Posted by: Botolff | March 3, 2009

The Dilemma Between Knowing and Believing

After having a number of people share their stories with us, we have already found that one of the most common words tying our experiences together is the word “Betrayal.”  Betrayal is the fertile soil for the dilemma I mentioned in the subject line of this post.

Many who have been forcefully terminated from ministry positions can tell you something about the dilemma between knowing and believing.  What do I mean?  The dilemma is created when, like a battered spouse or abused child, you know that you are being intimidated, manipulated and beaten; but you can’t, and for a while won’t, believe your own eyes when you start to realize that the people pounding on you are the very people you have invested countless hours to care for, and who you trusted to care for you.  The dilemma is created because, you know the truth, but you can’t believe it’s happening.

Like I mentioned, it’s the dilemma a wife (or husband) finds herself in when she starts to realize she has married an abusive spouse.  He didn’t start by openly abusing her, because if he would have, she would have never married him.  Although she is picking up signs early, he spent years learning how to camouflage himself, so the glaring red flags don’t usually surface…until she is trying to speak up for herself, and/or her children.  The pieces start to fit together, but she keeps trying to deny that it’s happening, because she trusts him, and he wouldn’t do that to her.

Just like that abused woman (or man) [I use both because either spouse can be abusive.  Men are more often seen as the perpetrators because they can more easily dominate a woman physically, which if that happens, can leave marks and thus is easier to detect.  Female abusers are just as prevalent and violent, but are more often abusive through their mental/emotional manipulation, which is harder to detect and address], as a minister being FT’d (Forcefully Terminated), when people are knocking the life out of you, you work hard to try and give them the benefit of the doubt, believing that they wouldn’t do to you what you realize they are actually doing.  At that point in time, you have a decision to make.  Either you plead with your abuser, telling them you will do whatever they want, hoping they will love you and not hurt you anymore; or you speak up, break free from the system with whatever life you have left, and try to recover enough to determine what the next step is.  That is unless they eject you first, cover it up, and move on.  The latter has been the more common story for thousands of terminated ministers.

We knew we were being ejected, even if we couldn’t name all the nuances of the hits we were taking.  We knew it because of what was happening to our bodies, minds and hearts.  For example.  I talked to a minister who, one night in the middle of his termination, found himself almost naked curled up in the fetal position in the middle of his cold hardwood living-room floor shaking uncontrollably.  His wife sat with him, held him and feared for him throughout the night.  Thank God for her!  When she suggested they go to the emergency room, he told her no.  His reason?  He said, “They wouldn’t understand.”

In many regards, he was right.  He had no physical marks on his body that proved he was being beaten.  And they wouldn’t have understood the emotional abuse he was experiencing because they weren’t living in it themselves.  How could they understand?  Most of us didn’t even understand.  It doesn’t matter how familiar we are with betrayal; if our hearts and minds are tied into something, it takes time to come to grips with the what’s being done to us.  It’s even harder when, again like in an abusive marriage, the abuser is working hard to cover it up by making the victim feel crazy, and even blaming the victim for the problem.

One of the elders that was part of the team that abused and ejected me later said, “Sometimes it takes a while to see things objectively.”  I think she said that hoping that I would “wake up” and realize either how responsible I was for what happened to me, or that it was o.k. for them to do what they did to me.  The problem is that her very statement became a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  Without ever saying it to my face, they made me responsible for what had happened, and in doing so, made me their scapegoat.  That’s exactly what happens in abusive marriages.  The victim is made to feel responsible for what happened, and then often they are blamed for their anger.  It’s a manipulative and deceptive tool of the people who themselves are trying to deny what’s happening, and what they are doing.

The elder who talked to me was right about one thing.  It did take a while for me to see things more objectively.  And although I can find a couple places where I could have done things better, those things wouldn’t in any way shape or form help them secure their “case” for what they did to me.  It would have actually been more exposing of them; because I would have been less gracious through my trust, and more gracious through my boldness.  I have never once had any inkling that what they did to me was acceptable or good.  In my “waking up” I actually realize much better just how wicked they had been to me, to the rest of the congregation and even to their own children.  I wasn’t the only one who paid for their decisions, and unless things are addressed, people will pay a long term price.  Secrecy and deception always have a drawn out payment plan.

If you or someone you know went through a forced termination, who was on the payment plan and what was the price?

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