Another UPC Experience

by Maria

Dear Lois,

I am a current UPCI member and I stumbled upon your site, but Iím sure it was not an accident. I was very impressed with how tastefully done your site is, and that you acknowledge that not all churches are abusive but that no matter what organization you belong to, some are, and some arenít. My current UPC church is a night and day difference from the one I left in November 2005. Iíd like to share my experience with that former church because Iíve had such a hard time, spiritual dryness, anger, hopelessness, and confusion that I just feel the need to speak out and let others know that if they are feeling this, itís normal!

There are far too many churches in UPC that have pastors that abuse their power and are very controlling. I did not know this until I found your site. I thought this issue was just with the church I recently left. To read that one woman was told the church is a dictatorship made me sick to my stomach. I have been thinking of my former church as a dictatorship and a tyranny for several months now. I had seen the problems several times in the four and a half years I went there, but just kept my lips zipped and prayed. Friends I loved dearly just kept walking out the door, and I could not blame them.

Once that nastiness came at my son and me, I could no longer support the church or its leadership and I had to leave. An older woman approached me, somehow found out I had a ďsituationĒ with the pastor, and told me that in a meeting he admitted that he was rough on women. OK so fix it! Another woman, while teaching me to run the projector for his PowerPoint slides told me if he attacks me during a service with his sarcasm such as, ďStay with me (name left out)," I should let it roll off my back. That did not sit well with me and I told her no, I would not just let it roll of my back. If an inappropriate comment were made, I would address it. This was right before I had my run-in with him, but at this point I had already had enough.

Recently, in my new church, there was a problem with the sound and some music started playing when the pastor was talking and he said something like, "Thatís all right, there is a lot of stuff going on back there, lots of buttons . . ." etc. You never would have heard that type of understanding out of the other pastor. He would have ridiculed them right in front of everyone. Nevertheless, I still sat there holding my breath, waiting for him to bellow some degrading remark. It's completely involuntary; Iím still traumatized by the former pastor, even though I know that my new pastor is nothing like him!

I gave more time than I had to give to that church because of constant ridicule that we were not doing enough! I am a single mother, give me a break! Where were the women that didnít have jobs? We also never could give enough either. We had to ďsacrifice.Ē OK, how many vacations did they sacrifice? The last year I was there, the pastor and his wife went on vacation twelve times, not including all the camping trips. Oh, a couple of those were ďmissions trips.Ē I went on one of the mission trips. It was seven days of site seeing and one day of "mission." That was fine, but my point is, it was a vacation. What sacrifices have they made? They live in a home worth over $300,000, drive new cars, have wardrobes that wonít quit; need I say more?

Do you want to talk to me about sacrifice when I am the sole breadwinner for my son and me and I rarely get support from the father? Talk to me about sacrifice! Talk to me as I work my full time job and one or two part time jobs just to pay the bills! The last year I was there, someone sponsored my son to be able to attend winter youth. Whoever it was paid $110 for three days, two nights. The next year, at the new church, things were a little better for me, and I went to pay for my son to attend. It was $45. What is wrong with this picture?

That pastor tracked me down when I left and called the new pastors telling them that they had to tell me to call him and talk to him and get his permission to leave. I thought America was a free county with religious freedom? I questioned if this would be happening if I decided to attend at non-UPC church? Probably not. I made him look bad by leaving, you see.

He also proceeded to start rumors that I was having an affair with a man that was in the middle of a divorce and also left to go to this other church. (As if I would even have time for this between work and solely raising my son Ė genius.) What confused me was that the pastorís wife told me my integrity was not in question whatsoever. Do they talk to each other? Did she realize what her husband was saying? Let me say that I have nothing against her. I feel sorry for her because I believe she could have become so much more in God. I want to be mad at her, because she allows her husband to treat people like this, but I canít be mad at her because she never did anything to me.

However, donít even get me started on her best friend, one of the assistant pastorís wives. Sheís the reason my mother left the church. She left because of the pastor, and tried to come back. Enter Asst. Pastorís wife, trying to stir up trouble. That was it, my mom left for good. However, she was not held accountable. It was blamed on a couple who had already left and they were told (via registered letter) they were the reason my mom left and told never to contact anyone from that church again. That isnít control? That isnít manipulation? That isnít a cult? That isnít a lie? No one ever heard from my motherís mouth why she left, how dare they assume and place blame? This womanís husband, who is just the most wonderful man, (I always thought so anyway. I have not seen him since I left so how much a Christian he is remains to be seen.) did call and ask what was going on with my mom. What was I supposed to tell him? Was I supposed to attack his pastor and his wife and hurt his feelings and be ridiculed for talking about the pastor? I think not!

The meeting I had with this pastor that made me decide I had to leave still leaves me reeling. I am still in shock that a supposed man of God could behave in such a manner. I approached him on a parent to parent level to discuss some physically abusive behavior of his son toward my son. Apparently something happened at youth congress that left my son a half inch from serious head injury. This boy is three times bigger and three years older than my son, and it was the third physical incident that happened between them. The pastor approached it as: me man, you woman, hear me roar. He proceeded to attack me as a parent, attack my son, talk about everything BUT why I was there. He yelled at me, he was rude, sarcastic and mocking. I hadnít even told him why I wanted to meet, hadnít even spoken yet and he just shut the door of his office and attacked me without cause!

His son also made a comment to mine that attacked my sonís height. He is very short for his age. When I told this pastor about it, he said, ďWhat's wrong with that? Thatís a very polite thing to say, your son does need to get over his short man syndrome.Ē I'm sorry, it's his fault heís short how? Youíve got to be kidding me.

He talks about people in his preaching, never mentioning names, but we know who heís talking about. He continually inserts his own opinion through sarcasm in his preaching and is more concerned with developing followers than leaders Ė little puppy dogs that follow him around and drool all over him. Why canít he just preach the Word? I thought it was the Word according to God? Not the Word according to the pastor or the Word according to the latest major leadership author (he preaches John Maxwell a lot).

This year at our family camp, on the final night, the preacher preached on pastors who abuse and intimidate. It was the first time I ever heard a UPC preacher address that. He preached so many good things about us being careful about our attitudes and acting like people that are in churches outside of UPC are pathetic and lost. He said, "I thank God for every church that opens a Bible. They are serving God the best they know how!" Praise the Lord brother, youíve got it. I get so sick of hearing ďsupport your pastorĒ, "stay with your pastor", blah blah blah. Itís follow him as he follows Christ! Not follow him as he follows his pride! One UPC preacher during that same family camp said there is no one pastor that is better than another. WHAT? If that were so, the Bible would not say in Jer 23:1 ďWoe to the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep.Ē

It's very sad, UPC has it as far as doctrine for the most part, but they are very much missing the boat on the things that matter most. That is why I say they have it for the most part. Our attitudes need work. We are called the UNITED Pentecostal Church and we are anything but united. Bro. T.F. Tenney said at the last Because of the Times, ďIs it easier to raise the dead than to get unity in the church?Ē Good question brother. There is a lot of blood on the hands of people that treat others how many of us have been treated. There is a lot of blood on my former pastorís hands.

I almost backslid after going through this because I wanted nothing to do with anything that had the word "church" or "Christianity" attached to it. There are families leaving my former church continually for the same reason. It started long before I left. Why do the ďpowers that beĒ continue to let this go on? Why is this man still leading a congregation? Why is he being allowed to hurt people? That church has had some big name, awesome preachers in there. Have they not seen it? Or do they see it but donít feel itís their place to address it?

I am a very strong person. And if this knocked me for a loop, consider what it has done to someone not as strong. Many leave God completely! I am snubbed at Walmart, family camp, Culvers, wherever I see these so-called Christians from the other church. Many of them avoid me because I donít go there anymore. Others because they believe Iíve committed adultery. Even if I had done that, is that their business and shouldn't they be trying to help me? And by the way, how did they come to start thinking that? Oh, thatís right! The pastor started the rumor! That's not biblical is it?

Is it the same God that "convicted" them to wear dresses and stop cutting their hair that is behind their stinky attitudes? Thatís not the God that I serve. I do the ďstandards.Ē Why? Because God placed them in my heart. I remember the time, the place, and how he convicted me. Iím not one to just do something because everyone else is doing it. But I know it's not salvation. If these women who snub me and act like I have some sort of contagious disease when they see me think they are holy because they have a dress on and uncut hair, theyíre going to have a big surprise coming when Jesus returns. They might as well put a pair of pants on because thatís not salvation. They need to get their hearts right. That IS part of salvation, the heart. Holiness is a HEART issue.

One woman who spent time as my best friend, and knows me very well, apparently believes everything she hears because I got a royal snub from her recently, but thank God, I was able at that point to laugh about it. This is why I laughed: this same woman is so convicted about holiness that she cannot wear slits in her skirts, skirts have to be to the floor, sleeves to the wrist and close toed shoes. OK honey, but what about your heart? What about your attitude? She appears to be held in high esteem by the pastor, but that is because she worships the very ground he walks on, bows to his every whim and does everything that is barked at her to do.

When I joined the church in early 2001, the Lord gave me a dream that things were happening there that were not biblical and I had to leave. In my dream, I was screaming and crying and yelling this cannot be happening, this church is my life. I guess that dream came true didn't it? Thankfully, I am healing now, and I just have to be able to separate the good from the bad and walk as God would have me to walk. I am in another UPC church and the pastors there are the most wonderful people. I find it hard to believe they are of the same organization. They are absolutely 100% Christian. They get it. Their sweet spirits bring me to tears every service. I am so thankful. One of them has been very sick, and it clearly has brought him very close to God. His attitude is amazing to me. I am so thankful for them. Itís clear they are not interested in controlling people and becoming big names in Pentecost, but rather helping people. I am not exaggerating when I say almost every time I hear them speak my jaw drops because they never cease to amaze me! (In a good way.)

All I can say to those who are going through this is just hang on. Just hang on; don't give up your walk with God. Go where you need to in order to heal and grow. Just get in the Word. Once I was able to pick up my Bible and actually let what I was reading sink in again, and not be on autopilot, it really helped me. But you will go through that dry time. Recently a man in my church preached a message, "Itís not the ups and downs of life that hurt us, but the jerks." He talked about Jesus being well acquainted with betrayal. He knows right where you are, and that is why he said he would never leave us or forsake us. This preacher reminded me of that. If you canít pray, just read the Word. Just read it, read it out loud, read it when you wake up, read it at lunch, read it when you go to bed. Get to know the God who loves you and created you and listen to him, not man. Heíll never lead you wrong.

Thank you for your ministry. There are many people out there not strong enough to come out of this fighting on their own.

Sincerely,

Maria

January 2007 update:

I had to go through many stages of the grieving process when I left my former UPC church. I went through anger, bitterness, hurt, disgust, shock, you name it. It was truly the most difficult thing I've ever been through. I still don't understand it all, but I can finally wake up in the morning without that sting. Other things come to mind before the hurt. I am so thankful for that.

One of my reasons for such anger was because my faith was shaken. I didn't know what I believed anymore and I didn't like that. I have to laugh because now that I know what I believe I don't know what to do about it. I know everything happens for a reason.

I don't feel that anyone can ever fully recover from the separation of such an authoritarian organization. I'm probably wrong, that is just how I feel after over a year since leaving. I have been truly shocked at how much corruption is actually in the church. People hide behind God and religion and they are living worse lives than people who don't even believe in God.

Recently, my son encountered a situation with one of the youth in our church. He made the comment, "Mom, I have friends in school that don't go to church anywhere that are better friends and influences than he is." He figured that out at 15. Took me till 38.

There was a period of several weeks when I suddenly felt like I wanted to strike out at the people that used to call themselves my friends. People I worshiped with, prayed with, fellowshiped with. That was right before it all broke in one incredible Sunday morning service and God took the pain from me. I knew he had taken it, but I still didn't feel quite right.

I suppose, when one has surgery, there is pain. Eventually, the pain goes away but there is always a scar to remind you. In time the scar fades, but it never completely leaves you. Maybe that is a good thing because it's keeps us humble.

I feel as though I am in limbo right now because I do not believe what the UPC teaches in regard to women. I realized that if I knew it was not a salvation issue, but I thought it was for ME, and I tried to explain how that could be to someone who asked, I couldn't do it without sounding offensive! How do you tell a woman the bible says a man should look like a man and a woman should look like a woman and that's why I wear skirts? Am I suggesting to that woman that she doesn't look like one because she's in pants? No. But it sure sounds that way doesn't it?

And please tell me how in the world untrimmed hair on someone not blessed with gorgeous locks is a glory? That, my dear, is called tumbleweed on your head. (I'm being funny - I have tumbleweed hair.) I could go on and on about why I disagree with these "holiness" standards but I won't.

I just want to tell anyone who might be struggling with an authoritarian church, or with holiness, please do not let people guilt you into living something that is not in your heart. Really seek the Lord and stay close to him and he'll tell you what is right.

Remember that Christ should be the head of the church. If the pastor, or the people, are not living Godly, if they do not show a kind and loving, compassionate spirit, pray about whether you belong there. Be yourself. Do some research, a lot of reading, reach out to others. Take time to step back and really look at things. You might be pleasantly surprised.

As for me, I'm still in limbo somewhere. It's a scary place to be.


Posted July 27, 2006 - Updated January 7, 2007

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