Finding Healing From Spiritual Abuse

Jen Wise / Restoration / Guest Katie Koranda

Guest Post - Katie Koranda

It has been nearly two decades since I stepped foot in Woodridge Christian Academy, but the Independent Fundamental Baptist church-turned-school remains the setting of a majority of my nightmares.

At 32 years old, I often wake up in a cold sweat after sleep has transported me back to those orange pews with Pastor Steinhaus (think Matilda’s Trunchbull) talking sternly about hell from the pulpit.

The sermons each morning in chapel went something like this:

“Bobby left that revival meeting without getting saved, and on his way home got in a fiery crash. He died in that fiery crash and was plunged into an eternity of fire and brimstone. Bobby had his chance to get saved and he didn’t. Now he will suffer for eternity.”

Between 2nd-and 9th-grade, I “got saved” hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

The IFB also taught that you could lose your salvation (it was one of their favorite messages) and I was certain it would happen to me, although it was never made clear HOW one actually lost their salvation. 

I was given failing grades in math and told that I struggled with the subject because my parents had sin in their lives. They smoked, and worse still, were going through a divorce.

I had my first panic attack at the age of 12.

My freshman year of high school, the new youth pastor started pulling me aside to tell me my shirts were too “clingy,” and that I would cause men to stumble. I was 14 and had nothing for fabric to “cling to.” My ankle length, dress code appropriate skirts were somehow also too clingy. 

These rebukes began happening on a regular basis. After seven years, my parents finally pulled me out of the school. 

My sisters finished out the year, and would come home to tell me I was the subject of chapel sermons. I had shown people that they could leave -- and they did. Within two years, enrollment had dropped so drastically that the school was closed and remains closed to this day.

Throughout all of these experiences, something inside of me always knew this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. 

It was as if God was telling me in no uncertain terms that he (or she, let’s be honest) was decidedly NOT one of them. 

So I plodded on in my dissonance-filled journey of faith with a sieve in my soul, sifting nuggets of truth out of mounds of spiritual abuse. 

But years of spiritual abuse always catch up to you, and I abandoned church altogether for several years in my 20s (an unfortunate cliche...).

I thought, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t need Christians. I can do this on my own, without all the nonsense and garbage people.” But I’ve begrudgingly accepted that you can’t actually do it on your own.

I’ve come to learn that what I experienced at that school was trauma. It was spiritual abuse. 

W. William Hobson defines spiritual abuse this way in his book, Suffer the Little Children: Understanding and Overcoming Spiritual Abuse:

“Spiritual abuse is the gross dereliction or neglect of a spiritual leader's responsibility to protect the basic rights of anyone under that leader's care. These basic rights include parishioners' spiritual, psychological, financial, and physical well-being. Spiritual abuse occurs when any spiritual leader violates these sacred trusts in any way, form, or fashion, thus causing any harm in regards to the aforementioned rights. Abuse occurs whenever a leader injures or takes advantage of anyone under his or her care at any time, in the following manner: physically, sexually, financially, emotionally, or psychologically, and any other similar acts…It occurs so frequently, most victims of it aren't even aware it has happened to them.”

Yes to all of this. 

But it is a topic that is still not talked about openly in the Church. 

“Inherently, the Church doesn’t like to admit when it has done wrong, which results in its members burying their hurt. Often, this pain becomes a wedge between God and His people, and I have met many people who have walked away from their faith because it had simply been beaten out of them,” Dayna Drum writes in Relevant Magazine.

And so many of us have had our faith beaten out of us...but there is hope. 

Recently, I went to an informational meeting at a local United Church of Christ church. Eight of us visitors went around the table giving a bit of our church background. 

Each one of us had experienced some form of spiritual abuse although we had come from different denominations. Each one of us found our way to the UCC because we were looking for spiritual healing, and you know what? I think we’ve already started to find it.

Katie Koranda is a germaphobe married to a paramedic because life is funny. She has a master’s in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, and is using it (seriously!) as a social media specialist for a global nonprofit based in the Twin Cities. Before that, she wrote hundreds of crime stories as a breaking news reporter, which you can find under her maiden name Katie Kather, if you’re so inclined. She’s learning how to love the Church again after a lifetime of spiritual “misadventures” that include being locked in a room and forcibly baptized in the Holy Spirit. Follow her on Twitter @ktkather.