Escape in the Dead of Night: Shunning Part 3

Tereasa's Story: Driving Away
Tereasa is the author of His Pen on My Heart, where she blogs about freedom in Christ, healing from spiritual abuse and raising special children. She is a story teller, painting pictures with words and drawing the reader close to her heart. Her desire is to encourage those who are hurting and point all to Christ, the healer of our broken hearts. The abusive church she and her husband were a part of with their children is not related to any denomination and she wishes to keep the church's identity anonymous. You can read more about her family's escape from an abusive church and their journey to healing in Reflections of a Survivor.

My heart beats faster and my breathing becomes shallow when I think about shunning. My first thoughts are steeped in confusion. “Were we shunned or did we shut them out?” questions the broken record in my mind. The answer is fuzzy because the shunning was subtle.

“Why did you leave the way you did?” a friend asked. “Why not stay long enough to pack up your things and say goodbye?” (I welcome questions, because talking about it clears my thoughts and solidifies my stance.)

Simply put, it was the safest choice. We knew the alternative would destroy our family. The church we had been a part of for over a year was abusive and was known to divide families. Already, I had been told to choose the church over my husband if he did not agree with the teaching. The children would be told the same thing.  If we stayed long enough to say goodbye or even pack our things, the emotional stress would have torn us apart. Leaving immediately and without warning was the best decision.

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The church was a community with a very close-knit family atmosphere. Most of the members lived within walking distance of each other. Our daily lives were intertwined. We not only worshiped together, we worked together, taught our children together, ate together and more. It was not a commune, but it was close.  With that came a deep sense of belonging and being loved. The system was built in such a way that members were almost completely dependent on one another.

Dependence made it very easy for the shepherd to control the lives of the sheep. Not only were members dependent on one another, members were increasingly dependent on the shepherd. Love equaled obedience. Since it was taught God spoke through the shepherd, obedience to the shepherd meant obedience to God. If you did not obey the shepherd, you did not love him.  If you did not love the shepherd, you did not love God.  Sadly, this toxic theology was veiled in a shade of love and mixed with twisted scripture, making it ever so difficult to discern.

We had seen what happened to those who disagreed and we had occasionally been on the receiving end of it. Those who questioned were called doubters. Those who disagreed were dissenters. Those who did not conform were rebellious and those who left were said to be captured by Satan.

The teaching was that because there is one Spirit, any who thinks differently from the shepherd (who speaks from the Spirit) were being led by an evil spirit. It provoked fear and kept people quiet. Even in homes, one who brought up questions was said to put doubts in the other and was called a spiritual bully. Therefore, it was thought to be dangerous for a woman to ask her husband for understanding. It was even considered abusive for a man to share his concerns about the teachings with his wife. People were encouraged to go to the shepherd alone for the sake of unity.

We had taken our questions to the shepherd; we even dared to share a few with each other. As a result, we were publicly reprimanded.  Even that was subtle, as names were never used. The rebukes were passive aggressive and stated for a general audience so that all would learn, but everyone knew who the shepherd was speaking of at any given time.  The result was often anger and resentment toward the one who had brought the harsh words upon the crowd. Even that was shrouded in a cloak of love. The passive aggression behind the smiles and hugs were enough to suffocate anyone into obedience.

We knew what would happen if we continued seeking truth in that place. Seduced by the love of the community, we would eventually buckle and lose the connection Christ had died to give us. In order to survive emotionally, we would have to allow the shepherd to become the high priest Christ intends to be.  We would thus waste away spiritually.

On the other hand, we could continue to fight for truth and endure the conditional side of love. Our children would be turned against us and our marriage would be threatened. We would be love bombed while simultaneously having our rebellion held over our heads.  The emotional roller coaster would be comparable to that experienced by a battered wife.

It was the realization of that association which showed us what to do. This was not a time for games.  This was a matter of spiritual life and death. It could even affect the life of our marriage and family. Once the decision was made, we knew it was time to go.  We worked into the wee hours of morning to prepare after the children had gone to bed.  Then we left while everyone was at church the next day. (You can read about our escape in detail here and here.)

Some might say that because of the way we left, we were not shunned.  It is true that we were not asked to leave.  In the post to follow, however, I will show that shunning is not always blatant. It is not always neatly packaged and delivered as an act of disfellowship. More often than not, shunning is subtle and relayed in manipulative messages.

I'm the one that drives away
I am a street light shining
I'm a wild light blinding bright
Burning off alone

It's times like these you learn to live again
It's times like these you give and give again
It's times like these you learn to love again
It's times like these time and time again

I am a new day rising
I'm a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight
I am a little divided
Do I stay or run away
And leave it all behind?
~Times Like These, Foo Fighters~