United Pentecostal Church, Compassion, Shame, Self Esteem, Calvary Gospel Church

Good

“Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.”
― Brené Brown

I have been doing some deep soul searching. When you first leave a toxic church or family it is all about survival. Then as the years peel away deeper issues are revealed. One of my biggest struggles right now is to see myself as good. Now I know that if you are still a Christian you may not agree with this post and if that is the case please feel free to scroll on past. I can’t ever remember a time when I felt that I was good, from a very young age I felt wrong, off, broken, and dangerous. Some of the blame for that I can lay at my parent’s feet and some of that blame belongs to the church. I was a vibrant child with intelligence and ambition. I was artistic, athletic and loving. Somewhere along the way, very early on my light was snuffed out. Some of that was stress and some of it was from constantly being reminded that I was a sinner, and the worst kind of sinner, a woman.

“We live in a world where most people still subscribe to the belief that shame is a good tool for keeping people in line. Not only is this wrong, but it’s dangerous. Shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying.”
― Brené Brown

I’m taking a class right now that requires me to do a lot of journaling and soul searching. As I look back on my child self I find myself struggling to like that little girl. I find myself asking why, why did I always feel rejected by God and why did I always feel like I was somehow the exception to God’s love? It makes me so angry that my light was extinguished so young and that I was taught to hate myself especially my own body. I was taught to see my very existence as sinful and the body that I had no choice but to live in as dangerous and flawed. What awful poison! Now as an adult I try to reach back to my child self and offer her love and understanding but I feel like I’m failing. My only hope is that somewhere in my mind I can find the truth of who I was/am. I realize as I type this how crazy this must all sound. I’ve been out of the church for so long, how can this still be a struggle? It’s a struggle because I am not yet totally healed and may never be, but I strive anyways to heal a little more every day. Part of that process is to grant my child self something she never had, unconditional love and belief in her inherent goodness.

“Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it- it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
― Brené Brown

When I try to hold an image of my child self in my mind all I can see is shame hanging on her like a dirty cloak. Shame because of my parents’ behavior and choices, poverty, shame about what was done to me, and shame about my early blooming body. I knew that I did not come from the right family and yes I felt shame because of my skin color. Shame about my intelligence and shame because I had questions. In the past, I have worked hard to let go of shame but this work is showing me that there is still work to do in that department. I have to remind myself that the shame they heaped on me was not my shame to carry. I need to find a way to see my child self without the gray filter that is always present.

For now, I’m going to keep pulling the past apart and reminding myself how the adults around me were wrong and deceived. I’m going to try to love my child self the way I love my own children. This might be an unpopular opinion but I believe we all come into this world good. I refuse to believe that a child deserves hell or is even capable of sin. I’m also going to remind myself that all of those statements include me. I am not the exception, I am good.

 

Calvary Gospel Church, Compassion, Crime, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Justice, Leadership, Pastor John Grant, Sexual Abuse, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

Following The Leader

Over the last year, I have written about how much it saddens me that the congregation within Calvary Gospel Church seems to have completely lost their hearts and capacity for compassion. I have turned this over in my head repeatedly and this post comes from the conclusions I have reached.

I believe that CGC is a cult of personality. In the beginning, it was focused on John Grant and now by extension his family. The congregation was mean spirited when I was a child in the ’70s and ’80s and it seems that it has only gotten worse over time. I do not see any evidence that CGC is all that interested in following what most folks would consider to be Christian principles. Instead they follow what the Grant family says and in some ways John Grant has replaced God in their hearts and beliefs. At the very least their version of Christianity is harsh and devoid of lovingkindness. There is a coldness present that leaves no room for understanding. It seems like a perversion of the gospel to blame victims and hide criminals.

When churches are run with such a strong leader in control of almost everything they run the risk of becoming cults and that is how I feel about both CGC and the UPC as a whole. When those in the pews hang on the words of the pastor or organization leadership and can no longer see the words within the Bible or hear the voice of God then haven’t they shifted into cult territory? There is such a strong focus on tongues but not on love. There is a legalistic focus on standards but very little is ever said about grace and grace is rarely shown, unless you are a man who has committed sexual sin against a child. Has the church board ever said no to John or Roy Grant? Have the elders ever called them into question? My guess is no because the church is set up to “question not God’s anointed.” Once in that territory, I would argue that the pastor can do almost anything and use hearing the voice of God to justify it. This doesn’t seem like a safe or sane situation to me. Because of this I firmly believe that the Grants have surpassed God in the hearts and minds of the rank and file within CGC. When I was a child they taught me that something becomes a cult when it is no longer Christ-centered. It seems to me that they have more than strayed into this area. Many people talk around the word cult and seem scared to apply it to the UPC but I am not one of those people.

It is shocking how they as a congregation can shut their eyes and ears to the stories coming from those who have walked away. Many of us were children when we attended and we grew up under the influence of the church, and many of us have had very similar outcomes. Pretty much everyone who has read my story and commented to me has said they are so sorry and sad about what I suffered as a child. The exception to this has been CGC and their leadership. They have referred to us as bringing damnation down on our heads, as bitter women, and as demon influenced, but have they spoken to any of us? Have they weighed our experiences against the Bible? What does the Bible say regarding people who harm children? No, they shut their eyes and ears and applaud the man who covered it all up. They believe it is them against all of the survivors never once considering the body of Christ might be more than just them. They seem to agree that protecting the church from scrutiny and Grant’s leadership from being called into question is more important than the lives of so many people.

Judgment features heavily within this congregation. Are you sick? Hmm better get your heart right so you can be healed. You must not have enough faith, better work on that. Are you poor? It’s probably because you are not tithing enough. God would bless you if you would be more perfectly in line with what the church teaches. Were you preyed upon by a pedophile, well you must have lead him on in some way. Anything that is wrong in your life or a hardship can be tied to some sin you must be guilty of. This puts the congregation in the role of guessing what your sin might be or standing in judgment instead of offering aid. I think all of this comes from John Grant and not the Bible. As a pastor and now bishop he has shaped the congregation into his own image. He has shown no compassion for the children driven from his congregation and seems more worried about his legacy and reputation. So why would we expect anything different from the congregation? If he or Roy were teaching the folks in the pews to love us and show compassion and mercy my guess is things might be different. If they were saying that older men with young underage women will no longer be tolerated then that would reflect in the congregation as well.

I’m not writing this as a takedown piece on John Grant or his family. I’m writing it to illuminate how far CGC has strayed from “normal” Christianity. I’m writing it in hopes that it wakes up even one person, saves one child from the fate I suffered, or even just causes someone to examine things a little closer.

Deb

Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.

 

C-PTSD, Compassion, Crime, Justice, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

An Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, it has been a long long time since we have spoken or really had any contact with each other. I have thought about reaching out to you many times but something has always stopped me. I know instinctively that any interaction between us will be painful because neither of us is who we were when we knew each other.

When I was a child I looked up to you as a big brother. You were an adult but just barely and at the time I believed that you understood me. As the youth leader and school monitor, you kept us within the lines without seeming authoritarian. I felt like you understood how oppressive it could all be and so you tried to bring the fun with you when you could. For a long time, you gave me rides to school along with as many kids as you could fit into your old Blazer. I’m sure my mother almost never gave you gas money. It makes me smile now to think of how Norman and Tim would have to hoist me into the truck because I was so tiny and it was so high up. My childhood was a dark dark place and the times when I was having fun with you shine bright in the midst of it all. Even now it makes me smile to remember watching Star Trek in your basement after church and doing donuts in the empty parking lot. I was so scared we would crash and you and the boys would laugh at me. Silly kids stuff but when your home life is so bad things like this make life bearable. When I won a place on the honor roll field trip and my shoes developed a hole I told my mom I would just skip it. She called you and you called around until you found a pair of shoes for me. We never talked about it but you came through for me and it was a big deal in my little life.

I don’t think you singled me out and to most people, these things might not seem like much. Speaking from my child self they were important to me. You just never know how a small act of kindness will impact a child. I always try to remember to smile at kids because I recognize that my smile might be the only adult smile they see that day. Once you stepped back some and John Seidl took over youth group and Sunday school things became harder. He was much sterner and I never felt like I could not let my guard down around him. I’m sure you were not perfect but I always felt like you wanted everyone to feel included. When you were not around school or the youth group as much I felt like there was no adult I could turn to who wouldn’t immediately judge me. Sympathy and compassion were impossible to come by.

This brings us to now. I know that I am probably not your favorite person due to the things I have exposed within my blog. I am sure that you and I disagree on most things. I know that this will probably not bring about the change that I and so many others wish to see but I feel compelled to try. I’m sure it has felt like I’m attacking the church and your family. It has never been my wish to attack anyone. I have only been trying to shed light on my experiences in order to help others and maybe get a little bit of justice for myself. If I thought your father would listen I would be directing this towards him. You are the pastor now and so I’m directing this towards you. I’m writing this to plead with you and Calvary Gospel to change. I’m asking you to acknowledge how bad things were handled with regards to Steve Dahl and countless other abusers. I’m asking you and the church to apologize to all of the people who have been hurt by policies that go a long way towards protecting the church but leave in their path, countless victims. I’m asking you to develop church policies that include going to the police first when a victim comes forward because this is the only way the community at large can be protected from predators and physically abusive people. Lastly, I’m asking that the church no longer tolerate older men dating underage women. It is one of those things that everyone knows about but no one does anything about. By acknowledging the church’s role in the pain of so many survivors you could help bring a tiny bit of healing to my community. We could all rest easier knowing that you are committed to reporting abuse and protecting children. We could all rest easier knowing that another Becky or Debbie is not being groomed within the walls of the church.

I know how hard this kind of change would be and I understand that my posting this publically is going to make things even harder. I’m posting it publically because I don’t believe the church or you will respond any other way. I am also concerned about my words being twisted and this way it is all out in the light for anyone to read. I’m going to sign off for now and I hope that you will be the hero this situation needs. To the other pastoral staff, I’m sure you will see this and I hope you will also be a part of bringing some healing into the lives of so many who have been devestated by Calvary Gospel.

Books, Compassion, Sexual Abuse, Trauma

Learning About Trauma Responses

I’m finally getting around to reading “The Body Keeps the Score.” I think I glanced through this book at some point but this time I’m really digging in. At first, it was harder than anticipated because of how it made me feel. I feel sicker and more broken than I did before I started. I did not know it was possible to feel more broken so that was a big shock! Now that I have settled in and I’ve had time to sit with the material I’m starting to feel more compassion for myself. Reading this book has shown me some of the reasons why I am the way I am. I feel like it has given me permission to forgive myself for how my life has unfolded.

Back a few years ago I read “Emotional Freedom” by Judith Orloff. I consider her book to be one of those life-changing books. Reading it truly changed the way I moved within the world. It helped me to disengage from the voices of my past and distinguish between my truth and the truth that was handed to me by my parents and other authority figures. I feel like reading “The Body Keeps the Score” is helping to continue the work I started with “Emotional Freedom.”

What books have you read to help you deal with spiritual/sexual abuse and trauma?

D

Compassion, Forgiveness, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Southern Baptist Church, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

What Will It Take?

As I sit at my desk tonight the question that sits at the front of my mind is what will it take? I and many others have lifted up our voices and spoke truth to power and yet they still can’t seem to find their hearts. Since I have told my story not one single person who is still in the church has reached out to me. In many ways, this doesn’t surprise me because once you are out of the church you are nothing to them, on the other hand, I have to believe that somewhere in that congregation there has to be one person with a heart. If only it was as simple as finding someone with a heart. Once you find that, then you have to find someone who isn’t afraid. Sadly many people who still attend and even those who have broken away are still afraid.

Lois Gibson has called Calvary Gospel Church out on her Spiritual Abuse blog over and over and yet no one has responded. She recently realized that they blocked her on Twitter so it is obvious that they know about her blog and they can see that she has heard the stories.

I am sure that they are talking about me and others because that is what they have always done, it is a testament to the hold they have over their congregants that not one person has broken ranks. I believe it would never even occur to them to apologize or seek healing between us and them. In their minds, they are with god and therefore right and we are not and therefore wrong. To be honest I cannot ever remember them apologizing for anything. I have no memory of any minister or person in authority saying they were wrong.

It isn’t just the local church the UPCI has not responded either. My guess is they assume there is not much we can do to them legally so they do not care. It is sad that they feel they bear no responsibility for the young souls they allowed to be wounded. I understand that they cannot be held responsible for the actions of every person within their congregations but they should be held responsible for the things they know about and what they did with that knowledge.

It isn’t just the UPC that is guilty of this behavior. If you follow #churchtoo you will see that the Southern Baptist Church has acted in a similar fashion. It has happened in the Catholic church and in non-denominational churches. I feel that if American Christianity wants to stop losing members it needs to address this behavior across the board. The response from these organizations shouldn’t be to call into question whether or not the wounded person really believed in god or to call upon the survivors to forgive. It shouldn’t be to lash out at people who are struggling to heal themselves demanding that the wounded repent and come back to god. What is needed is a heartfelt apology, and a willingness to look within and see where they made mistakes. Next change needs to happen, there needs to be a willingness to value young women, people of color, and those who don’t have a lot of money to put in the offering plate. They might have to sacrifice some of their sacred cows if those people are causing harm and driving people away. The reform that is needed would be very hard but necessary journey.

If you have any questions about my journey or would like me to talk about something in particular here on the blog please let me know!

Thanks,

Debbie

Compassion, Crime, Forgiveness, Sexual Abuse, United Pentecostal Church

Missing

My story is being read by more and more people. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to stop by my blog and go on this journey with me. I have been receiving lots of feedback and I would like to address some of that here.

I’m finding some Christians feel a real need to defend god. They feel like my story is an attack on god or that I’m somehow blaming him for what happened to me. Often their comments are filled with statements like “don’t blame god” or “god never fails” or “I’m sorry you feel that way, I hope you will come back to god” or “god will provide and protect”. Please understand I have no desire to debate god with anyone. I have made my choices in life and I’m happy with them. I don’t care what you believe as long as it helps you get through life, makes you happy, and doesn’t hurt others. What concerns me is the missing lack of attention to the content of my posts. I don’t think it helps anyone to debate who is worse Catholics or United Pentecostals. Arguing over whether or not god was blamed in my post or whether or not it is all UPC churches is not the issue.

I know this can be hard for some folks to hear but I don’t see how god is the issue at all. Why even bring god into it? In my view, the issue is adults and how they commit crimes and are not held accountable. At issue are the systems that make it possible for people to get away with hurting children, or how children fall through the cracks. Another thing to consider is how the church is a business and men are protected because they are the ones paying the tithes. Rape is happening within UPC churches and some people’s main concern is to preach to me? It worries me that I have laid my soul bare and many don’t want to talk about how we stop what is happening.

I know it can be scary when it feels like something you cherish is at risk. As humans, it is normal to want to protect what you cherish. For some people that is the Christian god, pastors, and churches. I would only ask you to take a moment and just be human, show some empathy and compassion, and be willing to look critically at what has happened, and is continuing to happen and ask yourself if you are ok with doing nothing. Do you feel that praying for me is enough? Will you carry my story with you into the pew this Sunday? Will you ask your church leadership what its policies are regarding sexual assault? If those policies are not in line with the law will you leave that church or take action to change the policies?

Whether we agree on the topic of Christianity and god can we at least agree that sexual abuse of the young is wrong and that those who commit these crimes should be turned into the police? Can we also agree that those in leadership who cover up these acts should be turned into the police? I’m fine with people claiming forgiveness if that is what they believe, but should that forgiveness mean they suffer no consequences? When my children would disobey I forgave them immediately because I loved them, but I also made them suffer a consequence so they would understand that there is a cost to our actions. Shouldn’t these adults suffer a consequence as well? I love my country even if I don’t always agree with those in power. I respect my nation as a nation of laws. When an atheist breaks the law he should pay for that, and so should a Christian. Your house of worship or lack thereof should be of no bearing.

If you have any ideas on how we can work together to change the culture of abuse within spiritual communities I would love to hear about it!

D