Writing this is as much a therapeutic exercise for us as it is to share our story since we left meetings. Thank you friends for your love, compassion, and empathy. We write all this based on what we have been told and assumptions that were made about us.
Background and Gratitude: Ryan is 4th generation. Lucia is 3rd generation. Through our reflection on how we met God through this church (as did those before us did), we have come to understand that God meets us in the “here and now”. While He does not change, He understands our seasons of life change and our situations change. We are thankful that those before us made the choices they did so that we too could know of God. We also know that those that came before us did the best they could with what they knew. We are grateful that God has helped us see clearer and we continue to decouple our faith from religion. We have always believed life is a journey of learning and growth. Learning from everybody and everything around us (including those outside the church). And using what we have learned to grow as one of God’s which also means to grow as a human being.
Our Story: We had meeting in our home for about eight years. We had Sunday and Wednesday. We discussed the issues with a few people prior to the decision to leave. Our discussions continued to reveal to us all the glaring issues and they were beyond the Child Sexual Abuse/Sexual Abuse (CSA/SA) mishandling. For many years, we have pondered the issues (e.g. exclusivity, skirts vs pants, hair up, etc.) and put them in a box and set it aside because everybody is human, and we did not *think* we believed them because the only thing that mattered was our own walk with God.
In reflection, we reacted with the exclusivity mantra when we heard of people leaving meetings. We realize now that even though it is important to self-reflect and understand how we can be better, we dangerously toe-d the line of being selfish – to focus on “fixing” ourselves while ignoring the questionable doctrine and behaviors around us. This is another subliminal piece of doctrine that we realized that we ingested while sitting in meetings. And as we write this, we are reminding ourselves that we can be grateful, sad, and angry at the same time.
We sent the letter to Ray Hoffmann, Barry Barkley and Mark King. We did not have Ray’s correct email address, so Lucia asked on Advocatesforthetruth.com (AFTT) for it and got several different email addresses. We will let you think about that – how Ray has several active email addresses. We only heard back from Barry. His response at face-value appeared kind and tender hearted. He said he was sorry that we had a bad impression of our personal relationship with him and that he continues to self-reflect on where he went wrong. His response seemed to seek to distract us from the purpose of our exit letter – but it is not about our personal relationship with him, it is about all the hurt and pain so many in this church faced. We replied saying that it is often the inactions that create the most confusion, pain, and misunderstanding and we are asking for accountability. We did not hear back.
Mark King called Ryan’s mom who did not pick up the phone because she said, “he should call you—not me” (which we agreed). Ray never wrote back to us. Irving Ross (Ryan’s great uncle), who the letter was not addressed to, called several of Ryan’s family members to talk about us but never called us. The lack of response and the lack of taking the time to understand why we chose to leave is quite telling. We recognize that they are human. We recognize how hard it is to dig oneself out of a hole. But it all shows the depth of the manipulation – manipulating themselves and manipulating others.
We’ve had a lot of conversations with fellow church-goers since our exit letter. We are thankful for the ones that listened. We are thankful for all of you on the Concerned and Connected Friends platform and everyone else who has shown us empathy and support. But the sting still hurts tremendously when you are told to “stay in the boat or you’re going to hell” and “meetings are the only way to God” (which also implies, we’re going to hell now that we do not go to meetings). It also stings when somebody’s response to us is “you really discouraged me. I wish you did not share that” and then continue to throw bible verses at us to prove that we are wrong. It also hurts when people assume we do not believe in God anymore simply because we do not go to meeting. These responses came from family and friends.
After our exit letter was made known, several people shared their own survivor accounts of CSA with us, that are not “public” knowledge and have not been reported to AFTT. So we will not share who or more details. We are simply there for them and hope they will continue their healing journey. But we will say that the idea that “this hasn’t happened in our region” is false. Just because you have not heard of personal accounts does not mean it has not happened.
Nobody is asking anybody to abandon their faith in God by reading accounts and learning about what has happened to our church. God will guide everybody who seeks to understand and learn because it is not what comes into our mouth that defiles us, it is what comes out of it. With what we learn, what are we doing with it? To not learn would be to be lukewarm. We do not all have to agree with each other. God has allowed differing opinions, differing perspectives, different religions. But the one thing most of humankind has in common is to be kind to one another and to treat others the way we would want to be treated.
Some of those closest to us have said that they do not want their peace interrupted. We do not feel our peace interrupted by hearing/listening to the truth about the atrocities of abuse. When we face the hard truths of reality, God will for sure bring His peace to us as we navigate reality. If we choose to not face the hard truth of reality and box ourselves in, we are clinging to our own-made peace.
Both sides of our family have experienced spiritual abuse – using salvation as a weapon to “fall in line”. Lucia’s uncle was also in the ministry in BC Canada for almost a decade in the 1980s, and one reason he left was the inadequate response from overseers to some of the questionable activity. We will not share their stories because they are not ours to share. But hearing their accounts reminded us that nothing has changed in almost 4 decades. The church has clung to traditions and cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside.
We can for certain say that we are closer to God than ever before. But even with being closer to God, the sting still hurts. It shows us how deep exclusivity runs. We believe exclusivity is one of the main reasons the church has gotten to its current state. Not just exclusivity that this is the only way to God, but that it can only be done through the workers, and that we need to accept what the workers say because they are “Spirit-led” regardless if we think it is wrong or not – which for decades have given the workers the pass to pick and choose how to react to personal choices of the members of the church. How can a CSA perpetrator be allowed to continue to speak in meetings and take part in the emblems after his/her abuse is revealed but then my own mother who married somebody who did not go to meeting was asked to not partake in the emblems or speak in meetings? We have one word – hypocrisy.
We both know there are good and honest workers and church-goers left in this church. We do not lump everybody into one camp simply because they still go to meeting. We really applaud those who are staying inside to fight for change. And to those of us who have made the decision to leave, God is also using us to fight for change. May God be with all of us as we journey on with Him.
There are a few books we’ve started reading that some may find helpful. Two of them were recommended via the exclusivity podcast on CCF and one of them was recommended by Lucia’s uncle. “Because the Bible Tells Me So” by Peter Enns – The author talks about how defending the Bible to make it “behave to fit a specific doctrine” has caused many to be unable to read it. Lucia’s not done with this one, but so far he has touched on some of the events in the Old Testament that God made happen that makes us gasp and cringe. Ryan has finished this one. The author has a very healthy approach to how the bible should treated.
“Sin of Certainty” by Peter Enns – We haven’t started this one yet but the title seems self-explanatory.
“Truth and Repair” by Judith Lewis Herman – Ryan started this one. It is about how we can help survivors and how the legal justice system fails survivors.
By Ryan & Lucia Pikcilingis
Albany, New York