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Thursday, March 31, 2022

Church Wounds


TW: church trauma; spiritual and religious abuse; reference to sexual abuse; and possibly finally labeling something you’ve been through but never knew how to put into words.❤️

Almost three months ago, my family and I made the difficult decision to step away from our church. Since then our days have been filled with anger, heartache, shock, disbelief, and lots of grieving. Unfortunately, for me, this isn’t my first encounter with this type of heartache, but for my family it is a first.💔

Lately, I feel like a pendulum swinging between sobbing broken tears and fits of pure rage. The ways this heartbreak has triggered me seem unending and the exhaustion from the inward and outward fight is palpable. And by far the most excruciating part has been doing all of it alone without the bulk of our support system or the people we once thought were our friends. 

I know that the typical response to these types of things-especially within the church-is to stay quiet. I was taught for most of my life that doing anything that “distracts” or “takes away from” the “work of the Lord” is selfish and a sin. 

So for the last few months, I have been relatively silent. Only speaking to those who come to me earnestly seeking answers. 

But, honestly, it has been difficult for me to bite my tongue and hold back-especially in the season I have been in for over 6 months.

As someone who was born and raised in the Heartland-where the Bible Belt cinches at its waist and squeezes a little harder-I will be the first one to tell you that it was never apart of the plan for me to question my faith or Jesus. I didn’t plan on doubting the Bible or being met with the overwhelming desire to walk away from everything that has been the core of my existence from my earliest memories. 

And I definitely didn’t plan on navigating this crisis of faith without the people I once considered to be my safe place. 

Something I don’t talk much about is that over the years, I have been on the receiving end of a lot of spiritual and religious trauma. Trauma I didn’t know how to put into words or even know I was allowed to acknowledge until very recently. 

I’ve known for the last 8 years that a lot of what I have experienced in my life are considered “church wounds”. But let’s face it: anyone who has lived through two church splits and the shunning of two of your childhood churches is going to have some wounds. Period. 

But, I never considered up until last year the way that the extreme fundamentalist teachings and twisted rhetoric played into that trauma or that the things I went through or the things I was taught were actually forms of abuse in many, many ways. 

Over the last 6 months, I have had the opportunity to sit in the presence of some amazing and profound people. People with wounds similar to mine who are living, thriving, and changing the dialogue around religious and spiritual trauma and abuse. 

People who are acknowledging it for what it is, calling it by it’s name, and championing for change. It’s beautiful and inspiring, and in many ways has restored my faith in humanity. 

It’s been refreshing to see and hear that not everyone wants something from you, and your healing isn’t conditional or inconvenient-the way so many churches make it out to be.

In case you didn’t know, there are actually people that exist that just want you to be healed, whole, and successful on your journey, and they want you to have all the tools to do it. This alone has been a real source of hope for me. 

But as a result of sitting with these exceptional and wonderful humans, I can no longer “unsee” or blindly follow any leader or their teachings. 

I especially cannot follow them if I feel what they are doing or teaching goes against the very Bible they themselves claim is God-breathed. 

I have seen and lived the damage that blindly following a leader and their twisted interpretation of Scripture can do to many, many people and I will always stand against that in any capacity.

To be honest, I’ve become quite comfortable in the shade of black the “church” has chosen to see my wool in over the last 8 years. 

Yes. I know there are good, wonderful, safe church bodies out there. I have yet to encounter one myself-but I know they exist. 

I MUST believe they exist for all of us. 

And to be clear: when I speak about “the church”, I’m not speaking about a building or a denomination or even a particular church. 

I’m speaking directly to all of us-anyone who believe in Jesus Christ. 

Which is why I feel so strongly that THIS needs to be said.

So silence your phones and pull up your chairs… 

It is time for the church as a whole to STOP protecting abusers in ANY capacity. 

It is not GRACE to turn a blind eye to the sins of a pastor or any other person who is in leadership within a church. 

👏🏻👏🏻It is actually being an accomplice in the spiritual execution of those around you.👏🏻👏🏻

👆🏻Feel free to read that again. 

For a long, long time mainstream media has focused on financial and sexual abuse within various religious groups and church bodies. These forms of abuse are egregious and those in leadership at those churches deserve to be held accountable even to the point of jail time and restitution. 

 But little spotlight is given to the most prominent forms of abuse within tens of thousands of churches throughout the United States: religious and spiritual abuse. 

Many local churches in communities all over America have chosen to turn a blind eye to these forms of trauma and have instead chosen to protect and empower the abuser instead of holding them accountable. 

They often choose to subscribe to their false rhetoric and teaching, because it’s easier and safer than doing the right thing. 

And by doing so, they have opened up the door for religious and spiritual abuse to be used as stepping stones into the other more well known forms of abuse and trauma such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, financial abuse, and emotional abuse. 

I realize this may be new terminology for some, and that’s ok. 

But these terms and their meaning aren’t just words on a white page. 

They are real. They exist. And THEY are a huge factor in what is killing the church from the inside out. 

I know what you may be thinking: how do I know if this is MY church? 

Well, you can start by asking yourself the following questions:

🤔Does it seem like my pastor or others in leadership are “hiding” something? Does it feel like you have to be “in the know” to get the answers you seek? (2 Cor. 1:12-23)

🧐Are my pastor or others in church leadership open and receptive to questions about decisions being made within the church? Even decisions that seem to be of a disciplinary nature? (Matthew 18:15-17)

🤔Is Biblical accountability in play for all members of leadership but especially the pastors and elders? If accountability is questioned, what is the reaction? (Gal. 6:1-5; James 5:16; Luke 17:3; Hebrews 13:17; Luke 12:41-48; James 3:1; James 4:17; Eph. 4:25) 

🧐Does it appear that “sin leveling” is in play? Sin leveling is the beliefs that some sins are worst than others. And if so, does it seem that leadership is picking and choosing which forms of abuse they will “allow” because that’s what’s in the “best interest” of their congregants? (Rom. 3:23;  1 John 5:16-21; 1 John 1:8-10; Gal. 5:19-21) 

🤔Do the teachings within your church and from behind the pulpit seem to be “targeting” some and not others? Do the teachings answer questions that you may have or do they make you feel even more in the dark? (1 Tim 6:3-7; Hebrews 10:24-25; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Peter 2:1; Eph. 5:11; Matt. 7:15; Col. 2:8) 

🧐Does my church seem to care about the congregants that are deeply triggered and further damaged by any form of abuse they might be seeing? When people are leaving-especially in large numbers-does anyone seem to notice or care to question why? (Proverbs 10:11; Psalm 9:9; James 3:10; Eph. 4:29; 1 Thes. 5:11; Psalm 103:6; Psalm 72:14; Matt. 5:21-22; I also encourage you to look into the book of Acts and God’s intentions for creating the Church.) 

😞What about the people who were already unsure about Jesus? What kind of picture of Christ is your church painting to those on the outside looking in? (If you are seeking Scripture references for this point. I urge you to go back and read the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Focus on the life of Jesus. Who did he speak too? Talk too? Eat with? Heal? That will tell you a lot about Him and what was most important to him.) 

Unfortunately, what is happening in many churches in the “name of Jesus” is frankly disgusting and it needs to stop. 

Immediately.

If you think God is going to bless anyone for protecting any form of abuse-think again.

The church has spent valuable time and resources protecting the wrong things and if they do not stop they will continue to lose people and dishonor God in the interim.

So go ahead and denounce “deconstruction”. Turn your face away and keep your blinders on so you can’t see those crying out for help.

But for those of you who have made it this far and are willing to listen: it’s time to sit up and pay closer attention. Maybe it’s time for the church to invest in the people who need help in the healing part of their journey instead of the people who are causing the damage.

I know I personally will no longer affiliate myself with ANY church that promotes and protects abuse in any form.

And for now, I’m just over here trying to plant my feet through faith based therapy and my support group for survivors of church trauma while focusing on my family and what is best for us in this season. 

Thankfully, I am slowly finding my footing on the solid ground of this new path forward. 

A path that will NOT include toxic church culture or hours upon hours of investing myself or my family into becoming marketing tools for someone’s false teaching or harmful rhetoric. 

Instead we’re getting back to the basics over here. We’re doing a deep dive into who Jesus actually was and what the church is actually supposed to look like. 

If your questioning your place in your church, I encourage you to do the same. I am happy to share ANY and ALL of the resources I have found over the last several months. You can PM me for that information. 

And maybe you’re one of the lucky few to have found one of these unicorn churches. The churches that are truly committed to people-all people-and loving Jesus for the long haul. The churches who know that their purpose is to care for the widows, the orphans, the sick, the refugees, and the oppressed. The ones who speak not just the truth, but also Light and Life. And if this is you, I hope you know just how lucky you are! But you may also be asking how can your church do it better? 

💕You can start by making intentional contact with the new faces that show up in your church. 

💕Learn their stories. 

💕Strive to be a safe and inviting place for the hurting. 

💕Be open. 

💕Listen. 

💕Set aside the traditional Christian platitudes and pity. 

💕Show up.

💕Be genuine in a world where everything seems filtered, edited, and censored. 

💕And know that those of us in this space with deep church wounds, we don’t need your best marketing plan. We just need your honesty and your willingness to show us that the Jesus you know-doesn’t look anything like the Jesus they said He was. 

Maybe in addition to the above, your unicorn church could be one of the first to consider these forward thinking initiatives: 

✅The hiring of a licensed professional counselor who has received extensive training in all forms of abuse including religious and spiritual abuse and who can be available to anyone inside or outside the church who needs their services.

✅Training and space for peer lead support groups on any and all forms of trauma. 

✅Curriculum that focuses on recognizing forms of abuse for all ages and empowers individuals to speak up and out when it is recognized. 

✅The implementation of trauma preventing practices such as asking yourselves what should one on one counseling look like? How can support groups or Bible studies within our church offer a safe, healthy environment for all? Should certain sermons, blog posts, or teachings be prefaced with a trigger warning out of courtesy? How can we openly address hard topics while still being sensitive? 

✅The cultivation of healthy church environments where ideas are openly shared, questions are willingly asked and received, and transparency is key. 

I know this is long-even for me. I know some of you may actually hear what I am saying while many of you will not. And if you don’t get any of it, at least hear this: The Church is not doing enough to love and support the ones who have been hurt in Jesus’ name and it’s beyond time for them to realize that and correct their course. 

The church can blame the media and the world all they want for the people they are losing.

But, the people at my table know that simply isn’t the case. 

It’s time for the church as a whole to focus inward and ask the hard questions. You may not like the answers, but the world is waiting for us to acknowledge our part in the chaos, and actually do something about it. 

The generation coming after us can see right through our facades and they aren’t buying the watered down lemonade we are peddling on street corners. 

And here’s the hard truth: we are going to lose them, Church, if we don’t start addressing the hard truths for what they are instead of pretending like none of it is happening. 

To many, many people’s dismay, I have been bearing my soul as honestly as I can for the last 8 years, and I don’t plan to stop any time soon. 

But do you want to know why? Because I think that’s what the world is craving-especially those on the outside looking in. 

They want to see something real. They want to see something raw. They want you to acknowledge the monsters in your closet-even the ones you are still scared of and haven’t quite figured out how to escape. 

They already know we have them. 

So let’s stop pretending and fighting for all the wrong things. 

Church was never meant to be a building with pews and comfy seats, and it should NEVER be a place where any form of abuse is justified, protected, or excused. 

Church, we are supposed to be a haven. 

An oasis in the wilderness. 

And as long as there is injustice, hurt, and abuse in the world, our voices should be the loudest ones against it. 

Every. Single. Time. 

This. 

This is how we do it better and this is where we start. 

Jesus is point A. And the people who need Him are point B. 

Period. 

And when we-the Church-finally start to focus on those things, we will all be better for it. 

I promise. ❤️

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