by Alberta Parish
As a former church member, I would fear attending church on Sunday morning and even suffered a few panic attacks prior to service. Imagine being fearful of attending worship services. Many people view church as a happy place, but for me it was anything but joyous especially on days when I did not have ten percent of my income to give to the church. There was no doubt in my mind that many sermons were personal verbal attacks upon members who were not regular tithers.
Due to financial hardship, I was unable to give ten percent to the church many Sundays. Although I gave what I could give, this was not sufficient for church leadership. Many times, I had to choose between whether to give tithes or pay my electricity/gas bills. Of course I chose the latter. Church leadership was never understanding of people not being able to give tithes, but instead criticized those who were not regular tithers.
I remember how many Sundays the pastor preached entire sermons during which she scolded her parishioners for not being regular tithers. She even threatened on various occasions to call members into her office regarding their non-payment of tithes and offerings. In addition, the pastor told parishioners that they did not truly care about the “House of God” if we were not giving tithes to God. She effectively used the pulpit to prey upon our emotions. God was not the one who needed our money! She did! I recall the pastor even threatening to ask people to leave her church if they were not paying tithes, as she claimed that non-tithers were taking up space that others could have. Imagine the pastor asking you to leave her church for not paying tithes and offerings, but there are manipulative persons, adulterers, deceivers and hypocrites whom she allows to remain in her church! Why? They are regular tithers. Such is the hypocrisy of the church!
Having been a consistent member since age 13, I often felt intimidated, harassed and bullied by what I knew were personal verbal and emotional attacks upon my character by church leadership. If I’d known then what I know today, perhaps I would’ve walked away from organized religion many years ago. Even now, I have no desire to attend a worship service anywhere in the world let alone in Atlanta, Georgia! In addition, I have no desire to be a religious person. I would rather be real than to be a Christian lacking morality, honesty, straightforwardness and integrity. I have dealt with far too many dishonest and unhappy Christians to not have a desire to be one myself.
Reflecting back, I now realize that perhaps my former pastor was a very unhappy individual and, as a result, I suffered the consequences of her unhappy existence while I sat under her ministry as a religious slave from 1987 until 2011. I think she was the biggest bully that I ever knew in my life, and she bullied me and many other members (my aunt and mother included) while sitting in a position of power and influence. As a result of religious bullying, I am unable to trust people and think that many especially religious people are very phony. I won’t even give many people the benefit of the doubt as I think that people have some sort of ulterior motive, which could be detrimental to me. I don’t trust church leaders. I don’t even trust God if there is a Supreme Entity known as God in the cosmos. Consequently, I am not sold on the belief that there is one Father-Like, Old Man Deity of the Universe. The Sun, being recognized for thousands of years by ancient civilizations, was once revered as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and not some Old Man sitting high in the sky and among the clouds, as the Church would have us believe.
This is my story, and I wanted to share it to educate others on the importance of how to differentiate religious bullying from spirituality. Church leadership threatening to excommunicate members, because they fail to pay tithes and offerings on a consistent basis is clearly a form of religious bullying. Making personal verbal attacks upon a person’s character, because he or she is not the perfect Christian or the perfect tither is clearly a form of religious harassment and intimidation. These acts can never be tolerated under any circumstances in a society that promotes human rights. I know now that my former church leadership did not have my best interest at heart, but instead had a personal agenda, which had absolutely nothing to do with saving my life and my soul. Church leaders preached a good game about saving lives and saving souls, but I believe they destroyed more lives and souls than what they saved.