by Annie, a victim of abuse who found succour in the charismatic church – where she was subjected to even more abuse….
My childhood and teenage years were marked by abuse and chaos, and when I discovered Christian faith in my late teens, it proved to be both a great blessing and a significant additional burden.
I welcomed the firm boundaries Christian morality offered and felt a lot of safety after a shiftless and often frightened existence. Unfortunately for me, I was sexually oriented towards women, and in the evangelical circles I moved in, ranging from the Vineyard and other charismatic churches to the white-walled conservatism of traditional Baptists, and even the extremes of the Jesus Army cult, such a thing was a marker of my broken humanity, rather than a normal variant of human sexuality.
Victims of sexual abuse develop various coping mechanisms as they go through life, often very self-destructive, and I slipped in and out of church involvement, often drinking too much and being sexually promiscuous to rid myself of the bad things within. I was very ready to listen to the people offering me peace and wholeness, via prayer and counselling. They were respectable people, often very kind and very sure of the answers, which was tremendously attractive to a young woman who had faced abandonment and abuse and had already seen the inside of a mental health unit.
At first it seemed very benign. I kept my head down and didn’t make too much of my sexual orientation, correctly deducing that it was unacceptable. I thought that perhaps I could be one of the graceful women, securely married with children, living safe lives, doing good. It was quite the compelling fantasy.
At university, the same pattern of self-destructive behaviour continued, and I connected with the Jesus Army. If I was looking for extremely strict boundaries, these people had them in abundance, especially for women. I was immersed in a ‘community’ lifestyle, wore long skirts and my whole life was consumed by the local group I was associated with. I received baptism and a virtue name, and one of the prophets told me I was called to be celibate. The heavy shepherding practices of the group involved me disclosing my innermost thoughts, and I endured hours of deliverance ministry to heal me of my same sex attraction demons. Eventually, I tried to pull away from the group, and one of the ‘prophets’ visited me and said he had a word from God that the way I would be healed of my homosexuality would be to submit to him sexually. Of course, all that happened was I froze in fear and was then admitted to a psychiatric unit after attempting suicide.
I still managed to retain my faith after this, and remained involved in evangelical churches, though not as extreme. I lost my mother during this time and was left with nothing. The church was still a safe haven to me, and I still craved the security of their acceptance. I married a man who was very kind and good and I did my best to conform. The church recommended counselling a group run by Ellel Ministries, and I attended one session in which a long questionnaire delved into almost every aspect of my existence, and I received deliverance ministry that was no different to what I had faced in the Jesus Army. There was lots of physical laying on of hands and a bucket nearby in case I vomited as demons were expelled. I attended one session, went through the motions in abject terror once I realised what was going on, and never returned.
It’s important to note that I went into all of this willingly. I was desperate to be ‘normal’ and healed and whole. I truly internalized the idea that my brokenness wasn’t just because I had been abused, it had manifested itself in my deviant sexuality, and I was consistently offered ways to be ‘free’ and so, of course, I pursued them with enthusiasm.
Personally, I believe the way to end these practices is to be very honest that they do not work, and that legislation is necessary to curb the influence of the faux-psychological ‘counselling’ and deliverance ministries that are permitted to act with impunity under a veneer of Christian respectability. I no longer have a faith myself, but I have no desire to see the faith of others denigrated. I stand with those for whom open-ended, life-affirming prayer is a comfort and support, however I do believe there are prayers which constitute coercive practices that involve almost medieval thinking and are damaging people. Some of these people have homosexual or bisexual orientations, and many others have seen terrible things and look to a religion for hope and safety.
Quack therapies simply have no place in a society which cares for the vulnerable. They should really have no place in a church which claims the same.