When humility is destructive."
In the end, I received the push I needed to get past my worry over whether my pride was the primary problem in our relationship.
The one thing I asked from God in the dark of night ... tangible proof or a way of escape. I wanted confirmation that X was either truly transformed or what he was really up to on the inside. I wanted to know whether I could really trust his word after so many years of deception.
I struggled with "my pride" even as I accidentally (and then intentionally) read incriminating emails between him and two other women. Then came the day he returned home after "just going to a movie" ... for a quick 2nd shower and an immediate, unprecedented half-load of laundry containing the clothing he had worn. Earlier, he had failed to delete his girlfriend's response to the evening's date invitation, and the only thing I felt was relief.
It was the "way of escape" I had asked for, and even if I really was proud, I could take this demonstration of his deceit for what it was. This wasn't just my imagination. Surely the church would finally see how he had lied to them. They would see this as the one permissible reason for divorce (which they had thrown in my face the year before) and stop forcing me to stay. Right?
I moved out the next day, feeling as though I must rush into action or someone would forcibly stop me ... again.
It was a shock when the leadership tried to make me go back. My father, X, and I were called before the pastors (and a token wife, who I had requested be present so I wouldn't be the only woman in the room.)
*"If you had just waited, we might have said it was okay, but you can't do this by yourself."
"We do think it doesn't look good to meet up with a woman behind your back, but he says they're just friends. Why don't you give him the benefit of the doubt? We can help you work through this."
"We looked over this summary of your marriage problems that you say shows his pattern of behavior, and we see that you're still talking about things that happened years ago, before your first counselor met with you. You forgave him already, so you can't bring it up again. Besides, didn't you cheat on him six years ago? Isn't this hypocritical?" (That particular confession and what I learned from the experience is its own story. I'll share it later.)
"Why were you reading his email? Do you think it would be okay for me to read my wife's private correspondence? That's invasion of privacy!" I silently wondered why he was so concerned about a normal investigation that anyone who is suspicious of their spouse's integrity would definitely pursue, especially when I was expected to manage some of his email correspondence anyway. Wouldn't his wife's correspondence just reassure him she isn't cheating?
"You're challenging our authority, and we can't let you do that since it would be condoning sin in the congregation."
"Nearly a third of the women in the church think they have abusive marriages. What if they all decided to get divorced, ...then what? You're setting a bad example!" They actually admitted this, as if so many destructive relationships wearing the facade of marriage was something that should be maintained.
"If you won't obey us, we'll have to let everyone know you're no longer welcome. You won't be permitted to participate in services or ministries."
I looked into their tense faces and realized something.
They were afraid! Losing control of me was a threat to them, somehow.
I had resources few women in that local church would ever have access to ... an entire lifetime of theological research and training; and relationships in the church that extended around the world, across a broad spectrum of denominations. I knew by experience that this small group was merely a strand in the fabric of the worldwide church, which is, itself, only a shred of the Church past, present, and future.
They called that wider perspective "pride" because it was the only way to prevent others from looking closer, and I had believed them ... because ... you know .... it's PRIDE! We all have some.
But pride is neither the ability to see what others wish you hadn't noticed, nor is it refusing to lie about your beliefs when others demand it of you.
I was done with pretending to agree with things I had long considered to be supposition. I wanted to test what I understood to be true by walking in it. No more lying, "faking it till I make it," or conforming to their outer rendition of faith to make these men happy. If this was pride, so be it. I'd display my pride and learn from the consequences.
I also had external support they couldn't touch. The leadership's threat to cease financial support of my parents' ministry if they helped me didn't phase my parents for even a moment. (At that point the manipulation tactics became very, very clear.)
We discovered the amount of reputable church leaders, missionaries, and ministers who sent messages of encouragement directly, or via my parents, in support of my choice outnumbered the entire local church leadership, including the Sunday school teachers and group leaders who didn't have any say in the process anyway. It was my own personal miracle, because I needed every single one of those supportive messages to fight the years of lies (unfounded theological certainty) I had believed so I could walk forward to face the questions I'd been avoiding for so long.
I ache for the women who don't have what I had. How they can escape those lies is beyond me. Everything in their social circle works like the layers of sharpened fences, guards, and walls around a prison yard. They may see the sky, but freedom will only come through deep wounds and great determination. In addition, they are told that to do so is to escape from "freedom" into the prison of the "world." When even family and friends encourage these lies, it's amazing anyone is capable of acting against the pressure and pain.
In the end, I knew I had tried to fulfill every one of the leadership recommendations for many, many years, but the enduring fruit of such compliance was a distorted soul, bound by suffering, desire for escape, and suicidal depression. At last I chose to be judged for actually doing something that had a valid source in my own perceptions instead of multiplying the pain of warping my beliefs by facing judgement for failing to live up to that shaky, external standard.
Usually the character qualities I was exhibiting are called discernment and integrity,... though I was too fragile to think of anything other than sticking to the truth as I saw it, while hoping I wasn't destroying the universe.
Pride was there too, wishing they'd trip and fall into their own trap so they could face it for real instead of theorizing at me. Humility acknowledged I couldn't possibly be right about everything, but that it was worth finding out what would happen. Wisdom whispered that something had to change.
I changed the one element I could control. Myself.
They insisted on giving me time to change my mind, but their words and actions demonstrated so clearly that this wasn't an effort to understand the situation better, but to make me comply. "Don't make us do this to you!" they said, repeatedly.
I had been informed that various members were speaking out in my defense, questioning the leadership's decision. It seems this side-effect was more widespread than the leadership had expected, but the laity's efforts to protect me generated additional pressure and manipulation from the leadership. In the end, I wished they had just left it alone ... even though it did feel reassuring to know that not everyone supported those choices.
"Don't fellowship with our women any longer," one of them told me, as I waited for my children at a church program. "We can't be seen to tolerate you sharing your ideas, since you are in rebellion against us. It would give people the wrong idea." I stared at him, stunned, but unable to put words to the sense of injustice I felt in that moment. If this was their authority, then I'd let them exert it, I decided. After that, I didn't try to enter the doors except for necessity. (X continued attending with the children on weekends, which creates a dilemma each time I drop them off to join their friends at church events.)
The church leadership embraced X because he was willing to submit to them and take me back, and sent me away in disgrace for rejecting their authority on the point of whether I should return in the first place. It was their belief. Their choice. Their right (if you look at it from a legal standpoint) since they manage the property.
I was finally free ... and in so much pain that it wasn't possible to feel it. Stunned. Numb. Relieved.
"I'm already used to this treatment," I thought, "So it doesn't affect me as much as it might someone who hadn't build up some endurance." And then I realized, "That's really sad." They had done nothing to me that I hadn't already been dealing with for years within my marriage, and being cast out of the church wasn't half as bad as most of what I'd endured from X.
Even now, I wonder why it took me so many, many years to see how the church played a vital role in supporting the evil treatment I had suffered for so long. This changed my view of the church in a far more significant way than I realized at the time.
Continued in "Searching for the Church" (This link won't be active until 10/28/13 at 3am central.)
*All quotes in this article are from memory, and therefore the phrasing may be flawed, though the meaning remains as I understood at the time.