Spiritual Abuse at a Megachurch Almost Caused Me to Go Deaf
A former member explains how her church overlooked scientific reality, damaging her hearing.
Most everyone is familiar with the concept of a megachurch: Concert-like worship services bring in the big bucks; the pastors live heaven on earth. Not everyone, however, is familiar with the theology behind it that allows for such profits.
Basically, the theology is that there are four rewards that stem from salvation. Not just the soul’s salvation and eternal life, but if you are truly “saved” you are guaranteed: monetary prosperity, social status and physical healing. It sounds great, gets people in the doors and opens their wallets.
Beyond the business, however, there lies a form of spiritual abuse. This is spiritual abuse not because the church didn’t acknowledge modern medicine or hardships, but because attendants were supposedly guaranteed a life without illness or poverty. If someone is living in poverty, ill with cancer or fired from a job, it’s because that individual didn’t have enough faith—not at all a reflection on the pastor or God.
Essentially, whatever painful things befall you, it’s your fault.
It’s Hard to See Signs of Spiritual Abuse From the Inside
This particular brand of Christianity, known as the prosperity gospel or “health and wealth” teachings, is also made possible by a complete lack of accountability: “Non-denominational” is the preferred term. Essentially, the church is not a part of a larger governing body (unlike Catholic churches that have dioceses and Lutheran churches that have synods).
Internally, there really isn’t a system of government either (there is not a church council or deacons). Additionally, there is no ordination process. Anyone can be a pastor regardless of education or vocational discernment. Finally, there is no lectionary, or order of scripture to follow for sermons. So it’s entirely up to the pastor to write sermons on whatever he pleases—and often they are on promises of prosperity and healing. In the end, all of this means the pastor goes completely unchallenged, especially because it is believed that he personally hears from God.
Growing up attending a megachurch, my parents and I fully bought into this sham.
So, when I was in elementary school and was told I was going to go deaf in one ear and very likely the other, it was our natural response to pray. Not just pray, but to claim what we believed was already guaranteed to us: the restoration of my hearing. People laid hands on me declaring that I would be healed—but only if I had enough faith, fully accepted the healing God wanted to give me and had no hidden sin.
I Was Questioning Whether or Not God Loved Me
For three years, we prayed and begged, demanded and accepted—to no avail. During those years, I struggled with increased hearing loss and no access to help. Insurance covered the cost of an aid, but my parents had determined that God would heal me. So, why even bother getting one?
When I finally built up the courage to ask for a hearing aid, shame consumed me. I failed. I wasn’t Christian enough to get healed. Shortly after that, there was a service that was particularly biting. Romans 10:17: “So then, faith comes by hearing, by hearing the word of God.”
I felt like half a Christian. I couldn’t hear; I couldn’t be healed. The shame I bore was a heavier burden than knowing I was being plunged further into silence every day.
I remember one day when I was putting my hearing aid in, I saw my sister put on her glasses. I hated her in that moment. No one judged her for her eyesight difficulties, whereas I was an outcast for my hearing impairment.
Years later, my sister would have Lasik eye surgery to correct her vision: not a peep from the church, my parents or (apparently) God regarding her lack of faith. I always knew there was surgery available to me. My doctor had actually recommended it the first time she gave the prognosis of deafness. Like the hearing aid, though, my parents denied it for years. It was half a decade after the first hearing test results came back that my parents finally scheduled the surgery.
We didn’t tell anyone at church.
I Was So Ashamed That I Convinced Myself I Was Okay
The same summer I was due for the operation, a mission trip to a third-world country came up. I took it, hoping to redeem myself. It was there that things took a turn for the worse. There was a healing service held one night on the dirt floor of the open-air church. The pastor from my church spoke words I was familiar with: If they had enough faith, they could be healed. In the balmy air, I approached the makeshift altar on shaking knees. I asked for prayer. The pastor of thousands looked at me, a child, and asked if I had faith. “Yes, pastor, I believe I do.” He laid his hands on me, as did the rest of the mission team from my church. They prayed and I wept. Perhaps it was the different environment, but that time I believed I was healed.
I called my parents after we returned to the compound. I told them I could hear because I really believed I could. My parents jumped on it. It was what they always wanted: to have a good Christian child. A whole Christian child. They canceled the surgeries that were intended to restore my hearing and prevent further loss. I returned to the States two days later and handed my mother my hearing aid. “I don’t need this anymore,” I said with false certainty.
Within the week, I knew it was just a placebo. I couldn’t hear any better than I had before the trip. But it was too late. My pastor knew. I was a success story and the church could capitalize on it. I became a poster child for a marketing campaign that stated the church was the reason I was healed—the church, not God. I lied through my teeth to the thousands in the congregation.
At 15 years old, I knew I was going to hell.
The Effects of Spiritual Abuse Can Be Mental and Physical
After a year without a hearing aid, I gave up the charade. I told my mother. She confronted me about why I was watching the television at full volume. I cried and admitted I couldn’t hear it. She told me she knew the whole time but wanted me to come forward about it. I think they were in denial that their child wasn’t good enough to have the healing guaranteed by their God.
My parents rescheduled the surgeries, in secret and in shame. They were painful. I woke up from the anesthesia with blood pouring out of my ear canal. I underwent and recovered from both risky procedures without prayer and without the support of my church—to admit that I was getting them would be to admit not only failure, but that everything we believed had been a sham.
Sometimes I wonder if it had a meaning. Other times, I think God just wanted a laugh. After all, I broke even on the surgeries: It stopped further loss and corrected parts of my hearing while damaging others. I still wear a hearing aid.
There are several bibles in my apartment and titanium in my ears. My parents still go to that church. The scars on my head aren’t very visible and neither are the ones the church left. They are there, though, and I know they are. Not much has really changed in the last decade, but I rest easy now, knowing I’m not the one going to hell.