One reason why I read blogs and articles of all different kinds of abuse, is that I find the reactions of the abuse victims are the same everywhere.
Of course you’ll have differences here and there: Being molested by a parent is not the same as being psychologically manipulated by an ex-boyfriend, for example.
But everywhere you find the same common themes: loss of trust, hurt, pain, confusion, longing for the abuser to acknowledge the abuse and make up for it.
The other day, I read this account of narcissistic abuse and a smear campaign at Mars Hill Church:
My Story by Jonna Petry
Her husband was a pastor with the church for a time, until he was abandoned and smeared by Mark Driscoll.
In this and in other stories I’ve read about abuse at Mars Hill Church, I was struck all along by things that sounded very familiar, in my own experiences with narcissistic abuse, from exes (especially Phil) and from Richard and Tracy:
- A person/place who at first seemed like God’s gift to you.
- Pressure to conform.
- Shunning someone you are told is bad.
- Abuse and getting kicked out for questioning, disagreeing, speaking up about problems.
- A person who throws tantrums and verbally abuses you for the slightest offenses, even when the offense is only in his own mind.
- A smear campaign.
- Others encouraged to shun you.
- A kangaroo court in which you have no real chance to defend yourself.
- Others put through the same abuse if they stick up for you.
- A “conference” which is meant not to hear your side or your grievances, but to coerce you into agreeing that the abuse against you is justified.
- A refusal of the abusers to admit they’ve done anything wrong. As Driscoll and his henchman wrote to Jonna and her husband, “We still believe we have done nothing wrong.”
- Begging others to help, but no one will.
- Discovering this abuse is a pattern, that it neither began nor ended with you.
The hurt, pain and confusion as you long desperately for reconciliation:
In shock and heartbroken, Paul and I tried desperately that first half-year to bring about some level of reconciliation.
We so longed to be restored to our friends, to have our name and reputation exonerated, and to have peace in our relationships.
This had become our family that we loved and served and ministered to as our own dear children and as brothers and sisters. These were our dear friends.
How could they do this to us? Words do not adequately describe the shock, horror, betrayal, and rejection we felt. The weight of the loss was excruciating.
The PTSD and shaking of faith:
During this whole season since the firing and the months that followed, I was emotionally and spiritually devastated.
I was often tormented by fear. I had nightmares and imaginations of someone trying to physically harm Paul, me, and the children.
If Mark had had ecclesiastical power to burn Paul at the stake I believe he would have.
I literally slept in the fetal position for months. I stayed in bed a lot, bringing the children in bed with me to do their schoolwork.
I became severely depressed and could hardly bring myself to leave the house except when absolutely necessary. I cried nearly every day for well over a year thinking I must soon cry it out, right?
But, the sorrow was bottomless. My faith was gravely shaken. How could a loving God allow this?
Later it became clear that I had typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression and that these reactions were common in someone who has experienced spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse occurs when someone uses their power within a framework of spiritual belief or practice to satisfy their own needs at the expense of others. It is a breach of sacred trust.
Christians are commanded by Jesus to love one another. When that is projected, articulated, enjoyed and then treacherously betrayed, the wounded person is left with “a sense of having been raped, emotionally and spiritually” not by a stranger, but by someone who was deeply trusted. (See Recovering from Church Abuse by Len Hjalmarson)
At the beginning, Jonna wrote,
This past summer I saw the movie, “The Help,” and a seed of courage was planted in my soul. One of the last lines of the movie:
“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”
This story is an earnest attempt to speak the truth in love that freedom and new life may flourish.
At the end, she wrote things which encourage me to continue telling the story of Richard/Tracy–and express the same hope I hold, that one day my abusers will recognize their abuse and change:
In Acts, Chapter 20, the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Ephesian elders to pay attention and guard the flock.
This admonition, along with the mounting stories of abuse and misconduct coming out of Mars Hill Church, has added to our conviction.
We believe that to remain quiet now would be unloving and disobedient to God. As my husband stated earlier–if we fail to remember our history, we leave it for others to re-write. And, unfortunately, some of that has occurred.
And, in Mark’s own words from his book, Vintage Jesus:
“People are not perfect. As sinners we need to be gracious, patient, and merciful with one another just as God is with us or the church will spend all of its time doing nothing but having church discipline trials.
“It is worth stressing, however, that we cannot simply overlook an offense if doing so is motivated by our cowardice, fear of conflict, and/or lack of concern for someone and their sanctification.
“In the end, it is the glory of God, the reputation of Jesus, the well-being of the church, and the holiness of the individual that must outweigh any personal desires for a life of ease that avoids dealing with sin biblically.
“Sometimes God in his providential love for us allows us to be involved in dealing with another’s sin as part of our sanctification and growth. It is good for us and for the sinner, the church, and the reputation of the gospel if we respond willingly to the task God has set before us.”
What happened to us was very wrong. The way it was publicly described by Mark and the elders at the time was completely exaggerated and deceptive. The way the media and blogs have since reported on it has many holes and errors. Now it is open and plain to everyone.
If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future.
We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse.
Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say nor do anything that might anger him. This is tragic.
Perhaps at some point, with enough outcry and exposure, Mark will come to his senses, own his harmful behavior, and get the help he needs to change. I hope so. Our common Enemy can make terrible use of our weaknesses and blind spots.
Our Lord’s harshest words were for leaders who used their status, power, the Scriptures, and God’s people for their own self-aggrandizement. Surely this is not what Mark meant to do.
We are all in this together, no matter what kind of abuse we suffered, or from whom.
We did not deserve it, and need to learn and remember this. We need to put the responsibility for the abuse, and our subsequent hurt and pain, where it belongs–on the abuser–and take none for ourselves.
And we need to NOT look at each other and think, “I got it worse than you, so why should I bother with your story and pain?”
We also need to learn from each other, take courage from each other to speak up and tell our stories, and heal each other.