Being a woman in the Body of Christ can pose various challenges. When it comes to spiritual abuse and women in the church, this issue just gets a lot more complex. This article will allow a number of women to speak about their experience in the church, how they coped with spiritual abuse, and how they eventually recovered.
So often, women have had to make the decision to leave something. They have had to make the decision to leave their home church, to leave their denomination, and for some, to leave the institutional church altogether. The woman’s issue in the church is serious and everyone needs to work to find solutions and to minister to women who have been wounded through senseless ways of ‘doing church.’
One pro-active thing that people can do is to listen to women’s voices and hear what they are saying. Jesus led the way in honoring women. The Apostle Paul valued the many contributions of women in the churches where he ministered.
There is much that could be said about this topic, but for now, let us hear the voices of some women who have faced wounding by spiritual abuse in the places where they fellowshipped. It is hard to fathom that in a place of worship, Word, and Christian fellowship that spiritual abuse would happen in the same location. Unfortunately, that is the story of so many.
The following are seven brief accounts of women and their church experiences. Each of these stories highlights a different, but similar, aspect of disappointment and distress for women while in their home church. These stories are representative of the countless stories that continue to be the experience of so many women.
Speak, for we are listening . . .
Hearing Women’s Voices
“I came to a crisis of faith because I felt called to ministry, but “women couldn’t do that” in all the churches I was associated with at that point. I thought, how could I follow a God who would set me up that way–by creating me with certain gifts, by calling me, and then not allowing me to live out my core sense of calling? It really was a spiritual crisis for me.”
“I have mentioned my counselor . . . he was such a great minister. The Lord gave me a ministry of intercession to help me when I couldn’t pray. (seriously!) I wouldn’t keep my word to myself or bring myself to prayer or the Bible, but I WOULD keep my word to someone else.
I found people to pray for M-F and promised them I would pray and email them to confirm it. I would also send them anything the Lord gave me as I read and listened. (That ministry has now grown to about 500 people each week and through it God has formed a sweet and humble spirit where a defensive and touchy one had been.)
I also was blessed with three women who have been my spiritual formation group.
Finally, the reading and writing required for my D.Min. degree brought enormous healing and finally closure to things. I have realized it wasn’t my fault. God has even worked forgiveness into my heart for those who hurt us.”
“I gave myself time to process and allowed myself to feel the emotions fully, I read a lot of books, anything I could find on the internet. I built up a small group of friends who knew nothing about what had happened. I occupied myself with activities that had nothing to do with church.
I made a list of the behavioral and doctrinal commands (whether taught or unspoken) and systematically and deliberately did them all (they were not sin, but were implicit rules in the church, like not being allowed to wear pants). Eventually after 13 years I started speaking about my experiences within the church, which by this time I realized was cult-like.”
“How did I process my feelings? By this I am assuming you mean: how did I come to understand them. I was able to process my feelings by talking things through with my husband, my new pastor, (and my former pastor) and by finding others who were going through, or had gone through, similar experiences.
I discovered Christians for Biblical Equality and the Priscilla Papers. I read books by various authors including Katherine Clark-Kroeger, Faith Williams, and Craig Keener. A book entitled Gender Matters, written by a group of professors from the King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, NY, also became important to me. Most of the authors of this book (published in 1989) were friends and colleagues of my husband.
I believe that God placed, and continues to place the right people on my path at just the right time. God answers prayers.”
“My main means of processing was in weekly sessions with a psychiatrist. For a few months I also attended a Bible study for women who had difficulty with their image of God because of problems with previous authority figures –particularly male, run by a friend who was also the director of a safe house for battered women. It was very, very helpful as it was a relatively safe place to honestly explore (vent!) how we really felt about God and then we contrasted that with what the Scripture actually said about the nature of God.”
“My new church was very affirming to me, both as a pastor and as a female. I served as an associate alongside a female senior pastor who had never suffered such abuse, but was patient with me as I worked through my anger and sorrow and fear, and who reminded me that some people are just not worth the emotional expenditure.”
“First I interviewed the pastor, to see what his perspective on women’s leadership was. (The denomination had mixed views.) And he said, oh women can do anything here. So I began to attend, and got involved in worship, in Bible study, in teaching, in outreach to students, and etc.
About a year later, the church elders decided they had to “take a stand” about women’s roles. They decided the church would explore the different views. A male PhD in theology was invited to teach the “against” side, and I (27 yrs. old, informally discipled in Scripture) was invited to teach the “women can do anything” side. Needless to say, I “lost” and found the experience crushing.
Subsequently, I decided to join a denomination where women were ordained and that the national church had taken a position. I found a local church in this denomination with a woman associate pastor.”
“I have a wider understanding of different interpretations and viewpoints, such as Paul’s instructions about women in the church–I now realize there are different beliefs about how these can be interpreted, about the local cultural settings, etc.
I also am very aware of how Scripture can be misused and manipulated to control people. I am conscious of how groups, particularly church leaders, use Scripture to justify their personal viewpoints and try to dominate people saying: “We believe the scriptural view on this” when it is actually their narrow interpretations which they make fit their opinions.
They arrogantly say they are right and use Scripture out of context and dismiss other churches with different viewpoints, which see the same Scripture in different ways. I have been beaten over the head with Scripture used to dominate and control and have been told not to read any books that teach different views and doctrines.
One church leader, of a different church last year, told me I was very unusual, most people, especially women, simply accept what is taught, whereas I think about what is taught. That was when he told me to either agree 100% with what their denomination taught or leave. I left.”
In Response to my Question: “Where are you at with Christ now?” these ladies responded this way:
“I am loved and cherished by Him and I feel it. I used to feel like I was his “problem child.” Now I know I am his Joseph and he’s made me a coat of many colors. He revels in who I am. His favor is on me, not his hand of wrath.”
“Abiding, loving, peaceful as the daughter of the King of Kings—a princess in His royal court, not the maid in the palace who can never rise above being called what I was before I was saved—a dirty rotten sinner deserving of Hell.”
“My home is in His bosom.”
Recognizing that men and women are not defined by gender in the Kingdom of God, but by gifting, is a place to start.
What is so encouraging is that many women have found a place of worship, service, and Christian fellowship as they have reflected on their past, processed their pain, and have trusted their destiny and calling to their Lord.
Women have been greatly encouraged by their brothers and sisters in the faith to take faith steps and risks with God. Women have persevered in discovering that they and their giftings could find a meaningful place in the Body of Christ.
As the prophecy of the prophet Joel proclaimed the Promise of the Spirit, which plainly included women, we recognize that ancient promise still rings true today. A growing number of women have discovered unique and satisfying places to serve. They are also finding that serving Christ in these places was his idea all along.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Gal. 3: 26-29
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** If you have a story that you would like to share with me about your ministry experience in the church, whether good or bad, please feel free to contact me through my website email:
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For Further Reflection
Read and reflect on the passages of Scripture that include women. This is evident particularly in the accounts of the death, burial, and resurrection story of Jesus and the birth of the Church.
Matthew 27:57-66; Matthew 28; Mark 16.
Luke 23:50-56; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1 – 2.
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© 2014 Barb Orlowski, D.Min.