Some of what I’ve read here is a big shock to me.
I was involved with the Birmingham part of the church from 1984, on and off, more off than on, for 15+ years. I wanted very much to live in community, having longed for a communal way of life for some years prior to meeting the JA. I tried it twice, got kicked out the first time (because they needed the bedroom for someone they loved more) and the second time left out of choice.
I am deeply conflicted. I had some spiritual experiences which were quite real; that have carried me through times when everything else seemed to seek to destroy my faith.
I also picked up a few deep wounds along the way. For me it was psychological/emotional hurt – the neglect; the sudden change in people’s demeanour when I went from “not joined yet” to “baptised and joined”. The constant “we love you like no other” speeches followed by the not bothering to show any interest/seek you out if you were absent without explanation. The leaders who made me feel like I was sitting in a pool of sunshine when I got attention but who mostly didn’t give any attention. The utter failure to realise/understand/recognise childhood damage.
I don’t believe it was “moustache twirling malice” (i.e., wilful, knowing and deliberate), just born in middle class arrogance and ignorance. I blamed myself for all of it. I have lived in fear and misery for years – fearing and resenting the God I learned about, whilst trying to cling on to Him. Wondering why other people I’ve met (most from other churches) seemed to know a really nice God, who was kind and loving towards them while with me it was the same harsh list of expectations and demands (echoes of sermons heard during early times in the church and the attitude of some leaders).
Oh how I have battled to forgive those people who inflicted wounds. Revisiting over and over the point of hurt to try to defang it. I loved the shepherding thing but then I have father issues, so was wide open to it, hence the depth of the hurt I guess. It seemed nice to have to report everything, like someone was actually interested in me. It all seemed OK up to the point when I first fell away, or later when suddenly “your shepherd split this morning”. Happened more than once. And then of course the tune changes – yesterday you loved them as your shepherd, today you should feel pity, betrayal and maybe a bit of disgust for them, because they broke covenant. And the secrecy that was maintained! Nothing was ever explained.
Which leaves the biggest question of all, for me at least. Was it a good thing that went wrong, or a bad thing from the start? Some of the people I met seemed so genuine. They really seemed to love the Lord. It would be tolerable to think that it was mostly a good thing, that fell prey to bad. After all, is that not the history of mankind in general? Start OK then get into trouble? The biggest shock of all is the allegations against Noel. I guess it hurts when you realise how duped you’ve been – the self disgust at one’s own gullibility and openness. I was 19 when I met them and 20 when I got baptised.
This church has squatted over my life for 34 years. It has cost me so much in terms of opportunities and friendships lost. The years lost to fretting over divine judgment, the permanently disappointed God who mostly shrugged and said “you could have done so much better”, the unscriptural nonsense that was preached in so many local meetings, broken covenants, my marriage (now in its 22nd year) to “an unbeliever”, that was sure to end in disaster and would lead me to hell. (And I could write a lengthy piece on the utter horror of the idea of “hell” and how abhorrent it is as a concept, yet alone as the creation of a loving God). I still find I cannot speak ill of the Church. As to whether this is the result of the manipulation that was practiced, or something else, I have yet to work through. But I’ll confess to the fact that the idea that it was the church who was mostly wrong and not me is as a chink of light in an otherwise unending gloom. Time will tell.
So yeah, thanks for the Add. Not sure I have much to contribute, having got off quite lightly by comparison to what some of you went through.
I once bunked off a big meeting and went and sat in a tree instead. And as I was sitting there I said “Lord, I find the Jesus Army so hard to deal with sometimes” and He replied “yeah, so do I”.