Updated: Jul 6
In THE GIRL WHO CRIED FORGIVENESS, people are finding comfort in the reality that someone understands their grief and process to some degree. As I share my stories with vulnerability and complete transparency, many of those who've read THE GIRL WHO CRIED FORGIVENESS, have shared their like-experiences in return.
These readers felt encouraged and relieved to learn they weren't alone. In response, I am now providing a space for these people to be transparent while supportive of others, by sharing their stories here on my blog!
I've had a huge supporter of The Girl Who Cried Forgiveness in this man, Jason Refsland. Jason has read my book, relating most with finding a disconnect and a lack of authentic and unconditional love within the church. Upon asking Jason to share more about how he related to this specific chapter of my book, I found such an appreciate for his honesty. Upon reading Jason's responses, may his friends and family receive what he has to say as to understand him more. I have found great empathy and peace in talking with Jason; an honest, kind, transparent man who truly believes in and hopes that all people would experience the love of God for themselves.
"Vivia and I share a mutual experience because we were a part of the same organization that she refers to in her book as "Inflame." Not only has Jason experienced something like me, but he actually attended the same church and from my story, he gained more insight and encouragement. He wasn't the only one hurt from people in a safe place, No one is perfect, not even people who proclaim innocence, purity and good morals, but God can still be good all the while.
"As a male and worship band member I received less direct spiritual abuse but witnessed plenty. Inflame was much harder on the women in the group than the men. There was an unspoken rule that you had to be “pretty” to be on the worship team."
I know how good it feels to know someone understands me and can speak to the same pain, disconnect and heartbreak. I felt just that as Jason went on to share his experiences with unhealthy church communities.
"Early on there was a set of twin girls that were incredible singers, but they dressed punk and had different body types than what Inflame wanted. Without warning they were asked to leave when a prettier girl, who could sing, began dating the lead singer.
There was also a holiness and purity standard that was placed on the women, but didn’t apply to the men. The men in the worship band at Inflame regularly “struggled” with pornography and masturbation which they preached as sin but though they confessed and sought accountability and other tools to control themselves they were never removed from community or spoken ill of. Some men in the group even had premarital sex but the only ones who received punishment were the girls they had sex with. Girls were constantly shamed if they didn’t dress modest enough yet the men could go swimming in their underwear without repercussions.
Inflame had a mission to bring people to Jesus through worship, but in practice they were more interested in absorbing talented people who were already Christians. They offered a loving and caring community and for the record it was. If you got into the inner circle it was the most loving and caring community I had ever experienced. But getting in required that they deemed you valuable to their mission. If they didn’t see you as someone who could fit a role they needed then you weren’t accepted or if you asked to try something new, they would say yes, but then never give you that opportunity.
People came to our meetings for the meaningful worship experiences and the community they saw happening in the inner circle. But many came and went because nobody really cared to expand the community with people that didn’t fit their mold. Over time people saw through the facade."
While Jason experienced standards and rules made within Inflame differently than I had, he still felt and witnessed a sense of manipulation and control. Whether male or female, younger or older, the impression that this church was unhealthy was made upon many people. The decision to leave upon the initial impression wasn't easy for anyone. "Eight or nine years after my time with Inflame my wife and I moved to Seattle to plant a church with the Vineyard denomination. We joined a progressive church to be mentored and much like Inflame the leaders were charismatic and welcomed us initially with open arms. However over the five years we were a part of that church the leadership kept us at arms length. I left my position as a worship arts pastor of a large congregation excited to expand my knowledge of church leadership and get to understand the business side of church in order to prepare me further for planting. Without explanation and regardless of my requests I was never given those opportunities despite their promises to us initially. They always had one more hoop to jump through before they would let us do x-y-z. Itt as always one hoop after another.
At that time I was dealing with severe depression and anxiety and coping poorly. I sought professional counseling and because I felt that I was accountable to the pastors of this church I regularly informed them of my progress/regress. I could never put my finger on it at the time but I always felt like an outsider. Meanwhile my wife was also being spiritually abused by the lead pastor. It finally got to a breaking point and we decided to leave. After we left a member of the elite inner circle met me for coffee and divulged all the crap that was happening behind the scenes. I found out that everything I was sharing with our pastors regarding my therapy was being shared to the entire inner circle. Things I only shared between my wife and my therapist and my pastors became public knowledge within our church unbeknownst to me. Everything made sense now. This is why I wasn’t given opportunities by other leaders, this is why I felt like I was constantly on the outside, the disgusted looks I would get that I didn’t understand.