Re: The Living Word Fellowship, The Walk, John Robert Stevens
Date: August 18, 2018 05:37AM
I’ve thought about posting here for a long time, and have been working on this post for months. I have been wary of it because, as I mentioned in my initial post, I know for a fact that TLWF monitors this site. Creepy! I also just really want to move on with my life, and wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for me to do in my healing process, to come forward. However, it’s been weighing on me for a long while, and I know that I need to be free to speak about my experience. I think it’s time for those of us who have remained silent (and there are many of us) to start speaking out. So, here goes…
I was born and raised in the fellowship (an OG YASPer, too), and for a long time I never really considered how toxic it was because it was all I ever knew, but several years ago I started to wake up and I began to see things for what they were. I’ve lived in about five different TLWF locations, and with each new location a new set of shepherds, almost all of which were emotionally and spiritually abusive and extremely controlling. From the time I was a young child I experienced emotional abuse by the church. When I was just six or seven years old and attending the “Kingdom” school, the leaders of the school had decided that I was too bonded to my mother and forced me to stay several nights at the principal’s home as a way to get me disconnected from my mom. I was so confused why the school bus was passing my house and terrified that I was not being allowed to go home. This is one of MANY such odd church-related occurrences in my childhood.
In my twenties I was dating a man in the church, who unbeknownst to me had submitted our relationship to the shepherds. I wasn’t connecting with anyone at the time in a shepherding relationship and it was during the time that the words on having an Elijah/Elisha relationship were coming out. I had asked a particular shepherd to be that relationship to me and she said I could only have a relationship with her if I broke up with him. Weird, but also not uncommon…the shepherds have always interfered heavily with relationships, often splitting couples up or telling them they were not allowed to date someone in the first place because they didn’t “have a witness on it”. If you disobeyed them, you were usually ostracized and criticized. We were also so brainwashed with the belief system that if we did something without the blessing of the shepherds, we would be totally out of the will of God and therefore…fucked. In a word.
After I entered into this “Elijah/Elisha” relationship with this pastor, things got very bad for me. I was constantly being criticized for EVERYTHING by her, for the way I talked, how I dressed, how I behaved, every little fucking detail of my life and personality was scrutinized. She said very cruel things to me about my character, even though she had never taken the time to get to know me at all. And speaking of “Girls Turn it Off” I was even told by her that the only reason that guy I was dating ever wanted to date me in the first place was because I “beamed it at him” to like me. I was also berated for dressing “provocatively” at a social function because I was “clearly trying to get his attention”. I was wearing jeans and a modest blouse, by the way. I started wearing dumpy sweatshirts after that. Men were never held responsible for their part, women were basically just slut shamed unjustifiably.
I became very isolated and depressed during this time. I was purposely excluded from many functions and constantly getting in trouble for every little thing. I had massive anxiety because I was paranoid about getting another “talking to”, as it happened so often. I felt I had to walk on eggshells at all times. It left me feeling so horribly about myself that I had almost zero self-esteem. It was a very lonely time.
The abuse continued with nearly every other shepherd I had subsequent to her. It was either highly personal attacks or it was having my life so controlled I could hardly stand it. At one point it became intolerable, as a lifetime of being abused in this way became too much to handle. I became so depressed and self-loathing that I began hurting myself. The constant criticism, the pressure to perform according to shepherds’ expectations, being ostracized when I did not live up to their expectations, struggling to earn their love and acceptance, the never-ending scrutiny and so-called discipline piled up until I felt I was a worthless, unlovable piece of shit. I tried going to therapy but it was hard to get anywhere when I knew if I told the truth about my situation IT WOULD SOUND LIKE I WAS IN A CULT. I literally remember thinking that.
It was only after I spent some time away from a local church for the first time in my life and began to slowly feel better that I realized perhaps it was the church itself that was making me so depressed. But I kept hoping things would change in the church, and because of a lifetime of being conditioned to think that any doubts I had about it were satanic deception or something, I stuck around for several years even after I began having major doubts. I kept hoping that things would get better, but nothing ever changed, in fact the Living Word culture only became more oppressive and fanatical.
Everything is very manipulative in the Fellowship. They play this messed up game of giving and then withdrawing affection, demanding total participation, and making you fearful of being rejected by the group. They play on people’s longing to belong. They tell you that submission is not absolutely required, but you better believe that there will be consequences if you don’t submit to them. You will be punished by being excluded, gossiped about, removed from teams, positions (even paid jobs), relationships, and will be generally coldshouldered. I’ve heard shepherds make fun of people for “subnouncing” things, as in announcing what they were going to do rather than submitting it. So many of us abided by shepherding directives that felt totally wrong because we knew if we didn’t we would be ostracized. They also convinced us that “even if the shepherds are wrong, God will honor your submission and make it right.” How many of you have been fed that line before?
The prevailing culture of the group is so deeply entrenched in these negative ways of treating the sheep and its disturbing hierarchical structure promotes exclusivity, elitism and man-worship. The leadership is very toxic, abusive, and self-serving.
After I finally decided to split with the church a couple of years ago, I began to feel more happy and free than I had ever felt in my entire life. I also felt that the things that had troubled me internally for so long were starting to get better. I actually started to grow spiritually, something I did not feel happened for me in the church. I felt like we were always going around the same mountain over and over again. I realized that I rarely saw much change or growth in people at all, in the Fellowship.
It makes me incredibly angry that we were all so abused when all we were trying to do was walk with God. It makes me angry that I waited so long to leave, believing that it would change and get better, all the while enduring more and more psychological crap that I have to now get over. I’m working really hard to forgive everyone that is responsible for the hurt and abuse, but it is not easy. Oddly, it is especially difficult to reconcile my anger with the love I have for even the ones that were so awful to me. It was my love for those people that kept me believing they could change. But I could no longer continue to be a part of an organization that is so cold-hearted, hypocritical and judgmental. They say TLWF is a family. It is not. It is a business.
Onion mentioned a lot of former members likely having PTSD. I started seeing a therapist towards the end of my time in TLWF and have continued since. I was diagnosed with PTSD. My therapist said my experience has all of the similarities of a domestic abuse situation. It’s been very enlightening to finally speak with someone openly and honestly about what I experienced in the Fellowship, and having them completely, 100% validate that it was extremely abusive and dysfunctional.
Originally I wasn’t planning to post on this site, not wanting any TLWF people to have a reason to label me another bitter blowout. But reading others’ stories here helped validate my own experience with TLWF as a truly abusive organization. These stories have to be told. I know countless stories of others who have been deeply wounded by their involvement in the Fellowship (all in recent years) but they are not my stories to tell. If you’ve been lurking on this forum like me for years but haven’t yet shared your experience, please post it. There is strength in numbers, so share your story.
Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 08/18/2018 05:46AM by reveal.