Dealing With the Aftermath of Abuse

By Danni Moss
Copyright protected, all rights reserved

[This article was originally written in early 2008. At that point it had been a little over two years since my marriage ended.

Now, in August, 2009, I am reading back over what I wrote and would like to add some further insight provided by time and the leading of God on my journey. I will add these comments at the end of the original piece.]

It’s 12:15 a.m. I’m awake again and can’t sleep. This happens to me alot. It’s light-years better than it used to be, but it’s still a common occurrence. I wake up in the night disturbed by my dreams. While I can filter my thought processes during the day, at night the gates are open and “unmanned.” That’s when all the emotions overwhelm me.

When I was in my late 20s I realized I had nightmares most nights and had for as long as I could remember. These nightmares were the product of the church terror motivation campaign – the world is out to get Christians and will torture and kill us all if they get a chance (including showing graphically violent movies depicting this to teens and adults – talk about abuse!); the government is controlled by evil gremlins who hate Christians and will tear apart Christian families if they get a chance; etc.

On the other side of the coin was the church’s constant drill that I was inherently evil and unacceptable. In real life I was regularly held up for public reprimand and ridicule in youth group and at Christian school and that phenomenon appeared in my dreams frequently as well – though I followed the rules religiously. Fortunately, I knew my parents loved me, but in my dreams they turned on me just like the church did. Those dreams were a reflection of what was happening in real life, just magnified and concentrated.

Realizing I was being plagued by nightmares allowed me to address those fears on a conscious level. But they reappear from time to time still. In more recent years, the dreams that haunt me are of my marriage and rejection by the church.

By the time I left my husband the last time (Oct. 2005) I was having nightly terroristic nightmares. These dreams were direct products of the reality of our daytime relationship; somewhat magnified, but definitely reflections of reality on some level. I woke from these dreams sometimes sobbing out loud, sometimes shaking with terror so hard the whole bed shook, and three or four days a week I woke with a full-blown migraine in progress.

The church couldn’t – or wouldn’t — help with this. It took a psychologist to help me get free of these nightmares and the resultant migraines – though there was no reason I had to go outside the church for this help. It just needed someone with understanding and a willingness to dig into and address things, not someone with a doctoral degree in psychology. It really wasn’t complicated or technical.

Though my days are now peaceful for the first time in many years, I still relive the nightmare at night to a lesser degree. I wake up in the middle of the night, sometimes literally hurting so bad it feels like I’m having a heart attack. WHY??? Why does it have to hurt so bad?

What hurts the most is that the church both allowed and encouraged me to stay in an abusive marriage for 20 years. In fact, it did more than just encourage me to stay in that marriage. The church held additional rejection and judgment over my head if I dared to get out. I knew if I defied the church and got a divorce I would be branded forever. But staying and “working on” my marriage year after year after year was literally killing me. Ultimately it came down to obeying the direction of God and choosing the rejection of the church to stay alive. That’s a simplistic bottom-line view of a complex issue, but it is true.

In the nights when I wake up crying and can’t sleep I wonder how the church can justify its attitude toward marriage and family. The sanctity of marriage is not paramount over the sanctity of life. I wonder how the church can justify a gospel of fear, judgment and rejection. This has to be opposite of God’s desires and yet it goes on and on and on, with vested (or perhaps “encrusted” would be more appropriate) church leaders holding staunchly to tradition to the detriment of people’s real lives.
It is wrong, it matters, real people are being hurt by the church, and knowing this, I cannot sit by and do nothing. And I have to live with my nightmares and sleepless nights in the meantime.

Update: August, 2009

God is so faithful to hear the cries of our hearts. While, in the moment, things may seem insurmountable and endless, He sees a different picture. The nightmares have almost entirely ceased – so it does get better.

As I have sought God about all of this, He has worked to heal my heart – both toward my ex-husband and toward the church. He has continued to affirm that, indeed, abuse in the church and the home is not His plan.

Most importantly, as I have continued to seek Him and reject bitterness (which has been a terrific battle, in complete honesty!) He has taught me truth from His Word that has transformed my life on more levels than just healing from my abusive marriage. He has taught me so much as I’ve been willing to humble myself before Him and receive from Him – allowing Him full access to all my preconceptions of truth.

I know this is a work that will never be complete in this life as I’m transformed into the image of Christ. But it is a huge example of how God will redeem what Satan meant for evil. God is faithful, faithful, faithful and can be fully trusted.

If I look at the church through the eyes of my experience, and the continued experiences of others, I can easily become overwhelmed by discouragement and slide back into bitterness. But one thing God is teaching me is to see it through His eyes.

Jesus died for this church! He died to sanctify a bride for Himself. The church is misunderstanding the truth of who He is and what all He died to accomplish. That is a cause for grief, not anger.

I cannot single-handedly fix the problem. But what I can do is what He has given me to do – teach the gospel. Jesus defined the gospel in Luke 4:18-19 – it is about more than just handing out free tickets to heaven. It is for the hurts of our todays! Jesus provided an amazing gift in His death and resurrection for our present days, not just our eternal destiny – and the church has virtually lost that truth in the bondage of our traditions.

If I am in bondage to bitterness and hurt, I cannot share the liberating truth of what Jesus came to offer to all of the body of Christ. And that “all” includes the very ones who have twisted the Word into a weapon – mostly in ignorance. God loves these people. In fact, these ones who hurt others are frequently themselves walking wounded, even if they will not ever admit to it publically or even to themselves in private. Wounded people wound people, as I’ve heard said many times.

I can’t free myself from the hurt of the past – but God is a faithful and sure healer. As I have sought Him, and continue to do so, He faithfully brings the balm of His comfort and healing to me. And He will do the same for every one of us who have been wounded inside the walls of buildings and institutions called “church.”

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Are We Ruining the Church’s Image by Speaking Out?

There was a comment on my Church Background page to which I started to make a brief response.  But it turned rather long, so I decided to make it a separate blog post.  I want to be clear that I appreciate the commenter’s viewpoint!  However, while I understand and appreciate it, I have some other concerns as well.

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…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…

First of all, the blog sites I have seen, as well as my own, only re-post public information, such as news reports. I feel there is value in compiling these articles in centralized locations because most Christians tend to think incidents of clergy sexual abuse (or other abuse in church) are isolated, extremely unusual events. My audience is hopefully largely Christians and there is no “Christian” venue where this information can be disseminated where only Christians will see it.

The problem is that these incidents of abuse in churches are not rare. In posting this information on my blog, my purpose is not to bring individuals to justice. If it’s on my website, that process is probably already in action. My purpose is to shine a light on the fact these are not rare incidents and on the fact that church leadership has an overall pattern of not taking the problem seriously. I believe the problem of abuse in all its forms in church (I think the problem of all forms of Christian abuse is ultimately one interconnected issue) is epidemic and unfortunately, if we don’t announce it, the church continues to sweep abuse in the church under the carpet. I know this is true because I have personally seen it happen many times, consistently and persistently, across denominational lines, for nearly 30 years. I don’t know why I’ve been in a place to see it for myself repeatedly, but I don’t think it has been accidental, from God’s perspective, and I think I have a responsibility since I have seen it first-hand.

There is no even-sided battleground. Inside the church it is definitely not even-sided. Taking it public is the only possible chance of balancing the scales. If the world sees the church as evil, abusive and malicious as a result of public exposure that is not the fault of the individuals who are speaking out against clergy abuse. It is the direct result of church leadership that has refused to fulfill it’s Biblical responsibility for judgment within the church and submission to civil authorities. The problem isn’t new – there has been ample opportunity for church leadership to do the right thing long before now.

If the church would return to its original intended purpose I believe there would be respect from most people, including non-Christians. But unless and until those within the church will stand up and demand the church self-regulate, the church will continue on its self-destructive path. When the world criticizes the church, the church claims it is “persecution.” It is the responsibility of those within the church to stand up and speak out.

I understand that abusive individuals should be personally held accountable. However, there is complicity by the church as an organization because authorities within the church think it is necessary to protect “God’s reputation” by keeping individual offenders from the consequences of their actions. Many people have tried to go to these church authorities, myself included, to plead for justice. Not only have we been ignored, we have been attacked. The only way left to address the situation is to take it public. This is the unfortunate consequence of the actions taken, and not taken, by the church as an organization.

One of the tragedies of this situation – and again, this is something for which I lay the blame on the church as an organization – is that innocent people are also sometimes accused. In my personal experience, I’ve seen that happen once – as opposed to many just accusations swept under the carpet. For that one who is unjustly accused, it is a horrific and earth-shattering event; life changing. This injustice is, in fact, the biggest excuse I hear clergy use for discounting accusations of abuse, whether against clergy or church members.

But how many just accusations are ignored for the sake of the few unjust accusations that are avoided? What about all those shattered lives? That doesn’t make the pain of the one unjustly accused any less painful. But fear of unjust accusation cannot stop us from daring to investigate and press charges any time an accusation is made. God can be trusted to use the experience for His purposed in the life of one unjustly accused. And we have been given a mandate by God to stand up for the afflicted.

If the church as an organization will not stand up for the afflicted within its own doors it is the responsibility of all of us to do so as individuals. That’s what this blog is about. One of the things I struggle with personally is that I don’t wish the church as an organization ill. I wish I could fix it – but I have no authority there.

I know so many people who have left the church and Christianity, and turned their backs on God, because of this issue. Some of these people have been my close friends, one is my own family, my own children have been deeply scarred. It is wrong, wrong, wrong to stand by and watch people being hurt, even destroyed, because the church as an organization has been grossly negligent.

Bottomline, I have to stand up for those individuals. The organization of the church and the religion of Christianity don’t need my protection, even though I care.