My Spiritual Abuse
by Chad Gurley

As a child, I was spiritually abused. That is not a statement that I make lightly without a real, deep sense of hurt and pain. It is a truth that I have only recently in adulthood been able to admit happened and understand that it was wrong and should not have happened to me or any child. When I recall my experience, I wonder how many of us, especially those of us who are LGBTQ, share this spiritual abuse in common? If so, how did it shape our lives, our spirituality, and our relationship with God? I believe there are many of us who have survived to tell about the religious beatings and molestations of our fragile and innocent souls brand new unto the world. Therefore, it is no wonder that, whether preached from the pulpit or shouted from a street corner, when faced with the same kind of verbiage and jargon of that damaging religious dogma, which almost completely shattered our spirits, we react negatively, angrily, and crouch back into an infant position, hugging and rocking ourselves in order to try and find some comfort.

My spiritual abuse began when I was just a baby. Crying as a toddler in the middle of a Sunday morning's holy worship service was absolutely intolerable. On every occasion, I was punished for being "bad", dragged out the back of the church and given a good spanking until I was quiet. Being "bad" as defined by my Christian, Protestant, Southern Baptist church meant that I sinned (a lot) and therefore was a miserable sinner in dire need of something called repentance, usually induced by overwhelming guilt. I cried, I sinned. I spoke when adults were talking, I sinned. I spilt my milk, giggled during a prayer, wet the bed, I sinned, sinned, sinned. I wanted that toy that my friend had, well, God help me. And as a child far too young to understand fully what these things mean, I was indoctrinated with a basic idea of what it means to be a child of God. No, not that God is Love and Loves us unconditionally, but that I was really bad, which made God really, really mad, so God punished Jesus instead of me, and that if I didn't accept all of this and try to be perfect like Jesus is, then God would send me to suffer and cry in pain and sadness for eternity in fiery hell with the devil. Oh, don't get me wrong, I was also taught that God "loves" the little children, Jesus "loves" me, but there was always a "BUT".

Perhaps I was a child taking things far too seriously or perhaps I was a child who thought too deeply, but whatever the case, I was a child who pondered my Sunday School lessons diligently, listened to sermons intently, and was absolutely terrorized into believing in God and Jesus, and Satan, for that matter. I lived in constant fear of being anything other than what God had instructed in the Bible for all of us to be or doing anything other than what God wanted us to do. I was utterly terrified of the devil and was positively sure he was just around the corner ready to pounce on me at any moment. By the age of five, I understood that I was a lost, unworthy sinner and, worried sick, instructed my parents to call our pastor to our home so that I could be saved and protected. For until that happened, if I died and knocked on Heaven's door, Jesus would answer saying, "Sorry, you can't come in. In fact, I don't even know you." The door would slam shut, and Satan would appear, putting his horrible arm around me. Going down?

Many scream-filled, reoccurring nightmares later, just imagine what happened as I began realizing that I was very different from other little boys. A whole new can of worms was opened. My being "bad" became my being "evil". God being "mad" at me became God "hated and despised" me. For years, no matter how perfect, no matter how righteous I strived to be, my damnation to hell became more and more likely until it was finally assured. It seemed that even a salvation experience at eleven would not, could not, save me. By the time I graduated college, my head was so full of religious contradictions that my spirit was virtually unconscious, beaten into a coma, surviving only by the goodness and love of God's life support of which I was unaware at the time.

It was then that God removed me from the people, places, words and things which threatened to extinguish my soul in God's Name. By the grace of God and God's goodness and faithfulness, my soul did survive, my spirit breathed, and my heart continued to beat, waiting for the day when God did liberate me from the shackles of my indoctrination, healed me with the Spirit, and awakened in me the purity, honesty and innocence of which I had been raped. The Riverside Church is one of God's hospitals where I was attended to, and I am fortunate and blessed that God carried me there. God has a plan.

So as a survivor thankfully making it through to the other side, whenever I hear theological language that pokes at my bruises or salts my scars, I suddenly find myself impassioned, emblazoned, and full of fervor in making sure that abuse never happens again, that others are clear in understanding. I wholeheartedly believe that it is vitally important that we do NOT repeat this kind of history nor ever let another child or adult go through this kind of confusing, terrifying, painful abuse again. For God's sake, this must stop and be stopped, and that's why I am writing all of this today, what I believe God is calling me to share.

It is as if God stopped by for coffee this past Sunday afternoon, and as we chatted, God held up before me all the religious doctrines, traditions, and dogmas and said, "Chad, do you know what's really crazy? Do you see all of this and how messy and scary it has become? Can I tell you what all of this really means? Will you share what it was supposed to say to you and humanity simply, utterly, and completely?

Just this: I LOVE YOU.

I came as Christ to say 'I LOVE YOU', and like that game where you pass a secret in a whisper around a circle of friends, the message seems to have come out different than its purest intention. My Good News has been added to, subtracted from, used for power and gain, abused to oppress and destroy, incited to cause terror and fear. All I want is to call you here to Me, to hold you and comfort you, to Love you just as I made you, always and forever." God then stared down into the coffee mug, and I thought, you know, I believe God's feelings are hurt.

So, allow me to close by offering a little advice. Whether you've endured a similar childhood experience as mine or not, I implore you, my friends, always keep handy your Holy sifter, and whatever you hear, whatever you are told, whatever goes into it that does not demonstrate and convey God's eternal LOVE for you, sift it! Let only Christ's unconditional Love fall onto the dough of your heart. Then knead it with compassion, mercy and forgiveness; sprinkle it with lots of love for yourself, and allow it to rise into a genuine, authentic relationship with God. For you are promised that God is and always will be faithful, staying right by your side, with unending compassion, pleased smiles, deep love and a tender embrace no matter where you are on your life's journey or spiritual walk, no matter your doubts, fears, questions, or brokenness. No matter what, you are precious to God and so very Loved.

And hey, if you aren't exactly sure about God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or anything else, know that you may start as simply as just saying, "Hey God. Haven't talked to You. What's up? Bye." I promise you, God will be overjoyed to begin a conversation with you.

I love you!


© 2009 Chad Gurley

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