed any of us deserved this kind of treatment. It was easy and right to submit to him. He was kind, humble, and gentle…even when opposed …the kind of leader God uses. And He did. John became a compassionate and patient Bible teacher and church leader. The loss of a doctrinally sound pulpit drove us to the warm-hearted Calvinists in my book and conferences that grounded us in historical Christianity. We both grew up.
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, in Christ,…” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Don’t shy away from those you know are suffering from the pain of abuse by the church. You don’t have to have all the answers to the whys of their suffering. Just be compassionate and there for them. They are going to be emotional. Don’t let that chase you away.
Instead, pray for them and think of some ways to have some fun together. I wish my friends had come along beside me and just been there. Their absence gave credence to the feelings of false guilt I had and the slander the leaders used as a control technique. It is not gossip for friends to share sincere burdens with each other.
Never use Romans 8:28 as a pat answer to suffering. All things are not good. To recite this verse to a hurting as if the abuse was good is a misuse of the verse. Instead, why not remind them that nothing ever separates us from the love of God? A note of encouragement like that does wonders.
“Insensitivity, lack of compassion, and pat answers only deepen wounds” (William Bussell, p, 93). Don’t be guilty of any of these around someone who has been (or is being) abused. Their scars are real. Be kind to them. Don’t avoid them. Read again the first quote by Mr. Bussell . It took him seven years to get over a six week period of abuse within a para-church organization. Seven years! Be patient with your friend.