“And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” -Luke 16:15
God is love. God is pure. God is everything good. God is not condemning or destructive toward His children. He only wants the best for them. He has a plan for every one of us, and that plan is for our good.
If you’ve never experienced spiritual abuse, it will be hard for you to imagine what I’m about to write. It’s one of the worst types of abuse. I am deeply ashamed to speak of some of the following occurrences, but my purpose for doing so outweighs the embarrassment. Too many people are still being hurt through spiritual abuse. It’s a mental game that some churches use to brainwash their congregations, and it isn’t right. When man places himself above God, he is on dangerous ground. He also becomes accountable for every child of God that trusts him to be called of God to lead them. If he steers them in the wrong direction, he must answer the almighty God.
A pastor is supposed to be someone of great wisdom. He should be like a shepherd appointed to lead God’s flock. Sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow. When the shepherd abuses the sheep, they become afraid; thus they no longer follow because they trust him, but because they don’t wish to be destroyed. Most will eventually lose their way and will be killed by outsiders. Shepherds are to rescue, lead, feed, protect, and comfort the sheep.
My young family was a part of a congregation in the mid 1970s until the end of 1980. When first attending, the pastor was so welcoming and loving to us. My husband, my 3-year-old son, and I were so happy to find a place to worship in our new and unfamiliar town. We delighted in the new friendships we made there.
Our marriage had already suffered greatly. For the first half of our marriage, my husband was physically and mentally abusive. Since the age of eight, my life was surrounded by abuse. I was so exhausted from my continuous, yet failing, search for peace. I felt assured our marriage could be salvaged if we found a good church with a pastor who would be an example of what God desired us to be. Perhaps here, through the actions of other married members, my husband would take notice and learn how a Godly man should treat his wife. But not so. It wasn’t very long until our lives changed for the worst, and we became terribly disillusioned.
The pastor slowly emerged as a vicious dictator. He was extremely controlling. Our hearts permeated with great fear of this man. Instead of respecting him, we began to question his leadership in our hearts. The really discouraging thing is that we were taught not to argue or question his authority, so we remained silent and obedient. We were left feeling like little children, scared to death to make a wrong move. In my mind, I pictured a step-ladder I must use in order to speak to the pastor about anything that concerned me. He, in turn, could go to God for me. I saw my Father in heaven as this old bearded man Who held a big stick to discipline me every time I messed up. I was constantly feeling blamed and shamed, although I was living a pure Christian life.
My husband and I never discussed our doubts and concerns, even with each other. Keeping our pain locked inside was like a ticking bomb about to explode any moment. Our hearts were heavy and our spirits were discouraged. Satan was at work destroying our minds and our marriage, once again. This time, through spirituality.
In 1975, after one year of becoming members of this church, I gave birth to my second child. We were instructed to be very strict in our parenting. My children were extremely well-behaved, and I loved them more than I could have imagined. They were my gifts from God, and I protected them with my life.
We heard nothing but demands and threats from the pulpit. Women were told what to wear and what not to wear. They had a code of ethics that were not God’s laws, but man’s. No make-up. No pants. No trimming of the hair. No sleeves above the elbow. Dresses way below the knee. If a woman was married, her hair must be worn in an up-do, not down. No plucking of the eyebrows. And absolutely no jewelry! One could wear a watch, because it served a purpose. Then why could a woman wear shiny and eye-catching trinkets in her hair? They served no true purpose but to adorn. Wasn’t that the purpose of jewelry of any kind? These were some of the rules for women. I often wondered why men only had to keep their hair cut short, and could not wear hairspray–because it was considered feminine. They had to use Brylcreem, or something similar, to make their hair stay slicked back. Seemed they didn’t have a lot to sacrifice, compared to the ladies.
We we ordered to have no part in the celebration of any holiday, except Independence Day and Thanksgiving. No Christmas. No Easter. But I do remember him saying if we received a Christmas bonus at work, we could accept that. I figured that was because we would pay tithes from it; therefore, he would benefit. But we could not accept any gifts.
We weren’t allowed to own or watch television. I can’t say that was a bad thing. I don’t really care for television, anyway. It’s much worse now than it was then. But the problem was the reason for not having it. It should be a conviction of one’s heart to give up anything.
I do recall this pastor having a fishing boat. Often, he went on his self-indulgent fishing trips. At the beginning, he invited my husband along with him. It wasn’t long until he talked my husband into buying a boat, as well. There wasn’t much for a woman to do for recreation, yet men could be involved in almost anything. I worked, took care of the home, and went to church. A woman’s place was in the home, taking care of the family.
It was never a surprise to hear your name called out from the pulpit. If you hadn’t lived up to the pastor’s expectations, you were reprimanded in front of everyone. Such humiliation! Once, that I can remember, the pastor gathered all the men into his office to inform them of the faults of their wives and how to straighten them out. I know it’s hard to believe, but it happened and still plays in my mind of the day my husband told me what went on in that room. I didn’t feel like a woman back then. I felt used and abused. I was just a weak and useless part of God’s smallest creation.
During this entire ordeal, my marriage was even more deeply impaired. I was beginning to feel used up. My husband began to think of himself as even more superior than ever, and my children and I were suffering the consequences. Mental abuse from him and the church was pushing me further into the darkest abyss of depression, and I had to leave the church or lose myself completely. I wanted to feel safe for once in my life.
My husband eventually left the church and me. His heart was elsewhere, and so was mine. I longed for a release from a controlling and abusive lifestyle. I left the church a month or so after my husband. I spent some time away with my family in South Carolina, thinking I may never seek to return.
I struggled to get my life back to some sort of normalcy. I wasn’t even sure what that was anymore. Confusion filled my mind to the point of believing I must go back home, wherever that was. So I went back. But whenever I encountered someone from the church at a local store or going down the street, I was shunned. Everyone seemed to want nothing to do with me now. I was going through a separation and feeling very alone, but no one from the church I once embraced was there to comfort my aching soul.
On one of my trips to the grocery store, I was followed by my ex-pastor. He followed me for quite a while. I noticed him following, so I drove around to try to lose him. My soon-to-be ex-husband was told by the son-in-law of this pastor that he followed me because he wanted to find out if I had cut my hair. This blew my mind! Although I was no longer a member of this church, he was still trying his best to control me! There is no way this was a man called of God to lead anyone! He undoubtedly frightened me.
As I searched the shadows of yesterday, I realize where my husband and I missed out. Communication is so vital in a relationship. We spoke about this years later. He hated being in that church situation, and so did I. We just never communicated our feelings with each other. We had been too afraid. He was bitter, and he used it to mistreat me. I was bitter, and I kept letting the bitterness grow inside. I felt so lost and uncertain. You see, we were told we would go to hell if we ever left the church. And we believed this lie for way too long.
It was only a few years later when we heard the news that someone killed this pastor. He finally met his fate while conducting an out-of-state revival. His harsh words were spoken for the last time. And they reached the ears of someone who refused to allow him the ability to destroy another soul. His hands were grossly covered with the blood of the countless ones who feared him throughout the years and lost their hope in God. He is guilty of the painful destruction of relationships. Many who were searching for someone to love them and lead them to God were left feeling God didn’t love them at all. And I am left wondering how anyone can claim to be God’s servant and, at the same time, abuse God’s precious children . . . the ones he was trusted to protect.
If you have to question things you are taught in a church, search the scriptures for yourself. If it isn’t in His Word, don’t listen. Run away as fast as you can! God’s Word is truth. It isn’t meant to hurt you, but to help you. It will build you up. His Word is love. His Word is sweet. Follow Him, not man.
It isn’t easy to trust after experiencing spiritual abuse. But after years of searching my heart and God’s Word, I know God loves me. I steer far away from those who tell me I have to look a certain way to be saved. Oh, I absolutely and completely believe in modesty and humility. I also believe ladies should act and dress like ladies, as well as men should dress and behave like men. But I don’t believe in putting your trust in man-made doctrines, which cause you to believe you are holier than those who don’t follow your ideas. For so long, I caused myself needless worry and felt less than anyone else, because those around me determined the condition of my heart by the what they viewed on the outside. Our salvation is not defined by our outward appearance, but within our hearts. If we judge the outward appearance of others, we should search our hearts a little more closely. None of us are perfect, but we can be perfected through Christ.
My marriage was destroyed. I lost time I cannot reclaim. However, I still have hope in Jesus. He never left me. He strengthened me through the years. I only hope I can help someone else along the way. Do not be discouraged. There is always hope if you place your trust in God. He is there to love you, and He understands your heart when others won’t.
If you ever wonder about words spoken from the pulpit, study and ask if it’s God’s Word or theirs. If it doesn’t feel right, do your research. God is not the author of confusion. He also hates arrogance. Those who think they are the only ones right, when it comes to salvation, are usually wrong. Don’t allow anyone to tell you you’re going to hell for not looking like them. Listen to God. He wrote the Book that will answer all your questions.
May God shine His love down upon you and prove Himself to you in every way. Talk to Him. Worship Him. Praise Him. Trust Him fully! Allow His Light to shine in every area of your life. Don’t worry about what others say about you. You only have God to answer. You are precious to Him. He created you. He knows you. Get to know Him.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16
You look at me with judging eyes.
Your words are meant to shame.
You think of me as one of those
’Cause I don’t play your game.
You say I dress improperly;
My hair’s not long enough;
My face is made up—not my own;
Are these the words of love?
You say I don’t look like you do
And, therefore, I’m not saved.
I guess you think I’ll go to hell—
A path of sin, I’ve paved.
But you don’t know me like you think;
My heart belongs to God.
I love Him more than you could know.
A road, unkind, I’ve trod.
You see, I’ve suffered so much grief
From judges such as you.
They saw the outside—not as God,
Who views my heart as true.
I only wish you’d comprehend
How your words make me cry;
For when you judge me from without,
You practice Satan’s lie.
My heart, God only understands.
He knows me deep within.
He sees my love is genuine,
Unlike the eyes of men.
So don’t view me with judging eyes.
Observe the one inside;
Then you’ll behold my love for Him,
For God’s love cannot hide.
©2011 Doris Hayes Gibson