In early 2000 I was thrown out of a church. The process lasted several agonizing weeks, but things had been very bad for months. There was the man who kept telling me he was praying I’d lose my job because I was a woman and should work close to the church. There were the high standards that made no sense to me, the preaching about begging God for a special revelation of oneness because if you didn’t have that you would surely go to hell… after all, if you didn’t have that, you surely didn’t know God. The pastor bragged about his long fasts and groaned about people not wanting to ‘hear the truth’. He didn’t share information with everyone, just with the men. The men were to tell their wives at home, which excluded me as a single woman. He told me that I needed a man over me, that I should either get married or move home to my dad’s house. Neither of those was an option. And there was the sermon about how if we leave our local church we have cut ourselves off from God, from life, from forgiveness, as though we have amputated ourselves from the body of Christ.
I remembered last night how, on December 31, 1999, I was terrified that God was going to come back and thought I’d surely be lost. I spent that night on the living room floor, sobbing and begging God to forgive me for who knows what, and never feeling any peace or forgiveness. I realize in my mind now that what I was dealing with was not conviction but condemnation, and fear, not godly sorrow or repentance. There was no peace or forgiveness because I wasn’t repenting of anything. I’d done nothing wrong except attend where I did and believe what I did, and those weren’t things I would recognize should be repented of for many years.
God didn’t come back on December 31, 1999. The pastor told me about a month later that he discerned I had bad thoughts and if I didn’t change, he would throw me out. He then left town for several weeks. How does a person change thoughts someone thinks they have, but they don’t? I ‘repented’. I spent hours more on the floor, sobbing and asking God to change me. I stopped eating, thinking I would fast until they returned. But I thought they would be gone for a week at most, not several. I finally had to eat, and felt I was condemning myself by doing so. I tried to reach them by phone so that I could talk to them before breaking my fast, but they wouldn’t answer at first and then answered only to tell me to stop calling them. I called everyone at the church asking them to forgive any offense real or imagined, and was later accused of calling them threatening to kill myself instead.
These things had a psychological impact, but the spiritual impact was greater. I’d started attending there with a fairly healthy view of God and faith. By the time I left, my self confidence had been torn out from under me (I felt guilty just for being invited out to eat, because ‘saints’ shouldn’t eat with the ungodly-1 Cor 5:11), but more than that, my faith in God had been shredded as well. I repented, but I hadn’t felt forgiveness, and certainly hadn’t seen any forgiveness from others at the church, not even the ‘man of God’, the pastor. I begged God for the special revelation we supposedly must have, but never really understood or experienced anything about this ‘revelation’ as the pastor described it. I fasted for days but was still thrown out. My pastor had discerned something evil in me, some thought I didn’t know I had, and though I’d prayed and fasted and repented, things only got worse.
Above all of this, these things had happened during a time when I’d thought I was closest to God. I was praying in tongues often, studying the bible, feeling the emotionalism in church, living by the high standards set, close to the pastor and his family (at least in my mind), repeatedly playing the sermons and music I was told to, and was very involved in bus ministry, Sunday School, and music at church.
All of these ended the night the pastor called me and told me never to come back. No one but me ever realized they ended, because that night I lost every person who might have known. I went to another similar church, but was told there to pretend nothing had happened and just ‘move on’. I couldn’t move on, though, and I couldn’t talk about the reasons I couldn’t, since I was to pretend nothing was wrong… and since admitting these things would have been good reason for the new pastor to label me ‘backslid‘. The only thing to do at that point would be to ‘pray through’. More fear, more nights on the floor sobbing, begging God for something that at that point I knew wouldn’t happen. To make matters worse, just as I would start to heal somewhat and begin to feel that there might be hope, something else would happen and the doubts would come back, as well as all of the memories.
Of everything that happened in my 19 years in Pentecost, that’s what had the most lasting damage. That combination–the fear, the condemnation, the false teachings that backed them, but most of all the doubt that they instilled. Not just self doubt, but faith shattering doubt of the Bible and of God.
Things are better now. I am healing, slowly. There have been times I wanted to just walk away from all of it. It would be easier not to believe than to fight through the mess that was left after everything happened. But there have also been times of learning and growth, and for me, these have been the most healing, times when I saw the scriptures that were used against me in a different light and I realized how wrongly they’d be used, times when I recognized some of what caused the damage and was able to rebuild, to heal, and to finally move forward, not as though nothing had happened, but in spite of what has.