How the internet helps heal and how those hurt by the church connect and reach out to each other. This looks at the role social media plays in totalitarian churches and how I realized this in writing about Steve Estes Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Also if you were hurt by the church you are not alone, and you will heal in your own way in your own time. Each person is different.
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.”
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:20 NIV
Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania which I saw before arriving in Morgantown in January 2016
In January I found myself in a restaurant opposite a couple of other people from Community Evangelical Free Church who were former members. I was contacted by one a couple of months earlier and we discussed the situation and I listened. The person who contacted me read this post on the internet and reached out to me by email. Eventually others started to contact me as well. Over dinner we discussed the situation and I listened to their perspectives. It was awkward and weird to be meeting with people I met through the internet, whom I never met before. However, it was also weird to be sharing my story. At one point or another I would be asked a question similar to this, “Dave can you explain what happened to you? Why do you write this?” In the conversation I have had to share about a faith crisis and how an Air Force Captain tried to get me involved in Redeemer Arlington. In the process I explain the issues of Sovereign Grace, the fighting that happened, my mistakes and eventually the false accusation that transpired. It feels weird to share this with other individuals after all I am sharing my world. Its my life and my story. I have lived it day in and day out and its become a new normal. Its not being bitter, its dealing with the adverse consequences of fundamentalism.
I don’t think you will understand religious pain and trauma unless you experience it. I don’t think you can find out how harmful it is until you see how destructive it can become. Evangelicals love to talk about the danger of alcohol, drugs, pornography and sex, and please understand I am not downplaying a drug addiction or anything else. But I honestly wish evangelicals would face up to the effects of destructive religion. Religion can be just as destructive as drugs. How? It plays with your mentality, can threaten your job, create mental health issues, and scar you for life. I honestly think in reflecting on this issue that you can find some people so scarred from religion that their pain can be similar to Iraq or Afghanistan vets who deal with unique pain and trauma. Just as many Americans don’t know what the fighting can be like in Musa Qala, Helmond, many people won’t know how questionable church discipline can be unless it happens to you. I explained some of this to a couple of people from Community Evangelical Free Church.
I find it healthy and healing to share what happened to me with others. What has been helpful is seeing their reaction. When I sought out permission to write about Community Evangelical Free what stopped me in my tracks is when one of the key people in the story read my post on the false accusation and they sent me a note expressing their horror and shock about the incredible act of injustice. For me its my life, and what I have had to deal with. However, for them to see how unjust it is gives me pause. And that is helpful in the long term…to tell this story to people I have met from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Kansas and more and hear their reaction. It tells me that what I experienced was unjust – and wrong. In my case Andrew was in the wrong for the false accusation.
Now there is a flip side to all this as I am learning. My traumatic story deals with Redeemer Arlington…but that’s me. For other people their traumatic story is each unique. In the case of Elverson many people’s traumatic story is Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania. For them they have to talk about what happened. They have to speak about the shock, the alleged gun incident with Brock Estes, and the alleged domestic abuse and alleged rape. This has become their “normal” for them as Steve Estes and the Elders created this mess. For them to tell this story to an outsider and for them to see my reaction and horror help put this in perspective for them. After all for those who disengaged from Community Evangelical Free after being involved for years they are now facing shunning, losing friendships, and relationships. In some ways they are losing a part of their life especially as some people were involved for years at that church. After all Brock grew up in many people’s homes, and when people got married Brock and his friends were often in differing wedding parties. Because of all this and more this has been painful, difficult and confusing for many former members. I hear their pain and I wan tto resolve it for them, or do as much as I can to give it a 110% effort. This platform gives them an outlet to share their story and what has happened. It allows them to state what happened and how they feel, and try and move forward in their own respective way.
What is happening today is the internet now allows for broken and hurt people from fundamentalism to gather, share stories, and relate. It has become a tool to help people who are hurt and broken.
The Dark Side of the Internet vs. The Positive Side
There is a very dark side to the internet that you often hear in the news. The FBI has dealt with the growing and major issue of child pornography being shared over the internet. In the process they have dealt with those who have tried to lure children for sexual acts online. If you want to read about the history of the FBI’s efforts at combating and dealing with child pornography and the use of computer technology for sexual crimes this FBI page can catch you up to speed. But child pornography is not the only dark side of the internet, as there is also the issue of terrorists using social media to recruit people into their networks. From the Islamic State to Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, and the Taliban in Afghanistan; all those groups have successfully used the internet to recruit people into their organizations. When it comes to the Islamic State there are a number of articles you can read about how they use social media. Plus ISIS has been known for using Twitter to further its goals and they use it successfully. Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula has also used Twitter successfully to recruit individuals to engage in terrorism and publishes a magazine aimed at an American audience. In 2014 one of the hashtags used was called “AMA” which stood for “Ask Me Anything.” In this format people could interact and ask questions with terrorists. Finally the Taliban movement in Afghanistan now has a smart phone app to recruit more insurgents. You can read about that here.
While you often hear of the negative side of the internet there is indeed a positive side that all of us reading this post have discovered. The internet has allowed for us to gather, to share, and interact. We can do it outside the channels of a particular church or organization and share information. We can go over someone’s head. Its my understanding that a few weeks ago in a prayer at Community Evangelical Free Church they prayed against “gossip and slander” online. Sovereign Grace and Mark Driscoll told its members or followers not to research them online and to stay off the internet. Sovereign Grace called blogs stupid. This is the way these organizations operate as they are about control and manipulation. The internet takes away their control and directly challenges the story. In the case of Community Evangelical Free Church Steve Estes lost the narrative when I published the first post. The internet is a direct challenge to authoritarian spiritual regimes. The internet also allows us to engage and push back. I do not live in Elverson I am actually 4 hours away in the Washington, D.C. area yet I am influencing events there and giving people the information they need to make the informed decisions they are making.
You are not Alone
Those of you reading this may wonder what you did to end up in the position that you find yourself in. To those of you wondering, I will say this…you are not to blame. You are not at fault. And you did not bring anything upon yourself. The problem is corruption, and people entrust and give power to people who honestly should never have power to begin with. Mark Driscoll should never have been a pastor, nor should C.J. Mahaney. Steve Estes I know does not want to be a pastor and it shows, plus after what he did to his daughter-in-law I don’t believe he should be one. To those of you reading this through Twitter, Android, your smart phone, desk top computer or lap top the situations very. You can be reading this on your Android while riding the subway to work. You could be taking a break from work or eating your lunch. You could be sitting at your kitchen table and reading this on your lap top while sipping tea. To all of you I want to re-iterate. You are not to blame for what happened. Don’t listen to corrupt men who enforce rules that they themselves do not follow. Don’t give power to men who should not be given power. To all of you reading this I want to let you know….you are not alone in your spiritual pain. There’s me, there are people who comment, and there are the people who email me. But I think people would be surprised by how numerous we are. We are indicators that the church is sick, diseased and corrupt. But again I want to emphasize, and hammer this point. You are not responsible for what happened and you are not alone.
Trying to Move Forward
The difficult aspect of all this is trying to move forward. I notice that in the lives of the people I interact with from Community Evangelical Free Church. I observe that in some of the people from Sovereign Grace who I know. I am trying to move forward myself and learn to trust. In American history and in our political system Watergate was a poison in many ways. How many people lost trust in the system when they realized that the President lied and he knew about the break in and the cover up? As a guy who has studied history I would always suggest its never the act of the break in that killed Nixon’s presidency…instead its the cover up that did it. So was the Vietnam conflict when people realized that what was happening vs. what they were being told were two different things. How many people here remember how the shadow of Vietnam loomed over the Persian Gulf War and other military engagements? For the church the problem is similar we have our own “Watergates” and our own “Vietnams” There have been corrupt ministries like Sovereign Grace and Community Evangelical Free Church, and they have cast their long ominous showdown over the church and haunt it.
For those of you who are trying to move forward I offer this advice. You will heal on your own terms in your own way. There is never a set formula or method to bouncing back. Trying the faith again takes courage. Trying a church again takes patience. Look at me as I got involved in a church, Fairfax Community Church and look at what happened. I ran into authority issues with Andy Gingrich and then I discovered that the church had placed a violent sex offender as the Care Group Director and then hid that from the congregation. I was disgusted over what I saw…that evidence of corruption by Rod Stafford and Andy Gingrich was my introduction to Christianity after years of rejecting it. No wonder the church is sick.
You will heal in your own method and time. A healthy place gives you the freedom to determine how little or how much you get involved. When you have been burned trust is slow to grow. Here at my blog I allow a wide array of commenters. I allow everyone from supporters of the system, to people in the churches I have written about to comment. I allow atheists and secular humanists to comment. In all this I have no problem at all with allowing everyone to comment. I will not delete or try and block a conversation. After what some of you have gone through it would be wrong to do so. While this is sad to say it should make the church weep. Another sad reality is that I don’t think some people will heal. I think some people the damage done was done permanently, and they are gone for good. This is not me being a pessimist, instead this is me being a realist.
For those who believe in the Lord the best thing to do is try. Try and move forward, and try and find the means to practice what you believe. Try when you are ready and have the strength and speak your mind in the process. With that thought I am going to close with a pop song. The subject is not relevant, but the theme of trying is relevant to this post. As always I love you guys, holler if you need anything.