This is the last part of a journey about my experience with being Gaslit, and what I’ve learned from it, in both the corporate setting and perhaps most unfortunately, within the church. You can find the first part where I explain how I realized it, amongst other things at this Introduction. And you can find part two where I talk about being gaslit in the corporate world here Home Field Advantage. Most important for learning about my experience at my previous church, is the concept of Anakephalaiossathai, which you can find out about here.
Much like with my corporate account of Gaslighting I’ll keep the specifics short. There’s a lot but it’s a fairly quick read…
This is proving to be hard; I’ve written eleven pages of drafts that keep getting off focus.
An important note is that any intentions I ascribe are based on conversations
of those who participated or by the individuals themselves.
It’s not meant to gossip, or paint people in bad lights.
Our named characters in this story are:
Myself. The ten-year pastor of the church – Cap. The spirit of control/arrogance – the Orange Demon (OD); and the vanguard of OD’s forces at the church – Annatar.
Since I was a teenager, I’ve wanted to be a youth pastor or something along those lines. It was prophesied when I was a baby that I was going to bring healing to my generation and as I grew up, and I have always wanted to help people in some way or another.
After graduating from college, I immediately went to seminary and graduated in Christian Education. Throughout hurt after hurt from churches and the evilness of men, I remained steadfast in my desire to do what I was called to do. So after my time in the corporate world, I decided to wholeheartedly pursue a full-time position in vocational ministry.
My first one was amazing – I got to pastor alongside Cap, a man after God’s heart and one of the best mentors I could imagine having. Cap, our families, a remnant, and Holy Spirit accomplished things that most people wouldn’t be able imagine is possible for a small church in the country with average adult attendance in the 30’s. We worked to make the church a place for the outcasts, the failures, the broken, hurt, and the vulnerable to find a place to be accepted where they are but loved too much to stay there. We worked to make a place for the theologically solid to be challenged, the lifelong Christian to grow, and those searching to find other seekers. It was a place for the neglected, the accepted, the holy, and the wretched to find family, community, and victory.
We led the church with openness and transparency with everything we were trying to achieve.
Once again, everything we put our hands to prospered in some way, even if it wasn’t as we thought it would be or had guessed. We were able to lead the church in revitalizing not only the building (through complete redesigns of the education spaces and thousands of man hours of painting and organizing thanks in a great part to my family) but also the programs, replacing the 9–19 age range youth program with age-appropriate classes led with generational leadership.
Generational leadership is when the age group above teaches the age group below.
We made the spaces places that those in the classes wanted to be in. One of my favorite memories was finding out that my youth began meeting up in the youth space with their friends to study and hang out.
Amongst those that I got the opportunity to invest in were young men and women who came from all walks of life, some who had been hurt by Christians, who hated Christians, who didn’t understand what it was to be a Christian, and some who had been going to church all their life.
It was unconventional, Jesus filled, and it worked even during the height of Covid and in a post covid church world.
“But Christiaan, this sounds great, what is the matter?” you ask
It was great.
What is perhaps most exciting is that all of that happened and was achieved in SPITE of every effort of the Orange Demon and his vanguard Annatar.
Vanguard (n). the foremost part of an advancing army or naval force.
Annatar, donated my first-year salary and much like his namesake used his power, charisma, and ability to manipulate people to gain power that he misused to project his insecurities, flaws, and failures on me. He was able to frame my salvaging the situations his failures and sabotages created as my failing despite his attempts to help me.
His attacks during the first six months were more overt being unpleasable; constantly complaining and critiquing what I taught, the way I taught, and more. Cap and I called him on his inconsistency during a meeting Annatar requested. This led him to acting more and more irrational until he finally snapped, and began screaming at Cap and I, because I told him I believed he was sabotaging the ministries through his malcontented complaining.
He stepped down from being a deacon.
He admitted what he did.
Due to the structure of the church, Cap had authority, he didn’t have the ability or desire to be an authoritarian. I understand and respect that. He always advocated in the midst of things, for me to let God defend me, and we took a different approach, we would show them through our actions and the work of Holy Spirit how we were different. And the first step was giving my first sermon. It was entitled Anakephalaiossathai, it was my first sermon given at a max capacity Scout Sunday, and my mom was in the hospital after having been on a respirator due to covid. It was a classic Christiaan presentation using movie clips, a variety of references, and telling one of my favorite stories in Scripture.
If you haven’t already, check out my write up on Anakephalaiossathai.
The scouts, their parents, Cap, my students, and more loved it. Annatar, the OD, and their group did not and in less than a week after an off-campus bible study led by Annatar, there were Matthew 18 meetings called, but not by Annatar – by baby Christians.
Matthew 18, contains the biblical method for Conflict resolution.
What I thought was naïve and baby Christians having concerns about stuff that they didn’t get and were too immature to be able to understand was actually Annatar changing tactics – he was now sharing his ‘concerns’ with others under the guise of wanting to shepherd others, having conversations with family, protecting the children, prayer requests, or items to discuss in committee.
Romans 14, discusses the idea that some baby Christians may
find things sinful that more mature Christians find fine.
(And vice versa).
As I continued to do what I felt God led me to do, and even though I was positively reinforced by Cap, my family, my students, and the parents of the students (except for Annatar and his wife). The pushback became more frequent and from all angles. People I thought I could trust, would come with small requests, with each Matthew 18 meeting (and there were a lot) I would slightly modify my behavior and make small concessions as olive branches to disingenuous individuals.
Annatar left the church to start his own in April.
The OD and his spies continued to funnel information to Annatar to continue a smear campaign that included secret meetings to share/gather dirt, and a coordinated effort to prevent children/youth from attending our church/being taught by me. I was blamed for the results of this campaign as if I had done something to cause it.
I didn’t know what was happening, but I never believed it was my fault.
Between Annatar and the OD’s other minions, everything about me was constantly being critiqued by “concerned” people – the way I dressed, the way I spoke, the way I communicated, the way I ran classes, the way I taught. When I wasn’t having ‘well intentioned individuals’ complaining about me, I was being told how I didn’t meet an uncommunicated expectation of theirs. Every time I had a victory and would share about it, another issue would rise immediately. Whenever I addressed and overcame that issue, there would be something else wrong about it.
As time went on these small concessions began to warp who I was and how God made me. Each time I made a concession, instead of it becoming a buffer between two lines, that concession became the new line too far, resulting in another need for a concession to buffer. And when I didn’t budge, I was yelled at by “deacons” and “men of God” and threatened with physical violence while they told me as an abusive spouse often does, that ‘if I hadn’t done X, then they would never have had to act that way’ and that I should consider myself lucky, because ‘in the past, they’ve gone to fists over smaller issues.’
I had been successfully dehumanized.
The OD and his minions both at the church and outside of it had corrupted all but a few of the members of the church. Some of my strongest allies turned into vicious enemies.
One of the individuals reached out to me ten months after I left the church.
He apologized and admitted he and his wife were wrong.
Cap and mines’ last day at the church was January 30th, 2022.
His by choice.
Mine through an unconstitutional/illegal hostile church take over.
All while my mom was fighting for her life again in a hospital a year after covid almost killed her.
I had been threatened physically multiple times. I had been abused verbally and emotionally. I was belittled, berated, and lied about. I was accused, and without evidence condemned by the church for teaching witchcraft. All my social media was scoured for signs of sin, and my friends had even been contacted to see if they had dirt on me.
But the worst thing that happened is that my family was ridiculed, attacked, ostracized, called non-Christians, and we became pariahs where people were forced to justify why they spoke to us, under the guise that people shouldn’t be associating with such dangerous people.
To say that I and my family were traumatized would be an understatement.
There’s so much I didn’t even put in this.
I did chronicle it for some of my youth pastor friends.
They said I should sell the movie rights.
Have you read my write up on Anakephalaiossathai yet?
It’s good, I promise.
Can we take a moment to be in amazement at all the things that Holy Spirit was able to achieve despite the worst that the Devil threw at us?
Perhaps the worst part of what the Devil was able to do is that I didn’t realize the affect that all this had on me. I knew I didn’t want to be part of a church anymore vocationally. I witnessed how easily allies became enemies, and how entrenched people are in their ways, how likely they are to reject the goodness of Holy Spirit in favor of their own selfish and evil desires.
Seems like a pattern within the bible…
And then came a stranger.
It wasn’t until I was, in essence, rejected for a job as a middle school history teacher and a series of comments from a middle school principle who used to work as a counselor said some things that I had NEVER been told before – that I lacked confidence, that it seemed like I was trying to please people, and be who they want me to be instead of who God made me.
I was legitimately dumbstruck by these comments. I literally think my jaw dropped.
I cannot emphasize enough how shocked I was to have heard that.
Those phrases had NEVER been used with me.
I invested dozens of hours into self-reflection about this while driving, and after visiting my friend and watching the Gaslight (1944) movie, it all clicked.
I had been Gaslit.
I was Paula Anton, I had been psychologically and systematically manipulated over a extended period of time to question myself and what I knew to be true, leading to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem and I had begun to doubt my own emotional and mental stability.
I then spent dozens of more hours in a deeper, more intense self-reflection trying to figure out how best to reverse what had happened, because there were moments of lucidity, where I would shine through amongst the shadows of the Gaslighting, but I couldn’t pin it down but I kept everything on the down low as I worked through to figure stuff out.
During this time, I had been asked to serve as a Spiritual Director on a Vida Nueva weekend.
This is a whole different story.
How one person can change the world.
I went to one of the meetings the workers have leading up to the weekend and I legitimately didn’t know how to respond to what happened, but it was like my soul came alive my heart came back to life.
People there were excited to see me. In talking and catching up, these people I hadn’t seen in over two years, not only missed me, but we recounted fond memories. As the meetings progressed (there were four total), I re-discovered that my different approach to things and my being different was valued and appreciated. Far from being told, by those in leadership, other than Cap, that I needed to conform or face the consequences and that I didn’t deserve responsibilities or leadership, I was already acknowledged as a leader, and given responsibilities that few have had the honor of holding giving a very specific talk.
What I didn’t realize is that God was Anakephalaiossathaing my story before my very eyes.
See, I told you Anakephalaiossathai is important.
As I prepared my talks, I kept having issues with them, in part because I was making them the way I felt they should be – very traditional. In my almost twenty years of VN I had always heard these talks given a certain way. But things weren’t clicking. And I called the director of the weekend, and I told him what I was planning, and he encouraged me to do what I felt was right, he told me that he didn’t choose me because I was like everyone else, he told me that he valued my being there because I wasn’t like everyone else, that I was different, and that because of that I had the ability to reach people no one else would be able to.
Then came the weekend.
All the amazing experiences of the weekend’s prior were doubled down on. Everything my hands touched prospered, every sense of the Spirit that I heard and followed was correct and the way I needed to do it. I returned to my way of doing things, I was emboldened to be the man of God that I was designed to be.
By the end of it, God had anakephalaiossathaied every single aspect of what had happened at the church. Every non-conventional, non-traditional, different way I do things, was not only encouraged, but celebrated and God used in mighty ways to reach the young men there. Even a clip of a movie I showed in my first sermon that I was roundly and repeatedly called out, condemned, and criticized was celebrated and God used.
He even had a young man named Gabriel (real name even though it fits) give me one of the most profound thoughts, “Sometimes God uses rejection as protection.” The idea is that sometimes, God has people reject us, show us the worst they can be, so that we can be taken out of that situation before it harms us even more. And this is such a comforting thought.
It’s important to note, not all rejection is protection. Sometimes it’s because God doesn’t want you there or with that person, and other times, it’s because you’re not ready and he needs to finish qualifying you or in my case, he used the rejection of the private school to put me in a situation where I was introspective and to show me what had been done to me. And I am equally as thankful for that rejection or lack of selection depending on how one wants to look at it.
Even though the gaslighting process, in my case, happened independently across five years and different places I can see how God used the rejection of me by people whom I thought were friends and like family to protect me. Being on the other side of this (there’s still some stuff to work through) I can see how far I fell, and I am thankful that I was rejected because I do see how I was protected.
I cant wait to see what God has for me in the future, whether it be in a church vocationally or fulfilling my calling in a volunteer roll!
Phew. That’s it for now.
As always I hope that this has been super helpful for you, and that God blesses you richly through it.
P.s. Here’s the clip I showed in both my first sermon and in my VN talk: It’s one of my favorite lines from the The Lord of the Rings, it’s affectionately known as “Sam’s Speech” This clip has that overlayed with clips from Starwars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones
Thanks for your continued faithful walk through this my friend. I think it will help others as much as it is helping you work through it! Thanks for just being you — the unique, quirky, wonderful, amazing you that God has created you to be!