Dawn B's Assemblies of God Experience
I am so thankful that I found your website about abuse in churches. It was very helpful reading about so many others that had been through similar to almost identical situations. So, I needed to write and tell you about my experience. This letter might be a little long, but I condensed it as much as possible.
My experience of spiritual abuse took place in the Assemblies of God Church. My parents divorced when I was young, and my parents gave up parental rights of my siblings and me to our paternal grandparents.
Our grandparents had just started going to a new church in town called the Assemblies of God. From the age of four until my mid twenties, I was in this religion. It caused my siblings and I much grief and anguish, but by the grace that only Jesus can give, two of the four of us still have a relationship with God. (We still pray for our the salvation of our other siblings.)
My grandparents totally involved themselves in the AOG. They were very strict with us, and eventually physically abusive. My younger brother and sister most of all, would receive horrible beatings and I would bandage them up, and help dry their tears. We were beaten, yelled at, called "good for nothing lazy bums", and other more choice names, emotionally abused, sexually abused, and not allowed to do anything that "normal" kids do. There was no kindness or gentleness, no kisses goodnight. No hugs or pats on the back, nor approval of any kind that would validate us as human beings. Most of all, there was no love.
The church fed my grandparents' beliefs of "spare the rod, spoil the child", and we lived in constant fear. We were afraid of our abusers, afraid of the church, and of course, afraid of God. (In Sunday school, at five years old, the AOG Sunday school taught me that God had a big book in Heaven, and every time we did something wrong, He put a big black check mark beside our names, and that some of us had a lot of check marks beside our names. I lived in terror that God was a mean nasty person that loved to put big black marks next to our names.) Even as a small child, I understood the sermons about how people should follow the ten commandments, and scriptures, and wondered why our grandparents never seemed to realize that what they were doing was wrong.
Anyway, years later, as an adult in a new state and after leaving the AOG church, I got in touch with the pastor's wife at the church I attended as a child and revealed to her the abuse that we endured. She replied, "I hope you don't think that there was anything that I could have done. I always suspected that something was going on in your household, but I was afraid to say anything because I didn't want your grandparents to take you kids and leave the church". I was horrified, because we were so afraid, and longed for someone, anyone, to notice what was happening to us. If she would have only spoken up and said, "you can talk to me at anytime", we would have been so grateful. We prayed for God to give us an opening somewhere, so that someone would find out the truth. It never came. No one ever helped. I even told my father when I was around fourteen and he and my stepmother did nothing even though they lived next door.
Most of our lives were spent either at home, church or school. Sunday mornings, nights, and Wednesday nights, as well as any other meetings or practices that were scheduled, were always attended. We were taught that almost everything was a "sin". At the youth meetings, I remember all the sins being written on a blackboard, and we were told about these often. The BIG sins were "obvious" such as, smoking, dancing and drinking, but also were school events, parties, wearing make-up, wearing certain clothing, watching television, listening to "secular" music, listening to "wrong" radio stations, movies, bowling, playing pool, playing cards, roller skating, "mixed" bathing (gals and guys), associating with "sinners", dating non-Christians, and a host of other things I can't think of at this moment. Almost everything was a sin and it was our "duty" as Christians to tell everyone else that "they" were sinning.
These are the instructions we were given as to why. "We can't do these things because when sinners see us doing these things they will question us as to whether we are real Christians or not". But, even as a child, I would question in my mind, (never out loud) "if the sinners didn't know that THEY were sinning, how could they tell that WE were sinning? This question never was answered.
Still, the AOG are very good at answering any question that a "sinner" might ask. They had a comeback for everything, very much like the Jehovah's Witnesses, but since we were told not to associate with sinners, it was very hard to witness to them, because we were so scared of them. It was easier to get them to come to the church and put pressure on them to join, and then it was easier to witness when we had others around us for support. (We were NOT taught that WE were sinners, too.) We were now "saved". Since then, I have learned that God is not in a box, but we can easily put him in one. He is much bigger and wiser than we ever gave him credit for. I also now believe that being "saved", is not a one time, forgiven all, forever thing. I think we need to ask forgiveness A LOT. Even on a daily basis, because we are very imperfect, and need God's help for everything we do.
We were always taught everything in FEAR. Given the family life I came from, the church just added salt in the wounds by adding fear on top of fear. Another fear issue was the second coming of Christ. We were all convinced that we were going to "miss" the second coming of Jesus, So, we had better do everything they said, so that we could go to heaven when the trumpet sounds. I heard many AOG preachers talk about "scaring" people away from the devil, and towards God. We didn't need any more fear in our young lives; we had had enough already. We desperately needed to know that someone loved us, especially God.
Every aspect of our lives had to come under the submission of the AOG. Who we dated, whom we married, and even what professions we went into. My older sister wanted to be an airline hostess at the time, and was accepted at an airline school. This had to go before the board and pastor, and had to be discussed and "approved". They told her that she could be a stewardess if she did not serve alcohol. She completed school, but married an AOG guy from our church, and never did get to fly. (To the pleasure of the church.) But, even to get married, she had to go before the church and get approval. Since our grandparents did not like the man she was dating, our minister would not do the ceremony. He didn't want the conflict of two sets of parents in his church. My sister went to him and he apologized, and thanked her for letting him "not" marry them. They went to a neighboring AOG and got married, but I was not allowed to attend. My sister's new husband ended up abusing her. He also said, "he was called to be an AOG minister", which didn't go very well; he neglected all of his children, had affairs their entire marriage, and my sister eventually divorced him after 20 years of marriage.
Since the church told us that we could only marry within our own faith, the only people that we dated were other AOG young people. Many marriages that took place eventually ended in divorce and since there was nowhere to "go on a date", many of the youth were parking in cars and having premarital sex, along with other things. There were many girls in our church that were pregnant when they married. (In two different churches, in two different states, just from my own experience.) It would have been better if we could have been using up our energies doing fun things, like bowling, ballroom dancing, roller-skating, and all the things that were so "evil". I believe it would have helped defer a lot of unwanted pregnancies, and early marriages.
Another teaching of the AOG is that all boys are raised to be pastors, and the girls are raised to want to be pastor's wives. The ultimate calling was of course to be a missionary, or a contemporary gospel singer/musician. The best part was to be "well known". Bigger was always better. More was always the objective. And of course the ONLY right church in the world was the Assemblies of God. Even within our own ranks, our own individual church was "more right" than the neighboring AOG church. This was an "unsaid" thing, but was often "joked about", openly. Sermons were at least two hours in length; just the ministers part, and it was not a "Holy Ghost" inspired sermon unless the preacher had a microphone in his hand, yelling at the top of his voice, kicking his leg out, shaking a Bible in the air, pacing back and forth on the platform. This is where Hollywood gets its versions of what being a Christian is. I'm not saying that ALL these things are bad. But, there sure is a lot of questionable behavior in charismatic denominations. Since then, I have heard sermons in several denominations full of comfort, peace and solace in quiet, tender and gentle manners of speaking, touching many people in many ways.
When my younger siblings and I were teenagers, we went to live with our mother in another state; and started attending an AOG church there. I started dating a guy at this church, whom I eventually married. But, after being raised with abuse, I married an abuser. (This happens frequently.) Of course I married within the AOG church, and in doing so, marriage would just "work out". We had no premarital counseling or instruction. My husband abused me in many ways. He hit me often, sexually abused me every night, yelling and cursing at me daily. I went to the pastor that married us and told him the abuse, and that my husband repeatedly threatened to KILL me. The pastor said, "a soft answer turneth away wrath", and also told me "not to do anything to make my husband upset". But EVERYTHING made my husband upset (like many abusers). I was young, confused, hurt beyond belief, cried constantly, and wondered why I had to obey so many rules, when my husband and the men of the church didn't have to obey the same rules as the wives and women.
So, I was the obedient "submissive" Christian wife, that I was instructed to be, and stayed with this man so that I wouldn't go against the will of God. "God hates divorce" I was told. We still stayed together and had two children. My husband was also seeing another woman, and had a couple affairs before that. We started going to a different AOG church. But after six years of horrible abuse and physical torture from this man, I went again to a second AOG pastor for help. This pastor told me that "I" was the one who needed help, and he was going to send me away to an AOG mental health clinic in the Midwest. I WAS DEVASTATED! A minister that was supposed to be "Spirit filled" could not discern that I was being horribly abused and that he was being manipulated. That was the deciding factor for me, that night.
The worst part of the abuse was the sexual part. It was like being raped every night. My husband told me about his homosexual fantasies. My self-esteem as a woman was shattered even more. I could have even dealt with that, but I could not deal with him abusing our children. THAT was REALLY hurting me.
My next-door neighbors (we lived in a duplex) used to hear our fights, and hear the walls being punched, things broken, my husband screaming, and him beating our animals. They kept telling me to get out before it was too late.
Preachers in the AOG are above reproach. We were taught, "do not raise your hand against the Lord's anointed". So, no one ever questioned a preacher about anything. He was next to God, and closer to God than the rest of us. We could never reach the level that they were at, and their wisdom was not to be questioned, because they were "led by the Spirit". The night this "minister" who was "led by the Spirit," who wanted to send me away and give my girls to a crazy, drugged out, cheating husband, was the night I made the decision to get a divorce. My neighbor was so relieved. Other church members sided with my ex-husband. I was talked about, plotted against and had angry calls made to me. I was told that I was going against the will of God, and that a woman's place was in the home. Lies were told about me, and I lost all my friends, stopped going to church, and couldn't even bear to listen to Christian music anymore. Having been a musician most of my life, and having played for the AOG church, giving of my talents to the Lord, and playing for no salary or income of any kind, which was very hard. (They do not pay musicians in the AOG.) I felt like every area of my life was being destroyed. Everything I loved and trusted had been ripped away, but little did I know that it was just the beginning of the best thing that ever happened to me.
During my divorce, I couldn't bear the thought of going to church. I was living with my mother and stepfather with my two small children, and working my head off. My mother and stepfather were also in the AOG church, but I couldn't bear the thought of going, even though I went occasionally.
I was now at the ripe old age of 25. After many years of tears, pain and loneliness, I started reading the Bible voraciously and begged God to help me. The Lord started to teach me what love really was. I was praying and crying every night, alone in my room, pouring out my heart and soul to Him. In the scriptures, I read a lot about LOVE. God began to show me what love was, and what it wasn't. I had a lot of forgiving to do. Even though I had been abused since childhood, I had to forgive my abusers before I could begin a healing process. I never thought I would stop crying, and asked God many times if He could help take the sorrow and grief away. But, the pain was something that had to be worked through. It took many years to develop and it would take some time to heal. I know that God can also heal things "instantly", but things of the heart, mind and soul, are often not healed in what we would consider a "timely" way. I also had to learn about the psychology of abuse, and my own participation in abuse and how to change old learned behavior patterns.
Then, the Lord brought someone new into my life. He was the epitome of what we were told was a "sinner". He was an Italian, Catholic musician. (A drummer, no less.) This did not go over well with my mother, but there was something about him that was different. In fact, I met him in a bar. (I don't recommend this as a way to meet potential spouses.) But, it does prove that God can go into a bar if he feels like it, and work things out in unique and surprising ways.
To make a long story a little shorter, I ended up marrying this man. And, a Catholic non-church going family loved me back to life. I watched these people who were living their lives, who treated me very well, which started me on a quest to learn as much as I could about people, different denominations, and life in general. I discovered that often people who were "in the world" treated me much better than many people "in the church". It was confusing and enlightening at the same time.
God helped keep me from destroying myself by means of drugs or alcohol or other things that I could have escaped into. I take no credit for this. I believe it is only by the grace of God, and because I wanted to please HIM more than anyone on earth. People have done terrible things just because of one tragic thing in their lives, let alone an entire lifetime of non-stop trials. There are many other outrageous things that took place in my life, but it's too long to go into now.
I am still married to my drummer, and have been married many years now. But, even when we first got married, we attended an AOG church. My new husband hadn't been in a Protestant church. He is a phenomenal musician. He has his masters in music and almost finished with his PHD in music education. We tried to get involved in the music at the AOG church, but the minister of music (who was the pastor's son), who never went to music school, told us that this was impossible. My new husband played the "wrong" type of music outside of the church. (He had a band that played for parties, weddings, and such.) Plus, did many other types of music, in many venues, and was a music teacher in a local high school, and a local university. We were told that to be a part of the music in the AOG you could only do Christian music. This is ABSURD! If your profession is in music, having degrees in music, you HAVE to do more than just Christian music, especially if you are a music teacher, and also IF YOU WANT TO EAT.
Why do the musicians have to obey this crazy rule? If you are a plumber or electrician, (in which you have to have a degree or be certified), do you only fix things in Christian households? Does this also mean if you are a doctor, surgeon or nurse, you can only work on Christian patients? Or if you are a salesperson, you can only sell items to Christian customers? OF COURSE NOT! This can be applied to any and all professions.
Jesus Christ said to be "IN the world, but not OF the world" He went to sinner's houses to eat, and had compassion on prostitutes and the infirm. He let a prostitute wipe his feet with her hair. Can you imagine an AOG pastor letting THAT happen? Jesus was not worried about his own sexual reaction to the woman, and he knew that she genuinely wanted to change her ways. I know that ministers today have to be careful about dealing with the opposite sex. But to totally ignore sexual issues altogether is detrimental to the congregation, and it has caused heartaches in churches because the leaders of the churches won't talk about these issues.
I also know an AOG minister who prides himself in never having had any alcohol. "Not one drop of alcohol has ever passed these lips", he would say. But, in the last pew of the church sat a man who has been a recovering alcoholic for most of his life. I used to feel terrible for him because of the verbal assaults he would get every week. There seemed to be no redemption for "alcoholics, prostitutes, and homosexuals", and horrible sinners like that. I often wanted to tie the preacher to a chair and pour a beer down his throat so that he could stop bragging about how he had "never drank alcohol". But, every week I felt so sorry for the man in the back row. I didn't stay at that AOG church either.
Christians need to be everywhere, especially in the arts. But, because we were also taught that if you worked for a Christian company, you were better off, and of course, closer to God. I totally disagree with this now. Believers need to be in every profession. Because many Christians have pulled themselves out of the world, more evil has been allowed to take place in the work force. I believe Christians need to be as knowledgeable in as many areas as possible, and in as many professions as possible. Not isolated from people, to only associate with others like themselves.
There is one last thing I'd like to add. We were always taught that if you went through trials, God would repay you and restore what you lost, TWICE over. The story of Job would be illustrated for this. We were told that if you went through trials, like Job, God would give you double or more of what you lost.
I do not doubt that God can do this, but I do have trouble with ministers using this illustration in that fashion. First of all, Job had EVERYTHING taken away from him at ONCE. We don't know how long it took for him to get everything back, times two. But, just by doing basic math, since Job and his wife lost ten children, and then lost everything else, even when the trial was over, it took almost fifteen years just to get back ten more children. That's a long time, and a lot of child birthing. Would most women want to do that? Give birth to 20 children? And every AOG pastor angrily scorned Job's wife for wanting her husband to "curse God and die". Hey, this is a mother we're talking about. This is a mother who birthed ten children, and lost them all, so her grief was enormous. Second, I have never, ever heard this next point mentioned. Job LOST his firstborn children: all ten of them. Even though God gave him ten more, you KNOW he grieved for those lost children FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. Don't tell me that if you lost your child, (and maybe some of you have), that just because you had another, you forgot about the first one. NEVER!
Also, it probably took a very long time for him to rebuild, get sheep, goats, property, etc. But, then again, Job lived a lot longer than we do now. But, still again, it didn't make his pain any less. So, this was another guilt issue we were always dealing with, when we were going through trials. It didn't allow us pain, sorrow, human emotions, with everything else that comes with it. The main things we were taught were only what we COULD NOT DO. Very little emphasis was put on what TO DO. This made life even more difficult to live than it already was.
It's been over ten years since we left the AOG. Since then, we have attended Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Non-Denominational and United Methodist Churches. We have seen many things in these churches as well, but nothing as mentally anguishing as in the AOG. The break from the Assemblies of God was overwhelmingly devastating for me. It was like having to be de-brainwashed. The things that I had been taught were so different than what I discovered the real world to be. It felt like an entire part of me had been ripped away. You can imagine the depth of despair, and the guilt and shame I felt for believing it all. I AM grateful that during this time, I did come to know who Jesus Christ was. But it was HIS grace that kept me faithful, as well as my own personal choice.
There are still so many topics left to cover, but can't get to them on this writing. But I will talk a little about money, especially tithing. It is something that we both believe in, and were always made to feel guilty, because if we were going through trials, "it was because we weren't tithing".
So, even though we never made much money, my new husband and I tithed until we had to declare bankruptcy. We prayed, fasted, and genuinely believed that our giving would do what we were told it would do. But, no check came; no distant uncle passed away giving us an inheritance. Nothing! We are still struggling financially and we are not in debt because of credit cards and such. We just don't make enough money. We are musicians. Musicians don't get paid much, but there is a need for musicians. The Levi's were paid, and God set that up himself.
We are still in what you could call a desert or wilderness. We have had promises from the Lord, but we have yet to come to a promised land. We have gone through many emotions including joy, sorrow, bitterness, anger and hurt, but we still believe that God is in control and we still believe in Him. But believe me, even our FAITH has been SORELY tested. I hope that we have learned what God wants us to learn. We'll keep praying. Plus, we have found solace in a United Methodist Church, where I am the organist and the people are warm, friendly and genuinely work not only in the church but in the community to reach out and show God's love to as many people as possible. They constantly amaze me as I watch them do what I was always told was impossible for anyone else to do except those in the Assemblies of God. My amazement grows more each day, as does my reverence and appreciation for God's vast greatness and His deep mercy and LOVE.
Posted July 29, 2006
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August 23, 1997
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