Church Background

[Updated 3/19/2009]

I spent most of my life in Baptist churches — General Association of Regular Baptist (GARB) churches, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, and a Southern Baptist (SBC) church.  I have unfortunately experienced first-hand the failure of the church to live up to its foundations.   I am not now in a Baptist church.  I’ve come to have some different theological beliefs which would make me a poor match for a Baptist church.

However, after spending time in other evangelical churches and discovering the same beliefs and practices there (as far as the roots of abuse are concerned), then digging deeper, I’ve come to the conclusion this is not a Baptist problem. It is a Christianity problem. It is systemic and long-term.

 All in all, my bad church experiences haven’t made me bitter toward the church.  Instead I want to be a voice for healing and change.  God and the church are not synonymous.  God isn’t the One Who has failed.  At the same time, I don’t expect anyone to be able to change the church single-handedly.  But there will always be those who are looking for answers to the questions no one will address.  For those, this site is built.

 I not only grew up in the church, I grew up in the church.  By the time I was 6, my father was a pastor.  When I was nine my parents went on deputation (to raise financial support as required by GARB denomination) to become missionaries.  In this pursuit we traveled up and down the West Coast, with some smaller trips to central states, in the churches and homes of many pastors, evangelists and missionaries. 

When I was in fifth grade, my parents pulled my siblings and I out of public school (I am the oldest of 5 siblings).  From sixth grade on I was in Christian schools using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE, now called School of Tomorrow) curriculum.  So, in addition to being in church 3-4 times on Sunday, again on Wed. night, and once or twice on other evenings of the week, I was also in church every day Monday through Friday, with daily devotions or chapel and extensive Scripture memory required.  There was also AWANA for a few years where I completed all the books available in our church’s program and received a Timothy Award.

But I was unusual — a church leader’s kid who didn’t rebel.  I accepted Christ as a child and embraced it all.  As an early teen I began to see the inconsistencies and hypocrisy around me in the GARB church we attended.  From the pulpit we were being told we were the chosen, the ones with truth, who lived a better life, but outside the pew there was backstabbing, gossip, and perpetual contention over church issues.  The rules made no sense and seemed pointless.

Then I met a teen who was passionate about God and personal holiness.  This was quite a novelty and inspired me to begin pursuing a more intense relationship with God.  This other teenager was from an IFB church.  At the same time, our pastor wanted to take our church out of the GARB denomation and become an IFB church.  He went out to First Baptist Church in Hammond, IN for pastors’ school and the church teens went out to First Baptist for the week for teens one summer.  It all seemed like such an antidote for the Christianity I saw around me and I naively accepted the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity in their entirety.  Our pastor was successful in taking the church out of the GARB denomination and making it an IFB church.

Being in countless churches and homes of church leadership, I began to see things that confused and disturbed me.  As I reached my late teens I began to understand the whispers.  There were many instances of pastors, youth ministers, music ministers and/or their wives being involved in immorality.  There were also consistent issues of men in the church involved incestuously with their children (male and female) and parents physically abusing their children.  With amazing regularity, these issues occurred in churches where there was also financial “impropriety” – especially embezzlement by church leadership and/or failure to pay staff salaries while the person with financial control lived comfortably. And nothing was ever done to even acknowledge these situations.

Once I graduated from high school I went on to Bible college as expected.  There were only four schools which were considered good enough — Bob Jones, Hyles Anderson, Pensacola, and ACE’s college, the International Institute (II).  We chose what appeared to be the strictest one and I went to II.

While it was a bad experience at the time, in hindsight I’m grateful for it because I saw the underbelly of fundamentalist Christianity up close and personal.  The II was a college established by the founder and president of ACE, Dr. Don Howard.  There was also a “lab” school for kindergarten through high school on campus, and a church, also started and pastored by Dr. Howard.  Because the school was very small (under 100 students) and Dr. Howard was connected to the “big-wigs” in fundamentalist Christian circles, we met many of the major leaders of the movement and saw these people “behind the scenes” up-close and personal in ways that most people never have.

This was an opportunity few enjoy. I know there are thousands of people who would consider it enviable. I am glad of it for entirely different reasons. And I’m not sure why I saw the things I did because there were other students in the same place who didn’t. But for some reason I managed to be at the right places at the wrong times and saw and heard these men exposing the reality of who they really were behind their public masks. I learned these were not godly men. They were men who had found a power mechanism they could manipulate. They might even believe their own press and think they were godly by some strange twist of reason. But the fruit of their own mouths and lives where “no one could see” said something very different.

By the time I finished college I was disgusted by the system.  I saw that everything I was being taught came from men who said one thing and lived another.  These were men who were secretly involved in immorality, pedophilia, or at the very least spiritual corruption – though there were a few shining exceptions, to whom I am grateful.  Most everything I “learned” was what men said, about what men said, about what men said about what the Bible said.  And these men were not trustworthy. 

So I threw out all my books and notes and set out on a quest.  If the Bible is in fact God’s inspired Word to man, and if God is Who the Bible says He is, then it can be tested and proven.  The Word says, “If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally and upbraideth not.”  So I asked God to teach me the truth – just Him, the Word, the Holy Spirit and me.  This began a journey now over 20 years in the making and hopefully with many years to come.

When I left college I was determined never to join another Baptist church.  But a few years later my husband and I joined a Southern Baptist church.  I did not go willingly, but it was what my husband insisted on. However, before we made that decision we closely questioned the pastor.  He assured us he believed as we did, and did not agree with some of the particular tenets of Baptist denominational distinctives. 

For the first several years, he taught what he said he believed.  However, as the church got bigger it became a favored church for leadership from the Southern Baptist home mission board.  Then everything changed.  It appeared the pastor decided to toe the denominational line to keep from offending denominational power players.  We left shortly before the church imploded and all the pastoral staff left, along with nearly all the church members.

During the 14 years we attended the SBC church another serious issue emerged.  I knew about at least six women, including myself, who were in abusive marriages and went to the church for help.  We were given “counseling” and constantly encouraged to remain “faithful,” pray, submit and “suffer for righteousness sake.” 

The first time I separated from my husband, no one believed me about the abuse.  But I don’t blame them, since I had kept it covered.  The second time we were separated they did believe me.  And I was privately told that, while they “supported” me, they would make no public or visible move to stand for me and my children.

This is not an issue reserved for Baptist churches.  I love the church I was in at the time my marriage ended, but when the abuse in our marriage escalated again, I didn’t ask for validation or counseling.  I told my pastors I was getting a divorce.  In fact, God told me not to ask for support or validation – and I only understood why when I got their responses. They were not supportive of me making that choice; they wanted us to go to counseling again.  But I’d done that so many times before and I knew it would be ineffective.  Meanwhile my children and I would have to live with our situation.  That was not an option, especially with my fragile health and life & death in the balance. 

My senior pastor said he could see that perhaps a divorce was necessary for safety, but that I would not be free to remarry since there was no known sexual adultery.  My associate pastor said there was no Biblical support for me getting a divorce and it was wrong – in the immediate face of knowing I was being sexually assaulted on top of everything else he knew was going on in my marriage. 

This was very painful for me.  But I believe I did exactly what God led me to do, after spending more than 13 years on my face with God about the issue.  As it turned out, my husband immediately moved out of state when I left him, without ever once expressing any interest to me in reconciliation (in spite of crying on everyone else’s shoulders about how much he wanted our marriage restored) and he remarried 10 months after our divorce was finalized. In fact, he withdrew his battle for custody and started pushing for a rapid conclusion of proceedings so he could date.

Because of these experiences, which I’m sure I’ll talk about in more detail in my blogs, I am passionate about issues of abuse by clergy and abuse being tolerated within the church.  I want to add my voice to the growing number of people trying to bring attention to these issues.  Since the church is not equipped to help its members, someone else needs to.  I can’t save the world, but I also know how a solo voice here and there makes a huge difference to a life. 

Statement of Faith

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12 Responses

  1. I usually do not reply to posts I read online – but yours has moved me to the point of doing so.

    My husband and I attended a GARB baptist church on and off for about 3 years. He always sensed a problem there – there was a strict line between the “haves” and “have nots” of which we were of the “have not” category. When I asked the church for help (not monetary) it was twisted into a discussion on how we should be giving them more and not asking for any help. Sexual immorality was also mentioned in every sermon. My six-year-old son was terrified and hated the aged woman who ran his children’s church and mentioned to my mother forms of verbal abuse she used.

    My husband and I accepted Christ as our savior in this church – so for that reason I can not regret the experience. We finally left when half of our town was wiped out by a tornado, every church in the area was praying for the people who had lost loved ones and everything – this church was bragging about handing water out at a local fair. I confronted one of the (male obviously) pastors about this, and was yelled at that I didn’t know what was in their hearts. They had in effect spent one day helping a member of their denomination clean up. Other churches sent crews for weeks to help where they could with both clean up and rebuilding and showed many people the love of God that way. Our counseling experience was also a waste of time for reasons I won’t go into here – we decided that a major problem in our marriage was any ties we had still to this church. Since then, we’ve cut them.

    I am glad that you had the courage to leave both this church and an abusive marriage, contrary to the twisted doctrine that is preached from the pulpit. I thank you for your post, which shows me that the problem is fundamentally the church and wasn’t necessarily unique to us.

  2. One plain word. THANKS. I almost cry now of relief reading this comment. I am from Scandinavia but thanks God the internet provides so useful info across any limits of physical borders.

    I have been in a verbally abusive relation for 20 years . After 4 years I left my husband, – told several people in my congregation but NOONE had any supportive word for me. No-one! They were so absorbed with the idea of marriage under any circumstances and that divorce is not acceptable, even though my husband was very verbally aggresive towards me and not being a born-again Christian at all by the way.

    Recently another Christian (otherwise very nice) lady told me, to behave like a “slave” to my husband but because of me starting to se a psychologe the past 6 months I could just suddenly see how extremely absurd the whole situation.

    To put the instituion above the human beings is simply not right.

    I bless you for the courage to speak up. I realise that Scandinavia is a small area and we do not at all have the same access to human sound advise within the Christian communities.

    Apologizing for my English, – it is not my Mother tounge so I make som lingual errors I know.

    love

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