A Look at Why Abuse Victims Stop Attending Church

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

There are quite a few of us out here now – people who have experienced abuse in the church and are not able to attend church as a result.

Unfortunately, we are then looked upon as back-slidden and everything we attempt to say to the issue of abuse in the church is discredited because “we are not in church” and, therefore, so out of touch with God we couldn’t possibly have anything valid to say. I have been openly discredited on this blog because of my church status, not to mention in private e-mail. I have also seen others in the same situation receive the same treatment.

However, this perspective turns reality upside down.

What has really happened is that the church has put us out of fellowship with its treatment of abuse.

How can I attend a church which predicates my acceptance on the idea that they will forgive me for getting a divorce since God does? This is not truth and blames me for the failure of my marriage. To attend a church under this presupposition, I have to live a lie – a lie that violates my conscience before God.

How can I attend a church which views me with disrespect? Because of my divorced status I am excluded from teaching in the church or using the gifts God has given me (except singing). This means the church is saying I am less than what God says I am. The church is also limiting me from doing what God has called me to do. So to attend that church I have to deny God in my life.

How can I attend a church which teaches and fosters unbiblical gender role stereotyping when I know that this teaching is both unbiblical but also leading to the abuse of other people in the church? To attend that church I have to compromise my conscience, call evil good, and give tacit consent to the continuance of abuse in the church.

How can I attend a church where I know an abuse victim will receive the same treatment I received? The result of this treatment is literal physical abuse, and potential death, to the lives of people in the church, at the insistence of the church and its erroneous doctrine. And I know better! The church may be acting in ignorance – but I would not be! To attend that church I would again have to compromise my conscience and I would have to be an accessory to the crime of abuse – because I do know better.

These are the reasons I cannot attend any evangelical church I know of. It is not because I refuse to attend church or do not want to attend church. The church will not let me worship with them in good conscience.

So, instead, I have to go the heart of the Word and remain “in fellowship with believers” through more unconventional means – which I do.

And I am not alone. I am merely one of a very large and growing group of people that the church is barring from fellowship through their actions. But, in true church irony fashion, guess who is being blamed for being “out of fellowship?”

[Now, the next step is for us to bond together in church relationships where we are accepted and acceptable. Something I’m praying about…]

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6 Responses

  1. I am an adult victim/survivor of clergy sexual abuse and exploitation. My abuse by the clergy person began in 1995 and ended when I broke the silence of my abuse in 1999.

    My abuse began as I was struggling with betrayel in my marriage. The clergy person was “right there” to “help”. He “helped” me by twisting my moral compass behind his closed and locked doors while he declared his love for me. I was vulnerable. I believed him. He was my pastor–and they don’t lie, right? The “secret relationship” lasted 4 years.

    Dispite however painful it was–and it was–when I learned the truth that there had been more women than me and he was attempting to discredit me as “crazy”, I suffered a breakdown of sorts and ended the silence. That’s when the real and lasting abuse came–and continues to come from the church. I speak here of the St. Timothy congregation of Fremont, NE, of the ELCA Lutheran church.

    I was hopeful and believing in the goodness of church in the beginning. I no longer am. In May of the year 2000, my picture appeared along with an article in The Lutheran magazine concerning my abuse. It was an article I interviewed for believing if my church community would hear my story and not just the perps, they would welcome me back into communion with them. I was wrong.

    Today I remain outside the church. Members of that community continue to come into my place of work to harass me–though over the years they have decreased in number.

    I can’t say my clergy expereince is a “gift” I treasure, but it is a gift which has opened my eyes to much mean and hateful “christian” behavior. When I see how so many “christian” groups self-rightously bash anyone who doesn’t believe and act as they do–be they Muslems, gays, other Christian groups, Jews, non-religious, etc., I am thankful to be out of the maddness.

    The Jesus of the Bible met folk where they were and loved them anyway. Church isn’t like that.. Churches have become self-righteous social clubs where folk go at least once a week to tell themselves and others tha they are the “chosen” of God and everyone else is going to hell.

    I have learned that faith in my Creator has nothing to do with the instituition of any Church. There is such freedom in that!

  2. To both Danni and Linda, I am so sorry for the experiences that you have had within the church and elsewhere. I am currently in the midst of a divorce after 6 years in an abusive marriage, so I understand the feeling of inadequacy or judgment that can be felt when you walk through the sanctuary doors.

    I was even told at one point to go back home with my husband by a Christian counselor after sobbing and shrieking (my husband in another room out of earshot of course) about how he had a loaded gun and brought it into one of his rages and I feared he would kill me! So I completely understand how you could feel as though the church could be more of a pile of needles to sit on then a pillow of comfort and reprieve.

    My cousin is going through many of the same circumstances, and because of the spiritual abuse she endured from her ex-husband cannot stand the thought of stepping foot into a church at this point.

    I ask with all love and sincerity though to consider two things. Number one, where you attended…and number two, that God really did not intend for His people to be such a fallen and screwed up bunch of sickos, especially within the church walls, and though those people were incredibly wrong in their treatment and actions towards you, God has someplace He does want you to be growing and thriving with real followers that will encourage you in every way.

    Why I asked the first question (where you attend) is because that I am hearing a lot of legalism in the situations that you have faced (both of you) and I can tell you from experience that these people in the church you went to are wrong in their thought processes (which you already know), but there are many other churches that would embrace and love you no matter what because they are truly living and walking in accordance to God’s Word not using it to be hovering over you with and making you feel any sort of inadequacy!

    I share all of these concerns, because I love you both and want you to have a church family that is a real church family loving you, guiding you, encouraging you, and praying with you through your most difficult of circumstances. I just don’t want to see life’s circumstances and some yoohoos in some congregations stagger your growth and renewal in Christ like He so desperately wants with you in group worship and fellowship.

    I do not want you to let people stand in the way of tons of blessings that God wants you to experience through church. I know this is probably leaving a bad taste in your mouth, but please consider this…not ALL churches are like what you have experienced. I can say this knowing that I have been in two phenomenal churches that have had amazing Christian people who know all about my circumstances and would never consider ‘picking up a stone’ if you know what I mean.

    I would encourage not to quit trying to find a church that is not like the others. I would even be willing to try to find one in your area that may be more doctrinally and graciously sound than what you have seen…I just love you both as sister’s in Christ, and I don’t want to see you miss out on anything God may have for you (ehem, a divorce care ministry possibly Danni? :)) in a church and I want to see you thrive and grow with loving Christians around you. I may be stepping on your toes by saying this…but you may find that non-denominational churches are just what you have been looking for.

    Granted, I was raised Lutheran, and I’ve attended Baptist churches at one point…and some of them, there is absolutely nothing wrong with they have wonderful people there…but I have found more and more true that the denominational churches of today are losing sight of the true purpose and meaning in life which is loving God wholeheartedly and are becoming far more Pharisee-like than ever before, getting hung up on the sins (or what they think of as sin) instead of loving the person. And Linda, there are churches that love people no matter what, right where they are at…not being a social club or being haughty or proud, but authentically caring. So, please don’t categorize all Christian churches like that, because there are great ones out there that I hope you experience.

    We need each other…especially to go through the instances that we all have been through, and there are great churches out there that offer that love and support we so long for in moments such as these. I love you both, I want the best for you, and I hope to hear from you someday with report on finding an amazing church body!

    • LOL! I have since found a wonderful church. But I also simply asked God to lead me there instead of trying to hunt. I knew I could hunt virtually indefinitely. Doing it this way God led me to a fantastic church where I fit and am accepted.

      – Danni

      • Awesome! That is good news…forgive me for thinking otherwise then. By reading this article, I had not known. Thank you for you ministry online Danni- it’s truly a blessing to me and where I am at right now!

        -Kara

  3. OOPS! I forgot to click the notify button…so I’m writing this to hopefully see when someone else comments!

  4. The church I am currently attending – and have been for a couple of years now – I found after a rather harsh blow from the church I was attending at the time. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I decided this time I wouldn’t hide and be silent. I got a door hanger with an invitation to our church. I had never experienced a larger church, and my children even nudged me to go check it out.

    I truly feel God lead me there at that point. Within weeks the church did a sermon on abuse, and by the end of it I was in tears. I had recently decided prior to join their celebrate recovery group there, and found a great friend in the process. While I looked around after that sermon I saw my sisters in Christ crying with me. I can’t tell you how healing that was.

    The acknowledgment, acceptance, and I didn’t have to explain everything in anal detail. That is NOT to say they didn’t speak of roles, etc. They tended to sprinkle it with a little common sense, and actually admitted that it is choice and free will to walk the life God is guiding you to. Your behavior may influence others in some fashion, but it is ultimately up to them.

    I can’t tell you how freeing that was, and I actually felt light a feather! LOL! Acknowledging ugly truths can start a long journey of hills and valleys, and not all of it will be nice…but it will be real. I sincerely find that is where growth comes from.

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