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Why I Stayed in the Cycle of Shame

It is so easy to second-guess my response to the heat I’ve taken from church leaders over my blog and social media activity. Sometimes I want to tell the me from three years ago to grow a pair and walk out. But then I remember the person I was at the time.

I was, in a word, vulnerable.

vulnerable girl

We began attending that church in 2009, after an agonizing year. My husband and I buried our oldest daughter in October of 2008. One month later, things began falling apart at the church we had co-led for 5 years. It died a grinding death over the ensuing months, finally closing its doors for good in June, 2009. I was battling depression, though I didn’t recognize it yet. I was angry that my daughter had died, that so many relationships had been destroyed, and that my faith couldn’t bear up under my anger and my questions. My husband was terrified that I was going to walk away from God, the church, and perhaps by extension, from him as well. We were desperate, depleted, seeking spiritual and emotional intensive care.

When we visited this new church, it was new, young, filled with energy and hope. It was refreshing to be somewhere so alive after so much death. They heard our story and showed us so much support. We wanted it to work so badly that we ignored the warning signs. Both my husband and I thought we could work out the issues surrounding my blog.

I didn’t know exactly what to do because while I personally didn’t believe women are required to submit to men any more than man are required to submit to women, I had joined a church that taught otherwise. So I got their point to a certain limited extent: I had voluntarily placed myself under their authority. The question was, how far did that authority extend? What if they were right, at least partially? I never want to blow off a poorly-expressed opinion simply because of the form in which it came.

I did know two things. I knew that pastors and church elders are NOT infallible (I had been married to one and I knew too much of what happens behind the scenes to think a pastor can never make a mistake). I also knew that it was wrong for me to pretend to be someone I wasn’t.

While I was considering this question of jurisdiction (did the church have authority over my personal blog and Facebook? They clearly believed they did.) and trying to find my way through my doubt and depression, I wanted to avoid more confrontation. It had left me shaken and full of self-doubt. At first, I tried to lower my profile, go undercover, and “be good.” I hid my questions, covered up my feminism, and tried to keep peace so we could rest. I didn’t want to cause trouble.

That approach failed miserably. I discovered that I could only keep the lid on for a few months before I’d boil over. I couldn’t keep it inside. It was physically impossible. I needed conversation and in my gut I knew that I wasn’t alone. The church at large needs this conversation. We need to come alongside doubters and make a safe place for them. We need to engage grief and lament and give people tools to walk through the darkness, the pain, and the tragedy that we cannot escape. And I couldn’t shake the conviction that I had found at least one of the purposes of all that I had been and was going through. I am supposed to help start this conversation.

But it happened like clockwork. Within a week of writing or sharing something “out of line” (as defined by them, though I learned quickly what set off their radar), I’d receive another summons to the pastor’s office.

At first, I didn’t understand why they didn’t just pick up the phone and ask me about what I’d written. I suspect the answer is twofold. First, they had deemed it improper somehow for a man to phone a woman. Second, it was a power play. One simply cannot intimidate as effectively over the phone. They needed to haul me before them to work their biblical authority and force my biblical submission. Their tactics failed miserably. I only grew more and more convinced that I had a message that I needed to share. Meanwhile, as time passed I grew stronger. I learned how to treat my depression. I learned how to grieve. And I began to see that these men were more concerned about their image than they were about my wellbeing.

We repeated this cycle twice (that’s right – I had two more meetings with the pastor about my blog posts) before I got fed up. About twelve months later, I finally rejected the shame they piled on me in an effort to censor me. I finally quit playing their game.

To be continued.

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