Saturday, September 6, 2008

Abusive Love

[EDIT NOTE: I have added to the end of this post at 3:30 my time.]

This one has been difficult to start. I have wrestled with wondering if I am off in dangerous places and if so, why would I want to lead others there with me... but in the end, this is where I am and writing about what I see is the whole point, right? I will state this caveat up front. This is only the churches I have had experience with. I pray there are churches out there that do not do this....

So, what do I mean by "abusive love?" There are so many things that could fit under this heading. But I am going to focus on one thing in particular. I notice it most in the church. In essence, it is using the threat of being out of God's will with if you don't walk in love.

Hmm... I recognize this more and more in the church the more I am removed from it. There is this idea that in order to 'walk in love,' we have to be nice all the time. What do I mean? Okay, it isn't nice to tell someone they have upset you or hurt you. I heard the misuse of this verse - "Love covers... just walk in love" - so much it makes me want to puke. 

Okay. How do I get this from my head into words. Hmm... within the the church culture, there is a theme of 'walking in love' that says you 'love your brothers and sister in Christ' no matter what. You must always forgive and overlook hurts and love covers, it doesn't expose. Hmm... how to convey what I see... Okay, it has been created into this thing that is like a code of silence. It stretches to the place where if you speak up and say,"Hey, that's not right," you are accused of attacking.

Love is a foundational element to the Christian faith. Love is what moves Papa to act. Love is what moved Jesus to act. But I don't think, from my own limited experience, that the church really knows what love means - what it is - what it does. I think they try, as they do with so many things, to use the concept of love to modify people's behavior. And if people behave civilly and are nice to each other, that is all most churches really care about. 

They take it to another level when they tell the people that if they are doing this or not doing that, the are not walking in love. It creates a climate of fear. People become afraid of being accused of not walking in love, so they stuff the pain or anger when someone hurts them. Hmm... there is a woman in the church that I left. She was also a leader. And she was a bossy, controlling type. And her love walk was her pride and joy. Anytime someone did something she didn't like, she would say, "I'm maintaining my love walk. So I'm letting that go." Hmm.. how paradoxical - that walking in love can become all about her and not about others... She was also the love walk police. She would admonish everyone to 'maintain their love walk.' Argh!

I digress. This is an attitude that I see in a general way in the church. And as I said, it is more about behavior modification than building relationships - with each other and with God. 

But if the leadership of that church has an abusive bent...

This is where it can get really twisted. (Like the above isn't bad enough.) An abusive pastor will use a profession of love to disguise their true intent. I think, after a while, they even convince themselves that their lies are truth. The greatest way to mask emotional abuse is to tell someone that you love them. My former pastor says from the pulpit - and makes sure it is in all the church literature - that he loves people. (Don't let me get diverted on the issue of how he loves his female flock...) But his actions belie his words. When the truly desperate come into that church looking for help, they are either turned away or become the pet project. But the congregation says, "yes, we're all about loving people." But they don't. They just talk about how wonderful it is to be about that. And if the pastor is accused of wrongdoing, they exclaim, "He couldn't do that. He loves people." Hmm... 

I was reading a comment on another blog that is devoted to abuse in the church - Because It Matters - and in it, the commenter implied that if a church was not busy doing missions and outreach, it was not really a church and should get over itself. Now the church he was talking about was one that formed from members of another church in which the pastor was caught having sex with a teenage member and those who tried to expose it were kicked out - including the teenager and her father. They then began their own church. They had, apparently, done some outreach type of work at first, but then chose to hold off on that until they were settled with a location and leadership, etc. Doing this meant they were not really a church?

And this brings me to the crux of the matter, I think. The church, as a whole, in my observation, tends to eat its wounded. They are so afraid of appearing imperfect to the 'outside world' that they throw their wounded to the wolves and put up walls to protect the wolves among them. And when you try to talk about it in a public forum, you are accused of being unchristian, heretical, heathen, or anything else they can think of... you are not walking in love because love forgives and love covers.

Yes, love does cover. But it does not enable. Here's how I see the concept of love covering: it is when someone falls into a mud puddle and asks for help - wants out of the puddle but can't get out on their own. Love reaches out a hand and helps them out of the mud and takes it's cloak and covers them up until they can get cleaned up to cover the shame of being covered with mud in public. What love is not is throwing a cloak over and covering up someone who jumps into the mud puddle and splashes around and grabs passersby and pulls them in. Love covers, it doesn't expose? My pastor, when I confronted him with what he was doing, actually said that God would not expose sin that way. Really? Ask Ananias and Sapphira. Ask King David. I think, sometimes, love must expose.

Until the church learns to love those within its four walls - especially the ones it has wounded, it has no business taking a false love to the world. It is like a form of love (a cardboard caricature, if you will) that denies the power of God's real love. Those outside the church  smell the fake a mile away - and run. 

So I guess I have this question for the church - I'm calling the church out: what is more important - your image or the people that are wounded in your midst? Is it okay to wound and leaving bleeding by the side of the road, covering up the actions of the wounders, for the sake of appearances?

And by the way, as to your image... this behavior of eating your wounded is visible from the outside and it has done more to damage to the church's image than anything else I can think of.

[I would like to add that I believe there is an example of a church who gets this. Kathy Escobar at the Refuge in Denver gets it. And pays a heavy price sometimes for living it. My hat is off to you, Kathy. And my prayers for your strength and peace and grace to carry you through till you are done.]


BloggerT7165 said...

What a great post and please know that many people have these same thoughts. I was just reading a piece on EthicsDaily where Lifeway (of the SBC) did a survey of the "unchurched" which they say is about 20% of Americans (thats about 61 million people) The part I found interesting is this

Seventy-two percent of the unchurched believe in God or a Higher Power, and the same number complains that religious institutions are full of hypocrites.

For example, over half of those surveyed said, "Christianity is more about organized religion than about loving God and loving people." We want to love God and one another, but religion no longer seems to be the place where we learn how.

So according to them more than 31 million people are having the same thoughts.

BloggerT7165 said...

Katherine I have made a post today on my Blog and I hope that in some small way it can help you. If you have the time i hope you can read it.

Stormchild said...

Hi Katherine

Wonderful post!

What you are describing is definitely not love in any form. It's, among other things, "cheap grace".

It has nothing to do with any kind of spiritual growth - for the individual or that church - and everything to do with preservation of an image and avoidance of unpleasant realities.

In other words, it's about denial, and it comes from dysfunction.

The survey response quoted by bloggert7165 is absolutely right, but I'd go even further:

Christianity [mainstream American Christianity, anyway] has become more about organized religion than about God... true; but go beyond that. Organized religion is all too often not about religion, but about the organizers.

In other words... the churches where these things happen, where it's all about image all the time, aren't churches at all. They're not temples to God; they're temples to some person or group in that particular "church". To his or her or their 'image'.

Once you see it from that perspective, a lot of the confusion falls away.

It becomes quite clear, for instance, why such a "church" won't minister to its own wounded with anything but savagery: there's nothing in that kind of ministry that can be bragged about to the membership, and really, such a church is mostly interested in bragging and image-burnishing. So... anyone who threatens to divert time and resources from the bragging and image-burnishing is naturally going to be treated as an impediment at best, if not an outright enemy.

It also becomes clear precisely why any substantive discussion of problems and conflicts is evaded - strenuously: because any such discussion is going to (a) be work, and (b) involve taking a good look under the surface of things. Once you start looking underneath the rocks, who knows what might come crawling out?

And of course, the easiest way to enforce this mentality is by convincing the congregation that denial and enabling are loving and godly, while facing reality with courage and clarity is unloving and ungodly.

Sounds a lot like a dysfunctional family, doesn't it? There's a good reason for that.

Katherine Gunn said...


Thanks for the link and the comment. I'm not surprised that that is what people say. I've heard first hand.


The particular church I left.. what you describe is a very accurate depiction of that place. But I think, in a broader sense, this mentality has crept into the church at large. And as I write this, I am looking at myself, too. I've been there and done it - bought the concept that we have to be hard to keep from being taken advantage of.

And I was faced with a challenge this morning right in line with this. I went to a church for the first time in months - a friend was in town and speaking as the guest minister - so I went to show support, etc. And at the end of the service, I was sent by a friend to pray for someone up front (he had had people praying for each other) and this turned out to be one of those people who challenges you patience. And I still am not sure if she was genuine of deluded and telling fantasies. And I'm not sure that really matters at this point. She was telling me her whole life story. And I understand where she's at. She wanted my phone number and I was not comfortable with that. So... I will go back to that church in a couple of weeks and see... and this is messing with me a little. Hmm... and I prayed for her... and her children... and Papa, help.

Sue said...

Good stuff, KG.

"Those outside the church smell the fake a mile away - and run. "


Thank God.

Ahh, the irony!

How hard it is to tease out all this stuff, huh?

Katherine Gunn said...


It is hard to tease it out. There is still some good old pentecostal guilt trying to chastise me for speaking ill of the church. Ah, well. As much as it seems that it would be easier to just walk away and say 'fuck it all,' I can't. If I don't tell what I see, I am no better than those who stay and don't tell what they see... or refuse to see.

Amy said...

Great blog!

Sigh...I agree with everything here.

I believe many Christian institutional "churches" are no longer making a positive impact on society. In fact, I'm convinced they (congregations) are making a harmful/negative impact on society now.

I'm convinced that Christians, like myself, are waking up to this reality in droves, and thus...are leaving the buildings in order to save their faith and walk in a more loving, authentic and intimate relationship with God...that the "traditional church buildings/systems/programs" only hindered and hurt.

~Amy :)

Tyler Dawn said...

Hey hon,

It's pure manipulational behavior control.

One of the comments I made to my mother years ago when I left and she was worried, was that I was amazed at how blind I had become to truth once entering into the church doors. I thought I was buying eye salve, but in truth I started to ignore those things which were evident to me when I was on the outside -- hyprocrisy, the lack of love, the judgmental attitudes, and the manipulation. They are clear to those on the outside. We think that we are buying white robes, but instead have bought garments made of invisible fabric. Being that only those in the church have the audacity to claim that they are white when it is clear that they are transparent.

Funny thing, now when my mom has a question about God she does not go to anyone in her church and hasn't for a couple of years now. She comes to me, not because I know so much, but because I am willing to push her in the direction of God and to admit when I am clueless. Freedom is contagious.

Katherine Gunn said...


Yeah. It is sad. But Papa is not knocked off His throne and He knows how to talk to people... and He is.


Yes. Freedom is contagious. And I want to be a carrier. I felt like I came a little close to wielding a baseball bat with this post, but hopefully, it was still just a screwdriver... dismantle, not destroy what people are leaning on.

Robert said...

very well written and thought out katherine I am still in leadership in the IC and hope to be an agent of change and relationship building as I make my way on my journey It is a hard thing as you dwescribe so profusely so often, to get past the masks and the image as opposed to the guts down deep. I hope you continue sharing just as you are doing it touches very profoundly!!

Katherine Gunn said...


Thank you. God's Grace to you on your journey.

jON said...

there is a moment all children go through, some much sooner than others, when you realize your parents aren't perfect. even worse, is when you realize they've been improvising all along.

as much i have been feeling the push from the spirit to move on, i will stop for a moment to say that i think, more than any other reason, what happened to me happened because i hit on one of the leadership's secrets that they would have preferred remain a secret.

which, since it was a secret, made it that easy to sweep me under the rug with people shaking their heads at the lies purported about me while disbelieveing the truth of what i was saying simply because it didn't line up with what they knew. shit, it didn't line up with what *I* knew. until the moment when it spun out of control, i would have never guessed.

yet at the same time, to be fair, i can understand why you would feel the humanistic need to cover up. to do "damage control" at any cost.

what is the life of one compared to the life of many? if uncovering this secret was rocking my world, imagine rocking the world of every single congregant. what would that do to their faith? not to mention how would they find replacements for all o fthe things that this person did for the institutional side of church. being an elder, being on the board, teaching jr high class on wednesdays, leading worship on sundays, etc. etc. the fall of a person that great would probably unravel a small congregation like that.

and it would if people placed their trust in the leaders more than god. i think leaders don't want their secrets uncovered any more than anyone else because they know exactly what kind of environment they are a part of and they don't want to be devoured any more than you and they are in a position to see that you are the one devoured instead.

is there really so little faith in the forgiveness and rgace of the flock you are in charge of? that they will not forgive you if you truly apologize?

what a horrible position to be trapped in. to have to hold onto these secrets for fear of the people you lead.

for all the pain i went through, i am now free and would not have it any other way. i can only hope that someday he will be free as well, and then we may see each other clearly and heal from past woundings.

(my duaghter is now awake, so no time to proofread. sorry. i hope it makes sense)

Danni said...

"...they try, as they do with so many things, to use the concept of love to modify people's behavior."

Tyler said what I was going to say -- this is manipulation!

What you have written is very well thought out and dead-on-target. You know the fire-storm we've been dealing with over on my blog lately and it's just a never-ending controversy. How can you make people see without them taking offense (especially when sometimes you do trip over your own zeal and overstep yourself as I did. LOL! That doesn't change the reality!)

I am de-churching in a couple weeks and it's a bit scary. More than a bit. I wish you lived around here!

-- Danni

Danni said...

Oh, yeah, the guilt thing! I keep trying to remind myself, it's not the church I have a problem with (going back to the distinction I made on my blog between capital C and small c) it is the organized institution of Church I have a problem with -- and it goes WAY back.

If you are a student of church history, there are HUGE, HUGE major segments of existing Protestant theology that exist extant from Catholic doctrine. These still remain without question, with their original roots in Aristotle's philosophy, which was adopted by early Catholic philosopher/theologians. Aristotle never made any claim to be a Christian -- hello, he lived prior to Christ! And I would venture to guess there are less than 1 in 1000 Protestant pastors who even know any of this is a fact. And that's probably a ridiculously conservative guess.

In fact, I will go futher and say that Constantine was probably the worst thing that happened to the Christian faith. He single-handedly made Christianity into an established religion, turned it into a dead and lifeless organization. Teachers of church history applaud him as the great turning point -- personally, I don't think so.

Furthermore, church history records that the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit had virtually died out by about A.D. 100. This fact did not coincide with either the death of the original apostles or the completion of the New Testament -- as commonly taught in conservative Bible colleges and seminaries in line with cessationist theology. But it does coincide with second generation Christianity, when those who did not personally know Christ began to live off the memories and traditions of the previous generation, rather than developing their own personal relationships with Him through the Holy Spirit. This is my own theory, anyway.

And it is my own theory that this is when things began to go astray. Because when people start looking to someone else to teach them the truth, error always intrudes.

We see the same thing in Exodus when the people of Israel were afraid of God and demanded that Moses go up the mountain and hear from God for them. No way were they going to hear it for themselves. And when Moses wasn't fast enough, they turned to Aaron and demanded an idol.

God wanted a personal relationship from the beginning. That's why He created Adam. That's why He sent Jesus to die. That's why He sent the Holy Spirit. That's the purpose of it all -- the very nugget, the essense, the everything. The rest of it is just window dressing. All that Churchy stuff only matters if it is accomplishing, accenting, or nourishing this ONE thing. And when it is detracting from, destroying or standing in the way of man's relationship with God - IT has become the problem.

-- Danni

Katherine Gunn said...


Hmm... most of the time, I wish the same for my past pastors. :-) Freedom did not some easy, but it is worth every bit of the process.

Katherine Gunn said...


De-churching is scary, but it is also exhilarating. When you know you're holding onto Papa's coattails and following Him... well, freedom is beautiful, even when it gets scary. ;-)

As to church history, I agree. Hmm... I wonder how many people know that the Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church are not the same thing. One of the biggest revelations that leads to freedom is the revelations that the church (believers) and the Church (the institution made by men - I don't which should be capitalized) are not the same thing. And that much of doctrine that we have been taught as Gospel is actually from men, as you said, some of whom were not even Christians. It is interesting...

TH in SoC said...

Katherine, you said that you worried about taking a baseball bat to the problems you describe. I don't think such an approach would be too harsh (but maybe I have become a bit hard-edged). After my own experience with an abusive church and with trying to find a "healthy church" in the aftermath, I am convinced that many people in Christian leadership today are hard of hearing - because if they truly listened to the victims of power abuse in churches, what they heard would threaten their desires to build up their own personal empires.

Katherine Gunn said...

th in soc~

Hmm... I didn't explain myself - or the background for that statement. Sorry. It is not that I don't have a desire to take a baseball bat to the religious boxes. As I began to see how I had been used and manipulated and abused, I was pissed. And I asked Papa, "Can I please take a baseball bat to the religious boxes?" And He said, "No. But you can use a screwdriver and a wrench. If you destroy the boxes that people are leaning on too suddenly, they will fall and be hurt." The concern is not so much for the leaders as the people they are leading. Sigh.

TH in SoC said...

I appreciate your compassion. By the way, I enjoyed your post.

Katherine Gunn said...

th in soc~
Thanks. ;-)

lietofine said...

I've seen this in families as well as church people (although maybe not enough "closeness" in the churches I've been in to see it in a church environment). It's a really hard tension for me to see a balance in between calling people on things that are wrong vs. "loving people" so much that nothing is ever dealt with. It seems most church people I've met take both extremes, but have a very hard time finding a middle ground. And I still have the guilty feeling anytime I don't feel like "being nice" to someone...especially when people can justify hurting you "in the name of love" but if you're anything but happy and nice you're not being a good Christian.

Katherine Gunn said...


Hmm... the psychological term for that is putting someone in a 'double-bind,' i.e. 'damed if you do, damned if you don't.' It is a common thing in abusive families and churches and other groups where control is an issue...

BloggerT7165 said...

I saw this on one of the blogs I visit and wanted to share it with you:

“Religion is like Baskin-Robbins, and God is like ice cream.”

Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream, but even if you taste them all, you still have no idea what ice cream itself tastes like. The flavors mask the actual taste of ice cream. In fact as far as Baskin-Robbins is concerned there is no such thing as “ice cream itself.” If you order ice cream they want to know what flavor ice cream, and if insist that you don’t want a flavor of ice cream but ice cream itself they have nothing to offer you.

When it comes to Baskin-Robbns ice cream I prefer mocha almond. Imagine you and I go to a Baskin-Robbins, and you order strawberry, and I say, “No, that’s wrong. You are wrong to order strawberry. True ice cream is mocha almond; anything else is something else. If ice cream is what you want, mocha almond is what you must get.” You’d think me mad.

We are all looking to taste the ice cream but as unique individuals unique flavors of the ice cream appeal to us.

Katherine Gunn said...


I think we read the same site. LOL!

I like this analogy, though. Thanks for sharing it.

Valorosa said...

God is love

Until we understand that definition of love instead of making it everything else, we struggle.

Love is not an adjective.
It is an entity ... It is God.

So in this definition there is freedom and there can be no abuse.

If there is abuse of any kind there is no love ...

I understand what you are saying here .. may I add one thing to the mud puddle story ... love looks at the one in the mud puddle and if they don't want to get out of the mud still stays by their side and loves them anyway.

Love is purely God and there is no darkness in it.

There is no such thing as abusive love.

I hope you are ok with me saying this. I know it sounds like I am contradicting you ... not what I mean to do. ;-)

It is just what I have come to know.

Katherine Gunn said...


I don't mind you saying it. :-)

Actually, part of the point I was making was that what a lot of churches put forth as love is not love - it is abusive under the guise of a religiously phony thing called love.

As to the mud puddle illustration, I understand what you're saying, but from my experience, love must also hold accountable for actions that are willfully harmful to others and willfully continued in the face of attempted correction. The background that I have come out of was such that love was supposed to ignore it when others did harmful things - just love them. My point was that love does not enable people to continue to do evil without any confrontation - not talking about just making mistakes, which we all do all the time. I'm talking about willful evil - abuse. Love does not enable this. Love confronts it. I think if the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees - confrontational in the face of their abusive behavior toward the people. This did not mean He did not love them. He did, as He so eloquently showed on the cross when He asked the Father to forgive them. But to see evil and overlook it in the name of love can give the impression to those watching (including the one doing the evil) that you believe the evil is okay.

Anyway.... my thoughts at this time. ;-)

placeofgrace said...

How are you doing, still working hard? How is the new (nearly old) home?
Been missing you

Katherine Gunn said...

Hey, Anette!

I'm doing okay. Still working through some stuff inside, and working hard - putting in some overtime to make up for and unexpected expense that came up last week.

I like my home. It is full of unexplainable peace - almost tangible peace. I am grateful. I have been given a refuge, what I have needed for so long. And it is good.

I've been thinking of you guys and missing you, too.