How to Hang with God When you don’t want Church any more.

[Trigger Warning: This article contains references to child sexual abuse, religious abuse, church discipline, and bad treatment of members of the LGBTQ community which may trigger some readers].

She revealed to her Associate Pastor’s wife she was gay and hoped to find a female life partner. Within days, she was called before a meeting of the Elders. They demanded she repent from her wickedness.

She reminded them that she had just identified/admitted to herself that she was only attracted to women. She had not had sex and had not even kissed a girl.

Yet she was told it was time to repent or face church discipline. She told them she could not in good conscience pretend to be heterosexual. Days later, they informed her that the following would happen:

  • She was suspended from membership pending a time when she would publicly repent.
  • The Elders would read the notice of her suspension from the pulpit.
  • All members of the congregation–including her family members–would be told if they saw her or spoke to her they could only bring up the issue of her sin. They could not be friends with her or talk casually with her.
  • If she repented, she would never be allowed to do children’s or teen ministry. This was to prevent her from influencing young children toward lesbianism in the future.

She got angry at the church, God, and her family–who indeed shunned her–and vowed to never go to a church again. That was seven years ago. She has kept part of her bargain. She does not go to any church. She only speaks to her older brother, the only non-Christian in her family.

But after several years of getting angry at God she has changed her mind. She has read several books on alternative understandings of LGBTQ theology. She has talked to many believers who do not feel the same way as her church about these issues, regardless of whether they are Affirming. She now believes God probably doesn’t endorse the way she has been treated.

But after being away from God for seven years, she doesn’t know how to re-establish connection and a relationship with God.

She struggles because she has jettisoned a literal reading of the Bible, a Christian code of ethics and sexuality, evangelical political and cultural norms, and most of her parents’ beliefs on heaven, hell, and authority.

But she still believes in a Creator-God and she still believes Jesus is the savior.

She is one of many who have asked how they can reconnect with God after throwing out evangelicalism and organized church. This is not an easy thing to do, as everyone who has tried it can testify.

Some people walk away from the church because they were abused by a pastor or church leader.

Some run away because when that leader was confronted, the church rallied around the leader and laid more grief on the victim.

Others saw hypocrisy, hatred, alt-right political positions, spousal violence, xenophobia, gun violence, and Complementarianism either taught outright or winked at.

There are also conscientious theologians in churches who see the circular logic of Inerrancy, or who cannot stomach the disconnect between Science and the Bible as their church taught it, or see a permanent distance between a God of love and the God of Eternal Conscious Torment.

People leave church–and people leave Christianity.

The author Anne Rice, a Catholic, wrote this several years ago:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

For whatever reason people leave the Church and/or Christianity, there are some who do not leave God. But because they learned God from Christianity, it is hard to separate God out enough from his proponents to form a meaningful relationship. Some do not.

Some cannot bring themselves to believe in God because their entire church anguish is irrevocably tied up with God.

To help understand that, listen to one victim of child sexual abuse. Though this is not about God, it draws a parallel emotional picture with someone struggling with abuse in church, and whether to believe in God:

“I was dragged weekly down to the basement of our house where I was molested, beaten, and even raped. I have done a lot of work to not hate my Dad. I have done even more work to be able to finally function as a healthy adult. But damn it, don’t tell me I have to have anything to do with my mother who let the whole thing happen.”

For many, God is that parent who let the whole thing happen.

This article is not telling anyone they have to have a relationship with God. But if, after all the struggles, you still believe in God and want to re-connect somehow, what can you do?

This is not a definitive list. But it probably will help get the reader unstuck.

1. Get it all out.

You can’t reconnect with God if you keep pretending you are not angry with God. Spend some time, maybe a lot of time, telling God how you feel. Anger is only part of it. Add your disappointments, your fears, your confusion, your sense of injustice. Perhaps write it down or put it on a recording of some kind. There are some who have used art, poetry, and podcasts to empty out the feelings.

Like Forrest Gump who, after his grief, ran and ran until he was tired, keep getting it all out until you’re tired of doing that. Then you know it is done. It doesn’t matter how long this part takes. Do whatever you want with all of it: Collect it, distribute it, burn it, read it over–it doesn’t matter. It’s yours.

2. Tell someone else as much of your story, or as little as you like.

If you do this step, make sure the person you first tell is as safe as you can find, and that they know ahead of time what is expected. You don’t want them to fix you, agree with you, disagree with you, defend God, attack God, or any other reaction of that type. You want them only to understand what you’re saying. When you do this, find another person with whom to do it again. Then again. And again. Some become writers to do this.

Last year, Jennifer Fox wrote a mini-series called “The Tale” which stars Laura Dern, and has been hailed as a masterpiece of television. It is a story of how when Fox was 13, her equestrian coach and the coach’s boyfriend embroiled her in a bizarre sexual assault.

Fox describes the series as more than just cathartic. It resulted in the ability to get to know her own self better. Even though the television story is a little different than her real story, it is not dissimilar. She was abused by trusted adults.

So why did she write it? In her words, it was to discover her 13-year-old self:

One day, I woke up and realized I actually didn’t know who I was at 13. I lost touch with her and didn’t know what she would say to me today or why she did what she did.

After writing the script, she admits to forming a deeper understanding and appreciation of who she was and what she had endured. This is the key to telling your story. The more your story of church, abuse, discouragement, etc. is told, the less power it has. And the more you will understand about what really happened.

3. Read what others have found.

Once you have written down–or divulged the pain in another creative stream–and told others about this pain, it might be time to let it go. You don’t ever have to. It is your choice. But it is a heavy weight to carry on one’s soul. Some people may have to negotiate with that part of you which never wants to forget what happened. You might start slowly until you feel comfortable letting some elements go. Some of these elements relate to God, so you might need help with that part.

This is the stage I suggest reading the books, blogs, essays, and songs of those who have returned to God after being away awhile. I hesitate to give the titles for you at this juncture. There are many to choose from and I don’t want to completely direct your path. You can ask others on social media who relate to this re-connecting who they found helpful. Take it slowly. Through this stage, you may see what others did to find the God of their youth, the God who wasn’t always scary.

Unfortunately, for some of you, the God you were taught was always scary and you may need to purge that God out of your system before checking out the God of peace, gentleness, and love.

One book I do suggest trying is Kevin Butcher’s book “Choose + Choose Again.” It can be cathartic and releasing, though some have found it to be too triggering.

I also find all the writings of Anne Lamott helpful for the person returning to God. Listen to this wisdom:

“This is the most profound spiritual truth I know; That even when we’re most sure that love cannot conquer all, it seems to anyway.”

4. Back into Spirituality–And God.

I never recommend a particular spiritual discipline at this point, but neither am I that guy who believes that all spiritual disciplines except bible meditation lead to demonization. I think it depends on the state of your soul. If you are seeking God, you are not going to find a snake.

Meditation, yoga, contemplation, tai-chi, mindfulness, grounding, running with spiritual purpose, speaking in tongues, dancing, energy work, and a host of other spiritual disciplines can at least open up the possibility that you can be connected to God the Spirit. John 4:24 says that God is Spirit and those who worship God should worship in spirit and in truth. Romans 8:16 says “The Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are God’s beloved children.” There is a lot going on deep in our spirit-selves that we do not tap into. Before knowing God again, know your own spirit and how it works.

If the path you go down spiritually is leading you away from God, stop going that way. If it is leading you to yearn for more of your Creator’s presence, then keep going. I’m not worried for you. You’ll figure it out.

5. Start talking again–but this time, let it be a conversation.

Jesus told his disciples that he wouldn’t leave them as orphans; he would come to them. By this he meant the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the only member of the God-trinity we will ever experience directly in this plane of existence. The Spirit of God talks deeply inside our spirit. So have a conversation. Enjoy questions and answers.

One of my clients was working through the pain of being separated from her mother at age 10. She blamed God for taking her away. As we did the memory work, we found that a part of her had decided she didn’t want to ever be close to anyone again or love anyone again. But that part of her would take over later in life and force her to cut off new people whom she really did want to know and love. She felt stuck.

We went back into this 10-year old memory together. We faced that part of her that wanted to cut off love. This part would not budge. It would not let the core of her be in relationship with anyone other than superficially.

So I asked this question to the part that didn’t want love: “Would you like to see if God’s Spirit has anything to say to you?” Surprisingly, that part really did want to hear what God had to say. Within a short time, God showed this part that even though people would be imperfect and selfish with their love, God promised never to do that. This part didn’t quite believe God, but it was willing to give God a try.

That began a two-month trial period. This “I don’t want love” part would have conversations with God’s Spirit. By the end of two months, it allowed her core to begin receiving love from God.

By the end of that year, she began to receive love from other people too.

Not everyone’s story is that neat and tidy. But talking again to God, as much or as little as you like, can bring a new appreciation for what God sounds like when the voice of the pulpit and the voices of the pew-sitters are not speaking for God.

The Five Lies that Victims Believe

falsebeliefs

In 1987, I wrote an article telling the story of four sisters who had been molested by their father. Each of them had been molested the same way. Each experienced this at the same age–he moved on from one to the next with maniacal precision. Of course, each of them had been emotionally damaged by the abuse.

I wrote the article for a psychological journal more to point out the differing outcomes of each one. Though they were all affected negatively by the abuse, they all compensated differently to it as adults. They each gave me permission to share their story since I had counseled every one through to health.

But I was intrigued by what they wouldn’t allow. Their father was still alive and still married to their mother. I had talked about the possibility of all four of them confronting him on what he had done. Though they could not have him charged because of a Statute of Limitations, they could have the satisfaction of letting him know how his crime had changed their lives. There is a healing aspect to confrontation.

But all four refused to do it. Curiously, each of them had a different reason:

  • One was afraid it would kill their sick mother
  • One felt she had somehow participated in the abuse and had no moral grounds to confront him.
  • One was sure confronting him would destroy her inside
  • The final one felt she would never be able to get the words out of her mouth.

Their unique responses to confrontation underscores how each victim experiences abuse and assault differently. But it also shows that every victim wrestles with different beliefs emerging out of the abusive situation.

Over the years, I have seen these beliefs fall into a number of predictable categories. And several of these beliefs are patently false. Here are five false beliefs that are often found with victims of abuse or assault, whether they experienced this as children or adults.

This is my fault/I am to blame

Amy was invited to go on a sleepover with her friends, so she wore a new outfit she loved. She admired how she looked in it. Her dad was supposed to drive her to the event, but he was late coming home from work. Her grandparents lived with them, and grandpa volunteered to drive Amy to her friend’s house. Along the way, he told Amy they had to make a stop. He took her by the levy road and stopped at a secluded curve. Over the next half hour, he molested her.

After the assault, he told her that she looked especially sexy in that outfit she was wearing. He let her know he couldn’t help himself when she looked like that.

Amy admitted to me in counseling that the one thing she believed coming out of that weekend is she bore the brunt of the blame because of what she wore. It was all her fault. Even when her brain told her it is ridiculous to think that any victim is at fault, she still believed it.

There is a reason for this. Victims find it impossible to reconcile how a friend or relative could hurt them. They ask the question “how could they do this?” Even though illogical, the mind gravitates to taking responsibility instead of laying the blame on the attacker.

Amy spent much of her teen and adult life living in shame. She also rarely stood up for herself in confrontations. She came to see me after a suicide attempt. Her boyfriend of two years had broken up with her and she assumed it was all her fault. Her world came crashing down. The crash, however, had started when she first accepted even the tiniest bit of responsibility for the abuse.

Something is Wrong With Me

This false belief seems like a variation of the first one, but it is much different. This belief supposes that there is something broken about us, at our core, which causes other people to do bad things.

Donald was the oldest son. His dad was an abusive alcoholic. Many times, Donald went to school with bruises and even a broken arm. He never told anyone what had happened to him, not even his mother.

When his dad started to beat on his younger brother one time, Donald stood in between and began to hit his dad. This enraged the father who beat his son unconscious. They had to take him to the Emergency Room. But even there, he told the doctors that he had been in a fight with neighborhood bullies.

From that day, Donald believed that was all he was good for–to be someone’s punching bag. Whatever he did in life, he kept being treated badly by others. As an adult, he was the scapegoat at work many times. Narcissistic bosses always picked on him.

In counseling, I asked him what he believed about himself. Here was his response: “Everyone must see this. Everyone knows there is something wrong with me. That’s why everyone treats me so badly”.

I will never be clean

Her story is like almost every girl involved in the porn industry or in stripping. She had been abused by her brother as a young girl. She remembers all the details of the many times he used her as his sex object. She played all the abuse events over and over in her mind.

She had performed as a stripper in San Francisco clubs for over two years. The club owner had insisted she get breast implants which he paid for. She did it willingly. She reasoned “I will never be clean from what my brother did to me. No matter how well I live, I am only good for one thing. Stripping was the obvious profession, and therefore implants were simply equipment for her job.

But when her boss insisted she get involved in their porn production company in order to keep her job, she came for counseling. During the first session, as she was processing her first time being abused, she admitted that was when she began to believe she would never be clean again. At age 22, she still believed it, and she lived it out every day she took off her clothes for men.

I have no control over my life

Brenda had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She washed her hands 50-100 times a day, but they never felt clean. It is commonly believed that OCD sufferers have a deep inner belief that their life is out of control. They seek to control it by repetitive activities of their own choosing.

At age 16, Brenda was date-raped. Her date, the pastor’s son, had taken her into his basement to watch television. She left dazed and confused half an hour later. He told her not to tell anyone or he would personally make her life a living hell. She never told a soul.

Her OCD started a year later.

As we processed the memory of the rape, the one belief she clung to in that moment was this: “I am not in control of my life. Other people can do whatever they want to me.” Her chosen reaction to this was to orient her life so that she planned every moment of every day. She became obsessive about her date planner and her daily duties. She never did something unless he had planned it out the day before. Eventually, most of her friends abandoned her because her day planner ruined their friendships with her.

When she got sick her second year of college, she determined never to let it happen again. She started to wash her hands after touching anything that might have germs. It didn’t help that she was a biology major and knew that almost every surface had germs.

She believed she was out of control, and she compensated by OCD. Other people may use compensating behaviors like cutting, anorexia, drug use, BDSM, lying, or abusing others. The root of it all is the idea “my life is out of control.”

No one will believe me

Janny was 10. Her uncle was one of the local sheriffs. For months, her uncle casually mentioned to her how little girls had been molested by someone and how the people who did this were not charged. One time, he told her how police officers often did this to children and no one ever believed the kids.

All of this was grooming her to accept what he did next. When he molested her the first time, he concluded by saying “no one will ever believe you if you tell them.”

She never told anyone.

At age 27, she told someone for the first time. In counseling, she revealed all he had done to her on three separate occasions. When we processed it, I asked what she believed about it all. “I could not help coming to the conclusion that if I told someone, I would be a laughing stock. No one would think a police officer would do that to a child.”

This prevented her from ever telling anyone about this abuse. It prevented her from telling people about any problem she had in life. She struggled with opioid addiction because she could not admit her problems to anyone. She came to me to counsel for the addiction, but her real problem was isolation. She assumed she was all alone with her painful memories and her lonely life.

There is a Solution to False Beliefs

I have permission to use the stories shared above. Each of these survivors came to counseling to deal with their immediate problems. They were all compensating for years of pain caused not only by the abuse but also by the false ideas they had decided to believe. Each of these ideas was embedded in the memory of the abuse and pain. This made the idea hard to dislodge, since the details of the abuse were so hard to fathom.

In therapy, we re-processed the memory with the idea that we would bring light into the dark place. As we walked through it, I would ask what was happening, what they were feeling, and what they were believing. Some of the beliefs were contextual (eg. “what they are doing is bad”, or “I am hurting”). Some of the beliefs were conclusions. Some of those conclusions were accurate. One of the survivors said he believed that his dad was an evil man. This is probably an accurate assessment.

But some of the beliefs were not accurate. Let’s take the most common one: “I must have done something to cause this.” For example, as we re-processed Amy’s memory of her grandfather’s assault, I asked her what she would say to that little girl about this belief. At first, she called the little girl a “slut” for wearing that outfit.  Then, I asked her if she would be willing to listen to what her Creator God said about the little girl.

Into her mind came a different idea. She saw that her grandfather was a man who despised everyone but himself. He hurt her. He used her for his sexual pleasure. God showed her that she had done nothing wrong. As she saw this, she stopped victim-shaming herself.

Each of the survivors mentioned in this article re-processed their memories this way. Two of them did not believe in God, but it didn’t matter. They were able to let go of the false beliefs and accept a more adult version of the events. This helped all of them to let go of their problems and start living a more healthy life.

You do not necessarily need a therapist to start doing this. Here are a few guidelines I use.

  1. If you can, have a friend with you who can monitor your progress and ask you what’s happening.
  2. If you find you get re-traumatized, then immediately stop and seek out a therapist who does some form of memory processing and/or EMDR.
  3. Go slowly so you don’t miss any of the beliefs
  4. Keep searching the memory until all of it feels settled and cared for. The only thing left may be emotions like anger, grief, and sadness. These are normal and will often dissipate once the false belief is gone.
  5. Return to the memory again some time later to see if there is any other beliefs that were subtly left over from the last time.

Why I Have Delayed Writing Lately…

This is the reason.

My new home.

I have about ten articles rumbling in my belly these days and I would love to get them all done. But a long process of extraordinary length, peppered with the occasional act of God, has made it difficult to write what I want to write.

Many of you are new to this blog and are here to read about victimization, egalitarianism, pacifism, or marriage success. And we will get back to all of those subjects shortly. But, because you’re new, I want to give you some perspective on my recent journey.

After starting a church in Sacramento in 1999 and pastoring it for 16 years, I resigned in 2015. I devoted myself to writing, teaching, and counseling. At the time, I anticipated moving to Oregon to teach in a college there. But I learned some things about the college’s viewpoints on church, counseling, and certain elements in our culture which I could not truck with. I stopped pursuing that teaching position.

We had already sold our house and moved into a rental. I wasn’t sure what I would do, so I kept doing what I was doing. Then, a church in Hayward, CA lost their pastor to cancer. They asked me to help them work through that.

That’s when the whirlwind started.

  • My counseling load exploded
  • The rental house sold
  • Our daughter moved home after finishing grad school
  • We found the perfect house. Problem: It wasn’t built yet.
  • Moved into an apartment while the house was being built.
  • Began working half the week in Sacramento, half the week in the Bay Area (70 miles apart).
  • Speaking requests increased.
  • Victim advocacy requests started to pour in.

Finally, two weeks ago, our house was completed and we began to move in. 40 years of marital stuff came from the apartment, the storage unit, and our friends’ garages.

We are now in and setting up house.

I am starting to write again with a renewed vigor.

The antics of pastoral abusers like Bill Hybels, Ravi Zacharias, Andy Savage, and several others are pissing me off.

You’re going to hear about a lot of this.

A Testimony of TPM’s Effectiveness

This was sent to me last night and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Hi Mike,
I have been set free to love and to know His love is such a way that I need to share the freeing effect and proclaim that the truth has set me free. A lot of the memories that I have visited during my theophostic sessions have had to do with my mom. I wondered how I would feel towards her when I saw her. When I went home in November I was pleasantly surprised by the feelings of love and understanding that I had for her. Then when I recently visited her and my dad, the positive feelings were still there and were even stronger. Her comments just didn’t have the same effect. I wasn’t anxious or apprehensive about what she was going to say or do. I know this is freedom that God wants for me and I can say it feels so true and real.

God is amazing and his sheep do hear his voice.

Scriptural Foundations of TPM

At the end of the 7th video of Ed Smith’s latest training series, he does a good job of laying out some of the scriptural foundations for TPM. He admits on the DVD that this list is not exhaustive and invites others to explore the Scriptures for themselves to notice how prolific is the teaching that supports TPM, God’s Voice and Lie-based thinking.

So, after talking about scriptural underpinnings with the latest training group, I decided to list several key scriptures that I use in explaining TPM to someone who is new to the prayer ministry. Continue reading “Scriptural Foundations of TPM”

Group Theophostic

Some of you are part of my prayer team for teaching, so this story will not be entirely new. But this week I am teaching at the Youth With a Mission Base in Lakeside Montana. My topic is “Hearing God’s Voice” and how that relates to prayer and Christian Living. One of the events of the week is a time when I do an evening teaching. It is often preceded by worship. In the past, this has often been a time where God shows up and brings a manifestation of His Presence on the students and the staff. At least, that has been the case most years I speak here.

Wednesday night was awesome. God’s Presence was a tangible reality and it seemed like His love and joy were becoming more intense every minute. Several students were feeling overwhelmed with God and crying, laughing, shaking and repenting all merged together. At one point, a young girl got up and stood on her chair. She said that the Lord had been expressing his love to her, but her heart didn’t believe it. Now, you need to remember that I wasn’t teaching on Theophostic or lie-based thinking at all. She declared in front of the entire class that she wasn’t coming down until her heart believed what her head did. I knew if I didn’t jump in, she was going to be up there for a long time.

However, before I could go over and help her with reaching to the point of her lie, she invited anyone else who felt the same way (lies that were getting in the way of the Truth) to bring their chair over and make a stand. Four other girls did the same thing. That made me turn around and go back to where I had been kneeling. After all, you can’t do TPM with five people at the same time, right?

I apparently don’t know the power of God or the effectiveness of what I believe. The Lord pushed me over to the group and had me do a 10-second explanation of what we were going to do. I asked them to focus on how the lie felt inside. Several of them became very emotional. I asked them all if they wanted to go to the source of the pain and the lie. They all agreed. We waited on the Lord as He showed them each memories where the pain emanated from. I then asked them if they felt this belief was true. They all did. Then I invited the Lord to come into each memory and speak to them. As I said this, it seemed like chaos began to reign. One girl fell off the chair. Another began to rejoice and the other three were crying uncontrollably. One by one, I asked them what the Lord showed them. It was completely the Voice of God for every one of them. By the end of the time, all of them had been set free from lies and reported peace in the memories. They all said they felt that their head and heart were in agreement.

All of this took about 20 minutes. God is so effective. It makes me believe that I probably don’t believe that God can do anything. But I am becoming a believer more every day.