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. Well done. Thank you.

  2. I think it is good that you champion this cause because those who abuse in the clergy taint the Church. It saddens me to see such abuse and saddens me even more that we think by announcing each incident to the world only allows that tainted vision of the church as a whole grow. People read these stories and don’t see individuals who are abusing, they see the church as a whole as a evil, abusive, malicious place. I think it is important to put emphasis that these individuals are acting on their own accord. But this is a blog and blogs are not even sided battlegrounds. Good luck to you.

  3. I started to reply to your comment here and it got very long. So I made it a new post on the front page.

    Thank you for your comments. I do understand and appreciate your viewpoint.

    — Danni

  4. My family came from a Southern Baptist Background. We have pastors and missionaries within the family. My parents also had us live our lifes within the church, and were very active. We moved when I was young, and my parents didn’t choose the Southern Baptist church for our church home. When we went home we of course went back to our old church.

    I have also dealt with 20+ years of an abusive marriage, but it doesn’t sound like I was as vocal as you were. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I was on the quest to fix it. I had always questioned things as you did, because they didn’t seem to make sense to me. It always seemed to go against the spirit of the bible I was reading.

    In wasn’t until I was an adult did I find out WHY my parents had characteristics that I never truly understood either. My mother threw me when she told me that my grandfather had hit both of them while she was growing up. I’m glad she did wait until he was dead, and my grandmother was at a point she couldn’t be spoken to either. I guess she did that on purpose. Her being emotionally distance did make sense after that.

    My grandparents were active and respected members of a large church in Dallas, and they also had many ties to other community and faith based programs. I never quite understood all of my grandmothers statements, but as I grew older I realized the influence and it counterdicted what they stood for.

    LOL We won’t go into my father’s side!

    I dont’ think the church realizes the impact of generations they have placed on people. I knew enough about the church to know they were NOT the place i would go for help tho. That in itself is sad.

    My local DV shelter was not all the myths they tell others they are (the church). I was helped, and they even helped me with my struggle with the faith aspect. In 2005 I started to do a search for material of this aspect and faith, and found it very disappointing. I started my own blog at that point.

    You aren’t the only solo voice! LOL you might be better than I, but I bet our numbers will grow!

    Love your blog by the way!

  5. Dear Danni,
    Thank you so much for your web page. It is truly a light in the darkness. I too am in an abusive marriage and I was told by the “church” that I had no basis for divorce. I guess physical, emotional and verbal abuse isn’t enough! I am supposed to stay and suffer like Christ did. My husband went to counseling with me and pretty much lied and told the Pastor what he wanted to hear. Making me look more evil. I was crushed. Not only was I being abused at home I was being abused at church. I was also told I would have to leave if I didn’t straighten out because I could affect the body.
    Why does this happen? The church never scolded my husband. He locked me and the kids out of the house. We had to stay with friends. No one from the church ever offered me help but gladly took my money every week. But that was somehow ok too. The pastor really had a male bias. Anyhow thanks for helping me see the light.

  6. I’m sorry this has happened to you, too. My church at least didn’t ever threaten to excommunicate me, though they did “discipline” me for to avoid my situation being divisive in the church. I was removed from the music team each time I went to the church (two different churches) about the abuse in my home. While I understood their reasoning, it also underscored the fact that they did not appreciate the seriousness of XH’s behavior.

    It is wrong that women (and men for that matter) who have abusive spouses are effectively punished by the church. But I keep three things in mind. One – GOD is not the problem; He is faithful to me. Two – not all churches have this attitude. I didn’t find one without it but I know they do exist. Three – while I’d rather not walk here, God will use it for His purposes, and that is a good thing.

    It’s a long walk out of that place (abusive marriage) but it is SOOOO worth it! Keep walking!

    — Danni

  7. “…not all churches have this attitude. I didn’t find one without it but I know they do exist. ”

    Hmm… when you find one, let me know. I have sat under 10 different pastors in 7 different churches. All of them taught ‘wifely submission’ and 3 of them were involved in sexual issues. 1 simply had a single affair. The other 2? Hmm… patterned behavior – abusive behavior – one of them targeting teens as well as married women, the other targeting women in abusive marriages – predators.

    In every church, I have seen the game playing – ‘churchianity’ – that puts the needs of the institution above the needs of the individuals.

    Hmm… you are right that the problem is with the church and not with God. Thank God. I have had some discussions with Him about this. I have asked how what I have heard the Bible means – what it seems to say – squares with the God I know and love. He has been showing me, through various means (including this blog 😉 ), that much of what I have been taught does NOT square with Him and is not FROM Him.

    Thank you for adding your voice.

    Katherine

  8. Danni and Katherine:

    I hear your struggles wih the church but I have been a member of a very progressive Baptist church for almost 30 years. I would like to invite you to my church, Northside Drive Baptist Church. We are not perfect. We do have our struggles. We first ordained a woman to the deacons in the sixties. Our current Diaconate, is 12 female and 3 male. We have had several women ministers on staff, not senior minister, but that day is coming. We encourage all to explore their faith and put it on mission with us. Our current church moderator is a female professor at Mercer Seminary. Check us out at http://www.nsdbc.org.

    JB

  9. I’m glad you have kept your faith in spite of the horrible abuses you have seen. It is also an abuse of Scripture to teach that a woman can’t get out of a bad marriage. Jesus teaching about divorce was meant to protect and honor women and expose the hypocrisy of men–it was not meant to keep them stuck in a dangerous trap. Jesus himself said, if a sheep falls into a ditch on the Sabbath, you rescue it. He said it is lawful to do good and save life.

  10. Dear Danni,

    I finally made the time to read your story and I am deeply touched! I so admire that you did not allow the terrible abuse you have suffered from both your ex-husband and the church to turn you away from the True and Faithful Lover of our Souls, Jesus. And I love it that you are a Fighter, and yet you fight with a heavy dose of grace, but there’s definitely strength there too. (see Jn 1–nice combo, reminds me of someone, hmmm, let me think…)

    You are an inspiration to me as I continue to fight my own battles against various systems, some legalistic abusive church systems, others such as the incompetent, calloused systems and bureaucracies that also choose to believe the predators over the victims, despite hordes of evidence (which in one case I know of they didn’t even take the time to look at!).

    Thank you for fighting this fight! I hope you take time to take off the boxing gloves now and then and fill up on the good things too! 🙂

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