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I’ve Been Hurt (Devastated!) by Christians. Can You Help Me?

The reason I’m thinking of this topic is because I recently checked the articles on Christianity Today and discovered that Bill Gothard (79), the founder of the Institutes of Basic Life Principles (for the general public) and Advanced Training Institute (materials for home schooling), had recently stepped down from his position due to reports of sexual abuse of those under his authority.  Bill Gothard?  You may have never heard of him, because his heyday is largely over, but my girlfriend at the time (now my wife!) attended his Christian seminar back in 1973.  He was all the rage and was filling up stadiums with 10,000 to 20,000 seminar attendees for week long workshops (2 hours every night) explaining his take on the truths of the Scriptures visually using hand drawings on an overhead to help people grasp his points.  I learned a lot from him that week, but remember feeling so guilty that his material quickly faded for me.  But I didn’t forget the way he illustrated things and I often use a dry eraser board in my office to help my clients visualize things.  Actually, I recently wondered what happened to him, because he went from being a rock star on the Christian circuit to falling off the radar.

Well, what’d you know?  He’d been busy perping on young women he’d recruit from his workshops to come help at his headquarters.  He’s also used the principles he’s taught (the crux of his material was submission to authority, which, of course, included “the girls” being under his authority) to thoroughly justify his own self-aggrandizement and spiritually abused those who worked under him.  I just found out the reason his wildly successful workshops disappeared is because he barely survived a sexual scandal from his brother in the late 1970’s who was his right-hand man and had molested a scary number of single staff women in their northern Michigan retreat center complete with porn paid with Institute monies and Bill Gothard had done absolutely nothing about it.  His self-picked board didn’t do anything about it either, and Gothard largely lost his creed with local churches, who had demanded accountability (authority without accountability is tyranny).  So he switched his emphasis to homeschooling materials, a largely independent group, that enabled him to continue his lifestyle undetected.  I wasn’t even aware of that scandal at the time.  I’m just learning all of this now (you can check out the latest here).

My point in all of this?  Mr. Gothard had promoted himself as a Christian teacher to the masses and it turns out he’s a charlatan and he’s left a trail of tears instead.  Jesus said, “they will know you are Christians by your love” but sadly, too often to count, we could say in our day, “they will know you are Christian’s by your hypocrisy.”  How tragic is that?  I don’t think any of us expect the Church to be perfect, but using Christian doctrine and position to beat up on the innocent is a little hard to take.  It’s no wonder people throw out the baby with the bath water in frustration.  Those in the wake of this kind of hurt struggle with thinking what in the world is reality?   One’s beliefs about God go pretty deep in the soul and to have some leader touch you inappropriately (as of March 8, 2014, 34 women had come forward to say Gothard had been inappropriate with them.  One of these reported genitalia touching.  The rest of them were sexually harassed as well as spiritually abused.) and use the Bible to motivate you by guilt for their own purposes, plays with your brain and you wonder if you are going crazy sometimes.  People lose their faith over these things.  People lose their morals over these things.   People lose their marriages and their relationships and their dignity.  No wonder (The web site reporting this has some first person accounts of Gothard’s abuse, that are amazingly filled with the healing of God and grace in their lives.  They are wonderful examples of healing in the face of evil.  You can check them out here.).

I teasingly tell engaged couples, you don’t want to get married until you’ve had a pretty big disagreement with your fiance and you were able to work it through.  In the same way, you shouldn’t be a counselor unless you’ve recovered from some hurt.  One of the main jobs of a counselor is to help people heal from hurt of whatever kind.  Getting hurt from the people who are supposed to set an example for you can play with your brain.

Without going into details, let’s just say there’s more than one reason why I’m not a pastor anymore.  The biggest reason was I was at the tail end of my viability as a minister.  I looked around my denomination in the state of Iowa at the time and there were only two ministers over the age of 50: one a pastor in the largest church in the state and the other a pastor in the smallest (17 attenders on Sunday morning).  I could see the hand writing on the wall.  The evangelical church mostly wanted pastors in their 30’s and 40’s.  Refreshingly, the church we now attend has kept their pastors for 20 years or even longer and they have been able to build a pretty solid reputation in the community,  But that is the exception.  Whatever you might complain about the Catholic or large Protestant denominations, at least they take care of their pastors for life.  Not so in the evangelical wing.  I had four kids at the time I left the ministry, was in my forties and had about one more go around and that would be it.  But the situation I was in was floundering, so my chances of being enthusiastically hired somewhere else were slim to none.

And then there was the other reason, which I won’t go into at all, but just to say, it’s been thirty years and I don’t even think about it much unless my kids are around and we start to banter about the past somehow.  Actually, I’m very thankful: I got a new career out of the deal, helping others going through hurt, and come out the other side with their dignity and, hopefully, their faith and marriages intact.  Not an easy assignment, but one that’s a little easier if your guide on the journey has been down that road before and come out a better person.  I supposed that’s a bit presumptuous for me to say, but I learned the message of why Christ died on the cross is twofold: He deals with the evil in your heart and He deals with the evil others have done to you.  I’d known about the former prior to being a pastor.  I had to become a pastor to learn to deal with the second.

If you are going to be a counselor you have to be able to help both the perpetrator and the victim, the one who hurt and the hurting, the sinned and the sinned against.  It’s a lot easier helping those who are on the receiving end than it is the one who dishes it out.  The reason people dish it out is because they are pretty selfish and self-deluded in their thinking (By the way, that would be all of us: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God*) and I, for one, aren’t mean enough sometimes to beat their stupidity out of their brains.  Sometimes, though, the one who hurts others is pretty repentant and open to new ways of thinking and acting and there is joy to behold.  But overall, I’d much rather have Job as a client than Ahab, if you know what I mean.  Still, even though we pride ourselves we aren’t like “those people” we all have our own sin that’s caused us to hurt others.  You can’t become a whole person until you can grasp how you’ve left your own trail of tears.  Self-delusion would be a universal trait.

But hurt plays with your brain, too (By the way,that would be all of us, also.  Jesus died for the sins against you just like he died for the sins you committed against Him!   “Come onto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” and “By his wounds we are healed.”**).  And if you aren’t careful you can use the crap you go through (whether from parents, lovers, spouses, children, ministers, bosses or colleagues, Christians or not) to hurt others.  You’ve heard the saying: “hurt people, hurt people”?  If you have been a victim of someone elses stupidity and selfishness, you are only a step away from doing the same thing.  It’s easy to get all self-righteous about it, but the Deceiver has a pretty good track record recruiting from the downtrodden.  Just talk to people who populate our jails.  You can believe most have endured some pretty sad abuse, but it didn’t lead them down the paths of righteousness.  Hmmmm.

Hurt or sin, either one, lies to your heart and the deceit is pretty easy to believe, and to have a faithful counselor help you think differently can be a welcome relief!  Of course, you can find a counselor out there who will gleefully help you denounce your faith and God and, for that matter, your husband or wife or mother or father, and reject it all as hogwash.  But that won’t be of much comfort for long.  Revenge and resentment as motivators only work in R-rated movies.  You are going to want to find a way to not let other people’s craziness become your own.  Being delivered would be the way to go.  Rescued?  Redeemed?  We all could use a little of that.

Give us a call.

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*Romans 3:23.  For a summary statement of how all of us have turned to our own way against God see Romans 3:9-18.

** Matthew 11:28-30 and Isaiah 53:4-5.  This is one of the major themes of the Bible.  Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt is the prime example.

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