I’ve been encouraged to share more of my experience so here goes, but know these are just snippets of my story and experiences and I can only speak to my own experience:
I started attending what was then the Young Church in junior high. They hosted these events call The Event/The Next Event. These were lock-in style events with lots of games, food and fun while running around the Ward theatre. After they got you good and worn out they’d have intrusive questions and small group break out and make people pray and worship. A lot of kids hated it and I have friends who vividly remember some crazy questions and pushing of unexpecting 13 year olds. I was very close friends with one of the pastor’s kids so I kept going with her and going to church.
I felt very loved and embraced by all these college students, and to someone who was seeking *something* it seemed great. I had a lot of struggles with depression, anxiety, anorexia. What the church didn’t know, and I didn’t ever share with them, was that I was trying to live as a survivor of rape. The church would encourage me to “confess” my depression/anorexia, as if it was something I was doing and a sin I carried. When I was 14 my best friend died and I won’t deny the fact that the church probably saved my life. They rallied around me, supporting me and really holding me up. I dove into the church.
I spent all of my time at the church. Before I was driving I was dedicated to the church. I was on a ministry team, I was in youth group, I was in small groups. I spent literally almost every night at church, including tuesday night prayer services, monday and wednesday small group, friday and sunday youth group. I was surrounded by people who I thought loved me, I babysat their children. I didn’t notice the ways in which I was being manipulated. I didn’t notice the ways in which I was being watched. I was told to think of them as my family since my “real family” (ie- MY PARENTS) would never understand. I was told to not go to college and God would reward me with a husband and a family. I was told women weren’t designed to be leaders. I isolated myself from my peers to be surrounded by so many church members.
I was also heavily involved in 4H and horses. My horse was a gift from God, I have never doubted that him coming into my life was something only a higher power could orchestrate. I had a ton of younger girls in 4H that I was a mentor and leader to, and I viewed my work with them as an opportunity to mentor and be a light. We were always being told to go and make disciples, and I believed this was what I was doing but instead of being encouraged to share with my 4H peers I was told to sell my horse because I was making him a false idol. (I still have that horse and he is NOT a false idol, but he is a lifesaver to me). Apparently the make disciples thing only rings true if you’re bringing friends to multiple services and events. No being a light outside of the church. There were also many of the church members who worked as hall monitors in the high school and would essentially spy on students and church members. When I campaigned for a democratic candidate in a mock presidential election at school I was pulled aside by members of the church at the next prayer service and grilled. When I asked how those members could back up a candidate that so blatantly supported war and anti-christian capitalism I was told I was too young to understand the real world.
I was repeatedly told the reason God wasn’t taking away my depression and anxiety was because I was being selfish and trying to keep them for my own self serving purposes. I was repeatedly meant to believe that my mental illnesses were my sins, and that if only I confessed harder and was more authentic in my desires to get rid of them God would take them away. I was told I was trying to be vain with my anorexia. I was discouraged from seeking therapy from trained professionals outside the church. Instead, I was encouraged to seek help from other people in the church who were not therapists. When I started to question things inside the church, and said I wanted to use my connections to 4H and other communities as well as be involved in my swim team at school they told me I wasn’t committed. When I said I was having trouble understanding some of the actions and stances of the church leadership I was asked: “If you aren’t willing to be 100% committed to the church, why are you even here?” When I said I didn’t know I was told to not come back if I couldn’t figure it out.
I was 17. It’s normal for people that age to question. Instead of embracing the questions and trying to help me grow in my relationship with God, I was kicked out of church. The church I had dedicated my life to. Overnight I was alone, women who I had spent so much time with were gone from my life. All my support network, gone. People were instructed NOT to talk to me. If I saw them in public they acted like I didn’t exist. I was dead to them and I was heartbroken and hurt and MAD.
It took me years to heal from that hurt. I still get nauseous when I think about them hurting others the way they’ve hurt me. When I read this the first time through I felt that familiar feeling of doom, because they changed my life and hurt me so much. It took me a long time to be able to get past the hurt enough to recognize that YC did save my life in that crisis at age 14, but they then hurt me so much more. In the end my life ended up where it did and I’m ok, but it took a long time to get to this place. I’ve reached a place of healing and forgiveness, I do not want anyone inside the church to be hurt or feel attacked. I want to draw attention to the inappropriate spiritual behaviors and manipulation. I want those who are on the edge of questioning behavior to realize those thoughts that peep up in the back of their mind aren’t the adversary trying to pull them away from God, but rather an indication that they need to leave.