By Don Enevoldsen
In six days it will be one year since I last posted a blog. There are reasons for that, which I will get to. Procrastination only accounts for the past couple of months. It’s been an eventful year.
A few years ago—about eight, actually—Christina and I started a journey that few who knew us ten years ago would have ever predicted. I’m not sure what to call it, except to say that it encompassed going against the grain in the most public and visible ways. From the beginning, we wanted more than anything to articulate truth, no matter where it took us and no matter what it cost.
I admit I’ve always been something of a contrarian, at least in respect to Bible teaching. I’ve never been content with, “The Bible says…” I’ve always wanted to know why. And the discovery of why frequently means challenging accepted norms, traditions, doctrines and beliefs.
Secure in a staff position at a large church, however, where I could teach regularly and enjoy the status that came with being part of the leadership, I tempered my contrariness for the sake of security. Not only was it a large church, it was a spiritually abusive church, and to remain secure in my position, I had to turn, if not a blind eye, at least a seriously blurred eye to the abuses perpetrated around me.
I reasoned that my opportunities to teach truth would resonate within the organization and eventually transform it from within; by rocking the boat, I would be cast out and end the potential for doing good. Better to be known as an eclectic than an outcast.
In the interest of truthfulness, I was a coward.
But things changed dramatically in 2007.
On the surface, it looked like a simple doctrinal dispute. We had moved to Los Angeles, so I was no longer on the church staff, but I still had close connections there. Many of my clients, including the senior pastor, were still there. My mother-in-law was still prominent on the staff. Nothing had really changed in our connection to the church except for the distance from our home. (In the interest of truthfulness, I was the employee of a family owned and operated business called Living Word Bible Church, Tom and Maureen Anderson, owners.)
The matter revolved around the manner in which the prosperity message was taught in that church and the financial ruin that visited many in the congregation when the housing market collapsed. In response to inquires from many friends, I began a blog series on prosperity teaching, which ultimately was collected in the book, The Wealth of the Wicked, for those who want to read the material. (Available at Amazon) For more on the aftermath of this chapter of the past few years, see the blog series at CounterThought.org titled “Questioning Church Authority”.
Of significance was the reaction of the pastor. He launched a campaign to prevent any of his congregation from having any contact with me. And as a result, many separated themselves rather than risk their own position. Most notable were my in-laws. Through a combination of phone calls, emails and letters, they sought to shame and intimidate us into submission. Christina’s mom engaged in outright lies, which, when challenged brought the response, “You’re not honoring me as your mother.” Christina’s father intimated that if we persisted, we would be cut out of the will.
I have no doubt the church pastors encouraged this campaign, if they did not instigate it.
In nearly the last conversation Christina had with her father, he made the statement, “We are not allowed to speak to you or to know you.” This is how a church founded on a word from God to build strong families deals with doctrinal disagreement, at least when the disagreement is seen as a threat to offerings.
Doctrinal disputes happen in churches all the time. Some lead to growth of the individuals and the church. Some lead to division. In this case, it was a necessary portent and preparation for us. It led not only to a split from that church, but a complete break with Christina’s parents. It also allowed us to see clearly their character so that we would not be shocked by the next stage of our journey.
Within a couple of years, for those who have not followed our saga closely, much more serious issues surfaced. Christina’s first husband, David, had molested their daughter throughout her childhood. In the process of growth and separation from the unhealthy influences of an abusive family, Christina’s daughter determined the time had come to speak out. She and Christina filed a complaint with the Mesa Police Department and David was arrested.
He dragged the case out for nearly two years, in spite of overwhelming evidence against him, and eventually accepted a plea deal which put him in prison for 15 years. (For more of the details of that part of the story, visit Christina’s website: overcomingsexualabuse.com)
From the outset, Christina’s parents supported their ex-son-in-law, regardless of the evidence, and accused Christina and her daughter of destroying the family, as though more than a decade of child rape was somehow healthy or normal and not worthy of consideration. My last conversation with my father-in-law was his attempt to convince me that the whole matter was ridiculous and we should just forget about it. You really have to hear the conversation to believe some of the things he said.
Christina and her daughter started their website, telling their story. As part of their story, Christina began talking about being molested during her childhood by her father. (Those details are also on Christina’s site.) Before Christina and I were married, she spoke of being molested, mainly so I would know about it, but she avoided much detail. Now the details came out. Her parents support for David began to make sense; research shows that abusers tend to form bonds stronger than family ties. In fact, a lot of the dynamics of the family started to make more sense in light of what research gave as the profile of an abusive family. (For details, see “What An Incest Family Looks Like”, one of my contributions to Christina’s website.)
Breaking years of silence triggered a lawsuit in which my in-laws sued Christina for Defamation of Character and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Much of the past two years have been occupied with the legal process. Without going into a lot of detail (which I will likely share in the coming months anyway), the lawsuit dragged on as lawsuits do. Our journey entailed numerous divine interventions:
- We moved to Arizona a little over a month before the suit was filed (unknown to my in-laws until several months later), which put us in exactly the right place to deal with it.
- My son became an attorney almost the same week the suit was filed.
- God provided the resources to easily pay him every penny of his legal fees, in spite of his willingness to represent us for free if necessary.
Eventually their case unraveled, and Christina’s mom agreed to drop the case. (Her dad died a few months prior.) In return, Christina agreed not to use their names in public, which she virtually never did anyway. (The names appeared only four times on her website. One of those was something I wrote and one was something her mom wrote.) When all was said and done, Christina gave up nothing and continues to tell her story. (In the interest of truthfulness, their names are Fred and Mary Schamer; I was not named in the lawsuit and I never agreed to any part of the settlement.)
While all of this domestic drama was playing out, the pastors were not uninvolved. In fact, I suspect the encouragement they gave to my in-laws, such as not speaking to us or knowing us, stemmed from a deep concern for their reputations if the information being published might connect them to any hint of child abuse scandals. During my time on the staff, I was acquainted with the lengths to which they always went to squelch any negative publicity, and this had the potential to be negative in the worst way.
Early on, Tom called me directly. (Which might be a hint for those who have spent months trying unsuccessfully to get an appointment with him but can never get past the secretary or his bodyguards. You’re probably not negative enough or public enough.) The call was in response to some of the material I had written about his bankruptcy (specifically, the blog “Obey Your Leaders”), but naturally the current situation with my in-laws and the arrest of Christina’s ex came up. It wasn’t long after that we received letters from their attorney threatening legal action if we ever mentioned their names in connection with any of this.
As a result, I backed away from posting much of anything. One lawsuit at a time is enough. And I had other pursuits that took most of my time. I was brought into a project, primarily as a writer, with the object of influencing people to focus on the primacy of love in the Gospel message. In fact, the only instruction to which Jesus ever attached the word “commandment” was his command to love one another.
Not that long ago, I would have felt an inner conflict between unconditional love and exposing the depths of corruption in some church leaders. The past eight years have been invaluable in opening my eyes to the reality that real love means speaking truth, especially when the truth I speak gives voice to those who are oppressed, manipulated and repressed. That is love. That is action that places value on human life and fulfillment of God-ordained purpose in life.
Expect more in the coming months on that subject. It has become a driving passion which I long to share. It will include insights on the spirit of Jezebel, on the structure and government of church, and the meaning of discipleship.
If you have wondered what I’ve been doing for the past year or two, I hope that gives you some idea.
And now for the New Year. The lawsuit is over, and my year of silence has ended along with 2014.
I’m looking forward to the coming year. It’s not exactly a new beginning, more of a continuation after a necessary interruption.
Happy New Year.