Our meetings as a support group all took place at Wilt's house. During our first meeting, we went through introductions again, since a married couple from my old abusive church had recently joined us. When it was my turn to speak, I told about my experience in my former abusive church and some of the things I encountered after I left. I spoke about some of the conclusions I had recently come to regarding churches, and that they were not doing a very good job of winning my trust. “In fact,” I said, “I feel more comfortable giving canned goods to soup kitchens and homeless shelters than I feel about giving money to some pastors, since at least it's harder to embezzle a can of beans!”
This did not sit well with Wilt. He proceeded to lecture me about my bad attitude, beginning by saying, “Young man, I think you have a TRUST problem.” He went on about how so many men in ministry and church leadership were godly and good examples to the flock, speaking in a voice that grew ever louder and more disapproving of what I had said, until finally I stopped him in mid-sentence and told him that I did not appreciate his tone, since I had not come to his house to be lectured.
Now during this same time, the sexual abuses of many Catholic priests was being exposed for the world to see, and a prominent newspaper was running articles about financial abuses committed by the pastors at Melodyland Christian Center, a large church in Southern California. I left Wilt's house scratching my head and thinking, “He doesn't get it. I just don't think he gets it!” Nevertheless, I decided to give our support group another try.
Before our next meeting, I contacted a single woman who had also attended my former abusive church during the same time I was attending. I asked her if she wanted to join us, and she liked the idea. So she came to our next meeting. That meeting was not remarkable in itself, as we simply described more of what it was like to be in our former church, and the similarities between our former church and some of the more radical splinter groups of the Plymouth Brethren (There! I said it!) But after that meeting, I hung out for a while with this single woman in the street outside Wilt's house, since we had not talked to each other for a long time and wanted to catch up on what was happening with each other. As we walked out of Wilt's house, talking together, I noticed a look of disapproval on the faces of Wilt and his wife. I thought nothing of it, however, until our third meeting together.
That third meeting went very much like the second meeting, except that Wilt tried to lecture the single woman who had joined us, and she told him in no uncertain terms that she had been an adult for a while and did not need the lecture. But things got really interesting afterward, when it was time to leave. As I was going out the door, Wilt's wife pulled me aside and privately asked, “You know, you're a good looking man. Why don't you go to a nice Black church and find a nice Black girl to marry? I'm sure it would be easy for you.” Then I understood the disapproving looks on Wilt's face and his wife's face the week before, because I was black and this single woman was white! (By the way, I had no marital designs on her.)
I said, “Since when is race the basis for choosing a church? The Bible says that in Christ, there is not Jew or Greek, barbarian, Scythian, and so on. Moreover, the basis on which I choose a church is agreement with its doctrine and mission – not the color of peoples' skin. Why are you telling me to go to a Black church?” She did not know when to shut up, much less when to apologize, so she kept on about how she had Black friends who disapproved of interracial marriage, and that she was just trying to look out for me. I left that meeting with great displeasure.
Before our next meeting, I wrote a letter to Wilt and to his wife rebuking them for trying to segregate people in the Church, since in Christ God had made one new people. (It's in Colossians, by the way.) I also asked them what they thought would happen if the world at large knew they were trying to prevent interracial marriages in their church. Then I called Wilt on the phone and asked him casually if he had gotten around to reading the books on church abuse that had been suggested by the counseling ministry leader of his church. He admitted that he had not. After I called the ministry leader and told him of some of my frustrations, Wilt finally broke down and read “Churches that Abuse.” Also, I got a written letter of apology from his wife. I thought to myself that perhaps now our church abuse recovery group might at last become helpful. But I was wrong.
We had two more meetings after that. Wilt assigned us topics which each of us could present to the group. I chose to talk about the process of re-entry into church life, suggesting that people with our background should not jump immediately into a full commitment to a church, but instead, that we should take it slow, and find pursuits that we could share in common with others in a church so that trust could be built up in its own time and not rushed. Then I asked the group, “So, what are some pursuits or hobbies or interests that we have?”
Wilt jumped right in and rebuked me severely, saying that the talk I had presented was selfish and self-centered, and that Christ demands an unconditional commitment from us, holding nothing back. There was fire in his voice, I'll tell you! I told him that he was making no sense, and that we were all meeting in his house because we had made a wholehearted unconditional commitment to a cultic, abusive church that had taken us for everything we had. He told me, “Well, Christ accepts your sacrifice.”
I just looked at him. That meeting was the full proof to me that this guy didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about, or how to help victims of church abuse. That was the last meeting I went to with him.
Now, I've described some of the churches I tried after I left my former abusive church, and I've described some of the problems I found in each of them. And believe me, these were not the only churches I tried. My experiences with these churches have led me to certain conclusions regarding churches in the United States, and especially those churches associated with modern evangelicalism in the USA. My goal in all my posts up to now has been to get to this point, namely, a discussion and diagnosis of some of the problems I see with modern evangelicalism in America. Because, you see, the Bible commands us who are Christians that we should not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together,” but that we should meet together regularly as a church. And yet, I haven't been to any church for a couple of months now. Why? Because the Church in the USA is not a safe place in my eyes. Instead, a rather large number of opportunists, power-mongers and just plain jerks have taken over and trashed the place.
And I'm not happy about this.