I wrote and co-produced this film called Paradise Recovered. And I've been really busy at it, building an audience, networking with independent film people and spiritual abuse survivors and advocates alike. It's been the most rewarding and brutal work I've ever done, and it has rocked me to my very core.
Fortunately, I've had some strong champions shoring me up throughout the whole process. They keep me sane, and they keep me calm.
Some people wonder what my motives were/are in creating this film. Some answers:
I am not anti-Jesus, nor am I anti-church. I belong to a church. I enjoy the people there, and I feel very free. Sure, there are things I'd change. There are things I'd change about my marriage and my family as well. There are things I need to work on. We're all works in progress.
What I am against is a church controlling people, demanding allegiance to something that is more akin to a human resources model than a *biblical* one, and denying people their human rights as free thinkers.
But that's not all.
I grew up in a very controlling, legalistic church. I never met the men to whom my family gave 30% of their pre-tax income. My only experiences were with the middle management, so to speak, and the lay members. On the whole, these people were some of the finest people I have ever known.
These well-intentioned, salt of the earth people, systematically recruited by this abusive cult, were taught that they and they alone were specially and uniquely called to be a part of God's End Time Work. That a doomsday was coming, and we were going to be whisked away to a place of safety if we were faithful to our leader and his edicts.
They believed that our leader was an apostle and a prophet and that he alone had the key to understanding the bible.
If we did what the leader said, we were rewarded. If we did not, we were cast out.
In other words, if we questioned authority, God had no use for us at all.
So, additionally, I am against spiritual leaders who claim omniscience and make fallible people feel like dirt for making the mistake of thinking freely, all while claiming that their way is the only way.
Their claim to speak for God is also a bit of a problem.
I can tell you about friends that I saw one week at a worship service, and then never saw again. Why? Because they had dared to question. And it was like they never existed. We never spoke of them again.
I never forgot those people. Never.
It's amazing to a lot of people that after such an experience, I remain a Christian. But my faith and practice looks quite a bit different than it did growing up. Growing up, we rarely talked about Jesus, for example. Learning about the person of Jesus and how he loved broken, forgotten people informs my faith.
As a result, I err on the side of grace. Always.
For me, Jesus is the model for dealing with spiritual abuse. He called the Pharisees on the carpet. He took a bullwhip to some moneychangers who were telling people that their sacrifices were substandard. He fought for children and prostitutes and people who couldn't walk and Gentiles. And he championed them, calling them 'faithful,' even when the religious authorities called them 'sinners.'
He asked a ton of questions.
He told stories about running fathers and parties where everyone was invited and derelict Samaritans who were more faithful than preachers.
And the Pharisees plotted to kill him. Why? Because he questioned their power and authority. Because he made them look bad. Because they lost money.
And so they did kill him. They hatched a plot and killed him. To shut him up permanently. Or so they thought.
I believe in the power of the resurrection. Because you can't kill truth. It might be buried for a short time...all hope may indeed seem lost...but then the stone gets rolled away.
In creating Paradise Recovered, I talked to over 100 survivors from 18 different abusive churches. Since that time, I've had the opportunity to talk with a great many more. And while the doctrines and practices of their congregations and groups differ, the elements of narcissism and control are nearly identical.
The fact that people have trusted me with their stories of pain at the hands of pastors...the fact that former pastors have shared with me their stories of pain at what they did to serve an abusive system...the fact that pastors have shared with me how they've been hurt by congregations...the fact that I have been loved by people who didn't understand my pain but who sought to love me in spite of me...all of this is truly humbling.
And these stories are terribly real.
No amount of marketing or slickness can make them less real.
The abuse needs to stop. Doctrine and dogma should never trump a person. A pastor might inspire you, but s/he has no greater standing than you do when it comes to understanding spiritual matters.
And if you need help, or if you have a friend that needs help, I'm here. Along with the rest of my team at Paradise Recovered. And we believe you.
We believe every word.
E-mail me if you want at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of your e-mails will be kept in the strictest confidence.
Thank you for reading.