This piece was written by “Sarah’s Collage”. Sarah also blogs at Sarah’s Collage, The Elijah Tree and The Cult Foundation. This piece is about her continuing recovery of her Christian faith post-Mercy Ministries.
I was at church last Sunday evening. My church is fairly safe, in that most people there have been through spiritual abuse so they are fairly discerning when something isn’t right. They are also able to relate to my experience in a bible-based cult that is Mercy Ministries, and they just listen without trying to “correct” my attitude or trivialise what was and is a very serious issue – abuse in the name of God.
So, it’s been 6 years since I was there, and 5 years since I left Hillsong who supported Mercy Ministries until the ACCC ruling came through.
I went through a time of “why God?”, and have since had a lot of healing, but not necessarily all the answers I would like.
My church is somewhat charismatic, although I tend to steer clear of most of that stuff these days. Even though I have had healing, I seem to be averse to most Christian activity. Ie, praise and worship, listening to sermons, reading the bible, and being prayed for, and ESPECIALLY Christian conferences.
I think that is because before, there was all this emotional expectation that came with it. Every sermon was going to be some life changing epiphany, and every worship song a euphoric experience. There were times at church that I almost wanted to cry from emotional exhaustion. It was like I needed to connect with God, but I had the idea that I couldn’t do it unless I was in that unsustainable state. I don’t want to blame all of my beliefs on that church, and I do take responsibility for the most part, but it is not a place that I would feel safe in if I were to go there again.
Mercy Ministries was a more intensified humidicrib of that environment, except at Mercy, my choices were taken away – the activity was no longer voluntary.
For a year, I was in a residential treatment facility that boasted a holistic approach (body, mind, spirit) with professional support. Yet it was entirely “spiritual” in nature, run by bible college students, with no professional/qualified staff in sight. Not even the counselors.
We were taught that the answer to our long-term and complex issues was Jesus. But not just any Jesus. THEIR Jesus. They put our healing on a timeline, and God in a box. God and His word were true, but subject to the whims of authoritarian staff who spoke and acted as if they and God were one and the same. To submit fully and without limitation to staff was to submit to God Himself – this was God’s will.
We spent our days doing hours upon hours of religious activity. Praise and worship, prayer, bible reading, bible study, bible trivia, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, church twice on Sundays (and occasionally Wednesdays), reading aloud scriptures and God’s Creative Power, and writing reports about what we got out of the sermons.
Even the counseling was more of the same. Group counseling was merely a bible study guided by books such as The Bait of Satan (John Bevere) and Battlefield of the Mind (Joyce Meyer), and individual counseling was working through a prayer manual to remove curses and cast out evil spirits (a practice which they categorically deny to this day). Written reports on sermon upon sermon were prescribed for counseling homework (on top of our normal activity), as well as for punishments for being “unsubmissive” or “unteachable” or any other label they applied to you for merely disagreeing or breaking a rule you didn’t know existed.
They made promises, both to us and to the public, that we would come out healed and whole – a new creation. The pressure of those false promises fell on us. It was up to us to bring glory to the ministry and produce evidence to support their outrageous claims. Those who did not “appear” or “act” healed within weeks were quickly and brutally discarded, and labelled as “unwilling to change”. These scapegoats who could not be used as promotional fodder are in a most desperate state, after being told over and over again in the program that nothing in the world could help them, that only this place could help them, and that God’s will is for them to be there. They are now not only worthless in their own eyes and in the eyes of these staff, but worthless in God’s eyes.
I don’t know if the fact I graduated was worse.
On the one hand, I couldn’t have handled being kicked out, with any hope of recovery dashed and truly believing I was abandoned by God and destined for hell. I went through the most difficult time about half way through. It was all a big joke to the staff, but I was going out of my mind, wanting to jump on a plane and disappear, just to be as far away from them as I possibly could. (Except they had my passport).
The other alternative was suicide, the ultimate and most permanent escape, which was EXTREMELY tempting. However, I had been taught to fear that despite the unimaginable anguish I was experiencing, there was something even worse waiting for me on the other side of disobedience. If I ran from staff in any kind of way, I was running from God, and I surely would not be with God in eternity if I died in that “rebellious” state.
Had I been kicked out, I don’t know that my heart could have taken it. By the time I was going through this, I was experiencing the most extreme feelings of abandonment I had ever experienced. I felt completely and utterly abandoned by God, and their “God” felt toxic to my very soul. By this time, I don’t know that I even liked God anymore.
I keep going to church because I don’t want them to win in taking away my faith. This has happened in all too many cases that I personally know of – dozens in fact.
I no longer have a love for the bible as I did before I went there, even though I read it daily before and during my time at Mercy. I am generally not open to charismatic experiences, even though I was fairly comfortable and even positive about most of it before.
Things happen in life that cause us to change. I don’t know that I will ever comprehend why God caused or allowed this to happen. My trust in God is still being slowly restored.
But regardless of what we go through in life, I truly believe we can change for the better, no matter what it is that happened. So I believe the positive change that happened is that I am a lot wiser, and a lot more discerning, when it comes to the subtle power of spiritual abuse. I am able to recognise the dynamics of mind control in other settings, and it’s actually quite scary. I am fairly guarded. Maybe that is what they call “guarding your heart”.
I am also a much better listener, and no longer judge or shun or try to “fix” a person who is badmouthing Christian individuals or organisations. Because I know what it is like to be met with that response.
Maybe this whole experience caused me to change to become more like Jesus, in that I cannot quickly dismiss another person’s grief who has been hurt by Christians. We are called to mourn with those who mourn. Jesus didn’t try to correct the attitude of the woman at the well, or change her mindsets about Jews, or argue about who had the right to worship on a certain mountain. He listened, and spoke to her heart and met her need.
I hope that I am able to be more and more like Him and help other girls who have been affected by this ministry. Even though many of them have left church and the faith altogether, at least there is one example of a Christian, a follower of Christ, who is not dismissive of their very real experience. I would hope there are more examples, but if not, at least there can be one. One Christian who listens and does not try to explain or dismiss or silence or label or accuse or shun.
I have a long way to go before I am a better example of His grace and healing, but if there is one thing I have gained in all of this, it is the gift of being a friend to others and truly listening and hearing them in their time of need and grief – being the friend to others as Jesus has been to me, and the example that my Christian community has been to me throughout this time.
Church is still a mixed experience for me, but I am slowly becoming more open to Christian activity and letting God in again – I hope I can experience these things in the way that God originally intended, as things that were intended by Him to edify my faith, rather than destroy it.