This is a true story of my personal experiences within an abusive church. I apologize for such a long post but there are things that needed to be said.
This post is not intended to mock or criticise the many Church Leaders that promote the sound teachings of God and have a real duty of care and love for their congregation, but rather to expose some of the toxic features within a church that almost destroyed my relationship with God. I feel compelled that this is the right time to share my experiences and to warn others in advance.
One of the things that most people search for is a spiritual source to fill the gap that nothing else seems to plug. A creator, a God, a being of some sort. After all, we have a longing to know who we are and where we came from. One of the many paths we take is the road that leads to God.
At a young age I had already exhausted the nightclubs, lock-in pubs, underground raves, and designer clothes. I'd had my fair share of expensive dinners, holidays abroad and meeting people you wouldn't want to be associated with. I indulged in way too many deadly sins to mention.
I began to have an intense inner feeling that I needed God and to find him I needed to find a place of worship.
I eliminated the Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, Catholics and Mormons because throughout my early life I had already spent time studying with them and their teachings just weren't my cup of tea. I then remembered my relative telling me about this local Pentecostal church they went to and how different it was regarding worship, plus the preaching/teaching was very bible-based. I decided to go along and take a look for myself. It was that decision which almost put me 'smack bang' into the gates of hell.
No Way Out
Within a matter of weeks of my being there, I was being taught in the Sunday school lessons that the reason I, as a new convert had chosen that particular church was because 'it was the place where God had sent me' and 'those that leave that church were never meant to be there in the first place'. People who left were being referred to as 'wolves in sheep's clothing' according to Matthew 7:15 in the bible. We were constantly being fed stories of how people came into the church and tried to cause havoc but when they didn't succeed they left and that was due to them not being a child of God in the first place, but of the devil. We were warned against associating ourselves with them. After all, those people had rejected the truth about God so what could we possibly have in common with them? We were light and they were darkness.
I had no reason to challenge this based on what I had seen so far, so I lapped it up like a thirsty dog. The noose was being tightened, but so slowly that I didn't notice it.
This is vitally important because they were quickly laying the foundations in your mind that the Almighty God had put you in their church. And to leave would be to defy God.
It was also teaching you not to associate yourself with anyone who had left the group regardless to their reasons. They would be labeled as rebellious and/or backsliders - in other words, they walked out on God and wanted to return to the society that was on it's way to a fiery hell.
Seem like simple statements don't they? But, in the long run, those words would plant guilt, fear and shame, and haunt you whenever you thought of leaving.
Shut Up and Obey
As the months ticked by we were taught that we should obey God rather than man - Acts 5:29. It's a brilliant scripture if used in the right way, but it was constantly drummed into us that the Pastor and his ministers had been ordained by God, and they were the mouth-piece of God, so in essence, you were obeying what God wanted through them. You were taught that if you wanted to do certain things then you would have to ask the Pastor for 'permission' first. There would be serious consequences if you failed to adhere to this.
Anyone who dared to challenge the pastor would be knocked back sometimes privately but more so publicly. They were made to look as if they were being disobedient to God's ordained authority.
There was a situation where an elderly woman wanted to visit another church. She told us beforehand what she wanted to do but when the Leader refused 'permission' she decided not to go. We had been taught that to go without his express 'blessing' was to go against the will of God. As time moved on, I'd realise that 'permission' was sought for many things: dating, marriages, visiting other churches, social events and suchlike.
Anyone who did not abide by these rules was privileged enough to be the topic of the next Sunday sermon in front of the whole congregation. Can you imagine, for example, how you would feel if you wanted to get married and because you didn't ask the pastor's 'permission' the next service would be about disobedient people marrying the wrong kind or that it wasn't ordained by God and that their marriages would fail etc?
Public humiliation was a way of telling the whole congregation to 'hear and fear'. The pastor did not take kindly to anyone who disobeyed him. Bit by bit, grown adults (many who I personally know) who were once very strong and independent minded were being turned into people who conformed to whatever this autocratic pastor wanted. Members were regressing to childlike vulnerability, they were no longer thinking for themselves. They were only interested in whether the pastor would approve or disapprove. In order for any cult to work you need total obedience. It was no longer about Jesus.
But the worst was yet to come.
Part 2 will be posted on 6th September 2013.
Have you or do you know anyone who has experienced autocratic leadership?
Have you encountered these dynamics in other places apart from a religious setting?
I'd love to hear your comments, views and opinions.