Sally’s story part 3

verbal-abuseSally’s final encounter with a Christian church takes place takes place some twenty years after the last encounter with a Church leader. She is now 39, the mother of six sons and married to a husband who is successful and well-to-do. A detail which is important for the understanding of this final incident is that Sally comes originally from South America and so is what we would describe as ‘Latino’ in appearance. The situation that brings her to a church is that her marriage is in trouble, her husband is verbally aggressive and controlling. His aggression sometimes leads to her feeling she has to leave the house for a period. All in all her husband is creating in her a massive sense of powerlessness where she feels completely demoralised.

In her distress she once again seeks the help of the church. Because the episode that Sally is recounting is to do with marriage and family matters, the male pastor feels unable to cope and so Sally is passed on to his wife. The wife listens to the account of aggression and manipulation and her first response to the tale is to suggest to Sally that there is ‘definitely a demonic presence at work here.’ This pastor’s wife goes on: ‘You’re so controlling in your thoughts and that needs serious delivering’. There is no suggestion that the husband contributes to the problem, that he rather than Sally needs to be brought to account. She then makes an indirect allusion to Sally’s Latino racial background. She goes on: ‘I know a husband -wife team from South Africa who specialise in dealing with strong demonic activity like the black people type.’ Presumably with these words she was implying that Sally, being a Latino, was especially subject to demonic attack. The actual practical advice that was handed out is equally unhelpful. ‘You cannot expect any particular behaviour from your husband. When you expect things, you are making conditions on him. When you stop expecting anything at all, then your husband will see that you are not controlling him and his behaviour will align to you. It is your demon that is making you controlling and manipulative. I want you and your husband to be happy but you definitively need to see the couple from South Africa so that your demon can be dealt with.’

Fortunately Sally did not return for more of this inept pastoral advice. She found herself utterly demoralised and devalued by this bruising encounter which had the effect of compounding the issues that were undermining her marriage. As with the stories in my study of abusive Christianity, I am left with fragmentary words remembered from a conversation. Such words were obviously said but there is a need to give these words an interpretation and a context to make them comprehensible

The first thing that comes over is that the Pastor’s wife had bought into the ‘biblical’ idea that the wife’s role was to be obedient in all things to her man. Her needs are always to be subordinate to his. Her only true glory is to reflect his glory. Such paternalistic patriarchy is a wide-spread phenomenon in conservative religions across the world, especially Islam. Conveniently for those who think in this way there are passages in scripture which appear to allow the male sex to believe that his control in the family and church cannot and should not be challenged by anyone. The current debate about gay marriage is, I believe, fuelled by an abhorrence on the part of conservatives to see disturbed the traditional patriarchal pattern of family. Sally clearly will never receive a proper hearing in a church which has bought into this kind of understanding of the role of the female sex both in the family and the church. Thinking psychologically for a moment, the fact that the pastor’s wife had been forced into this kind of world-view, would mean in all probability that she herself would also be deeply frustrated by her own powerlessness beyond her family. ‘Pastoral care’ of women in the congregation would be the one outlet allowed her. The reported conversation shows impotence combined with vindictiveness in her inability to challenge male power and cruelty.

I have already strongly criticised in the first part of Sally’s story the immediate recourse to ‘demons’ as a way of explaining an individual’s pain and misfortune. Here it gains an added twist by the racial dimension to which I have already referred. Sally’s Latino heritage was to be an additional reason for the instantly discerned demons that were believed to have taken up residence inside her. Words fail me in trying to express my contempt for the ineptitude and utterly damaging expression of pastoral care that is recorded to have taken place.

It is perhaps easy for us in Britain to sit and think that we would never allow ourselves to become victims of this kind of abusive pastoral practice. But Sally’s experience is taking place every day in churches all over the world. Demonic explanations for tragic events coupled with appalling theological ideas dubiously grounded in scripture are being peddled by ill-trained Christian leaders every day. Sally’s three episodes of being the victim of abusive care were not perpetrated against a strong independent minded person who could then push them aside as ‘clap-trap’. No, these events occurred in the context of Sally’s vulnerability. While part of her was able to resist and question what was being said or done to her, another part of her was deeply and damagingly undermined by these events. I have recorded them to help us, the readers of this blog, to understand what happens on occasion in churches. But I have also recorded them to help Sally herself see and understand what has happened through the eyes of others. We trust that she will gain strength from these insights and will be able to put the abuse behind her. Understanding better is one part of the path to healing. That perhaps is part of the whole point of this blog.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

10 thoughts on “Sally’s story part 3

  1. People who work in the area of deliverance are far, far too likely to see simply everything in these terms. I remember a phrase from my training which was “Most deliverance occurs privately, in quiet prayer”. By privately, the person concerned meant, not necessarily involving the person troubled. This is a healthy view, in my opinion. You may be interested to know, Stephen, that the person who said this, was the former Bishop of Carlisle, Graeme Dow. One prayer meeting I attended involved some very earnest young men from a pentecostalist church nearby. They saw demons everywhere. They even claimed to have gone into a mental home and excorcised all the demons, and they were reported to be many! They were, they said, zapping people with healing prayer as they went round! As one of the tests for the Holy Spirit’s gifting is to see whether it “works”, it strikes me that this is a fool proof method of convincing yourself that you’ve “got it” with absolutely no evidence.
    Sally’s story is gruesome beyond belief. Good evidence that no way should untrained people (clergy wife!) be let loose on members of the flock. “Let everything be done decently and in order”!
    Church of England training does at least theoretically prevent this kind of thing. Nothing that humiliates, never work alone, always supported by prayer. But of course this would not address the mind set that it is always the least important person’s fault. In this case, the woman. Same mind set that has the cleric in whom you have confided phone the guy you complained about and say “You’ll never guess what he just said about you!” Obviously, a fellow cleric couldn’t possibly be at fault.
    It’s more than sad. It’s disgraceful. And it makes me impotently angry. I have tried. In the end there is nothing you can do against the solid wall of protection as people close ranks.
    I hope Sally has found peace, or does so soon.

  2. It is very sad that those not specifically called by God to do so would be allowed to work with a vulnerable, hurting woman. I pray she has found peace and found her way to the true and loving God.
    I have been reading this blog for a little while now and have enjoyed it. I have kept quiet, but I feel I must speak out now. You are doing a wonderful thing here by making sure these stories are told and keeping the focus on the abuse that occurs in churches all over. But I have been disturbed at times. There seems to be a lot of generalizations made, especially in some of the comments. While there are some very bad episodes of abuse and control, not every evangelical church is guilty of such. The things I have read about here that happened to Sally and to the woman from the church in Brentwood would have never happened at my evangelical, pentecostal church. Sometimes it seems some people want to paint with a very wide brush. I have been active in the area of deliverance for a good while now. It is, at times, needed in order for someone to find freedom and healing, but I do not see a demon behind every bush and neither do any of those I have worked with. One hard and fast rule my ministry has is we never, ever tell someone there are demons at work in them or in their life. We will pray with them and counsel them and maybe give them resources they can read for themselves. It is only when the person decides the demonic is active in their life and asks for our help, do we begin the process of deliverance, and it is a long process at times! There is an interview where we look into what may be in the person’s background that could have opened any doors, we make sure they have read a specific book we give them that gives more information, and then we spend a good while ensuring they understand the process and exactly what is going to happen in the deliverance itself. When the day comes for the deliverance session, it is usually fairly low key. Screaming and yelling is not necessary when you have the authority found in the name of Jesus. I have seen lives instantly transformed by the Lord. I guess I just want to make sure people realize that what happened to Sally and the woman in Brentwood is not necessarily the usual occurrence, even here in the states. God has provided deliverance ministries, psychology, lay counseling, pastoral care, and other things for his people. It just makes sense to me to utilize every resource He has provided. Please don’t take my words here harshly, I mean no disrespect or offense.
    Be blessed

  3. Thank you for your comment Posey. Of course no one is suggesting that this is universal in every evangelical church, but there does seem to be a problem in some independent fellowships. It is among Christian leaders who do not believe that they are in any way accountable or subject to oversight that these problems quite often seem to arise. I have to say also that when the bible is treated as being the supreme authority and the pastor is the only person that can interpret what it actually says, then you have a potential problem. I am Anglican (Episcopalian) and so we have the oversight of bishops and archdeacons. It does not always work successfully but it is better that the total absence of oversight which seems to give rise to many problems. When demons are invoked wrongly, it is not just an unfortunate mistake but potentially a potential pastoral disaster area for the person concerned. What happened to Sally may not be the usual exercise of the healing/deliverance ministry, but the fact that it happens ever (and I promise you it does happen frequently) is a cause of shame to the church everywhere. It is arguably as serious to the reputation of the church in general as the incidence of child sexual abuse by clergy. I am concerned about the maverick ministries of independent ministers who exercise in some cases a wildly irresponsible ministry which cannot be challenged. I have been studying this area for some 20 years. I was also an adviser to two bishops in this area of deliverance for over 15 years. Because a story is not typical does not mean that it never happens. It does, believe me.

    1. Absolutely it happens!!! I agree whole heartedly and it can be devastating when it does. There is no doubt about that! I have seen first hand the damage that can be done in those churches that want to stand alone without any checks and balances in place. God designed us to be in community and I believe that extends to churches as well. I think God wants us to call out those churches that get off line like that and to warn others of the dangers found in them. I didn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone think I was on the attack here. It’s just that there have been times when I would have not been completely comfortable admitting here that I am a conservative, evangelical from the southern U.S. involved in deliverance ministry because I didn’t feel I would have necessarily been well-received. There are some terrible churches out there, inflicting horrible damage on people and it is important that that is pointed out. It’s just like I said before, some people seem to want to paint with a very wide brush. That’s all I meant. I applaud your efforts to keep a spotlight on the problem. It would be nice, though, to sometimes see some acknowledgment of the good done by evangelicals. We aren’t all over-the-top, holy-rollers going around beating people on the head with our Bibles! hahaha 😀 Grace and peace and continued success to you, my brother!

  4. Thank you Posey,
    Thank you for talking to us. I think it is good to talk. We are all the same to God, liberal / conservative don’t matter to Him? As you will know from my past blogs these days I stumble between faith and doubt. I say this because I know that the particular brand of fundamentalism that I was subject to (Since 1969) very nearly took my life. I believe that the mind of Christ wants us to be one; otherwise we are back to Jews hating Samaritans, Germans hating Jews, Christian sects hating ‘Faggots”. However, I hope we have got to a better place than an Acts 15:36-41 where we walk away from each other.

    You come across as very balanced in your viewpoint. I would like to chat to you more on this. I have a personal blog I also can email you if you would like?

    Peace, Chris Pitts.

  5. Hello
    I have been so blessed to have found such a breath of fresh air in this blog, for the most part it has brought me to a place of courage and the start of some very needed healing. I am Sally.
    All the accounts written of my story have been true although in reading them it does feel so overwelming to know all these things could have happened to the same person and so many times.
    I have wanted to lash out against all those that have been in a place of authority and have betrayed that trust and strongly believe that if i wasnt a bible reading christian I would have left the church and christendom many many years ago.
    Where I live there is a huge investigation going on now into child abuse within the church. Pastors, preachers, reverends and priests have all been called to account. The indipendant commission against curruption is running these investigations and it seems that no arm of the church has been spared. From conservative churches to modern charismatic movements. There is a pattern of abuse of children within the church. The state is intervening and calling all those in authority to account. This started about a year ago. This started a storm inside of me. This opened up many wounds and damage done to me as a child. Whilst 95% of the abuse is gay abuse towards minors. Mine is a story that says that it was not just men hurting boys but in my case the clear grooming of a girl child. My view of men has always been tainted. They say it is a curse to be pretty, and in my experience it is. My appearance has attracted far more damage toward me than blessing.
    The storms in my belly where rising watching the news and hearing the story of events that took place decades ago.
    Would they need to hear my story? Would my coming forward show them that there is something far more sinister at work here? I started to deteriorate quickly I have six sons things started to fall apart for me. I felt it was time for me to visit my past. I found this blog I remember googling something like ‘surviving abuse in the church” and this site came up.
    I have been able to vent like never before and feeling completely safe without fear of any hurt. The pen (or keyboard) has been truly mightier than the sword – like the old saying goes.
    I have found courage in the words here. The words of the Lord has always saved me just in time. I cannot express how the heroic the Lord really is in saving the day the many times he did in my life.
    He does come through.
    Justice is now seeking answers from those that have hidden behind the banner of the Lord and hurt those they have been entrusted with caring for. Some of the victims of the extreme abuse has committed suicide, have drug and alcohol additions and patterns of very destructive relationships as a result of this abuse.
    To be told that I am not a victim but the reason behind the abusive is far more damaging than the initial abuse and words live on an on. I was 15 they ‘supposedly’ knew more than me perhaps even closer to God. One part of me was convinced I was in fact wronged that I was taken advantage of and scared but then I started doubting myself. These leaders know more than me right? maybe i am evil and I cant see it? maybe i did cause this? they know more than me!
    This belief became self talk than I gave myself whenever something went wrong. Somehow i believed my self importance was gone. I dont matter that much im actually fatally flawed.
    So I was close to the Lord telling me one thing, He loves me! and the Church telling me another. Two extreme opposites and I sat in the middle somewhere. Some days I would win but most days I wouldn’t. This abuse is happening in the world but it is a sobering reality that it is also alive and well in the church today.
    Im a testimony to this. I have trusted that others would be as God to me in the church but the reality is that a bible reading christian is a threat to many within the church itself. Perhaps it is this that has always been the spiritual battle, perhaps in the lack of their discernment they confused me with a demon because they could not understand me. and the best way to deal with someone-something different is to point the crooked finger at them and turn their gifts into something they believe has come to cause destruction rather than bless the church.
    Maybe- just maybe
    Still healing thank you for prayers and support….. pray for me….. I need it.

  6. Thank You Sally,

    I am very pleased that you can still hold on to the “Love of God’ in your life.
    I hope, sincerely hope for your healing, may it be soon.
    As you say some commit suicide, others suffer in the wilderness. The problem of suffering raises a fatal objection to faith at times for me.
    This blog gives hope.

  7. Thank you Chris, yes I can totally relate to your sentiments. However we simply have to look at the life of the Lord himself to testify to humanity causing such suffering to other humans in general. He was in effect killed by religious leaders he too was accused of lying and having demons. He is no stranger to suffering. I am strong IN HIM. I will never give up my faith tried and tested yes but never doubting. I distrust the church but not the Lord. it is in him I trust.

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