Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ’


Refer to Step 8: I will share my experience and my own wrongdoing with a trusted friend, confessing the exact state of my heart.


Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path.

—Recovery Slogan


When you read the steps for Alcoholics Anonymous or any other 12-step group, you’ll notice that they are plural and not singular. In step 1, it says, “We came to believe” and not “I came to believe.” In recovery from substance abuse, the shared experience of the group is often the most powerful component for achieving sobriety.

In recovery from religious abuse, however, it’s a little different. Although the wounding comes from a religious leader, God is nearly always blamed for the abuse as well. This means the person’s relationship with God becomes the primary problem and the relationship that needs to be mended first. Without getting straight with God, nothing else will work well—that’s for certain.

This is why the 11-step approach is singular and not plural—I and not we. There is no way for a group to heal your relationship with God. You have to do it that yourself, in the quietness of your own heart. Although each person’s experience may be different, the road back to God isn’t. It’s the same for everybody.

At the same time, you will need at least one trusted friend to act as your confidant along the way. Learning to trust God again is essential—so is learning to trust another human being. Both, working together synergistically, will make your journey much less burdensome—and with fewer detours.

Until you’ve accomplished both, nothing else will work very well. When you bring your situation before God, you can be assured He will always be available and accepting. Bringing it before another human is not as easy, but if the person is in tune with God’s will, the end result will definitely be empowering.


Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:12:13)

Jack Watts   Recovery Resources

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As I thoughtfully look about,

Appraising my circumstances,

Which are not what I had desired—

Not at all what I had planned—

I don’t understand where You are leading,

Nor do I understand why I must travel

In isolation, as a solitary figure.

I wanted my life to be so different,

To be easier and more carefree,

But that was not the journey I’ve experienced.

As I see the smiling faces of others—

Those who talk about You as if they

Know You intimately, but do not,

I wonder why their lives appear to be

Free from disappointment and conflict,

While mine has been stressful and difficult.

I wonder if I will ever be filled with joy again?

Father, tell me when will Your pruning hand

Will finish its relentless alterations?

When will I awaken from darkness and despair,

To a bright, sunny day, filled with promise—

Free from sorrow—free from loss?

When will You move in a mighty

Redemptive way, to strengthen me?

When will You say to my enemies,

This is my child—my beloved child—

Whom I will establish him with power.

Let all who wonder know that it is I—

The great ‘I Am’ who has done this work.

Father, I know that You are in charge;

That You have numbered my days

And each of my years are in Your hands.

It is within Your power to change everything—

To allow my life to have far more meaning.

Finish Your transformation quickly,

So that I can withstand the swirling wind

And foreboding clouds that encompass me.

But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever; behold, look now, all of us are Thy people. (Isaiah 64:8-9)

To learn more about about the subject, go to: Recovering from Religious Abuse: 11 Steps to Spiritual Freedom.

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Example Two

Atlanta: I was really wild in college. While at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, I drank a lot, always had girls hanging around, and gambled routinely at my fraternity. For a while, it was fun, but it also made me feel like I was wasting my life. Because of this, I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting, accepted Christ as my Savior, and began to change my life for the better. I abandoned my wild side, which made me feel much better about myself.

After moving to Atlanta, I spent a great deal of time at church—more than I had ever spent in my entire life. I went to a very conservative church where they made me a Sunday school teacher for ninth graders. The kids loved me. I was young, handsome, energetic, interesting, and fun—exactly what these kids wanted to be like when they went to college.

One day during class, a girl asked me, “Should I square dance as part of the school curriculum or make a stand for Christ because dancing is sinful?”

Totally surprised by the question, I replied, “Why would you want to look ridiculous in front of everybody in school over square dancing? If I were you, I would just go ahead and do it. If you’re going to make a stand, make it about something important—not something trivial.”

Satisfied with my answer, I went on with the lesson. That night, I received a call from the church pastor. He said, “I want to ask you some questions about your position on some critical issues for teens.” Sensing the underlying malice in his silky tone, I listened intently as he asked me my position on movies, dancing, cards, and numerous other things. Finally, he said, “What’s your position on mixed bathing?”

Without hesitation, I responded, “I’m against it. I think it’s OK for boys and girls to swim together, but I’m dead set against them taking a bath together!” Complete silence ensued. My attempt to interject a little humor into a tense situation actually made things worse.

“I think we need to have lunch tomorrow,” he said. “Can you meet me at 12:30?” It wasn’t a request.

At 12:30 p.m., I met the pastor, a man in his mid-thirties with jet-black hair, pale white skin, and penetrating black eyes. As we sat down, I was very nervous and started to light a Marlboro. In his most ingratiating voice, the pastor said, “It’s alright if you smoke. I’ll love you just as much if you light that cigarette as I will if you don’t.” When he finished saying this, he smiled in a genuine and disarming way.

“I know. Thanks,” I said and lit the cigarette. Enraged, he seethed with anger as I sat there speechless. He lit into me for smoking in the first place and went on with a tirade that would draw approbation from any prosecutor in the land. I sensed pure hate in this man toward me, as he verbally undressed me from head to toe. He said that no one who was genuinely a Christian smoked, which meant I wasn’t really a Christian in the first place. This really surprised me. Because he knew the Bible much better than me, I assumed he was correct. When he was finished, I was devastated. I held my ground outwardly, but inwardly I wanted to cow—liked a whipped dog.

Incredulously, I asked, “Then why did you say it was all right to smoke?”

His reply was a contemptuous smirk—nothing more.

In truth, he couldn’t answer. It would have been too revealing. At the end of the meal, he prayed and left with the self-satisfied confidence that he had set another sinner straight.

After he left, I was shaken to the core. I had been a born-again Christian for less than six months; but I knew I never wanted to be like this self-righteous, mean-spirited pastor. It bothered me so much that since then I have never been able to tolerate such misanthropy—especially by those who parade their Christianity as their prime asset. I went to that church less frequently and finally stopped going altogether. I became cautious and guarded around church people rather than open and transparent. I remember thinking that Christians shouldn’t talk about loving people if they don’t practice what they preach.

When I went to his church, I was young and impressionable. I eventually stopped smoking, but the effects of my confrontation have been far more detrimental than anything the cigarettes could have caused. As the pastor, he had every right to question what I taught the kids, but he had no right to crush my spirit. My enthusiasm for Christianity waned, and I have remained guarded and cautious ever since. Stung by his verbal abuse, I have never trusted a pastor again—not completely. I’m sure he intended to help, but he didn’t. Instead, he used his authority to assault my self-worth—a strategy that worked to my detriment for years.

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Example One

Boston: I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, the second of four children in an Irish-Catholic family. Being a good Catholic, I went to Mass every Sunday and each Holy Day of Obligation, which meant I was in church at least sixty times a year. Some of my earliest memories were while I was at church. Part of my education was in a Catholic school, which was challenging academically and good for me. Dealing with the nuns and priests, who were positioned as intermediaries between God and me, however, was difficult and not at all beneficial.

How they dealt with me has had an impact upon how I perceive God, which has influenced my entire life. I’m not alone; there are millions of Catholic kids like me who have their own stories to tell—many of which are much worse than mine.

One incident in particular had a profound impact on me. It was the day of my First Holy Communion, when I was just seven years old. For months, all the girls and boys from my Communion class practiced going to the alter rail, kneeling down, holding our heads back, opening our mouths, and sticking out our tongues. When we did, the priest would put the Communion wafer on our tongues, say something—which I couldn’t understand, and move on to the next kid.

It sounds simple enough, but its execution on that fateful day was anything but simple. We were told—harshly, repeatedly and in no-uncertain terms—that we were to close our mouths immediately when the Host was placed on our tongues.

The priest said, “You don’t want to drop Jesus on the floor, do you?” He went on to tell us that this was a sacrilege—a mortal sin, and it would send us to hell. This, of course, terrified me as a seven-year-old. I can still feel the cold chill of fear from his words more than half a century later. His harsh admonition wasn’t accurate Catholic teaching, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Although I was little, I remember trying to look at the wafer as the priest held it up. I wanted to see Jesus’ face in it, but I never could. It didn’t look like Him, and it didn’t look like any part of a human being I had ever seen before either. Nevertheless, it was His body, and I was scared to death of dropping Jesus on the floor.

When the eventful day arrived, each girl was dressed in white, and all the boys, including me, wore white suits, white clip-on ties, and white gloves. Everything we wore that day was white, signifying purity—girls and boys. There were at least one hundreds kids taking their First Holy Communion that day, which seemed to excite the parents much more than any of us.

We sat up front away from our families—the boys on the right side of the aisle—the girls on the left. Sitting immediately to my right was Jerry Callahan, who was a little goofy on his best day and slightly retarded on his worst. Because he was on my right—sitting right next to me—he was in line to receive Communion immediately before me.

On schedule, we were ushered to the rail by a nun. Each of us knelt precisely as we were instructed. When the priest came to Jerry, he didn’t open his mouth as wide as he was supposed to. This irritated the priest, who spoke very sternly to him. Scared, Jerry started to whimper. Exasperated, the priest put the Host on Jerry’s partially protruding tongue, hoping that all would go well.

Then, the unthinkable happened; Jerry let the wafer drop from his mouth. Jesus landed on the floor right before my eyes. Aghast, the priest hurriedly grabbed the wafer, scraped up all the crumbs beside it, and put it in his own mouth, which really surprised me. After that, he rose quickly, gave Jerry a look of pure hate and slapped him right across the face. It was a hard slap, and Jerry screamed from shock and pain.

As this drama was unfolding, Jerry’s mother rushed forward to retrieve her child, who was now hysterical—screaming at the top of his lungs. As she arrived, she looked up at the priest, and said, “I’m so sorry, Father.” With that, she clutched her son, put a protective shoulder around him, and led him out of the church. I can still remember his receding sobs, as every adult looked at Jerry with contemptuous smirks.

The priest then turned his focus on me with defiant eyes, daring me to make a mistake. I was close to wetting my pants with fear, but I didn’t. I did exactly as I was supposed to do. Because I was so afraid, however, my mouth was bone dry, and Jesus stuck to the roof of my oral cavity and wouldn’t dissolve. It might as well have been peanut butter. Kids weren’t allowed to talk with Jesus in our mouth, and we couldn’t chew Him either. It was a sin. It took at least thirty minutes for Jesus to dissolve, and the Mass was long over before I could open my lips and say a word.

The next year, Jerry died of a brain aneurysm. Because he was so traumatized by the priest’s actions that day, he was never allowed to make his First Holy Communion. This meant he couldn’t go to Heaven, which saddened me. It’s also why I have such a vivid memory of the incident so long after it occurred.

This episode solidified my fear of God or, more accurately, my terror of Him. I saw God as cold, hateful, impersonal, petty, and mean-spirited. He was punitive—just like the priest who gave me communion that day. This twisted my perspective about God for years, but the abusive part was the corporal punishment inflicted on Jerry by the priest.

Everybody believed the priest had a right to do this, and nobody protested—not even Jerry’s mother. Catholics were terrified of their priests—men who wielded unquestioned authority over the people in their Parrish.

This was not an isolated instance. It was routine in Roman Catholicism before Vatican II. If you think I’m wrong, just ask any Catholic who was raised during this era. Nearly every one of us has a story to tell about an abusive priest or nun.

As I grew older and saw the world through adult eyes, I left the Church, and my memories of it are not pleasant. The mindset of the Catholic clergy—at least the one’s I knew—was that it was their right to slap kids around, and they did it routinely. Their power over the people was so strong and unassailable that moms and dads never protested how their children were being treated. This resulted in abuse that affected millions of kids like me—abuse that still impacts our lives. Just writing about it still angers me. I wonder if I’ll ever get over it.

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Religious abuse occurs often and can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, or time of life. Most abuse is inadvertent—not intended to inflict permanent damage to a person. This is not the type of religious abuse we’re dealing with in Pushing Jesus. Our focus is squarely upon those who use their positions of authority to abuse others, which makes it particularly devastating to the recipient. These leaders believe they have the authority and the right to do so. They believe that they are entitled to treat others the way they do.

The consequences of their abusiveness are frequently catastrophic; nearly as devastating as a parent telling a child he or she is unloved and unwanted. Sadly, even little children experience spiritual abuse at a time when they are the most vulnerable and impressionable—when they are the most susceptible. The negative imprint upon the child lasts a lifetime, diminishing the recipient’s self-worth. If unchecked, it can lessen a person’s life-long accomplishments.

Religious abuse is devastating because it nearly always brings the recipient’s relationship with God into question. Either directly or indirectly, the abuser states or implies that the person’s connection to God is flawed, making the abusee feel alienated—a person with diminished value, a person unworthy of God’s love and care. Being estranged from God is like being estranged from a parent—no good thing comes from it.

To give you a better understanding—a better “feel”—for what religious abuse really is, three examples will be given; one from a small boy, one from a young man just beginning to make his way in the world, and one from a man going through a proverbial “mid-life crisis.” Each is an example of a religious authority figure using his position of power to abuse someone in his charge.

The first example comes from a Roman Catholic priest in Boston, the second from a fundamentalist minister in Atlanta, the third from “The Elders” in a Southern California cult. The experiences were as diverse as the geographical locations, but each illustrates an excellent example of religious abuse—an instance of misused authority. After reading these personal accounts, perhaps you’ll have a clearer picture of what religious abuse really is. Each situation will be described by the person who experienced it—in the person’s own words.

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What Is Spiritual Abuse?

Spiritual abuse is the mistreatment of a person by someone in a position of spiritual authority, resulting in diminishing that person’s sense of wellbeing and growth—both spiritually and emotionally.

Spiritual abuse is the use of spiritual authority, by words or acts, to manipulate someone for personal gain or to achieve a personal agenda, thereby harming that person’s walk with God.

Spiritual abuse can also be defined as any misuse of Scripture, which harms a person’s relationship with God—like the damage resulting from being a member of a cult.

“Have I Been Abused?”—A Self-Assessment Questionnaire

You can determine for yourself whether or not you’ve experienced religious abuse. Simply take a look at the questions below and check the appropriate place on the continuum. If you “strongly agree,” or if you “agree” to any of the questions, then you may have a problem. If you “strongly agree,” or if you “agree” to three or more question—or to any of questions seven through ten —then you definitely have experienced religious abuse, and 91 Days to Recovery from Religious Abuse can help you a great deal. Remember, this is a self-assessment; it’s for your eyes only.

1. I have stopped going to church because I have been offended by someone in the ministry. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

2. Although offended by someone in the ministry, I still go to church, but I simply go through the motions. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

3. I believe God is displeased with me for leaving my church. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

4. I believe most Christians are hypocrites. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

5. Yes, a church leader has offended me personally. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

6. I feel unworthy to pray. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

7. I have been verbally abused by someone in the ministry. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

8. I have been sexually abused by someone in the ministry. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

9. I have been financially abused by someone in the ministry. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

10. I have been emotionally abused by a religious experience. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

11. I feel a sense of shame being around religious people. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

12. I feel used by my religious experience. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

13. I believe religious people condemn me. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

14. I am angry with God. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

15. I feel unworthy to reach out to God. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

16. There is more to life than I’m experiencing. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

17. I would you like to feel closer to God, but I don’t believe it’s possible. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

18. Life has no meaning. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

19. Sometimes I wonder if I have a drinking problem. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

20. Sometimes I wonder if I abuse prescription drugs. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

21. Sometimes I wonder if I have a problem with pornography. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

22. Sometimes I don’t believe God loves me. ________________________________________________
Strongly Agree Agree Neither Disagree Strongly Disagree

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There are some flaws in the Christian worldview that impact how a huge segment of “born again” Christians perceive reality. This adversely impacts their behavior and their sense of purpose.

For example, many invite Christ to come into their lives because they don’t want to think anymore. They want pat answers for everything and a life free from conflict—free from the negative consequences resulting from poor decisions. They want God to be a constant blessing machine. They want Him to indulge them with creature comforts as a sign that He loves them—as a sign that they are OK. Materialism and the acquisition of “things” becomes a sign they are living the life God meant them to live. Churches validate this mindset routinely by making successful businessmen elders and deacons to the exclusion of all others. After all, above all else, God wants His people to enjoy creature comforts—lots of them. Millions believe this nonsense and are offended when their assumptions are challenged.

Christians like these give lip service to loving and caring for others, when—in reality—their existence and purpose for life is all about themselves. In their superficiality, they believe they are profound, as they blissfully go about their lives doing what benefits them. Another alternative never crosses their mind or, if it does, it’s just a fleeting thought—like how you might feel after watching an uplifting movie. It touches you for a short while, but that’s it.

Christians, who embrace this worldview, eagerly wait to be “Raptured,” taking virtually no responsibility for the state of the world or for the depraved condition of mankind—spiritually or materially. They say they love others, but their actions rarely benefit anyone but themselves. This was not the way the Lord intended them to perceive reality, and it renders them useless for the work to which they have been called.

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