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Shame Is a Prison, and I’m Breaking Out

The first email came a few months after we formally joined the church. The message from the pastor was cryptic, asking my husband and I to come to meet with him. Despite the sparse words, I shuddered, knowing in my bones that this was about me, not a friendly “let’s get to know each other” meeting.

The day of the meeting, I felt physically sick, heart racing, hands shaky. I wanted to hide.

Shame is a prison. It is impotent to help us grow.

The pastor’s office was lined with bookcases crammed with theology. I took the chair nearest the door, settling uneasily on the leather. I tried not to grip the arm rests, to adopt a calm and confident pose that hid my fear. Scott took the other chair, a full three feet from mine. I wondered at the distance. He was too far for us to hold hands. Too far to feel like we were in this together, that he had my back and I his.

The pastor took a drink of water, and licked his lips nervously, the way I do when my mouth is nothing but ash, too dry for words. I found a shred of comfort in knowing that he was not comfortable with this meeting either.

He opened a manilla file folder and slid out a few sheets of paper. I spotted my name on the folder, Facebook-blue across the top of one page, and my blog header on another. My mind raced as I tried to process. The pastor has a file on me. My gut was right. They don’t like who I am.

He hadn’t said a word, and I already felt awash in shame. I wished that I could hide my too-easy-to-read face from his gaze. My hair was short, unable even to hide my eyes. I turned slightly in my seat, towards Scott and away from the pastor, trying to angle away from his direct gaze.

He prayed that obligatory I’m-a-pastor-so-I-better-talk-to-God-before-doing-anything prayer, took another sip of water, and began.

“Someone has brought your blogs and Facebook posts to my attention.” He pointed to the print-out of my Facebook wall and a couple of blog posts, peppered with underlines and notes.

“You shared a post on Facebook that supports egalitarian views of men and women, in direct opposition to our church’s teachings. You know that we believe men are to lead and women are to submit. We are asking you to stop sharing things that disagree with the teachings of our church.”

They are spying on me! I felt anger smolder in my belly.

He continued. “Your blog has us concerned about your personal spiritual wellbeing. We are also concerned about the wellbeing of the other people here in this church who may be led to doubt by the things you are writing. We are asking you to stop writing about doubt.”

I stared at him, stunned. “You are asking me to stop writing about my faith and my questions on my personal blog?”

“Yes. You and your husband are high-profile members of this church, whether you like it or not. You have influence.”

I felt isolated. Targeted. Rejected. Ashamed. I wanted desperately to hide, even as I argued how important it was to me to be real and honest about who I was and where I was with God. And how laughable it was that my little bitty blog was influential. I remember reaching for my hair, wishing it were long so I could pull it across my face like a veil.

People who get to know me well will eventually discover this about me: I am like my son. I am direct, say what most people won’t, have poorly-developed filters. Most of the time, this is refreshing. People tell me it’s such a relief to have someone blurt out what they’re too afraid to say. My lack of political savvy can cut through the crap… sometimes. But other times, it really gets me into trouble. I’ll desecrate someone’s sacred cow, wound their fragile ego, or drop innuendo into the wrong conversation or with the wrong person. When that happens, I swing to the other extreme – I clam up, bottle it all inside, and hide.

That’s the time I wish for a veil.

This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka by way of Dubai. In those countries, women wear veils far more often than they do in the U.S. (though we have a large Muslim community in my area, so it’s more and more common around me than it used to be). Always before I saw veils as repressive and as projecting responsibility for a man’s thought life onto a woman. But I began to see benefits in the veil on this trip, until this morning.

I was thinking about this post and trying to uncover why I have this instinct to hide inside a veil, when I saw it. Shame. Shame makes me want to hide, whether it’s over a legitimate mistake or whether it’s someone else projecting their issues onto me. When I feel vulnerable and rejected, I hide.

This is not how we ought to be. Hiding my shame behind a veil is not healthy. It doesn’t protect me, any more than hiding behind fig leaves protected Adam and Eve from God after they disobeyed. Hiding is a symptom of our brokenness. Shame is the painful fall-out from our warped desire to control people.

That first meeting with the pastor, nearly 3 years ago now, began an ongoing fight against my own fear of being shamed, rejected, and branded a threat again. It is getting better now, but I still sense it with nearly everything I post. That church tried to shut me down and control me with intimidation (church discipline is no small thing). It was all about power and control, and what I’ve realized is that this was rooted in fear.

How sad, especially when the Bible they claimed to love and follow teaches that perfect love casts out fear. When we love, we reject shame. We do not use fear to control. Shame is impotent to love or help us grow – it is a prison. We must not succumb to the temptation to hide behind a veil, to pretend to be who we are not.

Perfect love casts out fear. Shame is fear and has no place in this holy work.

I promise today to throw away the veil of shame. I will accept you, the whole you. I will love you with all your flaws and all your weaknesses as well as your strengths and your character and your talents. Will you embrace the good as well as the bad in me, too? I will practice forgiveness and grace. We can help each other become who we are meant to be, to overcome our weaknesses, together to be more than we are apart. Shame is fear and has no place in this holy work.

Update: Don’t miss my follow-up post, in which I respond to the questions “Why did you stay?” and “What happened next?”



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  1. “The first email came a few months after we formally joined the church.” Just curious — how did you come to be joined to that church? Were they not up front with their doctrines or a “Statement of Faith?” — Hans

    • Hans, they had a covenant that members were to sign. But it didn’t address their intolerance of diversity of views. In fact, they made a point of saying that, for example, you don’t have to affirm the sovereignty of God (as taught by reformed Baptists like John Piper) to join the church. So their response to my personal Facebook and blog posts was a total shock.

      I will share more about how we ended up there in the next post. Thanks for your question!

      • It is sad, the pattern – the passionate anger that comes out when you question somebody’s socio-political assumptions… it certainly makes it look like their faith is centered on their cultural comfort zone, not on the One who will outlive all lands and all cultures. Thank you for keeping the faith.

  2. A similar situation happened to me except I was called into the church office alone and in the presence of two male pastors was accused of saying things I never said and harshly rebuked for things I never did. I was asked the same question repeatedly and treated as though I was a suspect in a homicide investigation. They “good-cop/bad-copped” me and it didn’t matter that I was trembling from head to toe, barely able to speak through my tears – they sat there stone-faced and un-moving while hurling a barrage of questions at me. It didn’t matter what I said. I was guilty and treated as such.

    What had I done? I was a worship leader at the church and during one Thursday evening practice with our team felt compelled to share how the Lord had convicted ME that week that I needed to be spending more time in private worship with Him – how can I lead others in worship if I’m not worshiping Him myself? From that testimony I encouraged our team to prepare our hearts before the Lord during each week so when Sunday arrives we may lead from a place of truth. Why that was such a horrible thing, I will never know.

    What I do know is I’ve never in my life felt so humiliated, small or shamed. What I also know is that in my 25+ years as a believer, my Heavenly Father has NEVER made me feel that way. Why men in leadership roles feel they somehow have the right to act in ways that Jesus never would is beyond my comprehension. Thank you Joy for your grace and your courage to continue writing.

    • Jim Breiling says:

      Would be nice if these church leaders read and heeded the Bible, specifically the instructions of Jesus (and his example) about prayer:
      Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer
      Lk. 11.2-4
      5 ¶ And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Lk. 18.10-14 Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
      6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
      7 ¶ But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
      8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
      9 After this manner therefore pray ye:

      Our Father which art in heaven,
      Hallowed be thy name.
      10 Thy kingdom come.

      Thy will be done
      in earth, as it is in heaven.
      11 Give us this day our daily bread.
      12 And forgive us our debts,

      as we forgive our debtors.
      13 And lead us not into temptation,

      but deliver us from evil:
      For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, 1 Chr. 29.11 for ever. Amen.
      14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
      15 but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Mk. 11.25, 26

  3. It is mind-boggling to me that someone could essentially get dooced from their own church. I am so glad you were able to resist this oppression. Your voice is a gift.

    I do struggle with your metaphor about the veils. I totally understand your interpretation of them as a symbol of shame and a means of hiding, but I think it’s important to note that this is not their intended meaning within cultures/religions that practice head-covering. I love Diana Butler Bass’s response to her daughter’s question as to why a woman was wearing a hijab: “That’s how she loves God.”
    Katherine Willis Pershey recently posted..Take Twelve: DecemberMy Profile

    • Sorry but the Islamic veil is indeed bound up with notions of shame.

      I understand that plenty of Muslim women wear the headscarf or the niqab as a sign of their love for God and submission to God, and that isn’t something negative. But that was never the original intention of the veil in Islam. The intention was to do with women’s shame, and for many, many Muslims that is still part of its intended meaning.

      If you ask a Muslim where they get the directive to wear the veil from, generally they’ll show you verse 24:31 which talks about women covering their bosoms with their veils, and explain that traditionally, the verse has been understood to mean that women ought to cover their heads (although the verse makes no explicit mention of the head).

      The verse states that women are to draw their veil over their bosoms except around certain groups of people: eunuchs, nephews, small boys, fathers and other male relatives. Therefore the reason given by God for women veiling themselves is NOT primarily as a gender-specific sign of religious devotion (although the fact that the commandment is in the Qur’an by definition makes it a religious observance), but because unrelated men may be sexually aroused by looking at women who are unveiled.

      Or they may direct you to 33:59 –

      “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused [the word translated as ‘abused’ here had also been translated as ‘annoyed’ and ‘molested’].”

      I can’t claim to know much about the circumstances under which those words were written, but they seem to be in some way linked to the idea that, rather than men taking responsibility for their own ‘molestation’, ‘annoyance’ and ‘abuse’ of women in public, women hold greater responsibility for provoking men’s thought lives, abuse and molestation.

      When this idea comes from the pastor of a church who is berating the female members of his congregation for wearing the wrong thing and thus provoking the men of the congregation to lust, a lot of Christian women find it humiliating. If a Christian man excused himself by saying ‘Well, of course I lusted after her/molested her – it’s her fault for not having her hair covered/cleavage covered!’ we might find that an unacceptable, misogynistic, shaming defence. It’s the same if it comes from a Muslim man.

      Even if I could believe veiling had nothing to do with the women’s-bodies-are-shameful stuff, I take exception to all veiling whether in Islam or certain forms of Christianity because it suggests humility: not the holy humility of women before God, but the hierarchical humility of women before men. If it was about God then men would wear them too. They are a continuation of ancient patriarchy. And that’s all about shaming women. So I think the veil metaphor is totally appropriate and not problematic at all.

  4. My wife and I attended a bible believing church. One day my wife told the pastor that she disagreed on his stance about women in the church. He kindly took me aside and told me to get my wife under control in no uncertain terms. That was the best day of my life. We both stopped going to “church”. That was over twenty years ago and I consider it the best day of our lives. Free at last, free at last, thank God free at last. The point is- people need to start leaving the church- not trying to fix it. You don’t try to pour new wine into old wine skin. Amen.

    • Great blog Joy! I completely agree with you Danny. It is time that those of us, Christians who know the true teachings of Scripture about men and women come out of Babylon. You cannot stay in a ‘church’ that is teaching wrongly about women, and think this is how change occurs. The Bible doesn’t teach that. It says to stay away from false teachers.
      I recently left another church because they were allowing male pastors to teach that women should not be in leadership in the church. And this was a church that had a statement that God calls a Christian to be a pastor regardless of gender, and has women pastors. I couldn’t believe it.
      When I spoke with 3 people in leadership about it, they said, that there is ‘liberty of thought’, so that it was okay if some in the church were teaching women could be pastors, and some were not. This is just craziness! I told them I was leaving because this was false teaching and unethical to have a statement that encourages women as pastors, while in practice allowing those to teach against it. Needless to say, they are not forgetting about me. LOL But this is what is needed – reality!
      Also, how can I lead other women (or men) to a church body teaching them that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives gifts and chooses them, in a church that teaches the opposite. I could no longer live in hypocrisy anymore, pretending that things were okay in some sort of fake peace. This is worldly behavior, not behavior God calls us to – that is why I know your words are true. God has been showing me the same. Leave false teaching and start creating true fellowship as Jesus’ body, as God intended it to be.
      Revelation 18:4 Come out of Babylon my people!

  5. adoptingmamma says:

    I want to shout from the rooftops that I am free! I actually grew up wearing a head covering to every worship service between the starting and ending prayer. Now I co-lead a church plant with my partner and husband. I am free in Christ and I hope you keep shouting it from the rooftops too!

  6. What ended up happening? Did you leave the church? Obviously you are still blogging :)

  7. This story just kills me. I’ve seen it too, intimidation tactics and censorship and fear-mongering and shame-bestowing behind glossy church office doors, and I hate that you had to go through it. I have to echo what previous commenters said about it being spiritual abuse. There’s no question. I’m so glad you’re finding your way out of that manufactured shame though, and I hope you write more about that journey in upcoming posts.

  8. Oh lordy this sounds like me! I’m still at my church. I decided to fight for my right to disagree with them and also to be there. I wasn’t going to let them push me out just because I made them uncomfortable.

  9. Debbie Smith says:

    I am so sorry that this has happened! I think it is inexcusable, but far too common. Perhaps you are not ready for the inclusiveness of a Unitarian Church, but they are the most supportive and wonderful church I have been to (although I am no longer a church-goer), and my mother goes there because she will not put up with the ‘old’ ways that make it seem like ALL women must be stupider than EVERY man. She will not suffer foolish, egoistic males or hateful, repressive rules in the name of a loving God. Good luck to you in finding a HAPPY supportive group that focuses on love and acceptance.

  10. In the words of Marmee March, “Embrace your liberty.”

    My Facebook comments were turned over to a pastor once too. Needless to say, we left and I’m still blogging too.
    Sisterlisa recently posted..The Problem with Many Male Leaders Today will Affect the Women and Children of TomorrowMy Profile

  11. Way to go! I write a lot about patriarchy on the Church on blog and plan to do more. But I would have to challenge this quote from you “Hiding is a symptom of our brokenness. Shame is the painful fall-out from our warped desire to control people.”

    What if it is really the Church that is CREATING the sense of brokenness and therefore shame? What if…just what if it is the churches portrayal of the Fall that creates the shame…but that in reality we all are still sacred and whole, we just don’t know it? What if the underlying message in much of the Bible and the subconscious of the our culture is to shame women in general? What if this is done as a need for control and order of the feminine essence – an essence that is routed in healing and love and power – ..and it is done by controlling what makes women – women…of what gives them this healing power and their voice?

    If these questions sparks your interest, let’s talk offline….and you can also turn to my blog http://www.practicejoy.info to get a glimpse into what I have been learning.

  12. Joy,
    I had similar circumstances in a united reformed church as a new Christian. I was so on fire for the Lord and I was writing on their North American blog with other Christians and pastors. Every Sunday they would stalk me down, “do you think you should be writing on the blog?” “is this really a good use of your time?”
    They also were upset that I had a job where I was a manager over men and encouraged me to give it up. Yet, they were not offering to help me live (I’m single).
    I was demoralized after 3 years, disheartened, questioned whether I was a real Christian woman, questioned whether I was saved.
    There are many other stories about that place, and where I got the strength to leave (I was so depressed) I don’t know, but I did. And God is so faithful.
    I studied His word and He showed me the truth of His Kingdom and how He intends it to be through Scripture (Gal 3:28-29, Ephesians 2:14). He led me to Christians for Biblical Equality and so much more. 10 years later I am healed from that experience, but it took a long, long time to heal and forgive.
    Now, when faced with Patriarchalists both in the church and the world, I have many Scriptural answers and am so prepared to give an answer for the Hope within me. It is so exciting!
    Blessings to you dear sister in Christ,

  13. I didn’t realize how widespread this problem was. I thought it was relegated to pastors. Thank you for shedding light on the issue. I’m glad you felt the freedom to share :)

  14. Thank you for sharing your story. I thought it was just me…It is still too early and the issues is too sensitive to share my story publicly, but now I know I’m not the only one to feel the shame. And righteous rage.

  15. thank you for posting. you have no idea. i thought i was the only one. but now i know i’m not the only one to experience the shame. and the righteous rage. my issue is still too sensitive to share publicly…as you note, “church discipline is not small thing.”
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    • The leaders’ jobs are to train, equip, empower and release people into their destiny in God, whichever set of reproductive organs they have, not try to control what people believe, think or say. I am so sorry for you about this experience – you are best off not being around leaders like this.

  16. When your church starts interrogating you like you’re a Gitmo detainee, you need to go find another church.

  17. Wow. I live in Australia and am not religious. I found this blog by clicking through links initially from a site which discussing song lyrics. It’s so sad that women in America are being subjected to this treatment. While reading what these Pastors are doing made me angry, I was relieved to read to many of you are rebelling against this blatant patriarchy. I’m not a Buddhist either, but I I found it interesting that the Dalai Lama said Western women will save the world. He just might be right judging by what I’m reading here.
    Keep standing up for your right to have a voice. More peace and love is what the world needs.

    • Roxee, this post is nonsense. Now if she was a member of Westboro Baptist I would believe she was being abused but I think that is not the case. She is just against the Biblical Complementarian view. Women in America are treated badly but mostly in the media, mostly by “liberal” men who take advantage of poor “liberated” women (they are liberated, they are slaves to sin, death, and the devil) who have loose morals. I however, being Complementarian, strive to treat my wife with the utmost respect. I am not perfect, in fact I would say sometimes I am rather weak but I do think that I do better than I would were I either a Chauvinist or an Egalitarian. Neither of those can ever truly know how to love their wives as Christ loved the Church.

      • Jason, calling someone’s post “nonsense” doesn’t sound very respectful to me, whether that person is a man or a woman.
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      • It makes me very sad that you cannot tell the difference between a kind disagreement in theology and abusive, controlling behavior. What this pastor did was not simple disagreement in trying to get a stray sheep to come back to the flock. This was an abusive, paranoiac, exercise of control and power and Joy is absolutely within her rights to call it out.
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  18. Joy, this post breaks my heart. As an old white guy who grew up in a conservative church I almost feel my entire generation is to blame. I spent 20+ years in overseas missions and came back to the US workforce in 2005. Since missionary work counts as zero in “work experience” I found myself in a low-paying secular job working alongside 20 somethings. I was shocked to learn two things.
    First is that many conservative churches had changed. By 2005 “the enemy” seemed to be gentle believers like you and “groups” such as gays and churches often were less focused on real evils in our society. The second was that the younger generation I worked with largely despised or were hugely indifferent to the church. I see these as related. Churches often get too focused on winning wars more than souls.
    The technical age we live in has changed the game for such churches. They are no longer able to silence wise voices such as yours. In the long run I suspect this heart-wrenching post will do more to reach people and encourage thinking than such narrow church thinking ever will.
    Be encouraged. You and others like you that I find online have helped me shape my faith; helped me to better befriend a younger generation, and excited me that, at 64, I still have much to learn. I have even learned that not being sure of every aspect of my faith is a good thing for it shows that my spiritual growth years are not over.
    My growing passion is that my generation of believers be encouragers to your generation and not stumbling blocks. I’d like to hope we still have something to share that will help you on your journey but I am deeply sorry that you did not hear it in your meeting.
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    • Thank you for this, Tom. As a 30-something churched-out pastor’s kid, I am always refreshed to find wisdom and grace in believing people of your generation who haven’t bought into the changes you mention. I’ve been blessed to see that modeled in the lives of my own parents as well.

      Thanks for being an encourager to younger generations – we need you!
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  19. This blog post had me captivated and, to be frank, disgusted. I feel as though we all have our own spiritual journeys to take, and for anyone to ask you to hide your feelings and doubts from the world is dishonest…and what do we call dishonesty? A sin. I’m so glad that you’ve cast aside your shame and have continued to be you.
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  20. Ummm…If I remember correctly…woman was taken from man’s side. Not from his feet so that he can tread on her. Nor from his head so she would rule over him. But she was taken from his side so she can be his equal. She is to submit to his will unless it would lead her on a path of unrightousness.
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  21. Thank you so much for this incredbly encouraging teaching. It is exactly what I needed to hear today. I thank God for bringing this to my attention, and I thank God that you are exercising your gift to teach me (a man) about important spiritual truths. I’m glad that you have not allowed human tradition to silence you.

  22. So if your Pastor does his job and corrects your doctrine, and disciplines you if you refuse to repent he is trying “to shut me down and control me with intimidation (church discipline is no small thing).”??????? That sounds like exactly the kind of Pastor I would want! One who cares for me and the flock personally enough to tell us the truth and is not just trying to get my money by making me feel good about myself. I think you need to learn to let scripture interpret scripture instead of projecting your personal opinions, feelings, and emotions onto it. I am afraid you have a false Gospel. Perhaps you feel the need to hide because you are hiding somewhere other than the true Christ? Perhaps you have fallen for the lie of Mysticism?

    • Perhaps your ability to miss a point should be turned into an Olympic sport? Perhaps you need to assess your own attitude because the only people Jesus ever really got mad at in scripture was the pharisees and their filthy rag righteousness.

      • that. is. THE funniest comment I’ve ever read!

        perhaps also some people need to stop commenting on blogs go learn Greek, then do a study on Jewish culture, hellenistic opinions and philosophical schools of thoughts and what they said about women at the time of Paul (and before) and see for themselves what he really taught about women, which words he chose, and why he said the things he said. It is liberating in a way only Scripture can liberate. (spoiler alert: complementarians have it wrong.)

    • Jeff Rodriguez says:

      “I think you need to learn to let scripture interpret scripture instead of projecting your personal opinions, feelings, and emotions onto it.”

      If you understood the hypocrisy and fundamental impossibility of that statement, you wouldn’t say such stupid things. But you don’t. Because you are under the impression that ignorant fundamentalism is a virtue. It is not.

    • Ron Gaskins says:

      Jason … Your comments are crisp and direct … and remind me of an event in the life of Jesus where He confronted the Pharisees with their religiosity and shallowness and then gave the illustration of having a log in their eye while complaining of a splinter in the eyes of others. I’d humbly ask that you read your message and insert your own name and ask The Father to show you what is in your own heart. And I’ll pray for you as you do so. Thanks.

  23. “Yes. You and your husband are high-profile members of this church, whether you like it or not. You have influence.”]

    That statement from your pastor alone is worth a thousand words. It says you are doing something right and making enough of an impact that those who keep pushing the un-scriptural practice of complementarianism (politically correct patriarchalism) are starting to feel the impact of your words. Christians are slowly seeing the light and those men and women who continue to push the darkness of the complementarian views are starting to feel the pressure as there is always pressure associated with light.

    The comments about shame being a part of what you felt being called out by your pastor are interesting and something that I have never really thought about before. I usually go just the opposit when someone tries to question the views I have developed over many years of personal study. I have been right where you went several times because of my beliefs and my website on gender equality in the church, although I haven’t been called out because of my blog. At least not yet! However, when I think about some of the women I know and how they would react to being questioned by leadership, I can see that reaction occuring in them. My denomination tends to be very repressive of anyone who paddles their canoe against the traditional current. Thirteen years ago, I found myself called onto that carpet by a preacher at a previous church after I had led the worship for an evening service. We went to his office and I was bluntly asked “I guess you believe women should be able preach and teach in the church?” My answer was “absolutely”. This incident occured because I led all Fannie J. Crosby songs that evening and gave a short talk about her. There were other questions which I gave answers that did not set very well either with this man because they challenged his beliefs (very traditional beliefs!). The interesting thing about that confrontation was that we developed a friendship and worked really well together until he left after a leadership coup occured, which eventually drove my wife and I out also. In other words, a door was opened because of that session. Right now, the big thing the complimentarian men are complaining about to our elders is the NIV 2011. Yep, the Bible that I carry and read from to everyone in our Bible class!

  24. Thank you for writing this. My church problems are minor compared to yours. I am going to a church that has a pastor that says “true Christians” cannot do yoga. And if you do yoga, you are not a “true Christian” and cannot take communion. I take communion anyway. I figure God’s probably just happy I’m exercising. This is just one example of the rules at this church. I live in a non-English speaking country and this is the only English language service within about 300 kilometers, so my options are limited. Sometimes I just feel like a subversive and that my calling is to shake up people’s dumb rules. I am not a member here and probably never will be, there are some things that are just not going to happen.

    • if your pastor can show me IN THE BIBLE where it says you cannot do yoga, then I might possibly agree with him. I always say that I have faith, not religion. if God said it, then I believe it. but if man says it, they had best be able to show me where in the Bible supports their statement. too much legalism (man) and not enough faith (God) will get us into trouble every time!

  25. Thank you so much for this post. After 10 years, I am still addressing shame issues that were concieved in an abusive church setting. Day after day I was publicly shamed for various issues and I am struggling to break free of it even now. I have resolved to make my decisions based on love, not fear, and to abandon my concern over whether another Christian believes my doctrine is correct. Again, thank you.

  26. As I continue to return to this page over and over, wiping tears from my eyes and feeling the stinging burning feeling of struggling to hold them in, I am struck over and over by the overwhelming similarities. I still cannot believe how this mirrors my experience. It is impossible that this happenned to you just as it did me and at nearly the same time. It is so incredibly familiar that for a fleeting moment my daughter thought I might have written it. She sent it to me.

    I have left that church, because I cannot be me. I have tried, I fail. I have said nearly word for word what you said about yourself. I have no filter. My oldest daughter (a psychologist) and my second oldest (a degree in linguistics with a focus on societal formation) both say I have a ‘masculine’ conversational style. I don’t see masculine and feminine. I see equality in Christ. I see no male, female, slave, free, greek, gentile, jew, etc. I see sinners.

    My new church, pastor, denomination, etc have been nothing been supportive. My pastor even told me early on that the main reason my previous pastor feared my taking over is because I am fully capable of doing so and of doing it well, but he did not see a desire to do so in me. I was blown away. He has had me teach bible studies, lead prayer study and even give a sermon in his absence from his pulpit. Me. A former Lutheran who was eventually kicked out of a Calvary Chapel under ‘church discipline’ for not speaking ‘in love’, being too ‘harsh’ and the final blow; ‘usurping pastoral authority’.

    I wish I could say that I have healed. That I am confident now that I can and do understand the Word of God. That I am loved and lovable as I am. That I am accepted and safe at my new church. I wish I could say those things honestly.

    I have left, but it has never left my soul.

    Nope. With every study, conversation, sermon, etc. my first thought before and my continual fear for hours, if not days, afterward is: “Will this be the time I went too far again and am asked to deny who I am or leave this congregation?” Every time.

    I am on the road to healing though, and your blog made me cry and realize that I am not the ugly duckling. Or, at the very least, I am not the ONLY ugly duckling, in the family of God. Thank YOU is not nearly enough for what you have done for my soul. Words cannot express how it feels to finally not be ALONE.

    May God bless you beautiful woman of faith.

  27. Have you ever read the Internet Monk? I think you might like it, maybe starting with this classic: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-i-have-my-doubts.

    It strikes me as strange that a pastor would try to discipline someone over what they believe. I can understand being taken to task for actions, or if you were obviously trying to ‘lead the flock astray’. But just expressing your own beliefs on a web site… Maybe I need to be more careful!

    Come to think of it, I do think that a concerned person did once go to the pastor after having heard my ‘testimony’ on a not-so-good day.

  28. Thank you so much for this post! It has given me more hope, courage, and strength than you can know right now. My husband recently told me is unwilling to have children with me because of my beliefs about homosexuality, gender equality, the doubt that hell exists, the belief that people can find Jesus or go to heaven outside of Christianity, etc. So I am in a very hard place right now.

  29. This website with its stories of patriarchal abuse in Christian families and resources for overcoming the same, may be of interest to all who have followed this thread of conversation.


  1. […] Clark 1 CommentFirst, a creepy bit of personal testimony from Joy Bennett in a post called “Shame Is a Prison, and I’m Breaking Out.” She tells of being summoned with her husband to a meeting in the pastor’s office at […]

  2. […] of this, and much more, came back to me when I read Shame Is a Prison, And I’m Breaking Out (HT: Rachel Held Evans). The author writes of being called with her husband to meet with her pastor […]

  3. […]  And all of these things are build on a foundation of shame in the victims.  (Joy Bennett wrote a fantastic blog about this on Wednesday. Emily Maynard, just yesterday at Prodigal Magazine called shame a […]

  4. […] The pastor’s office was lined with bookcases crammed with theology. I took the chair nearest the door, settling uneasily on the leather. I tried not to grip the arm rests, to adopt a calm and confident pose that hid my fear. Scott took the other chair, a full three feet from mine. I wondered at the distance. He was too far for us to hold hands. Too far to feel like we were in this together, that he had my back and I his. click here to read more… […]

  5. Friday Funday // 12.14.2012 | The Theological Materialist says:

    […] at Joy in this Journey, Joy writes about her experience with shame in the Church. How sad, especially when the Bible they claimed to love and follow teaches that perfect love casts […]

  6. […] Shame Is A Prison, And I’m Breaking Out, a collection of personal stories about women being silenced by their pastors through shaming […]

  7. […] Shame is a Prison, and I’m Breaking Out by Joy Bennett of Joy in this Journey […]

  8. […] is so easy to second-guess my response to the heat I’ve taken from church leaders over my blog and social media activity. Sometimes I want to tell the me from three years ago to grow a pair and walk out. But then I […]

  9. […] We left an abusive church in May of this year, and spent most of the summer visiting other churches. Not pleasant. All the pain and all the wandering prompted me to ask “What IS church, anyway?” in this post, originally published on June 11, 2012. […]

  10. […] originally published this post on BlogHer 2 1/2 years ago in the midst of the conflict with my church about my blog. I republished it at the end of last year, and I’m sharing it again today […]

  11. […] 2012, at the beginning of our search for a new church. It took us some time, but we finally left an abusive church situation earlier this year. This was the first of a series of posts about our […]

  12. […] friend of mine commented after reading this post, Shame Is a Prison and I’m Breaking Out, that she finally understood why I’ve come across so angry and hurt by the church these last […]

  13. […] I have written for Life: Unmasked and as I have bared my soul over doubt and depression, I’ve experienced some negative backlash. It’s inevitable, I know – anytime you make a statement, someone is going to disagree or […]

  14. […] Joy Bennett offers some deep, personal reflection on shame and its effect on Christian. […]