A painful truth about spiritual abuse is that it most often happens in community. While not all the people in the faith community are abusers, when the community chooses willful blindness or silence after it is exposed, another betrayal takes place.
Healing from spiritual abuse also happens in community. This guest post is written by one who helped me heal. There’s a group of us. We call ourselves The Healing Place. We’re a safe place for one another. A place to go for prayer and encouragement. We learn from one another, too. And make each other laugh.
They helped me write my story and we helped Brittany write her story, because we make each other courageous. The Healing Place is a good place to be.
I Still Believe After Giant Church Inc
by Brittany Olson
I am so humbly honored that my friend, Marie, has offered her sacred space to me to share a teeny piece of my story. The magnitude of bringing authentic words, even when they don’t necessarily “feel good” and Truth, even when it isn’t “fun” has both encouraged and challenged me as I’ve prepared to share.
I generally prefer to write things that are positive and uplifting – usually tying heartbreak up in a bittersweet bow of God’s redemption – sometimes when I’ve actually seen that Truth play out and sometimes when I’m begging it to, as I hopefully surrender it.
I’ve struggled with exposing an issue within “The Church” – I would never want to flippantly fuel the fire of the (granted, possibly warranted) list of “wrong within The Church” for someone who isn’t within the safety of a faith community as they sort it out, surrounded by wise counsel. I also love a lot of people who are still connected to the specific Giant Church Inc (see Marie’s blog series) that wounded my family (and hundreds, if not thousands, of others). While I would truly never want to intentionally upset them, I also feel great responsibility for acknowledging the abuse that continues to breed within “the machine.” I was bullied into the lie of silence for years – disguised as the biblical “high road” of disagreeing with and leaving unhealthy leadership “quickly and quietly” as a result of strategically calculated isolation, fear, manipulation, and a web of deceit and chaos.
Our Stories Matter
As a Christ follower (who is still learning and maturing), I’ve been called to bring Light to the darkness, beginning with my own heart and sharing that transformation with others. I’ve been called to do hard things that are not necessarily popular. I realize that there are not strong enough words to acknowledge all of the evil that we are facing as a society in this moment – I do not pretend to know how to even begin to correct the largest issues at hand, and that is maddening for a “fixer”, Enneagram 3.
So, I start with what I do know and hopefully grow from there – search myself for spaces that Jesus needs to extract and fill, leading others in the same – even when that means the hard, awkward, and uncomfortable work of bringing attention to the evil inside of us, the evil we partner with. For this is the purest form of love, as Jesus did for us – exposing the darkness we find ourselves bound to and offering His light in its place.
Where there is Truth, there is Freedom.
Four years ago, our family began walking through an excommunication that devastated us. I say “began” because it continues today. Thankfully, through prayer and therapy, I continue to heal but just last night, our family bumped into a family that we “ministered” with – the husband: pleasant, the wife: cold. Those moments still sting.
We had been a part of “the machine” for years – countless hours spent volunteering, endless amounts of money given, tons of relationships cultivated – we were even going to be campus pastors of our local location.
Then we began to feel the weight of an overwhelmed schedule and was told to give 20% more. We began to question how the money was being handled before us and was told to never question the leadership. Leadership’s control took over our lives. They told us who to communicate with (especially strategic according to tithing records), what to eat, how to dress, how to exercise, what to weigh, who to be friends with, which family members to “cut off”, where to shop, how to spend our “free” time, how to budget our money, how to “brand” ourselves, and how to “encourage others” to “step up” when they wanted to step down.
Blatant lies were paraded in front of us to secure our devotion. Our Giant Church Inc was pastored by a husband and wife team. The wife once said from stage that she never texted with men without her husband in the text chain. I will never forget my husband and another male pastor sitting with us literally pulling out their phones as she continued, showing me their private texting strands with her and only her. I know this is a simple example in the grand scheme of things, but I assure you – if a person lies about seemingly insignificant details, it is my experience that they also lie about details of importance. Motives and manipulation behind the scenes were revealed at an alarming and overwhelming rate. It was like drinking from a fire hose.
Fear and exhaustion was powerful to numb us – my husband compares it to boiling a frog. It happened slowly and so seemingly effortless over time, that we didn’t notice.
Until we were boiling.
We shared our concerns with our families and close friends, who had been praying for our eyes to be opened. We specifically sought counsel from a staff member who’d disappeared (remember, “quickly and quietly”) – their non-disclosure agreement had ended that previous week. We shared that we were concerned about many things taking place at Giant Church Inc. Inappropriate spending of tithes, aggressive prosperity teachings, numerous lies we were told to “go along with”, new business ventures for the pastors’ personal gain fueled by members’ volunteer hours, teachings from stage that weren’t modeled behind the scenes. We shared our confusion of trying to decipher if we were under attack by “the enemy” who was surely trying to “steal something powerful” from us or if the Holy Spirit was trying to protect us from something very unhealthy.
They confirmed our concerns – we knew exactly what type of “machine” we were a part of. If we chose to stay, they assured us that we had a clear understanding of how that would look and what would be expected. If we chose to leave, they described what the shunning and excommunication would entail. We were aware; we’d watched it happen, over & over, with those who’d left before us. The member would leave “quickly and quietly” – either out of “respect” or fear or exhaustion. Leadership would discuss a narrative to be told. Certain “levels” of members would be revealed certain “levels” of the narrative. “Mandatory” meetings would be held with those who tithe the most to share “concern” for the defaulting “deceived”, followed by encouragement to “distance” from the deceived, who is now clothed in a “spirit”.
As over analyzers – my husband and I fasted and prayed before making our final decision. This process went on for four months. My husband went away on a (secular) work trip and within two days of distance, he gained crystal clear clarity.
We had to leave.
Another lie from the female pastor had been exposed – it wounded people we loved and involved the elders. She did acknowledge the lie with those who had the upper hand, but she diminished it behind the scenes with excuses. It was confirmation that we were making the right choice.
Just because it was the RIGHT choice did NOT mean that it was the EASY choice.
It hurt. It still does sometimes. The campus we were to pastor opened and we didn’t get to be a part of it after years of hard work and dedication. The people we cherished and hosted within our home mostly no longer speak to us. We were reminded yet again to never place our Hope and devotion in people, for they will surely disappoint.
The Bittersweet Bow
Now, in true fashion, let me tie this up in a bittersweet bow. Sometimes, even I have to be reminded of the truly good work God did in the midst of that horrible season. He surely did protect our family, in all ways – financially, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I cannot imagine what our life would look like today had we stayed. My husband would’ve left a rewarding job that he loves where he gets to share his faith with people who aren’t exposed to it daily. Our daughters would still be asking if Pastor said it was okay for us to eat cereal.
Because of the hurt, I sought therapy and thankfully not only has it helped my Giant Church Inc healing, it has addressed some other deeply rooted pain and worries and anxieties. As we watch from the outside what continues to happen within Giant Church Inc we were specifically part of – we’re convinced now more than ever that God protected us from continual abuse and exhaustion and control from unhealthy leadership.
So, why did I take hours from my Saturday Sabbath to share a glimpse of our family’s story? I don’t begin to understand why God leads me the way that He does… but I do believe He has revealed a few things to me sitting in my quiet living room today.
Maybe He allows certain things to happen to certain people because He knows that they won’t be quiet about it? Maybe He allowed us to walk through that season JUST SO we can understand when others come to us with enormous church hurt. I still remember laying on my couch and crying because of the pain I felt in leaving, in realizing what I thought was one way, was not. I believe God allows me to continue to feel that for a purpose. Maybe there are members, or former members, who have wondered about our story and this brings clarity for them? Maybe you have experienced a similar story and felt like you were alone because of the silence? Maybe your eyes are being opened and even though we’ve never personally spoken, this story is validating what you’re experiencing?
Only time will tell. Only God will reveal.
I Still Believe
I also want to say that I still believe in the Church. I still believe in the importance of a faith community. I still encourage others to engage with the local church. Turning from the Church after being wounded isn’t an option for me. I wouldn’t do so after experiencing hurt in a friendship or within my marriage or at a business, so I personally can’t justify it in this instance. It is an important part of my sanctification, my healing, and my personal culture that I uphold.
My prayer is that this essay would be received with an open heart. If no one else receives a single ounce of healing or hope or clarity from it – I did. And I thank God for that. That God would be glorified within it – the writing, the distribution, the reading. That others will be spared the hurt that our family endured and that those who have experienced that same hurt will be encouraged. That God will continue to bless Marie’s boldness in bringing Light to the darkness.