Calvary Gospel Church, Childhood, Southern Baptist Church, United Pentecostal Church

I Was A Praise Junkie

 

 

As I was considering writing this post I became a little concerned that it might offend some people. It is not my intention to offend. This is my experience and yours may vary.

I grew up knowing nothing but Apostolic worship. Clapping and singing very repetitive songs over and over with a dash of hymns thrown in for good measure. My mother loved the likes of Jimmy Swaggert and she would sing along with him whenever his show came on. No matter how good a church was if the worship did not make you want to get up and dance my mother wasn’t interested. She grew up attending “holy roller” churches her whole life and would often regal me stories about the characters that attended services with her family. My mother and her siblings would get into trouble because they laughed at this one older woman. My grandmother was a severe woman and laughing in church was a big no-no. This older woman would dance in the spirit and while doing so would get dangerously near a flight of stairs leading down into the church basement. My mother and her siblings would laugh in anticipation of the day that woman would finally fall down the stairs but it never happened. My grandmother said the “Holy Spirit” kept her safe.

When my mother was church hopping, which happened often when I was young, she would judge a church on whether the worship was “dead” or not. She fell under the spell of Calvary Gospel in part because of the awesome praise and worship services. She loved all of the instruments and the way congregants seemed to really “feel the spirit move.” Growing up attending that church I would wish for the services that would go on forever. Eventually, they would declare there would be no sermon and things would just take off. Tambourines would be shaking back and forth and people would fill the aisles. Some would dance, others would fall out in the spirit, and others would run laps around the church. You knew it was going to be a barn burner of a service when the older women would get in on the act. My mother instilled in me a love of music and so I really enjoyed all of the singing that happened at church. It was the only part of the service that truly uplifted me. My brain would swim in all of the happy endorphins flooding my body and in those moments I could convince myself that God loved me. Once the dust had settled and the singing was over all of my old worries would creep in. Many people would get filled with the Holy Ghost on nights like these, and this is how you can become sucked in. You experience the high of this type of service and then you have to go back to your mundane life. As the days go by the glow of that service wears off and you start to desire your next fix. Sunday nights were the hot night at our church and so I would live for those services. Many people start to associate that endorphin high with God. If you could get to that place you could get close to God, or more accurately “feel” close to God.

After I left Calvary Gospel I did not attend services anywhere for a long time. I was nursing my wounds. Once I had children I told myself that I had to take them to church somewhere. That message had been implanted into my brain since birth. I searched and searched for a church and much like my mother had expressed so many years ago, they all felt “dead” to me. Finally, I started to attend a little Southern Baptist church. The service was not as rowdy as the ones I grew up on but they clapped and I recognized some of the songs. I stayed there for a long time before eventually being forced to leave because of needing a divorce. It took me a very long time to be ok with the lax holiness standards and lower energy worship. I settled for this church. It wasn’t anywhere near ideal but it was as close as I could get. Over time I grew to really appreciate the quiet worship times. I started to see that to be spiritual you don’t have to be loud and you don’t have to show off. But that realization did not come until a long period of detox and withdrawal. As soon as I started attending church again it was like a junkie going back for a fix. It was like starting my journey away from Calvary Gospel all over. Part of this is because I had not properly dealt with the issues from the past. I thought I could just bury my pain and move on, that proved to be a huge lie I had told myself. To this day Christian music is extremely triggering. I can’t stand to be around it because it causes me so much anxiety.

I do not feel this experience only happens within The United Pentecostal church. I believe it can happen anywhere where ecstatic worship is the norm. It can really make some people addicted to that high and it can keep people in a bad situation longer than they should be. My mother stayed at Calvary Gospel for so long in part because of the worship, which she felt was very godly. Did you experience anything like this? I would love to hear about your experiences.

D

Crime, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Southern Baptist Church, United Pentecostal Church

Timing

I have been thinking about this blog for days and today especially. My writing has slowed down to a trickle as I have been dealing with new parts of the trauma unearthed during the writing process. 2018 has been a weird year. It has been amazing in some respects and a horror show in others. One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is that they (The UPC) can still hurt me. I’m not talking about physically but emotionally. I was caught off guard multiple times by things I learned about Calvary Gospel and what has and is going on there. They continue to surprise me and I thought I was way beyond that. I participate in many online support groups like Ex-evangelical and some UPC specific groups. In those groups there are always folks who want these Christian organizations to reform themselves and acknowledge the pain they have caused. I think there was a corner of my heart that wanted that as well, but that is not how I feel now. I have been watching as this year has played out and what I see is organization after organization covering up crime on the backs of the abused. My wish for 2019 is that more people will feel emboldened to tell their stories and report. I want our laws and government to reflect the idea that just because you are a church doesn’t mean you get a free pass. My wish for myself is that I can continue to fight this fight even when it takes me to the darkest of places.

I have been thinking about how they keep us quiet. My younger self had this fear that if I told anyone the church might say ugly things about me and I think part of that fear still lives although on life support. They might say I was rebellious, or they might tell you how I snuck into movies in highschool or that I wore clear nail polish one summer, or worst of all they might say I was never really saved. When I look at it closely I know that nothing I did as a child would even register with most people as being a bad thing. These are the things they use to discredit women and girls within the UPC. She wears her skirts a little too short don’t you think? She asks too many questions or the wrong questions. She listens to the radio when her parents aren’t at home. Why do we care what they say? Well I guess the best answer is these are the people who raised us. We have so many shared experiences with these people and shame can be hard to shake off. Especially when it is served to you by those who are supposed to care for you. While women are discredited and condemned for any tiny little thing the perpetrators are given grace and forgiveness without stain or scar. They are not overly scrutinized or raked over the coals they are tolerated and enabled to abuse again and again. They are promoted and exalted even when they leave a trail of wounded in their wake. This is not ok.

I’m sorry if this seems a little rambly, I have had lots of thoughts swirling around in my head and I have been avoiding this blog and all writing really for months. I’m going to end my first blog post of 2019 with a reminder. I am here and so is this blog for you, the survivor. If you want a platform to tell your story please reach out to me and I would be happy to help in any way I can. I can’t promise that it will be all roses, healing and light, but I can promise that I will be here with you every step of the way. There are so many of us here waiting to hear your story and waiting to offer support. I think the timing is right, let’s make this the year we hold them all accountable.

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

Divorce, Family, Southern Baptist Church

The Aftermath

My relationships with men and god were always a struggle. My father was not someone I could rely on. He was in and out of my life over the years. He sexually abused my stepsister. She was around the same age as I was when I was molested. He went to prison and then was deported to his home country. Watching that situation unfold and hearing my stepsister’s story was like reliving what happened to me, it was heartbreaking. He blamed me for not siding with him and our last words to each other were harsh. He is lost to me.

When I think about it, it is amazing I can have relationships with men at all. My childhood was filled with predators and unreliable men and my father ended up being one too. At age twenty I got married. It was a bad idea from the start. I loved him but I knew that he would not be good for me. After my mother died I was barely holding on and I desperately wanted a family. I wanted something that seemed normal. The problem is I had no idea what normal was. After 12 years of being together, I decided that divorce was the only answer.

My mother got divorced and due to my upbringing, I felt that divorce should never be an option. When I got married I told myself this is for life and you will figure out how to make it work. I was so naive, I had no idea how hard my road would be. He was abusive in every way possible. The world saw the physical abuse and thought that was awful, but in my eyes, bruises fade, the things he said to me still linger in my mind.

At this point, I was attending a Southern Baptist church. These churches were kind of rare in Madison. Even though the church was Southern Baptist officially I feel it was more liberal than other churches of its kind. In many ways, this church healed me. Once I was able to get past the lax holiness standards and the use of the NIV. My kids enjoyed the Sunday school program and I jumped back into ministry. In the background, my abusive marriage continued. My husband was convinced by an elder of the church to attend a Promise Keepers rally, at that rally my ex-husband became born again. He was quickly baptized and I thought my prayers were finally answered.

I was wrong. We would go to church together and everything would seem ok from the outside, but once we got into the car the abuse would start. He was very good at showing the right face to the church but at home, nothing changed. I tried to get help from our elder. We went over there for dinner often and my ex-husband liked him very much. Time kept rolling on and at this point, we had three young children.

I remember the day I decided I had to leave. My heart was tormented because I knew what the Bible said about divorce and the one thing he had not done was cheat on me. I knew the church of my childhood and the church I was attending would think this divorce was sinful. It was Christmas time and my almost three-year-old son had just tried to be a human shield between my husband and me. My ex-husband was throwing holiday gifts at me in a fit of anger and I was curled up in a ball on the sofa trying to hide from his anger. My precious baby boy had stretched his body across mine to shield me from the blows, thinking about it now cracks my heart in two. At that moment I knew what I had to do, even if it cost me, my soul.

I left him and it was ugly. Our elder phoned me to tell me that I had to go back to my husband or I would go to hell. He said we could be temporarily separated as a sort of cooling off period but divorce was not what the Bible taught. This conversation broke something inside of me. Mel (the elder) told me he understood that my husband was a bully but I still needed to do what was right. Calling him a bully seemed like an understatement to me. My ex was threatening me and also threatening suicide. He told me he was going to take my kids away and never pay me a dime. Cooling off was not going to solve anything.

I went ahead with the divorce. This is also the point when the Christian god lost his hold on me. It wasn’t an instant thing, it took a couple of years. These men, these churches drove me to the point of not caring about hell or my own salvation. In my mind, I would rather burn for all eternity then suffer another day in that marriage. If god required me to suffer my whole life in order to be with him in heaven I did not want any part of him. At this point I still believed in hell I just could not bring myself to put my kids at risk in order to save my own soul.

This left me an orphan. No parents and no church. Thankfully I’m married now and I have four great kids. I have good men in my life. Men who have proved to me that I can trust and have friendships that do not always have a risk attached to them. These men are not great spiritual warriors but they ask if I’m ok and care about what matters to me. They listen and appreciate my intelligence. They make my world a better place. I am grateful for these men.

D