Over the last six months there has been a lot of social media posts about deconstructing your faith. I didn’t even understand what it really meant until I delved deeper. It has been a game changer to my belief system. I’ll write about that one day soon but today I have something different to write about, maybe a tangent from deconstruction? I’m not sure, but it has been bought to light from deconstruction; religious trauma. Sound dramatic? Good! It is.
In the last few days I’ve read an article, the writer is anonymous to its audience but I know who wrote it and the church it is describing. I went to this church for 17 years. Have a read yourself before you carry on. This article is sad to read, tragic even, but is sadly only one of several hundred all varying in their severity. It sounds like something from one of those Netflix documentaries where you’re gobsmacked at what you see, and that’s not too far from the truth.
When you’re involved in a highly manipulative place you wear rose tinted glasses, even more so when that place is religious. You want to believe everything is coming from a good heart and you place your full trust in people. You’re led to believe that everything that is coming from the stage is fact and should be integrated into your life and thinking, which can be good if it IS good.
I briefly went as a young child too just to add context, so I was aware of the unfavourable characteristics one leader had due to their reputation amongst the community, they basically treated people like dirt unless you had something good to offer and if you dared question that then you were in for a rough church ride. I used to be fearful of them. I think a lot of people were, and still are, but they backed everything up with scripture and crocodile tears.
In my teens I started attending the youth group which I loved, it was somewhere to belong. We used to go along to other churches and listening to preachers, but the one thing that sticks in my mind is one of the older leaders who wasn’t part of the youth for long used to walk us into these places and shout “We’re from the I’ve got a weight problem youth group!” Luckily he didn’t lead the youth for long, two other leaders did and they were wonderful, decent humans. My youth days were ok there, purity culture was just developing and become popular in America, and we knew we shouldn’t have sex before marriage or be alone with the opposite sex, but the pressure wasn’t there until a few years later.
I started attending Sunday services more and more and soon became a partner (We had a little card membership saying we would attend and tithe etc). All seemed well.
During my teens I struggled severely with my mental health and body image. Home life was chaotic with an alcoholic father. I was not in a good place a lot of the time. The leaders were fully aware. I remember a couple of times I was taken aside with a message from a main leader saying please don’t sit in the balcony crying and hugging your friend of the same sex as you may turn lesbian and run off together. I was 14. Apparently it had happened before. I mean at the time I was shocked and felt like I had done something wrong, now I would call out the homophobia and the downright disgusting behaviour. I was desperate to belong so I kept the hurt to myself.
I joined the worship team in my mid to late teens. I carried on into my mid twenties. Singing was my passion. But it was used against me on so many occasions and for so many others too. A main leader ran this, well the aesthetic side because they had zero musical knowledge, but it was all about how it looked anyway so that didn’t matter. I was given solos on a few occasions but I didn’t jump when singing like the others so I couldn’t be prominent on the front. If you didn’t turn up in the right colour on the Sunday you couldn’t sing, if your attitude seemed off to the main leader you had a few weeks break from Sundays but still had to come to rehearsal hoping she would deem you good to be on stage that week. If you missed rehearsal you had to miss a few sundays as your commitment was questioned. I once was told to choose rehearsal over being with my 18 month old baby in hospital with pneumonia, needless to say I quit the team that day.
When I had my baby I had a few months off worship team, I was told when I’m back on track I’m welcome back. Back on track? I felt worthless. The church schedule was made to be put above my family. I knew if I questioned them then I’d be off the team for the foreseeable, it was their power. You were discarded if you didn’t live up to her unrealistic expectations. If the whole team disappointed them there would be a talk, a metaphoric AND a real baseball cap would be put on and they would be the coach doing a team talk, which translated as a slating you into the ground whilst using crocodiles tears and scriptures to justify the overreaction again. On stage all you could think about was if they happy with you or not. We would often get videoed and then watch it at rehearsal to be scrutinized. It was a highly controlled team, full of young, naïve people. You couldn’t show your shoulders or skirts had to be below knee, unless you were family, then the rules didn’t apply.
I remember once being taken for the infamous coffee and was given loving advice of not wearing the trousers I did on sunday ever again because my calves were too big! I said ok. Who even was I? This leader knew I had mental health issues and body image illnesses.
Once I confided in a leader about bulimia, they said they would help me so everyday they rang my landline after school, I was 15, and asked me if I’d thrown up that day. The shame was immense. I was petrified of that phone call, I lied all week as I was scared I’d be thrown of worship team for being off track and not good enough. After that week I wasn’t asked again, so they assumed I was cured.
The teams within the church were based on a front and a back scale. If you were seen on stage etc your every move was scrutinised and controlled, but if you were behind the scenes then they didn’t really bother you much, it’s all about how it looks you see.
I remember being asked to speak on stage about people giving their tithe and offerings, I begged people to give using some analogy I’d heard many times. Guilting people into giving their money is something I regret, but it’s a huge theme there. You’re encouraged to give your last penny, pledge thousands you haven’t got because you’re told God will provide, and people do. People sacrifice their last pound. There are often tears from the stage about how the church mortgage needs helps or tax bills, or deposits for more building work need paying and people are manipulated and guilted into giving their all, yet the leaders live in an 800k house and go on luxurious holidays and wear designer clothes. People give their last pound and the leaders prance around in JimmyChoos. It doesn’t add up. People give 10% of their salary, yet still have to pay to watch the carol concert. Even if you are in the carol concert you still have to have a ticket, this is drummed into you as soon as events are organised.
The area the church is in has a high poverty rate, people barely feed their children, yet this Christmas it was £7 a child to see Santa (who was free to hire) and £2 to even get onto the premises. Money. It is all about money. It is so sad such a big building exists within the community yet is often out of reach for a lot of them.
Promiscuity is also rife, despite the calling out of it to anyone other than relations. I get people make mistakes and need grace, but time and time again? And even when they don’t own it? Even when they look down their nose at people whilst their only achievement in life is benefitting off church money? No. I was often told I spent far too much time with my husband to be, and was told during breaks in rehearsals and on Sundays to never stand with him and find other people. That broke me, he was my security. But I had to listen otherwise I would be off worship team on sundays, that was the hold over me. If you didn’t listen it would be taken out on you in passive aggressive ways, so you would constantly live in either fear or shame or both. You could be discarded at any moment if you upset the main leaders, unless you were related of course.
I was taken off worship team for few months before I got married. I rented a house with my husband to be and he often stayed there because I was too mentally unwell to be alone, but that didn’t matter, we were called liars as we hadn’t told them and called in for a meeting to be told we were being taken off teams we were on. Apparently we were setting a bad example about sex before marriage. I don’t think they understand not everybody is obsessed with sex. Everything was black and white to them, but life wasn’t. It all boiled down to the way things appear, unless you were related. People were caught in cupboards kissing when I was there who were in relationships elsewhere, but that was brushed under the caret because it was too close to home, yet I was made to feel like a dirty piece of crap.
After a few weeks we were conned into apologising and went back to church, but wasn’t allowed back onto worship team, we had to wait for the leader to decide when we were good enough to return. I had zero self esteem and used to pray today I’ll be accepted again.
I watched people from afar sleeping with each other and texting inappropriate messages, and having secret rendezvous but they were too close to home for anything to be done about it until one day somebody got called out, but we had left by then and it was soon washed away, unlike anybody else’s so called sin, and that person once again put themselves on the high and almighty pedal stool they’d just been knocked off.
I remember once the pastor begging from stage for someone to have this young man for christmas lunch as he had nobody and nowhere to go, the guy had been at our church for years and years, he suffered with his mental health. Did the pastor have him for lunch? Did the pastor invite him to his 5 bedroom detached property? Nope he did not. That said it all to me. That is not what Jesus would have done. Yet when new people arrive into the church who have more than average money you are welcomed into their home almost instantly. Coincidence?
The leaders have a room in the church building, a designer room accessorised to the hills. They have a lavish breakfast bestowed upon them each sunday whilst volunteers who are there from 7am get half a muffin on the odd occasion or pay full whack in the overpriced coffee shop. The room isn’t accessible to others, God forbid they mingle with the commoners. It’s also ironic the food bank some of the church volunteers run off their own backs has to try and find storage for the food donated because their isn’t room in the church to store it they are told.
Over the years I’ve seen various people be taken from teams without them even being told, you’re just shunned, uninvited to things you once were. Some question it then leave, others take it on the chin because that’s just how it is there.
After sharing the article from Glamour I have had countless comments on my posts and how people have been treated and I have had countless messages off people, some I don’t even know, saying they thought it was just them and have spent years wondering and feeling worthless but now they don’t. And this is the reason I am writing this today. I spent years controlled and manipulated into thinking this is how churches are run and are a highly controlled environment where you are judged on whether or not you are good enough, but that’s the thing it’s the churches behaviour that isn’t good enough in this case.
Crocodile tears, shunning people, treating people like commodities, begging for money and then spending money like you’re a millionaire, letting promiscuity slide when it’s your relations, covering up revelations instead of owning them, coercing young people into never being alone with their partner, disowning same sex relationships, it all needs speaking up about and stopping. Your accounts need looking into.
People are still treated like dirt there. People are controlled. People are in fear of the pastors and their offspring.
Just take responsibility and own it, people would have a bit of respect for that instead of acting like the devils attacking and people are bitter. People are not bitter, people are hurt because of your behaviour and how you run a church, and it’s not isolated cases, it’s a lot of people over a lot of years and even to this present day. You are narcissists and you need to change.
People talk about revival, well here it is: now is the time people are speaking up and not letting fear control them. It is not ok anymore. You have put enough people off church for the rest of their lives, and one day let’s hope there are consequences because I feel this is only the beginning!