When Spiritual Abuse Comes From The Home
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 15, 2013 with the title, “Adult Children Shunned by Homeschool Parents: Selah’s Story.”
On my blog we recently discussed the challenges that some former homeschool students face when they leave their home. This story is quite different from the last story, but it, too, deals with painful and strained relationships with fundamental Christian parents who were influenced by the subculture of the Homeschool Movement.
The pseudonym, Selah, was chosen for this personal account: ”a Hebrew musical word that merges the modern concepts of pianissimo and fortissimo.” For those not familiar with musical terms, pianissimo is a dynamic marking indicating the music should be played very softly, and fortissimo, very loudly. Selah continues, ”In Jewish worship it is that moment of silence to mediate on what’s past, but an admonition to prepare to be dynamic.”
I love that description. It will come more clear why she chose the name when you read her story.
I had the opportunity to talk with Selah and she shared her disturbing story with me. Selah is 30 years old and left home 7 years ago. Her parents had dysfunctional backgrounds, but both wanted to get things right in their lives and attempted to do a good job living their faith. Selah’s family was one of the first families to begin homeschooling in their small community. In fact, her family was ostracized for doing so.
Her family went from church to church trying to find the perfect church. They eventually traveled to all churches within a 30-mile radius of their home, a total of 23 churches in all. They dabbled in the Shepherding Movement, had church in their home for several years, experienced some pretty destructive churches with affairs and sexual abuse occurring by church leaders. R.C. Sproul, Jr., was among her father’s influencers.
Eldest children in homeschool families often get burdened with a lot of childcare responsibilities and Selah’s family was no exception. Selah is the oldest of six children. While her parents worked, Selah took care of her younger siblings. She had an outside job, but took the responsibility of making her siblings breakfast in the morning, went to work, and then came home to make sure they had their lunch, later giving them baths and putting them to bed. Selah was the one who took most of the responsibility for caring for her two youngest siblings, yet her parents complained that she didn’t do it right.
Through her teens, Selah experienced suicidal thoughts and depression. At the age of 19, Selah took a full-time job, but wanted to go to college. Like many homeschool families, her parents embraced the courtship model for Selah and wanted to oversee all aspects of her romantic life. At the age of 23, Selah’s parents interfered in the relationship with her boyfriend and eventually kicked her out of the home.
Currently, Selah is living away from her parents, but struggles because she wants to have a relationship with them and her younger siblings. God has provided other people in her life, but the void of her family is ever-present. This was the comment that Selah posted on the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page:
What do you do when the Spiritual Abuse comes from the home? I have left. I have no contact with them, which is their choice, not mine. And in a recent letter to my boyfriend, my mom (who is at the crux of this) stated that I am a threat to them and has stated to my pastor and other friends that I am mental.
I have been on my own for seven years, hold a good job and regularly attend church. They refuse to go to church stating that the corporate church is apostate. They state that until I am married, they should have the final say in my life.
I must esteem and honor them, and any perceived deviation from that has repeatedly gotten me expelled.
If they were ‘just a church’ or ‘just some people’ I could maybe just let it go. But it’s my mom and dad, and my five siblings.
There is nothing harder than telling the man you want to marry that he can never know his inlaws and that your children will never know their grandparents.
Is there a solution to this? Or will it look like this forever?
This is really heart wrenching. What adult child deserves to be abandoned by their parents? Why is it that some fundamentalist Christians are willing to completely sever ties to their adult children when they don’t measure up to their Christian standards?
What kind of love is this?
Let me share with you what I found on Wikipedia on shunning with regard to family relationships:
A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member’s closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.
Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature. When used by church members and member-spouse parents against excommunicant parents it contains elements of what psychologists call parental alienation. Extreme shunning may cause trauma to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.
What can we as a church body do to help people like Selah?
How can the church body respond to her?
I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.