If Your Church Makes You Feel Guilty and Miserable…Leave

by | Apr 4, 2022 | Abuse, Faith | 65 comments

Abusive Church: One woman's story
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Sometimes church is a toxic place. 

Not always. Not even usually!  Study after study has found that religiosity actually helps people, and people who go to church tend to have better mental health, better relationships, and better lives overall.

HOWEVER–and that’s a big however–not all churches are equal. And when church goes wrong, it can go wrong BIG TIME.

That’s the theme of our book for moms of daughters, She Deserves Better.

We’ve been writing it for quite a few months now, and we finished it up and sent it into Baker Books on Friday!  Based on our survey of 7500 women about their experiences as teens, we identified key beliefs that are common in youth group and Christian settings that lead to far worse outcomes for women later.

But again–not everybody was taught this stuff. Not all churches are like this.

That’s why it’s so important to have discernment about what church to go to!

And one big thing we found is that if a church makes you feel less-than, makes you feel shame, then that’s a red flag that it’s not a safe place. 

I’m taking a bit of a quieter week this week to get over our huge deadline, but I want to share with you a story that a woman sent into the blog that explains what such a church experience may look like.

She writes:

I remember the moment vividly. I was sitting in a little church classroom for an evening of Pioneer Club or Word of Life, I can’t remember which. My daughters’ father (he divorced me years ago) worked nights, so I took them with me as I was also a volunteer. My youngest was under 2, and the oldest was 3.

The program was for preschool and up. The little one was crying, didn’t want to sit like a little robot in a chair, and was generally disruptive. After several minutes of removing her from the room to have a “chat”, I finally took her to the bathroom for a solid spank, at the encouragement of our Pastor and his wife. After all, I would be disobeying God if I didn’t promptly spank her for her “disobedience”.

I whacked her little bottom, told her she had to sit and be quiet, and she cried. All I remember is that sweet, crumpled little face, and those giant tears.

I remember the pain and crushing agony of going against all my maternal instincts by spanking her.

She wasn’t even 2 and was in a class for older children, for pity’s sake! Of course she didn’t want to sit still. She wanted to play!

I had formerly majored in Children’s Ministry before switching majors, so I knew enough about Early Childhood Development to know this class was not age appropriate for her, and expectations were unrealistic. So, I held her, hugged her close to me, apologized repeatedly and comforted her. I cried as well. I walked out of the bathroom and into the little kitchen where a couple older ladies were preparing snacks for the other children. They saw our tears, I told them what was going on, and they offered to let my sweet girl hang out with them. I felt a rush of relief, and my little one loved them, so it was a win.

Later that night after I got home and my girls tucked into bed, I received an email from the Pastor. He saw my little one and I emerge from the bathroom. I was rebuked because I disobeyed God.

You see, if I had properly obeyed, my little one would STILL be beside herself and crying, and had I spanked her properly, would have heard it outside the bathroom door. I “rewarded” her by giving into her and allowing her to sit with the snack ladies. I disobeyed God because I didn’t properly “apply” the rod.

I was furious.

A file was made regarding my disobedience and insubordination, and that file would continue to grow. I sit here now, many years later, and that evening still brings me to tears and makes my heart ache. There were so many things expected of me from that one particular church, and I did what I was told (until I didn’t) because I only desired to obey God. In fact, I went against everything I truly believed and ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit that would have stayed my hand.

I have made many apologies to my children over the years because, you see, I do not, nor have I ever, believed in spanking. I think it is an affront to Jesus, the Gentle Shepherd.

To spank or not to spank isn’t the subject here, however.

The subject is that an opinion of man, and an interpretation by a man, was to take precedence over the Holy Spirit’s nudging in my own spirit in order for me to be viewed as a “godly” woman in this particular church.

I am not sure I have ever forgiven that Pastor, his wife, or myself for listening to them rather than God. I can’t think of that denomination without great anger as those teachings are still perpetuated to this day.

I share all this to say, we must be trained to listen to the Holy Spirit ABOVE all else – even the man in the Pulpit. We must know God’s Word, examine it closely, and be willing to stand firm regardless of the conflict. I’ve had many discussions with my children about why I believe spanking is wrong. We have also had many discussions about Jesus, his Church, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit. Follow Jesus. Follow him alone. He will never lead you to harm.

Note some of the red flags here:

  • There was no understanding of child development
  • The pastor felt he had a right to tell her how to parent
  • The pastor “disciplined” her and called her at home to rebuke her
  • There was a file opened on her

You can likely spot others!

This woman wrote back to me with more of her story:

Thinking back, these are all of the things I got in trouble for at that church:

1. Asking too many questions during the creation/evolution study

2. Getting a tubal after my last child (I have many). They removed me from my volunteer positions and put an abusive parent in those positions instead because I was disqualified since I had a tubal ligation.

3. Not obeying my husband (Jesus thankfully freed me from that abusive marriage)

4. Not “applying the rod” properly with my children

5. Getting an education because I wanted to be able to support my children

6. Using the NIV when I taught Sunday School

7. Not wanting to homeschool after my husband left for a time and I had to work to support my children.

8. Not being willing to share with our ladies’ Bible study group what time I scheduled sex with my husband.

Between this church, that leadership and many years in a spiritually/emotionally/verbally abusive marriage, it’s a miracle I still cling to Jesus and found a church I love.

My current church isn’t perfect, but it’s a beautiful community that majors in the majors and minors in the minors. My children and I will probably always need to be in therapy, but I’m living out the dreams God has planted within me without that fear any longer.

I know this all looks terrible, and you may think, “how could she have put up with that?” But the thing is that when you’re in the middle of that, the church uses abusive tactics to make you feel like you are the problem.

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This church was trying to control her. It looks nothing like Jesus.

Let’s be honest: what it looks like is a cult. When someone else is trying to micromanage your life, keep a strict hierarchy, and has a hyper-focus on sex and heavy discipline, that’s a huge red flag for cult-like behaviour.

I’ve gone to churches that aren’t quite this bad, but they do have many similarities. What kept me there at the time was the thought, “well, I don’t agree with everything, but at least they put the gospel front and centre.”

But just because a church tells you to read your Bible and preaches that you need to believe in Jesus to be saved does not mean that the church knows Jesus at all.

Jesus said that we will know His followers by their love (John 13:35) and by their fruit (Matthew 7:20). 

If you are in a church like this, please know that you are not alone. So many are just like you. But so many have also gotten out! You can get out without having to give up on Jesus. You can actually FIND Jesus in a healthy church.

I wanted to share this woman’s story today because there are others like her who read this blog.

Please know: it’s okay to walk out and never look back. 

It's okay to leave an abusive church

I hear stories like hers everyday in emails. There are so many like this woman out there. Were you ever in a church like this? Did you get out? Share your story to help others!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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65 Comments

  1. A2bbethany

    Wow….I think I have a decent guess as to the church kind that was.
    And I agree. The most important thing to do in LIFE is to follow God before anything else! Before the pastor or parents, and their interpretations of the Bible. And before any mentors you might be talking to!
    If I’d tied myself to listening to and obeying their every wishes …. I’d still be trying to break my own personality and “mold it to the expectations”. super cleaner, organized, and home cooking everything! And going to College to teach….not because of any desire, but because I was told to have it as backup. You know….in case my future husband is suddenly disabled.
    And I’d be pressured into ignoring every system in my body and sharing the gospel with strangers. Because the church guy, believed that everyone needs to…. regardless of anything.

    Thankfully I had a connection to God and read my own Bible. I decided that God didn’t make me broken, but different. So I focus on being me, with my gifts from God. Not everyone hates it…. though many have opinions on how I’m doing it, just “a little bit wrong”!
    God doesn’t design cookie cutter lives and I believe he wants a Christian to look wildly different from each other! (Across cultures and nations)

    Reply
    • Laura

      I totally agree that “God doesn’t design cookie cutter lives.” Unfortunately, a lot of women’s Bible studies I’ve been to try to tell women they need to be a specific way. Last time I checked, I’m not a Stepford wife.

      I am far from the cookie cutter mold of the “biblical” woman created by the church. I’m a 45-year-old divorcee with no human children. I’m working on a master’s degree and I live with my widowed mother and fur baby (dog). According to what I like to call “the cookie cutter” doctrine of “biblical” womanhood, I have not fulfilled my “highest calling” as a woman because I’m not a wife or a mother. For many years, I struggled with this and felt like I was less than. No one preached this from the pulpit, but the majority of Sunday sermons are directed at married people with children.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Laura, I love that comment about evangelical churches wanting women to be “Stepford wives.” It really reminds me of a passage from a favorite childhood book, “Catherine, Called Birdy.” This book was set in medieval England and revolved around a 14-year-old girl, (Catherine, obviously) who went against the grain of girls for her time. She was intelligent, smart-mouthed, and fiercely independent, chasing off all of the suitors her father tried to force on her.

        “The stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady—dumb, docile, and accomplished—so I must take lady-lessons and keep my mouth closed. My brother Edward thinks even girls should not be ignorant, so he taught me to read holy books and to write, even though I would rather sit in an apple tree and wonder. Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife.”

        Sadly enough, that still seems to permeate a lot of churches like the smell of dead skunk.

        Reply
        • CMT

          I had totally forgotten about that book but I loved that one too!

          Reply
          • Anon

            CMT, it’s a hilarious book. I love how Catherine always finds ways to outsmart the suitors… although let’s face it, none of them are very bright.

      • Cynthia

        Plenty of biblical women didn’t fit that mold either. We read about a fair number who had fertility issues (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah). We meet Ruth as a widow who is gleaning the fields in order to support herself with her mother-in-law. Deborah acted as a judge and military leader.

        Reply
        • Anon

          Add to that list:

          Jael, who killed a tyrant by driving a tent peg through his skull
          Vashti, who refused to be objectified
          Esther, who defied royal protocol to save herself and her people
          Miriam, who was a prophetess
          Rahab, who protected Joshua’s spies
          Abigail, who prevented David from making a stupid mistake
          And Priscilla, Lois, and Phoebe, all of whom preached and taught the gospel to all – women and men both!

          Reply
  2. Meredith

    I just…. I don’t buy it that *most* churches are healthy. Maybe in a different country, but not in the US. Most churches in the US are run like businesses, and the leadership may *say* they serve their congregation, but when the interests of individuals in the congregation are at odds with the preservation of the business and power of the leaders- well I have yet to hear of a church where the leaders didn’t circle the wagons to “protect the brand.”

    Reply
    • Meredith

      And that’s not even getting into the most basic message of most churches- “believe (our version) of The Gospel (TM) or you’ll go to hell.”

      Now a lot of them disguise it and dress it up and make it look pretty, but underneath the frills the threat is always there. Do this, be this, assent to this, believe this, or God will throw you into hell for all eternity. And you cannot convince me that any church that founds their message on a threat is healthy.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I think you bring up a good point, and perhaps here’s a better way to think about it:

        Belonging to a church community has HUGE benefits in terms of a social support, structure in your life, etc. Believing in God gives existential purpose and a sense of well-being. So these things are GOOD.

        And maybe MOST churches aren’t healthy–but lots of people go to unhealthy churches and don’t really believe all this stuff, or this stuff doesn’t really affect them (sort of like how we found that the majority who say they believe that the husband should make the final decision don’t actually practice it).

        Kind of like we talked about on our Thalidomide podcast–it doesn’t hurt EVERYBODY.

        It is very true (and our research found this too) that church attendance on the whole has huge benefits. It’s just that internalizing many of the harmful beliefs has disastrous consequences. So if you can go and not believe what they teach, you may get out unscathed.

        That’s likely why religiosity is good even if many churches are bad.

        But I also think that it’s more like certain denominations are almost all bad, and other denominations really aren’t!

        Reply
        • Meredith

          Sorry, Sheila- I grew up in that kind of church and I emerged very far from unscathed. I’m in my 30s and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to unlearn all the bullshit I was raised with. I refuse to take the risk of perpetuating that cycle with my children.

          Also, I seriously doubt you can build real healthy relationships and community with people who believe all this crap. Either you will end up being rejected by them, or you will always have to keep a part of yourself hidden. I value real authentic friendships outside the church, and I’ll take that over trying to conform myself to what is acceptable inside it.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Oh, absolutely! I totally get that. That’s really the point of The Great Sex Rescue–these teachings are harmful.

            The thing is, though, we do know that not EVERYBODY is hurt. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. If most churches teach harmful stuff, and we know that stuff is harmful to many, then why do so many people honestly have benefits from church going? (Because the benefits are real; it’s an established fact in psychological literature, and ALL of our surveys found that). The only thing I can think of is that a lot of people don’t internalize this stuff.

            I still think we should just all flee from churches like that, though, even if you HAVEN’T internalized it and it hasn’t harmed you, because when you go to a church like that, you prop it up, and it does harm others.

          • Laura

            Meredith,

            “Either you will end up being rejected by them, or you will always have to keep a part of yourself hidden.” This is exactly where I’m at these days. For years, I felt that I had to keep parts of myself hidden because they weren’t in agreement with other believers. If I said that I don’t believe in headship in marriage, I got dirty looks from women and some would try to tell me that I needed to get my heart right with God. I certainly could NOT tell people how I felt about POTUS 45 because they believed he was our “King Cyrus” and “chosen by God. So, I feel like I’m a “closeted” progressive and if my church friends knew the truth about me, I’m afraid they’d think differently of me.

            When I rededicated my life to the Lord during my 20’s (I’m now in my 40’s), I wanted to make friends who did not live the party lifestyle. Church was the ideal place to find those people and I’m grateful that I did. However, I have learned that I can have friends who don’t go to church, but they believe in God. I just didn’t want to be led astray. Now that I’m older, I find plenty of people around my age (whether they attend church or not) who are not into the party lifestyle. So there’s value in all kinds of friendships.

      • Kay

        I am with you on this, Meredith. These teachings go against everything we know about how our bodies establish safety and build healthy attachments. You cannot build a healthy attachment with God based on fear, shame, and threats of Hell.

        But most evangelical Christians aren’t ready for that conversation.

        Reply
          • Rachel

            My current pastor says it’s easy to convince people to love God by using the threat of hell. It’s much harder to encourage people to follow Jesus and be like Jesus – the upside down view of the beatitudes is too much. But, growing up in a fire & brimstone church, I find my church family at the Evangelical Covenant Church (forgive the E word – it is not cut from the same cloth) to be lovely and embracing and focused on being the GOOD rather than scaring the crap out of everybody. The churches are out there. But we are little and humble.
            I am sorry for all the hurt that has been done against you in the name of God. The same people who say “don’t take the Lord’s name in vain” use his name for abuse. I do not believe that is how He wants his name to be used. Or how he wants his sheep to be fed.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          You absolutely can’t. I agree.

          That’s why we need to normalize thinking of other church traditions as possibilities as well. I know I thought I had no choice in my town except to go to a church like that–because I never even considered some of the small ones that are actually quite healthy.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            And I think the other thing about people who think they will be okay in these churches is that they forget that they may get by unscathed, but what about their daughters? Their sisters? What about the boys your daughters may marry? Will your sons grow up with toxic ideas about sexuality?

            Like even if you’re not affected, it’s not just you.

          • Jane Eyre

            I think a lot about what my son will see as he grows up. These messages are toxic and inherently bad. There is also the problem of how increasingly outdated those messages are, and, by being outdated, will cause children who grew up believing them to be outcasts.

            This “women working” b.s. has been old and tired for my entire adult life. I cannot imagine that many women born well into the 21st century, whose own moms have graduate degrees and corporate jobs, are going to be lining up to marry young men who think that it’s insubordinate for a woman to have a job or lead a coed ministry at a church. It would be like a man expecting a woman to live without indoor plumbing.

      • CMT

        I think you have a point, and re Sheila’s statement below, I do see that not everyone will be impacted the same way. I grew up in a conservative evangelical church that was not nearly as toxic as some, but still with a strong strain of fear- and shame-based teaching. I was deeply impacted by this and am still unpacking it. Yet people I know who converted as adults don’t seem to have this problem, even if they believe some of the same things.

        My hypothesis is that people who internalize unhealthy spiritual beliefs at a young age, while their sense of self is still forming, are more likely to be deeply affected. And teaching them good things at the same time doesn’t fully counter this. Adult converts are better able to filter what they hear, and even if they accept some toxic ideas, their core identity isn’t as deeply affected.

        Reply
        • Meredith

          All the more reason to keep my kids out of church!

          Reply
          • CMT

            If it’s the kind where a Sunday School teacher would ask six-year-olds “if you died tomorrow where would you spend eternity,” then yeah. Don’t darken their door.

  3. Codec

    Punishing someone for trying to manage a crying child. Most churches have folks to help with kids. I onow not every church does, but that is just absurd.

    Reply
  4. Mara R

    Sometimes churches can be like the Frog in the Pot analogy (yes, I know that this is not a true thing about frogs. But it still works better than any other analogy I know.)

    Sometimes churches start with promise and hope, but things start to go downhill. The same goes for some marriages.

    The abusive church I went to back in the 80s didn’t have issues with putting down women. It was egalitarian. It was pastored by a husband/wife team.

    But as time went on, it became clear that there was something wrong with the husband pastor. We now have terms in the mainstream population for what was wrong with him. Looking back, I can now see that he was a Narcissist. And because of my experience with him, I was able to see that Mark Driscoll was a very similar sort of Narcissist to my 80s pastor. Narcissism can be on a spectrum and influenced by a lot of different variables. My old 80s church led by the Narc pastor became more toxic with time.

    Rather that go into a big long reflection here, I’ll link a blog post that discusses Mark Driscoll, reflections on “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill”, and my old 80s pastor.

    Only visit if you are interested in this sort of thing.
    http://frombitterwaterstosweet.blogspot.com/2021/08/narcissistic-pastors-2.html

    Reply
    • Nessie

      Having left my past church due to a narcissistic pastor and subsequent issues around that, I appreciate your article, Mara R.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Sheila, feel free to disagree with this, but is it possible that narcissism is a big problem among men who were raised with these toxic evangelical teachings? (Some women too, although it seems to be more of an issue with men)

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I think there are some studies on this, and yes, I believe it would be very possible!

          The thing is that pure narcissism is quite rare and is a diagnosable personality disorder. I think many more people have narcissistic traits without being full-blown narcissists. And I think evangelicalism certainly can breed narcissistic traits in many men.

          Reply
          • Kay

            I would argue that it both breeds and **rewards** those narcissistic traits by calling them “strong [masculine, ahem] leadership” skills.

          • Mara R

            A little note on this.

            People have a tendency to tip-toe around the term Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And many therapists call foul when someone claims a family member is Narcissistic when that accused family member isn’t diagnosed with the problem. This can do further damage to the one being abused, shaming them for ‘diagnosing’ the family member when they don’t have a degree in that.

            Also, NPD may be very under-diagnosed because Narcissists never see themselves as the problem and won’t go get help. It is always everyone else’s issues.

            Also, sometimes it is more helpful to look at Narcissism as being on a spectrum, like autism, rather that reserving the term for only the worst cases.

            So while I understand the dangers of arm-chair diagnosing NPD or over diagnosing anything, people who are experiencing abuse at the hands of a Narcissist, whether mid-grade Narcissists:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz7TyOjhpW4

            or high range Narcissists:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkqLTHsHEy0

            These people need to be given the space to call the abuse Narcissistic abuse, whether the person doing the abuse is diagnosed or not. And chances are, they won’t.

            My ex was a mid-range Narc, leaning toward the high range.
            My sister-in-law’s soon to be ex is even further towards the high range than my ex (they are brothers). But neither are clear up to the high range.

            P.S. There is also a low range Narcissism (and a corresponding video.)They are rarely or less abusive. Mostly just annoying.
            Sorry, this turned into a longer note than I meant.

          • Nessie

            Yes to everything Mara said.

            The more one learns about what things tend to contribute to creating narcissists, the easier it is to see just how patriarchal thinking and actions contribute to this, especially when young minds are absorbing it.

            And yes, I agree it is probably largely underdiagnosed because they rarely seek the help they need and/or LMFTs aren’t always aware enough to recognize they are being gaslit so expertly.

  5. Laura

    The first church I attended after I got saved as a teenager preached about husbands being the head of the household. Whatever the husband said, went. Since my parents did not raise us in church and they worked as a team of equals, I just thought what the preacher said was unbelievably sexist. “Well, that’s what the Bible says,” my friend told me. I just could not go back to that church and felt that I could not be a Christian because I did not believe that doctrine. So, I stayed away from organized religion for several years.

    After my divorce in 2002, I rededicated my life to the Lord and focused on the positive aspects of Christianity, yet I still felt troubled by certain doctrines preached at various churches throughout my life. Some churches I attended focused too much on end times prophecies, raising money to build another church campus or a new building, prosperity gospel (pray the right way, have enough faith and God will answer your prayers like He is some kind of genie), and the one that bothers me the most is the hierarchy in marriage doctrine. After hearing last Thursday’s podcast, I don’t think “complementariansim” is the right word to use now.
    Thankfully, most of the churches I’ve attended don’t preach on that doctrine, except maybe once or twice a year. Unfortunately, women’s Bible studies is where they just love to talk about this. Yet, I don’t think most of the women who are outspoken and claim to be “good, obedient wives” don’t practice this.

    I think my main issue is that I internalized these messages more than the average person. I have this all-or-nothing mentality. There are plenty of people who can take what they like in a sermon or Bible study and leave the rest behind. Unfortunately, I have felt that I have to believe it all or I’m not a “true” Christian. Currently, I’m in a place where I just do not want to have much to do with organized religion. Even though COVID cases are on the down in my area, I still don’t feel comfortable gathering in large groups of people so I’m not attending church for awhile.

    This season of not being able to attend church for over two years has helped me to realize that I can still have a relationship with God. Weekly church attendance, Bible study attendance, and involvement in ministry are not measurements of my faith and love for Christ. I can read my Bible and pray at anytime and anywhere. Yet, I admit I do miss the fellowship of other believers, but my Christian beliefs do not align with the typical American brand of Christianity. That means belonging to a certain political party, believing in certain doctrine, etc. So, I think my focus needs to be on a “personal” relationship with God.

    Reply
  6. Daniel

    I find this fairly common in mainstream Gothard model churches and fellowships yes let the Ruach lead you yes ha e discernment and number one with a bullet read the scripture for yourself you don’t need a pastor or a congregation to have a relationship with him

    Reply
    • Anon

      That Gothard teaching is definitely toxic and perfectly aligns with cults, not true Christianity. Look up Liz Hunter’s video about leaving a Gothard cult on YouTube.

      Reply
      • Laura

        What I did not know for many years was that the umbrella of protection illustration was started by Gothard. I saw it throughout many Christian circles but never knew where it originated. I don’t think a lot of Christians know this.

        Reply
        • Estelle

          Whenever I see that umbrella diagram, I think of the rhyme about it raining on ‘the just and on the unjust fella but mostly on the just because the unjust hath the just’s umbrella!’

          Reply
  7. Nathan

    Definitely sounds like a toxic church (cult). We can see more of the same here: God talks to the pastor, and the pastor talks to you, so that disrespecting the pastor or church rules is the same as disrespecting God.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Just like they tell wives, “If you are not submitting to your husbands, then you are not submitting to God.” As if my husband (don’t have one right now) is God.

      Reply
  8. Nathan

    This shows us the question of what should a church be? Should it be a place where he help each other come closer to God and build healthy relationships, or a place where make a large number of rules (which may or may not be biblical) then follow them at all costs until the end of time, even if the rules are shown to be bad?

    Reply
  9. Jane Eyre

    There are no words. That’s awful.

    If you’re asking for other “red flags,” the point of spanking the child was for the convenience of adults. Who needed how to behave for the comfort of others – the two year old or the adult?

    As for the other woman’s story: she’s refusing to share when she schedules sex with her husband?? Why is her sex life the business of her Bible study, anyway? If she or her husband don’t feel comfortable with people knowing about their sex life, that wish should be respected. If they want to discuss their sex life, it should be with a trained and licensed therapist (or, I guess, anonymously on a blog).

    And why do people know she got a tubal ligation? If this is a Catholic church I can understand the problem, but there’s still no need to remove her from a ministry position over it.

    Reply
    • Laura

      From the way this woman talked about her story, I get the impression she came from a “quiverful” type church. She mentioned having many children before getting the tubal ligation. I have a cousin who is mainstream LDS and I heard she and her husband had to get their bishop’s permission for a vasectomy after they had four children. I really don’t think it’s the church’s business to know the sex practices of their congregants. I sure don’t want to know anyone else’s sex life.

      Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        As a Catholic, I do think there is a religious and spiritual element to the use of artificial birth control. So while I don’t believe that it’s something to kick people out of ministry for, I do think it’s an issue for confession or a discussion with one’s priest.

        The problem I have isn’t with the teachings; it’s with the completely lousy way those are taught, the “more Catholic than thou” b.s. in the laity, and the idea that the problem with western society is clearly married parents who use a condom, not with the hookup culture.

        This stuff is taught for one day in pre-cana, often by someone with seven kids (NNTAWWT), and in a very out of touch way. By the time that couple has arrived there, they have been inundated for years or decades regarding the glory of artificial contraception, and you can’t undo that in one day. This should be an ongoing learning experience.

        There’s also a huge “I’m more Catholic than you are” thing going on, where some people say that a husband shouldn’t touch his wife’s clitoris because that does not lead to a procreative act. If pregnancy would kill you and NFP isn’t working, just don’t have sex or die. Doesn’t sound very unitive to me, but it’s a real thing and it makes a mockery of NFP.

        Aaaand… maybe let’s choose the hills we want to die on.

        Sorry that was long. I guess I have opinions about sexuality and religion.

        Reply
  10. Angharad

    ” if I had properly obeyed, my little one would STILL be beside herself and crying, and had I spanked her properly, would have heard it outside the bathroom door. ”

    Anyone else find something extremely chilling in the idea of an adult male listening outside the door of a ladies toilet to see if he can hear the sound of a child being spanked? And rebuking the mother because she didn’t ‘spank loud enough’?

    This guy isn’t just controlling – he takes a seriously unhealthy enjoyment in hearing & seeing babies being abused. That’s the kind of guy whose computer should be checked out by the police.

    Reply
    • Boone

      These churches believe that children are little demons that have to be broken. In fact, everybody has to be broken because if people think for themselves there’s no way that they’re going put up with that garbage. The masses must be controlled and led to believe that they are worthless scum. Self esteem is of the devil because you’re not worthy. You’re not right with God.

      Reply
    • exwifeofasexaddict

      Yes, that was my first thought too. Seriously? the pastor was standing outside the bathroom listening for spanking sounds? That man is sick.

      Reply
  11. Phil

    You know what Sheila? I have started looking for the root of this toxic church environment. There are so many factors that seem to contribute. The early Church was a safe haven (or safer maybe a better term) for women in the early Church from what I have come to learn. One of their primary reasons for joining the church was for safety. But one primary church out of the 1600’s (as far back as I have looked so far) seems to say that God gave his authority to the Church. Or at least that is an interpretation anyway…which I have an issue with. I need to do more investigative work but that’s what I have so far – not sure on accuracy of it all but I am working on it. The reason I am doing this work is well- its a topic here, but also my friend is working through a divorce right now and when we get to the common law of one of our US states vrs the “law of his Church” vrs Jesus and God first well – He tells me that God gave the Church the authority. Well that may be true on some level. But last I checked God has authority. God knows more than the Church. ANY CHURCH.

    Reply
    • A2bbethany

      That verse about Peter being the head, of the church given the keys to the gates of heaven? implying that the actual man, peter had the power to decide who got into heaven? I always thought it was weird!! Yeah that’s an odd concept for discussion.

      Reply
  12. A2bbethany

    It occurred to me maybe why I’m one of those not affected by church teachings.
    (Tripped up by others, but not much from the church.)
    I grew up watching my parents have an odd best friend couple. They met and became very close to a pentacostal couple. For being of a Baptist denomination, it was acknowledged by everyone, as unusual! But we grew up with their kids and they’re still like family. a part of it though was a constant biblical debate about differences. And while it might get loud, it was always respectful and it never got in the way of the friendships. I was not shielded from any of it, and enjoyed sitting and watching them go at it!
    What did I learn?
    1. 2 mature and sincere christians can interpret the same verses completely different ways.
    2. While respectful in person, it’s
    Always ok to disagree with a pastor.
    3. When there’s 2 split veiws of the same verse, there might be a 3rd or combo interpretation! Have an open mind and test it for yourself.
    I think those lessons of those discussions, taught me to think independently and an open mind. (The kind willing to consider a flat earth/big foot instead of condemning without consideration.)

    Reply
  13. Nathan

    > > That verse about Peter being the head, of the church
    > > given the keys to the gates of heaven? implying that
    > > the actual man, peter had the power to decide who
    > > got into heaven?

    Some think that when Jesus was talking about “The Rock” that the church was built on, he was talking about HIMSELF, not Peter.

    Reply
  14. Jeannie

    Honestly, this. I attended a church with similarities to this, and leader ship that was abusive and allowed to go unchecked. My parents still believe to this day that this is where they are supposed to be, I have a long since I left that church and now attend a church where I am welcomed and loved as part of the community. I’m just going to be straight with y’all, I wish they had left along time ago. It would’ve saved us some heartache.

    Reply
  15. Jo R

    So church a là KGB and the Stasi, where there’s a dossier on everybody? 🤯🤯🤯

    Our old church (in a different state) handed out to all the women a lovely little study called “Becoming a Woman of Excellence” by Cynthia Heald (long enough ago that it’s the one with the blue cover and the woman in a yoga pose). Since I was a perfectionist who had absolutely devoured all those horrible marriage books, to no avail of course, this book felt like an absolute slap in the face. What ELSE did I have to do? What else could I POSSIBLY do? I was already feeling like a total failure in my marriage, and now my own church was reinforcing in my mind that I could never do enough, could never BE enough. How could God love me, when I was clearly going to always be insufficient? If a perfectionist wasn’t already excellent, I was majorly screwed.

    It was very encouraging. 🙄🙄🙄

    Reply
  16. Katy Didd

    My husband and I held on for years going to a church we felt was the wrong direction. We tried. We were patient. But, one day, driving home, we were very quiet until I told him that I’m sick of church ruining Sundays and that I was dreading going back. He said he felt the same, and we quit right then and there. A few years later we went back as guests for a special event (because family still attends there) and we were beyond uncomfortable. Our very spirits were troubled. I actually get panic attacks just driving by the church!

    Addressing the spanking issue, I have a daughter who suffers from multiple issues, including migraines and neuro-diversity. She would “act up” beyond normal toddler behavior. I was encouraged by the pastor to “spank the will out of her.” This included the “advice” to “keep spanking until she gives in, even if it takes 10 spankings or more.” His wife offered to take my daughter for a weekend to “fix her” for me. Yes, she said she would “fix her.” Thank God I never took her up on the offer. It scared me. You can’t “fix” neuro-diversity and migraines with massive disciplinary measures.

    I also left another church where, after attending for 5 years, we were still treated like guests and projects. When we didn’t respond to the “script” we felt ignored. It felt more “country club” than church. Plus, I hated that almost every sermon the pastor would say something anti-Catholic and was always incorrect. Drove me nuts! But, he then preached that no one should question him because he’s the one with the seminary degrees, not us. RED FLAG!

    Yes, you can leave!

    Reply
  17. Anon

    Sheila do you have any plans to do a book for mothers of sons?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ve been asked by so many! I mean, the problem is the three of us are women. I may be able to get a guy collaborator, but we have so many projects we still have to do. I think we’d have to see if a publisher would take it?

      I wonder if I may rather do a book for what youth group should teach to both genders?

      Reply
      • Angharad

        The youth group book is a great idea – most of the unhealthy teaching I absorbed as a youngster came from youth groups. My parents had no idea I was being fed most of this garbage – they just assumed that the youth group would be a safe place.

        Reply
      • Jane Eyre

        I love the youth group idea!

        Reply
      • Laura

        The youth group book is an excellent project idea! Purity culture teachings have been so damaging to a lot of people. There are countless youtube videos about negative experiences in purity culture. This definitely needs to be addressed in a healthy way.

        Reply
  18. Jamee Campbell

    I grew up in a cult with similar attitudes. By the time I was an adult much changed and we didn’t have these same abuses going on. We did eventually leave and I’m glad for it but any abuse I suffered within the church was so early in my life that I don’t remember it….I remember almost nothing from my childhood due to familial abuse. I have heard horror stories from others who grew up there and even some within the local church I grew up in about such abuses. Including child sexual abuse and Pastors blaming wives for their husbands wanting to start a swing club within the church. The crazy thing was the same pastor doing those things was amazing with the youth. I loved him and learned much from him. I didn’t find out until later that he wasn’t a good pastor for the young married couples. The earlier abuses were much worse though. Spanking babies and such for crying during church and not calming down soon enough in the mothers room so mom could go back into the sanctuary. The story above sounds much like a cult as well. I am amazed at how many similar stories there are out there.

    Reply
  19. exwifeofasexaddict

    The gall of pastors who think people have to obey them. Seriously. The audacity.

    Reply
  20. Bri

    This one hit home…over the last year, my family and I have been detoxing from a rough church situation. We joined the “church planting team” on the ground floor almost 5 years ago, and helped establish it. At the time we were concerned that everyone was on the “pastor train” or just being willing to go with whatever that man in charge wanted. We were concerned, but decided to stick around to try to combat it and offer differing perspectives. Over time our voices got silenced more and more, anything and everything we did had to be run by the pastor to approve, even down to what toys got donated to the church nursery. Eventually crap hit the fan when we decided to follow the Lord’s calling and start talking about having a small group in our home. The pastor asked us to wait until he could approve it by the elders and make sure my husband was “qualified to lead” the group. We discussed our thoughts with folks we trusted, who immediately ran to the pastor and told him we were starting without permission. We never did anything, only talked about what we felt the Lord was leading us to do. They wouldn’t listen. We got placed under discipline immediately, our character and salvation was questioned, and we were removed from all service positions. We were told to come every single week to show our dedication to the church and the pastor. We basically were told to show up and shut up. Every meeting after was further questioning of whether or not we really had the Holy Spirit because we weren’t completely agreeing with their views on leadership, church attendance, or even whether the elders had jurisdiction over who we welcomed into our home during the week. We went outside the church for help on how to handle it and that landed us in even more trouble, because how dare we go outside our covenant body for help? We labored for months on whether to stay and fight (expose the abuse of power) or leave quietly. We ended up leaving quietly because our family was so battered by then that we weren’t sure we’d survive a fight, and wrote a gentle letter to the body thanking them for their fellowship over the years. The elders never read it to the body and they lied outright to the congregation when they voted us out of membership. Our daughter was 6 and we tried to shield her from as much as we could, but it deeply impacted her and we are working on getting her to a counselor to help her with processing the loss of something so profound. We have been unable to find a healthy church locally to join, as our area is fairly remote and so very spiritually dry. All the churches are so similar and preach the same messages as the one we left and we just can’t subject our family to this again. I struggle almost daily with leaving without trying to expose the abuse and bad teaching. My heart aches for the folks still sitting there under that model. Part of me says that it’s partially my fault if someone else gets hurt by the same method (we weren’t the first – there’s two other families who were treated the same way before us and it was hidden). Part of me says that no one would listen anyway, so why even try? Unfortunately I fall in the category now of believing that our current US model of “church” is broken at its very base and so few can actually be truly healthy because of how they’re modeled. I personally will never sign another membership covenant again. But – BUT! – I believe God is bigger than that and there’s a reckoning coming.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      Bri, you are so NOT alone. Huge, enormous, warm hugs to you and your family. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

      Reply
  21. Renee

    I just did a quick google search…there are over 21 thousand churches in Canada. Years ago I was frustrated by people saying “the church” did things to them I had never seen. Until I realized that most of us will never be able to say with authority “the church” is a certain way, unless we are researchers because we can’t possibly know what the majority of churches are like based on personal experience.

    Reply
  22. Sue

    You asked if we had a church story to tell, and this is mine…talking about it has helped me heal. Plus if it helps just one person it’s worth it. I attended a certain Christian church for many years. I attended faithfully every Sunday and occasionally Wednesday p.m. service. After awhile it became apparent that attending service EVERY Wednesday night garnered favor with the pastor. After awhile I started feeling like a second class member because I wasn’t there like clockwork on Wednesday’s. I love church and hated missing Sundays but I never felt guilty not going every single Wednesday. To me it’s God first, marriage (and family) second, THEN church attendance. I’d seen too many couples in my church, the ones that were there together every time the doors were open, eventually split up then get divorced. The ones we all thought had it altogether, based on their outward appearance at church , were the ones getting those divorces. I remember before one Sunday morning service wishing my husband was there with me (he attended only occasionally) because five couples were up front, as a group holding hands praying, and they looked so spiritual. That’s when God reminded me not to go by appearance because that can be deceiving. I wasn’t sure why he said that concerning those five couples but within two years time, all FIVE couples had split up and divorced. I’m talking about pillars of the church. Apparently behind closed doors things were different than they appeared in church…Now I don’t look at the outward things the same way I did then. But people assume that if you’re alone at church more often than when your spouse is there with you, you must be pining away, and in my case that’s simply not true. My husband is a good man and treats me like a queen, and he does that behind closed doors, not just when we’re in public. He is good to me and our children (all adults now), he helps around the house, and has never once all these years raised his hand in anger towards us. He’s a believer and I was there when he got born again.
    He’s now retired but always worked hard to provide for his family. But the pastor never bothered to ask about us, he just made assumptions. Seeing me alone at church so much (the kids were there but with their peers, once they were old enough) you could feel the tension, like others thought I must be doing something wrong to make my husband not want to attend with me. Little did they know, he stopped attending not because of me, but because of THEM. He couldn’t stand the hypocrisy any longer. He saw too much and couldn’t stand it , but he never tried to stop me from going. If I wanted to go to extra services he would have fully supported me, but it was my decision not to. Finally, I left there after many years and started attending another Christian church. I love this church, but after only a few months it’s starting to feel a little controlling. This Sunday was Missions Sunday, and the message was pretty much “if you don’t do (foreign) missions, you’re not a real Christian” type thing. It felt wrong, like we were being guilted into doing foreign missions even if we don’t feel God called us to that. I’ve been involved in prison ministry that lasted years, and in a pro-life ministry that also lasted years, and gone on a missions trip to another country, and every time I felt the anointing to go. I counseled at many evangelistic outreaches. I don’t feel the call to do foreign missions now, although I will pray for those that do go, and will contribute financially when I’m able. I believe the ones called to that particular thing now will know it in their heart. My pastor is a good man with a sweet family but why do they all feel the need to have cookie cutter congregations? We are all individuals with different callings. We also have different family dynamics. And guilting people into serving God in a particular way, even if that’s not their calling, or their season, leads to legalism. I’ve come to realize if I want to be a member of a church I’ll have to overlook a lot of things. My number one gift, confirmed by several seasoned saints over the years, is discernment, so I’m going to see a lot that I don’t want to see. God gave me that for a reason but it’s not always easy. I’ve noticed several things that seem manipulative even in this church which is otherwise a fantastic church that’s growing by leaps and bounds. New people are getting saved every week. It’s a thriving church but still there’s a bit of legalism, where if one is doing something everyone else should be doing the same, and at the same time. If it’s a clean-up day everyone is expected to be there. If it’s missions time, everyone is expected to go, or to pay for someone else to go. If it’s small group time, everyone should be in a small group at least once a week. If you’re not doing the latest thing with everyone else all the time, you’re kind of treated differently, with insinuations coming from the pulpit, or from peers that are on every list and in every prayer group, attending every service, which sometimes amounts to 3 or 4 services every single week. Then when you add in clean up days, special events like women’s fellowship night, it can be exhausting. Remember Mary and Martha; Mary sat at Jesus feet to learn from him while Martha ran herself ragged. It was true that things needed to get done, but Jesus said it was Mary that chose the best way. Better to spend time with the Lord and let him fill us up, than to be on a constant treadmill of activity, always running but never truly getting anywhere.

    Reply

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