[In today’s guest post, Lindsay Bruehl shares her open letter of gratitude to her church, a place where she stepped out of bondage to the injustice of judgmental legalism, finding freedom to grow in God alongside God’s people.]
The other day I wrote the most vulnerable piece of my life on my personal blog site. I want to share with you what led to the revelation of what happened to me and why I knew I could share my story without fear because of you, Wilshire.
Wilshire restored my faith that the transformational power of the local church is still alive and moving us forward for good.
Justice is a passion of mine and what led me to Wilshire, but what Wilshire also does is name the principality causing the injustice. I don’t know if you know how powerful that is to the human soul.
My Road to Emmaus
I have written about walking out on church in a previous post, “My Road to Emmaus.” I thought I had gone through all my pain and fears before I found Wilshire. But something else crept up this week unexpectedly, and I had an anxiety attack when another article came out on sexual abuse and church—this time addressing men I had always respected. Sexual assault is what made me flip my lid and walk out of church two years ago. I was shocked at the silence and lack of sympathy from church leaders and people I had been worshipping with for years. I kept asking myself, “How could this be? How are preachers not aware the abused are in their pews and they aren’t speaking to their pain.”
It was weird that two pastors on Twitter — Jonathan Martin and Cheryl Bridges Johns — could hear my pain. How can someone on Twitter hear me and people in my everyday life can’t? I can’t believe they found me worth their time, but they did, and they walked me through what I needed to process, healing me with the most beautiful words I had ever heard.
Pain is not pie
I do not compare pain with anyone. That is traumatic and not gospel at all. We treat everything as if it is pie. There isn’t enough for everyone to flourish, or your pain doesn’t matter because others have it way worse. What that does is force us not to deal with our pain. When I started listening to my own pain, I started hearing more clearly what people of color, LGBT, the poor, etc. have been telling me for years. This is systemic, and you aren’t hearing me. The thing is, I always thought I was an advocate. I knew racism and exclusion of LGBT was wrong and that there was a system working against the poor. I spoke up and believed them, but what I had failed to realize was that I was participating in the system. Pain showed me, and I left.
Name it and claim it
Coming to Wilshire I heard you name almost every week the abuse against women. Every time someone said it, it was like a part of my soul was being freed. When the #MeToo movement started, I felt the nudge I could say it too—but I ignored it. I kept thinking others have it way worse. This was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit, so I kept pushing it away.
My bitterness toward church was growing too. I knew I could not trust this story with the church. I saw the responses women coming forward were getting. I mention in my personal blog how some Christian men spoke to me when I challenged them on the “boys will be boys” narrative.
What I feared about church was coming true. What was worse was experiencing the silence of the nice people who just don’t want to rock the boat too much. A lot of these people do amazing work for justice, but they won’t say the Principality’s name. After listening to Jonathan Martin for two years, I learned we cannot cast out that which we will not speak. From the Gospel of Mark 5:9 (NIV) when Jesus was dealing with demon possession: Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” Legion—for we are many—that sounds like a name for systemic oppression.
What put me over the edge
When another article came out revealing another pastor guilty of abuse, and then reading about nice people who had supported him even after he had called the women liars, I lost it. I was shocked because I thought I was free. I found myself looking back at my past and getting angry. Jake had me talk it out, and I finally said everything that happened to me. Some of it I had suppressed and was just now remembering again. I had to suppress it to move forward. I had nowhere to take that story. Even if I did, it would not have been seen in the light of a systemic problem against women—just something unfortunate that happened to me.
Jake told me to write my story. It was the first time I admitted this part of my story to myself, and I shared it the next day. It also was the first time I knew I was protected enough to do it because Wilshire (a church!) would believe me, care that it happened and name it so we can end it.
What I’ve learned
Several things I have learned since sharing my story:
- I found the source of my anger with the church, and now I can work on forgiveness.
- The power of shame crumbled telling my story. It was abuse.
- My screams of, “It’s the system and why don’t you hear me?” intersected with people of color, LGBT, poor, Muslims, etc. It is not the same pain, but it was the intersection where I could see I had been blinded by the system too.
- We can do all the good in the world, but if pastors continue to pretend pain can be overlooked and go straight to joy, the church will stay in infant spirituality.
- Naming the principality makes it safer for someone sitting right next to you to come out of hiding. We need to say “misogyny” and elevate women.
Writing my story is the most freeing thing I have ever done, but I also feel really weird. Living totally free, hiding nothing, is not a world I am used to. I am trying to orient myself here. Hiding had gotten comfortable.
I received an anonymous letter telling me she hopes more stories like mine come out, so we will actually do something about it. She cannot face her family or her church. What I would give to know her name and sit with her so she won’t be alone. I know her story, though. I will tell her story, and we can work together to say its name: “misogyny,” “abuse,” “assault.”
I offer my story to let others know they are not alone. My story I also offer as repentance for what I could not see until I went through my pain.
Lindsay Bruehl is a Texas Native, married for 17 years with 2 kids. Lindsay started writing after a huge life change a year ago, and now nothing is the same. Writing has helped Lindsay uncover her own story and connect to others who have felt left out. Now she’s applying to seminary out of her passion for the local church to be a place for everybody. No exceptions. You can find Lindsay at her blog, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.