Monday, May 11, 2009

Families and Toxic Churches

One of the things I have come to appreciate in my journey out of the institutional setting is my family. They are precious. They are funny. They are amazing. They are and have become so much more a part of my life. They are mine!

In our church we were subtlety taught to discount our extended flesh and blood families. That might horrify you but it was true. It came up in so many ways. We would call ourselves a family as we gathered together at church. The pastors would wax on about how THIS was true family. How our blood families just "did not get it" like our church family did. How true love could really be shared by those who "loved God" like we did. How, yes, we must honor our given families but we knew who our REAL family was.

There were those of us who would "bear through" family gatherings only to get together with our 'real' family later in the day. We judged them for their values, beliefs, customs and lives. We would roll our eyes and sigh about having to spend time with them. If we could - without guilt - divorce our old families we probably might have.

Then IF EVER there was a disagreement with our families about our leaders, our church, our beliefs or anything regarding our group/church we were sure that our leaders knew what they were talking about all along. I have seen children barely speak to their parents. Holidays spent with the church "family"/or leaders in lieu of spending time with one's own family. It is/was heartbreaking.

The erosion of these bonds was subtle. If asked, no one would have actually said to leave your family (except if the family was making it hard to stay in the group). No one would have gone on record to do that. But as you just hung around the group you caught the flavor. Little things were said.
"We wish you did not have to go to home, we will miss you at our gathering."
"I know you HAVE to go home this Christmas but maybe you can come back in time for our gathering."
"It must be hard to go back there and sit through their church....I'm so sorry."
"You know, you don't have to go to everything they plan."
"They should not expect you to just drop all the important stuff you are doing here to run to their little affairs."
"I know you would rather be here with us."
"Why do your parents seem to want you at everything?"
"You know...we need you here too."
"It is just not healthy for you to be there."
" know who really loves you."

Husband and I are trying to be a part of our families lives. We didn't realize just how much time we were taking away from our families and giving it to programs and other people. We simply did not realize the condescending attitudes we were giving off to our extended families. We did not realize just how precious and fun our family was.

I never again want to come in between a child and their parents. I want to do everything I can to encourage the involvement of a husband and wife with their own children or a young family with their parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and such.

Our families are given to us by the Father. Make sure your church is promoting this. If you sense the other...RUN....Run back to your family. They need you and will still be there after all the others have left.


Deb Ermter said...

wow... you have no idea how 'right on time' your post is for me... thank you :)

Kevin said...

Since leaving the IC my wife and I have realized how much we've missed by blowing family off in favor of "church" events. It was a bit more "forgivable" when I was in full-time ministry but still sad.

I laugh when I think of the number of times I've seen church members praying for a lost loved one at a service while they're missing a family gathering where they could be expressing the Father's love in person.

The church has hurt the family more that it has helped.

glenn said...

Reminds me of the old days when I was a pastor and what I put my family through to meet the expectations of others. It is a pleasant thing now to be able to choose what I am involved with.

Erin said...

I completely understand this mentality. When we "left", one of the first things I noticed was how much more time I spent with my family...not just my husband and kids, but my parents and siblings.

But most significantly was that our kids were small when we were in this, and the church was kind enough to offer childcare for every meeting/event/program. So my kids were in childcare there almost ever day for 4 years...and I realized I had passed off my primary responsibility their mother to other people, so I could prove my dedication to "the church".

NeeNee said...

We too, unfortunately, are aware of this situation. Alas we still have family attending our former "toxic" church making family gatherings pretty awful. Our eyes were opened to the control and manipulation and hope theirs will be too. EVERYTHING we did revolved around our former church and boy how our lives have changed since leaving (after 13 years) and attending a healthy church. We are free to come and go as we please WHEN we please and have rid ourselves of the "poor them" judgmental attitude or anyone not going to "our" church.

Freedom, a true gift from Jesus, is a wonderful thing. These types of churhes keep you in bondage and you don't even know it.