They will Know You by Your Love … or Lack of It

Image of a group of people with crossed arms, holding hands in a line. Only the chest and waist area is shown

I’m not as young as I used to be. In all my years, I have never witnessed such animosity towards the ‘church’, often confused with the Body of Christ, also known as ‘Christians’.

My journey as a Senior Pastor’s wife began by stepping into the role alongside my Senior Pastor husband of a congregation that had been devastated by the moral failings of the previous senior pastor

The shock we felt was overwhelming as we tried to understand the reality behind what we believed was a safe community.

The emotional turmoil we experienced went beyond mere cognitive dissonance. This wasn’t the first time the pastor’s misconduct had come to light. After a period of counseling and forgiveness years earlier, we had hoped such behavior was in the past.

When we accepted roles as Associate Pastors, we never imagined having to confront this issue again. The pastor was offered an opportunity to move out of state to counsel other struggling pastors dealing with moral failures. (This was because this second episode had not been disclosed yet, and it was an opportunity for him and his family to act “in faith” by moving out of state for a fresh start.)

With his move looming ahead of us, we accepted the position of Senior Pastors. As he prepared to leave, we found ourselves stepping into the roles of Senior Pastors. We couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss, a sense of impending disaster.

A woman sits on the floor in a corner of a room. Her face is hidden in the corner and her right hand is pushing away the viewer.

Disaster came … when I received a call from one of our sweet ladies who had been forced to call and tell me what had happened with her and the pastor, by her very angry husband. I was holding a women’s leadership meeting when she called, and the woman I had with me, started asking me questions on the way home. I couldn’t tell her because of the private nature of this information. Suddenly she slid out of the passenger seat onto the floor and started wailing, She guessed what had happened … because it had happened to her too. And so our nightmare began.

Dealing with the aftermath of the moral failure was challenging enough, but witnessing the dysfunctional and abusive behaviors of shattered individuals seeking solace in our church was even more distressing. Beneath the veneer of Christianity, dark human behaviors were exposed.

The crisis revealed the true nature and intentions of individuals. Leaders we had respected revealed unresolved issues in themselves and were reacting out of fear and blame.

The complexity of betrayals by individuals we considered family left us bewildered and hurt.

I discussed these issues with a dear friend and client of mine, Marilyn Vanderbur who wrote the book, “Miss America by Day.” where she discusses the double life she led as an incest survivor. She told me that the behaviors that I was describing were the same behaviors that children survivors of incest experience. In this scenario, the birth father who has violated them has been removed from the picture. The children still love their father deeply but are conflicted with horrific emotions, betrayal, and pain.

The mother will often seek a new partner, and that partner becomes the scapegoat for every negative emotion the child experiences. This new partner is in the position of “Father” but is not the birth father. They have no risk, no love, no relationship with this “new” father, and have no hesitation in unleashing their pain upon him. He becomes the “After Father” so to speak.

We found ourselves in a similar position as “After Pastors,” bearing the brunt of accumulated emotions and anger from a congregation spiritually violated by the previous events.

As I grappled with the situation, the message of love resonated strongly within me. However, our congregation was far from experiencing love and unity. Gossip, betrayal, false accusations, and even a death threat where police had been called, became our reality, overshadowing any semblance of worship.

After years of research and healing, I realized that true spirituality requires inner healing. Merely acting religiously without addressing our internal brokenness perpetuates a cycle of pain and falsehood.

The essence of love, as highlighted in 1 Corinthians 13, was absent in our community. Genuine love covers faults without ignoring them, providing a safe space for healing and growth, not sweeping the transgression under the proverbial rug.

Society observes our actions closely, witnessing the discrepancies between preached values and actual behaviors. Leaders should be judged by their actions rather than lofty titles. It is crucial to focus on personal growth and authenticity rather than seeking validation through power or status.

Ultimately, true spirituality lies in embodying love towards God and others, reflecting the teachings of 1 Corinthians 13. We are called to be authentic, and loving while drawing closer to our Heavenly Father rather than striving for perfection or recognition.

NOTE: (The details of these stories are shared in our private online chats where appropriate and not in this public forum to protect the innocent and the recovering. No names will be shared.)

After more than twenty years it has dawned on me that the reason I had not spoken of this journey before was because of fear of those I serve with. Not jus those who had participated or experienced that dark season of our lives, but those who call themselves pastors and ministers, who are quick to judge and sensor. I allowed myself to try to speak my truth, but with a muzzle on so as not to offend anyone. The truth is, I guarantee that my story and the lessons I learned will be challenged, and people will become offended. 

But the truth is this … those people aren’t the ones I need to be present for. They are going to do what they always do. Judge.  There are too many women, who like me, have experienced a dark side of ministry they never expected to happen. They don’t know where to go, or where to find support and a safe place to share their story. The greatest gift that my silence has brought me is that in addition to my healing, I’ve found excellent resources, and learned to not just forgive but to understand those who abused and harmed me and my family. I get it.

But just because I get it and forgive them for their behaviors, does not mean that I will fellowship or have a relationship with them. Once someone has shown me their motives and agenda, I finally believe them. I’m out. Life is too short to become distracted with once again trying to gain the approval of those who have already made up their mind about me. 

I hope that what I write here, will be of benefit to you. If you have something to share, please share it with love. Your story, the resources, or answers you’ve found … always share with love. I want to hear your story. Other people need to hear your story. One of the most commonly expressed sentiments from the ladies who joined us in our Sarah’s Tent Chats was that until they heard someone else’s story, they had thought they were alone in their experience, out of their minds, and just imagining things. 

You are not alone. You matter and what you’ve gone through matters. I love you and even though I don’t know you (yet) I know that one can put a thousand to flight, but two can put ten thousand to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30). It’s time to stop being silent out of fear of what others will think.

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