I hear the statement quite often. Usually it’s raised in discussions of church membership. People want to know how to help a wounded friend or family member re-engage the church. Or, they’re the ones who have been hurt and they’re wrestling with whether church is worth it. Some want to be convinced to join a church and others want to be told it’s okay to leave. Answering well depends, in part, on knowing which way the person leans. (Note 21 June 2013: Answering well also depends on making distinctions between physical, sexual, and verbal abuse by a complicit leadership team and the kinds of hurts more commonly experienced as sinners live out the faith together. This post has in view the more run-of-the-mill hurts that are not themselves illegal but may be sinful and the feelings of being hurt that may be more a matter of perspective and sensitivity than actual fact.)

But recently I’ve been thinking that part of the answer must include questioning the way the problem is phrased. What does the person mean when they say, “The church hurt me”? Let’s walk the possibilities backward from the most sweeping accusation to the most narrow.

The Universal Church

The person could mean the big-C Church has hurt them–all Christians everywhere. That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But think about it. When a person says “The church has hurt me” and they’re refusing to visit or join any local congregation of believers they have practically projected their hurt onto the entire universal body of Christ! They have assigned their offense to every possible Christian and Christian congregation imaginable. Practically, their distrust has reached universal proportions. In every case this is false. We might provide some of our best care by helping our friends recognize the practical universalism in some of their reactions. Hopefully we can get them to dial it down to the next possible  level.

The Local Church

Our hurting friends could also mean an entire congregation of people–a whole local church–has joined together to harm them. In some way they feel the body treated them like an anti-body and perhaps made them unwelcome. Perhaps they’ve been the subjects of church discipline, or maybe they have been the subjects of gossip, or maybe they have been shunned in some way. We need to admit that there may be situations where a congregation has taken action (as in the case of discipline) and such actions can feel like hurt inflicted by the entire body. And those actions may be taken in imperfect ways, causing some of the hurt. Moreover, there have been instances where a person, usually in a small church, has felt judged, shunned and/or gossiped about.

But, in my experience, this is not what most people who blame the local church for hurting them have in mind. Honestly, too few churches practice discipline. And unless we’re Amish or something, shunning doesn’t happen very often either. Gossip can work its way through significant parts of the congregation. But I don’t think most churches are made up completely of gossips; sooner or later rumors and the like will die at the ears of the godly persons God places in most every local congregation. Usually it’s worth asking: “Are you saying that every person in the local church hurt you in this way?” Hopefully that gets us down to a smaller level.

The Church’s Leadership

Sometimes those who say they have been “hurt by the church” really have in view the leaders of a local congregation. In some way the pastor, elders, deacons, or ministry leaders have failed the person. It could have been a position the elders took on a controversial issue or the leaders’ apparent failure to hear the person’s feedback. Maybe it was something a pastor said in a sermon or a ministry leader’s refusal to allow some kind of service. Leaders do fail their people in various ways. But the main task in this scenario is to help the person see that the difficult lies with the leaders–not the entire local church. It’s easy to project the leaders’ faults onto the entire body, and sometimes the leaders’ positions or teaching necessarily becomes the congregations’. But rarely is the offended party served by rolling the “fault” all the way up to the congregation. In fact, in most cases where this happens the person invariably walks out on a lot of love in the congregation. Their tendency to say “the church hurt me” blinds them to seeing how the church loves them.

An Individual or Small Group

Finally, and perhaps most often, when people say “the church hurt me,” they really have in mind a particular individual or a small group of individuals that have trespassed in some matter. They’ve been wounded by “Bro. Bill” or “Sis. Jones” and rather than address Bill or Mrs. Jones they’ve found it easier to use the less personal “the church.” Actually naming the person and their offense makes them accountable for leaving their gift at the altar, showing their brother the offense, and the hard work of forgiveness and peacemaking (Matt. 5:23-24; 18:15). When this is the case, we’re most faithful to Christ, the church, and the individuals involved by asking or encouraging the individual to go to their brother in the humble spirit of reconciliation.

Nothing makes us self-interested quite like pain. Hurt people act in self-protecting ways. Sometimes that’s lashing out. Sometimes that’s running away. Sometimes it’s both. Saying “The church hurt me” is often both–running away and lashing out. But the way of Christ is reconciliation and peace.

My Simple Plea to the Person “Hurt By the Church”

Most people “hurt by the church” were hurt by individuals in a local congregation. Once we establish that, then we’re then left to help them think through whether the offense occurred knowingly and intentionally or unknowingly and accidentally. I’m surprised how often the individuals or churches that “hurt” someone have no idea an offense has occurred. They’re bopping along rejoicing in the Lord while unbeknownst to them dark clouds of anger and resentment swirl over their names and reputations.  And I’m always grieved for the person experiencing the hurt. It’s never pretty to be dominated by pain. So here’s one pastor’s simple plea:

1. Take your pain to the Lord who bore your pain and bore the sin of those who offended. In His arms are 10,000 charms.

2. Take your heart to the ones who actually offended you and seek reconciliation–and if necessary take godly, impartial help.

3. Stop saying, “The church hurt me.” It’s affecting your heart toward an entire congregation, many of whom are likely unaware and uninvolved in your hurt, and possibly affecting your heart toward all Christians everywhere. Don’t blame “the church.” Don’t spread your “hurt” over a wider area. If you do, it will dominate you. But if you target your pain and your reconciliation efforts–making it as small and specific as you can–you’ll experience greater control over and freedom from the hurt.

4. Do realize that not every church hurt you and people are not “all the same.” Find a local church you can join. Start slow if you need to. But let the Lord’s manifold grace come to you in the fellowship of His people. That’s normally how He comforts us in our trouble and pain (2 cor. 1).

5. Live in hope. Your Lord is also Lord of the Church. He cares for your brokenness but also the brokenness of the Church. And guess what? Your pain is the means He will use to teach the church to grow in love and their love will be the means of your healing. The church needs your hurt and you need the church’s love.

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Comments:


80 thoughts on “Should We Stop Saying, “The Church Hurt Me”?”

  1. Ben says:

    The Bible is very corrective. But correction is good. God said he corrects his children. They should be more worried about not being corrected. The Christian faith isn’t a smooth ride.

  2. Wesley says:

    Appreciate this very much sir. Can’t say how often i’ve heard this charge levelled at that big broad-side of the barn called “the church” which could be likened to “the man” or even “they” many times. The call to both specificity in dealing with hurts as well as protecting that bride for which Christ died is well received and very instructive.
    many thanks -
    the Ox.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Thank you Wesley. I appreciate the encouragement.

      I’ve been either preparing to travel or traveling for the last several days so I’m just now catching up on this thread. I must apologize for having let so many good comments go unanswered for so long. But rather than work through each one at this point, let me post this general comment early on in the thread. Hopefully everyone gets it and hopefully it helps new readers of the post and comments with a little context before getting to the subsequent comments and concerns.

      First, please note that the context of this post is not physical, verbal, sexual or any other kind of abuse. I was addressing more run-of-the-mill membership conversations which in my experience almost never involve those kinds of abuses. Such abuse exists and is rightly deplored and ought to be reported to proper authorities, including police, etc. This post is not about that kind of issue.

      Second, I really must admit that the post isn’t sufficiently framed. Though I thought the first two paragraphs set out the context for my concern in this post, I can see how someone in a physical, sexual, or verbally abusive situation could leave this post with the wrong impression. I am not suggesting in any way that persons in those situations should either submit to the abuse, authority, or membership of a leader(s) where this has happened. To clarify any confusion, I’m adding a sentence or two to the opening paragraphs to make this clearer. Thanks to everyone who has raised this issue.

      From here I’ll try to keep up with the conversation!

      T-

  3. MzEllen says:

    Because of where I work, and he diversity of places I hang out, many times when somebody says “the church hurt me” they mean a series of local congregations were teaching something that they didn’t like.

    Most often, a “LGBT” person (or family member) doesn’t like the steadfastness with which that sin is dealt, or any of the other hot button political issues can come into play.

    I can say that I’ve been really disappointed by a succession of churches, ad I’m utterly disillusioned with one particular denomination that failed to protect the integrity of both the gospel and denominational doctrine, but I lay that at the feet of leadership, not “the church”

  4. Melody says:

    In my experience they mean a number of individuals within the church. And it isn’t everybody, but these individuals are persistent and vocal and nobody tells them to cut it out so it feels like everybody is behind it. It feels like the whole church must agree.

    I also usually see it as a series of events, not a couple of isolated incidents. And if you’ve been involved with a number of churches and had the same types of incidents happen over and over – well I understand why people say they were hurt by the church.

    But I don’t disagree with trying to help people analyze what’s going on. When I was a teenager I felt incredibly alienated by the church I grew up in. I knew it was wrong to not want to be part of the church, but that’s exactly how I felt. When I read “The Screwtape Letters” and Lewis spoke about the church being massive, around the world and through-out time I realized that even if I didn’t want to be closely associated with that particular extension of the church, I could still love the church as a whole. And loving the church as a whole helped me love the church I was at.

  5. As one who has an extensive denominational church background, a Seminary degree and has labored in the organic church movement for the past decade, I find this article deeply disappointing. It comes across to me as attempting to minimize the trauma many have experienced via a particular organized institutional church and it borders on blaming the victim. It borders on attempting to defend the indefensible.

    I would suggest a better approach – a much more Christ-like approach:

    1. Admit and confess that the organized church is, indeed, guilty of abusing its authority and hurting people through a variety of bad behaviors, including mis-applied church discipline, religious legalism, judgmentalism and other un-Christ-like behavior. In short, accept responsibility for the un-Christ-like behavior of the institution you seek to defend. Without this, no reconciliation is possible.

    2. Repent of such behavior.

    3. Ask the forgiveness of those whom you (we) have hurt, wounded, abused and alienated.

    4. Embrace those who now feel marginalized and wounded by the Church. Don’t invite them to “come back to church”. Invite them to join you in pursuing their God-given calling as disciples of the Kingdom. Jesus is looking for disciples of His Kingdom, not church attenders.

    1. Robb says:

      I have to agree with Maurice, for the most part. In my experience, when you encounter a true Christian who has experienced enough pain at the hands of fellow believers that they’ll actually leave a congregation, correcting their choice of words in describing the source of their pain is hardly going to be productive. A bit more reflection on the part of the church leadership and active congregants would be welcome.

      That said, I have to dispute part of point 4 – we ARE called to follow Christ together, as part of his body. The goal should be restoring the person to a healthy relationship with Christ AND his church.

    2. Tom says:

      I really agree with Maurice. I find the article very disappointing too. In my opinion it fails to appreciate the degree of hurt people have experienced.

    3. My observation that we should not “invite them to ‘come back to church’ does NOT mean we encourage them to avoid genuine biblical community. The admonition of Hebrews 10:25 not to avoid assembling together is not a command to attend any particular form of organized institutional church. It was written within an historical and church context of believers gathering together in small groups in people’s homes for fellowship, mutual ministry, encouragement. In such a context, the role of leadership (based upon the role given to ministry/leadership gifts in Ephesians 4) is to “equip” and to “build up”. NOT to wound and tear down. The word “equip” (katartismos) comes from a verb (katartidzo) which referred to the mending of torn nets (Matthew 4:21). The primary function of leadership in the Church is to exercise their gifts in such a way as to help people “mend their nets” and to “build them up” (Greek: oikodomeo-to build a house. When these two purposes are not being taught, pursued and achieved, and when leadership must devote time to explaining why their wounding of people (or allowing people to be hurt by others in their sphere of influence) is some how “right” or “misunderstood”, something is terribly askew in the Church.

      1. Tim M. says:

        If anyone had a right to be a victim, it is the apostle Paul, but he did not let his hurt keep him from the body of Christ.

        1. Melody says:

          Paul was a murderer. He was in no position to whine either. Joseph didn’t whine. Stephen prayed for those that were stoning him. Most of all Jesus was abused the worst.

        2. scottie says:

          …so therefore we & our children should put up with whatever abusive, controlling, manipulative, mind-twisting church leaders dish out. No whining, now. Who are we to get all that bothered about being abused, since Jesus was abused the worst.

          (please rethink the implications of your comment)

          1. Melody says:

            You can walk away Scottie and don’t twist my words. I would never side with an abuser against a victim.

            I would also not praise a “victim” for trying to take down as many people as possible as godly.

            Every example we have in scripture of people being abused in that God said was responding correctly did NOT repay evil for evil. They left vengeance to God. They trusted Him to have their back. They praised God regardless of the circumstance. That does not mean that people do not have to answer for their criminal behavior in this lifetime. That is why God put that authority over their heads.

            But in your heart, you only get one choice on how to respond forgive and love in return. That is what Christ did. He told us to do the same. If you don’t then you have given satan the foothold in your life. Two evils for the price of one, a good day for him.

            1. scottie says:

              Melody — please explain your thoughts of what one is to do when they are being abused by church leaders, or observe it happening to other(s).

            2. SB says:

              Melody, You may mean something different, but your words as written, are extremely painful to those who were sexually abused by church leadership. I have met VERY few victims who are simply trying to take down as many people as possible. I see victims struggling to face the past, struggling to get to a point that they can sort through the things that happened, struggling to find a way out of the shame, struggling to find a way to protect others.
              You’re views, to me, are simplistic. Many of these victims aren’t even sure of God’s love. It is a huge struggle to face the fact that God was there. He could have stopped the abuse, but didn’t. He allowed pastors, missionaries, christian teachers, parents, etc. to rape and abuse innocent children. He allowed churches to cover up the crimes in his name. Many were told that the crimes had to be covered to honor God. That has to be grappled with by each survivor. Hopefully, each will come to the conclusion that God is good and loved them during each moment of the abuse, but it is a process. To just tell them to forgive and love their perpetrators is not helpful.
              Here is an example that might help. If you were traveling in a van with your young children, and someone were to see you driving who has some strange vendetta with you. Imagine that they plow straight into your van. You and your children are in crisis. You hear a mixture of screams and sirens. You count the sounds of your children’s voices and realize you don’t hear all of them. At that time, are you thinking about forgiving the person who just seriously injured you and your children? Are you wondering if any of your children were killed? What if someone comes to the scene of the accident or perhaps you wake up in the hospital and as your mind scrambles to rewind and understand what happened and where your children are, someone from your church comes in and says to you, “Now remember, you need to forgive and love the person who did this to you.” Can you even comprehend their words at that time? Are you going to comprehend them weeks later as you attend funerals and/or visit your children in the hospital and deal with your own injuries. Can you see how ludicrous this is? It takes a LOT of time just to process the things that happened, to sort through what exactly happened and what it means. How would you feel as each time someone from your church visits, bringing you a meal, etc. – how would you feel if each one immediately tells you to forgive and love the person who did this? How would you feel, if they kept visiting and bringing the person who harmed your family with them? How would you feel if they bring him repeatedly to your house and you watch him taunt your children, laugh at their pain, mock their sorrow at losing their siblings and while he is doing this, your friends remind you to forgive and love him.
              I am NOT saying that God cannot miraculously work in our hearts to bring about forgiveness for things that seem unforgivable. I AM saying that you are talking to people in all different stages of grief and sorrow. Just blindly telling everyone to forgive can be incredibly painful and harsh.

  6. Arthur Sido says:

    Or perhaps people say that because…they have been hurt by “the church”. Your solution seems to be suck it up, shut up and pay up. What we call “the church”, a religious organism that bears little resemblance to what we see in Scripture, is unfortunately like many institutions in that it is primarily concerned with self-preservation so people who don’t fit in or who ask the wrong sorts of questions that rock the boat find themselves on the receiving end of wrath from those with a vested financial incentive to maintain the status quo. You can stick your head in the religious sand and pretend this doesn’t happen but that doesn’t change the fact that a great many people truly have been wounded by “the church” and the defenders of the status quo and many of them have walked away from organized religion.

    1. scottie says:

      Wounded, as in psychological issues that take years to get over.

      Thabiti, I have this feeling you are quite sheltered from the topic you’re delving into here.

  7. Justin Garcia says:

    By God’s Grace and His providence I have never experienced major harm, disenfranchisement, discrimination, or any serious and undeserved discipline from either my local church, church leaders or individuals within the church at large. This is not to say I have never been sinned against but that there has been no sin that was not covered by love (James 5). So I praise The Lord for that and I grieve on behalf of those who have experienced such harm.
    While I don’t think anyone should minimize any wrong done or fail to recognize sin for its ugliness but the one group of people in this world equipped for such greivances is God’s Bride, the Church. We above all others know the Grace shown to us far outweighs the sins of others. May God’s grace be sufficient to heal all wounds and cover a multitude of sins.

  8. Amy says:

    The issue I take with this article is that is appears to minimize those who have been legitimately abused. This was the case with my mother, who was sexually abused and harassed by her former church’s worship pastor. The lead pastor actively took a role in concealing it and when she and my father pursued the matter, they were told they were disrupting the church. Although she and my dad did not broadcast the matter (she was humiliated enough, after all) the entire congregation began shunning her for trying to call out the man who took advantage of her. She and my father both left, but both of them (particularly my mother) feel wounded by the church.

    It is – sadly – not uncommon for people in positions of authority to wound, abuse, and harass the members of their flock. My mother went through “Mending the Soul” with a group of other women; about 95% of the group was there because they were abused by a pastor or elder.

    I do appreciate notes #4 and #5, but I hope next time to read an article that includes more for people who have been legitimately victimized by a congregation blindly following a man who has made his own desires his god.

  9. Amy says:

    I amend my earlier statement. I appreciate points 1-5 (I meant to change that before posting and forgot). Oops! Sorry for any confusion.

  10. Nell says:

    It has been my experience that those who have said they have been hurt by the church have some pretty horrific tales to tell which involve things like poor responses to reports of child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Rarely are the complaints over the new music minister’s worship style.

    Also, in the past, groups of churches were complicit in slavery and racism. We still bear the long term scars of our disobedience. For every Wilberforce, there were scores of others who enforced discrimination as a biblical value.

  11. Have people been hurt by individuals (whether leaders or not) in the local church? Yes. However, that’s no excuse for the hurt person to rebel against God by refusing to do what He commands: to forgive as He forgave you. By saying that, I’m not minimizing the hurt; I’m reminding the hurt people of what God commands them to do. Others sinning against you is no excuse for you to sin against God. And, no, people pointing out your sin (for example, all those homosexuals claiming to have been hurt by churches that don’t embrace and celebrate their homosexuality) isn’t an example of the church (or people in the local church) hurting you.

    As for those doing the hurting, who are you to rebel against God by sinning against others? You need to repent of your wickedness and seek forgiveness from God and from the people you’ve hurt.

  12. A says:

    With respect to Maurice, while I may not ask someone to return to a particular congregation that has caused them pain, I would still encourage membership of a local body of (yes, imperfect) believers with whom they can serve, share, pray and worship. Without the support of the body, we find the Christian life much more difficult indeed. The body of believers is crucial.

    I don’t write this as a hypothetical statement. I have been part of a local congregation for a number of years, however over the past few years, there have been a number of issues with the church. These lie mainly in the leadership of the church, and unfortunately has resulted in a lot of hurt to both specific individuals, and also to the wider congregation who pain to see brothers and sisters wrongly treated, and who must also bear some shocking teaching, snobbery, and on occasions what could be interpreted as bordering on racism, from the pulpit. Gradually opportunities to serve have been removed (in the form of things just being completely cancelled), and opportunities to meet together have been reduced. I have suffered as a result of the poor teaching and the change in the church dynamics, although I do not hold the leadership responsible, bad as it may be, as I do have a responsibility to lean fully on God for the sustaining of my faith, rather than leaning solely on the body. I did wonder if it would be easier to not be part of a congregation but I have come to realise that, imperfect as people are, and imperfect as the church leadership may be, we are made to live and share and serve together, despite the imperfections. That, of course, is not to say that imperfections should not be dealt with – far far from it, but that we should expect them to be present. I don’t know how one is to cope with a church with poor leadership, and leadership that will not listen to the concerns that the congregation have. I have been trying to stay in my church as I care deeply for the members of the congregation, and for the leadership, and desire to see it as a godly church once more. It is excruciatingly painful to stay, and that is perhaps an understatement, but I am gradually learning to let God sustain me aside from the teaching etc in the church, and believe in the power of prayer to change the heart of our leadership, and of us all.

  13. Jake Meador says:

    Pastor Anyabwile – What about situations where the main person doing the wounding was a pastor? For example, we had a case at the church I grew up in where one of the music pastors was sexually assaulting young boys in his office. In that case, isn’t it significantly harder to distinguish between “individuals in the church” and “the church” since the individual in question leads worship, is on the payroll, is in a position of authority, etc.?

    I get the point that it’s important to be precise with language and recognize that the church universal isn’t responsible for bad experience x in a given person’s life. But I think that distinction is a lot easier to make when we’re talking about a fringe member of a given church than when we’re talking about leaders in the church. And, sadly, in my experience most the stories I hear of church abuse involve pastors. That’s not the case with every story, of course, but it’s more common than it should be.

  14. Melody says:

    My problem with it is that it is too nice. I was one of those people for over thirty years with a huge list of legitimate reasons, abuses and neglects. I was the one in sin by my focus.

    When people say they have been hurt by the church what they really mean is one of two things:

    1)God is impotent and couldn’t keep these things from happening to me – or

    2)God let these horrible things happen to me by “His” so called children

    In our minds it gives us the excuse to not do what Jesus told us to do -love others as He loved the church, in a self sacrificing way that does not think of themselves first.

    If Christ is too high of a bar then study Joseph. A boy not even a man yet treated unjustly over and over.

    Christ is our ultimate example of suffering abuse and even abandonment by friends-by us every time we feel a little uncomfortable mentioning Him in certain situations. But we always see ourselves as the ultimate wronged person in the world.

    We should take our hurts and injustices to our Comforter. Put it in His hands, thank Him for saving us and go out and do what He has told us to do – love our neighbors, love the church, love our enemies.

  15. Anon says:

    What of the single man with a proven gift for working with children yet who is prevented from doing so because churches and parachurch organizations are immediately suspicious? What if this man has sterling credentials and solid references and yet he finds himself turned away from ministry job after ministry job simply because people can’t reconcile his singleness, perpetually wondering if he is some closet pervert out to do something awful to children?

    When that gifted man is shut out from doing his God-given gift, what then? Does he not have a legitimate complaint against the big-C Church for its small-minded thinking and fear? Can he not claim legitimately that “the Church hurt me”? And why minimize his contention? Is this not a problem outside of him? What can he change so as to be acceptable?

    Many, many, many people exist like that man. If the Church can’t deal with those many, then we are not accepting all into the Body of Christ, and we need to repent as a Body, not just as individuals or leaders or even specific churches or church ministries. Something is broken throughout, and brave people everywhere need to stand up and fix the issue.

    1. Melody says:

      Anon. Two things

      God may be telling you to work somewhere else but you are ignoring it because satan is twisting your thinking on what your gift is and what you deserve to do with this gift.

      And my church has single men working with kids – never alone and it isn’t considered weird. Women do not work with children alone.

      1. Anon says:

        Or the Church is not acting correctly with regard to singles. We need to consider that as well. It’s not always individuals that need fixing and rethinking of their direction.

        1. Melody says:

          Do you submit to authority or do you move? You certainly don’t call it “The” church if it is one building or even a dozen.

          1. Anon says:

            Sometimes you request authority reevaluate itself because it may very well be in the wrong.

  16. Nathan says:

    As a member of the LGBT community, the church has hurt me. I’m not talking about being hurt by a member here and there, but more of systematic misdealing with me and my situation.

    I was in the church (3 to 4 conservative baptist churches across that many states) for 37 years before I heard one positive thing said about the subject. An AWANA leader told the kids during the lesson that it was wrong to make fun of gay people and use phrases like “that’s so gay.”

    The Church has problems with gay people by…
    * not allowing gay people to be honest about themselves
    * allowing a negative atmosphere not conducive to growth
    * perpetuating myths about gender
    * relying on misinformation and fear
    * idolizing marriage
    * opposing their very existence in contexts outside of the church
    * by using them as the default example of an enemy of God

    Even if a gay person agrees that sex outside of traditional marriage is wrong, the Church is not a place for him to thrive. Sad, but very true.

    1. Searching says:

      Nathan, I appreciate everything you’ve said here and think you’re dead on about the issue. Over the past several years I have seen these very things happen to close friends of mine who opened up about themselves and were treated with such negativity that they were forced to leave their churches. I myself am not gay but I stand in support of my friends and as a follower of Jesus. This position makes me an open target to the same criticism and attacks that they received. It’s so, so wrong, and I don’t know what exactly the right answer is, but I certainly don’t think it’s this.
      Thanks for summing that up and expressing it so well!

  17. Anonymous says:

    This is naive. Sure, if you were offended because you weren’t invited to a birthday party, this applies. However, what if your child, a teenager, was the victim of a homosexual sexual assault, from another teen in the church, and when she cried out for help, no one cared. The problem, according to leadership and the offender’s family, was with the unforgiving nature of my child and the fact that she was a complainer – the offender was not sanctioned in anyway, gossiped mercilessly about the victim, the leadership told us, the victims, to leave the church, in spite of the fact the offender admitted the charges were true. You would be surprised, how many times this is happening; in our small town I have met four other families in exile from church for similar reasons. My children’s welfare was not a concern – only keeping the church free of problems and difficulties. This is systemic in many denominations. Do a quick google check. Be careful out there. But don’t act again like it’s the victims who have to do all the work.

    1. Kristin says:

      I’m so sorry to hear this story. I’m praying for you and your child.

      I totally agree with you– this article minimizes the suffering of many. Sometimes the problem is systemic, and sometimes the church really did hurt people.

  18. Dominick says:

    I appriciated this post from a personal standpoint. I have felt hurt by the “church” though I know it wasn’t the “church”. What is so great about this article is an acknowledgment of a legitimate issue the person may have, but also not dismissing it as coming from a “problem person”. I didn’t sense a talking down too, but also recognizing the person with the “problem’ is taken to task on the issue in saying at some point you have to deal with it.

  19. Terese says:

    I think a better title for this article would be “Should We Stop Being Offended in Church?” I believe offense if what you are actually addressing here, not hurt or pain. People do take offense for a variety of reasons in church, and I do believe that you’ve given a brief idea on how to handle having been offended in some manner.

    Hurt and offense can seem similar and certainly when one is hurt, then offense can follow. Sadly, as many of the other respondents have testified, church leaders/pastors can often be the source of spiritual abuse that causes deep wounds that can take a very long time to recover from. I’ve watched it happen and had it happen to me and my family. I’ve also seen how the hurt & pain of spiritual abuse was called a “personal offense” as a smokescreen to keep the rest of the congregation and leadership in the dark about what was really happening behind the scenes.

    All this is to say that spiritual abuse happens. People ARE hurt in church, usually by pastors or other leaders who are abusing their position in some way. You can do your best to approach the person who has hurt you in a Biblical manner, but we’ve seen that it is best to move on and let God deal with it. These are generally churches with little oversight or accountability, those with oversight that refuses to listen to anyone other than the pastor even in the face of cold, hard facts (such as criminal behavior.)

    I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility. Some of our hurt occurred because we saw red flags and chose to “think the best” as we often do as Christians, and before too long we were “drinking the kool-aid” along with everyone else instead of exercising discernment and getting out of Dodge while we could. Sadly, we stayed too long (on staff, no less) and were eventually on the receiving end of what we had seen happen to others repeatedly, but explained away because we had, by then, bought in to some very unhealthy teaching.

    If we were not older, more mature believers with some very godly friends who walked us through a very devastating time of spiritual wounding, I’m not sure how we’d still be in church today. Thankfully, now we are in a position to counsel those coming out of similar situations.

  20. Melody says:

    This feels like such a huge part of my testimony but I’m stuck with a fingertip and phone cause our computers are crashing on us. I don’t want to seem insensitive so I’m going to stop myself from responding again until I can get my hands on a real computer. I apologize if I seemed really harsh before.

  21. MzEllen says:

    Please retread the section on church leadership.

    I was lied to by church leadership, was denied a hearing, yet it was not the *church* – it was the leadership and I still hold the congregation (most of them) in high regard.

    At any rate, how I choose to be treated for the sake of he Gospel, even if I am abused, neglected, whatever…my treatment of another in that same position would be much more sympathetic.

  22. Jake Meador says:

    Pastor Thabiti – I’ve thought about this piece quite a bit over the last few days and wanted to ask a couple more questions.

    To lay my cards on the table, I’m someone who has been really hurt by a number of different Christians, most of whom were connected to a single church that I grew up in and left around eight years ago. That said, I’m also someone who loves the church, who is deeply committed to the local congregation I’m currently in and to the denomination it belongs to. So I’m trying really hard not to be a reactionary, emotive, bitter person about the first 17 years of my life in the church, even though it wasn’t good.

    To start off, I 100% agree that we need clear language as we talk about these issues. For example, I think we could clear up a lot if we stopped using the term “spiritual abuse,” and found more helpful language. If we’re talking about a pastor who sexually abused someone, let’s call it “sexual abuse.” If we’re talking about verbal bullying, let’s call it verbal bullying. If we’re talking about psychological manipulation, let’s call it psychological manipulation, and so on. I think “spiritual abuse” is simply too broad and imprecise to be of any use. So when you say “let’s use precise language in these conversations,” I 100% agree.

    That said, I’m not sure that what you’re talking about here is a good example of the need for careful language. The gist of your post seems to be “the church universal didn’t hurt you, individuals within the church did.” OK, sure. But isn’t that an example of the kind of individualistic mentality toward church that we want to push back against in so many other cases? The church isn’t a social group that can be neatly sliced and diced into its individual parts. We’re a body called into a unity that runs far deeper than mere personal preference or fondness for one another. So, for example, if someone in a position of leadership is sexually abusing people in the church, the other members of the congregation may not be guilty of the same sin as the abuser, but if they’re creating a community where abuse can happen more easily (as, I would argue, Rome did in the late 20th c. during their abuse scandal) then other members of the church are guilty of a sin, even if it isn’t the abuse itself. (To use another example, Paterno isn’t guilty of molesting children. But he is guilty of protecting a molester of children.)

    I guess the big picture question I have is “Doesn’t this post actually encourage the sort of individualism in the church that we find so destructive in other contexts?”

    1. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

      I think this is a good point. I also think the “spiritual abuse” terminology can still be useful because there is a particularly damaging and sometimes evil element when God or divine authority is used to bully, abuse, or manipulate people.

      Consider the difference in manipulation when an older boyfriend, for example, tells a young woman: “if you love me, you’ll have sex with me.” Now consider if the young woman’s pastor says, “God has told me you should minister to me sexually. If you love God, you will serve me this way.” The first situation is simply sexual manipulation. The second is spiritual abuse.

  23. Tiarali says:

    Wow. I came from a church where the pastor knowingly appointed a child abuser to a position of leadership in the church, and refused to remove him when multiple people complained. Multiple cases of children being groomed by adults were covered up. Anybody who dared to suggest that the pastor should actually be protecting the flock were slandered and faced verbal abuse.

    When somebody has been seriously harmed by a church – by church leadership who are then supported by the whole church congregation – they often face very real fears about attending a church. And when the dangers are serious, such as the danger of sexual assault, then you don’t just try again and put yourself in danger again. You want to be very, very sure that you’re going to go to a church that is safe.

    It’s not ok to trash victims like this post does. When a church hurts people, tell the church to actually obey the bible and take care of the flock. Start holding pastors accountable and removing them from their positions when they themselves are overwhelmed with sins that harm others. Take responsibility for your actions instead of trying to silence those who were hurt.

  24. Melody says:

    I do not see how you can tell this pastor to take responsibility for another holding the same office. This pastor trashed no one.

    Some women have wrecked other women’s homes and marriages. It’s like asking you to stand up and be accountable as a woman. Even though what they did has nothing to do with your character or faithfulness.

  25. Marcie says:

    While there are semantic issues with the general statement “the church hurt me”, for too many people that statement is reality. There are too many instances where a church member who has suffered at the hands of someone else in the local church has brought those accusations to the leadership only to be shunned while the perpetrators are rallied around. Usually this happens because the offender is a pastor or a member of the pastors’ families. It’s even more insidious when the church covers criminal activity – such as the abuse of children. Rather than love the victim and deal with the sin in the ranks, it’s easier to make the victim the enemy. It’s situations like this that cause people to make the claim that “the church hurt me.” Matthew 23 is God’s perspective on leadership that would rather cover sin than deal with it. And I would include any church or organization that would rally around another church, organization or pastor involved in sin in that group, too. So maybe instead of attacking hurting people who don’t phrase things correctly, Christians should focus on being the loving, healing hands of Jesus in this broken world.

    1. Jen says:

      I agree. This is why I still see my hurt as coming from the church.

      Yes, the whole church wasn’t abusive. However, once everyone became aware of the situation and decided to turn a blind eye, they too were complicit.

      Besides, when people say that a church or organization has been a blessing, how often do members turn around and say things like, “Well, I’m sure not EVERYONE blessed you,” or, “How can you say the church has blessed you if you haven’t been blessed by every Christian in the universal church.”

      But there is a tendency to say similar things when someone has found a church to be a stumbling block.

      It’s an interesting dichotomy.

      1. Melody says:

        And yet no one says, “I was hurt by the bars” or “I was hurt by the universities”. Regardless of what may have happened in one or more of them.

        It is only in regards to God that we make such sweeping generalizations. Doesn’t it make you wonder who keeps that hurt alive? Who is whispering in your ear that you didn’t deserve it and you have a right to still feel this way?

        I can tick off a list of ways confessing believers have hurt me. Even as I see it as sin to hold onto them I can still count them all off.
        Can I do the same of unredeemed sinners? Nooo, there are too many to count. We don’t hold them to the same standard because they supposedly don’t know any better. Or at least we know that we aren’t supposed to hold that grudge.

        We hold believers to a different standard because? They are supposed to be perfect like we are already perfect?
        There isn’t supposed to be any sin in a church building because we know that we certainly do not bring any there ourselves?
        There is supposed to be warmth, acceptance and unconditional love for me because I go out of my way to give that to everyone all the time?

        1. Jen says:

          If my school acted as my old church did, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it hurt me. And, I don’t think I’d receive any flack for it.

          It’s a big assumption to think that I consider myself hurt by the church because I expected perfection. You don’t even know what I’ve been through.

          And, this is common. People assume they know the stories of people who’ve been hurt by the church but don’t seem to have much interest in hearing them.

          No wonder there are churches that keep on hurting. . .

          1. Melody says:

            Now see you changed it from “the” church to your church. No one says “the” schools hurt me. That was the whole point.

            You automatically assume that you have been through more than me when you can’t possibly know. That is the victim mentality. I spoke to how I worked through it and faced my sin in that area. If you don’t then your heart hardens and you waste years of your life. I haven’t asked yours and I haven’t told you mine. You haven’t asked either.
            Ultimately it doesn’t matter.
            We have victory in Christ. We have salvation in Christ when we don’t deserve it. Everything else is gravy.
            We have been told to rejoice that this His will for us. That He works everything for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. Joseph told his brothers that what they meant for evil God intended for good. How can we go through life if none of those things He said were true? If some of it isn’t true then can any of it be?

            1. Kristin says:

              No, Melody, it does ultimately matter. Another person has told you, “I have been seriously hurt by my church.” And you are essentially saying that they need to get over it. Other people have different experiences than you and while sharing your testimony MAY help them, they may not experience the same type of healing as you. They may not have had the same problems as you.

  26. Melody says:

    Kristin I would not say it that way to someone in person but I would ask question.

    If the way I view scripture is wrong then please explain it to me. Or if there is another way then I’m willing to hear it. So far all I’ve heard is that everyone has a right to their hurt. Is there scripture for that?

    1. Kristin says:

      Off the top of my head, “Weep with those who weep,” seems applicable here. I don’t think anyone has the right to arrogance, or to tell others that they don’t have a “right to their hurt”.

      1. Kristin says:

        “Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.” -also seems applicable.

      2. Marg says:

        I’m with you, Kristin. The Church is hurting people and we are telling them to shut up. We should be listening.

        1. Thabiti says:

          Hi Melody, Kristin, and Marg,

          Thanks for engaging this conversation. It’s an important one, one that needs to have nuance, affirmation, and challenge where appropriate. In my experience pretty much no one gets it all right all the time. That’s partly why the discussion needs to happen with patience and grace.

          For my part, I’m certainly not saying people should “shut up.” In fact, every point in this post says, “Speak up.” I don’t think it’s either accurate or helpful to speak in sweeping terms about our hurts or in sweeping terms about those who hurt us. We simply miss more than we gain. It seems to me that it’s better to be as accurate as you can with charges, blame, etc. because then you know (a) who to speak to, or who to speak to next when they don’t listen, and (b) you treat with kindness those who are often blamed but have not part in the actual offense. In my experience, no one wins when people speak of their hurt in so general a way that nothing can be done to resolve the hurt and offense.

          I’m certain perfectly godly people could offer other practical counsel depending on the situation in view (and the counsel should take into account the particulars of a situation). But no one should read this post as “shut up” when every bit of it is designed to help people “speak up” more productively in cases of “run-of-the-mill” offenses sinners are bound to commit against one another.

          Grace and peace to all,
          T-

          1. Melody says:

            Pastor Thabiti

            I’m still kind of confused. I reread what you wrote originally with the edited part and I thought I understood it completely and felt it applied to me completely.
            I don’t know if it is a blind spot on the part of others that keep wanting to read more grievous abuse into it and so we are talking apples and oranges or what. Perhaps it comes from my lack of skill in communicating. I’m blunt in person and it comes off even worse in print.

            Here is where I’m coming from: a thirty year lesson hard learned and so much time wasted.

            I walked away from God because of mean Christians many years ago and all I got was a lifetime of hurt from sin. My own sin…piled on the sin of others against me still just made for a pile of sin.

            When I was a kid we went to church with my grandma whenever my dad was stationed overseas. It was the yelling kind of church that told everyone that they were going to hell all the time. The kind that the preacher got all excited when there was a thunderstorm because now he had sound effects.
            I remember him saying that maybe that was Jesus coming again right now and everyone was terrified. It was a very judgmental atmosphere with the church always on the verge of busting apart. None of the other churches were going to heaven, just his. He made people get re-baptized. As a little kid I remember listening and thinking it wasn’t right. But that is where I heard about God. Okay it was just one small side of God-wrath but in my family love hurt so that didn’t deter me.
            When we were stationed other places I went to church when someone would take me. When I was old enough I would walk by myself to Sunday school or youth group. Teachers were always quitting though because the class wasn’t big enough to be worth their time and attention. It would start big and drop down to the same three or four kids.

            When we moved again I didn’t go until a boyfriend invited me because it was a small closed town. The town only had three flavors Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran. I went, asked the boyfriend’s aunt about the peace she seemed to have and she shared the gospel with me. I hadn’t heard it quite like that before.
            When the boyfriend found someone he liked better I couldn’t sit with them in church anymore and his aunt wasn’t supposed to talk to me. She said she had to respect his wishes because he was family.
            For a while I sat with the naughty teens at church and then I just gave up going. The environment was too unfriendly.
            After the teen years of worldly living without satisfaction and fear that the ground was going to open up and swallow me like in the Ten Commandments movie, I learned of a new church that was geared toward college students. They didn’t have a building and they were proud of the fact that they didn’t have all the rituals of traditional churches. It was the first time I was exposed to a different translation than the KJV. God seemed more personal and not such a foreigner that talked strange or mean.
            But the church that was so proud of not being legalistic was very immature and applied a lot of unspoken peer pressure on what was holy behavior. How you dressed, what time was your quiet time, who your roommates were ect. The fact that I worked the midnight to 8 shift didn’t seem to figure into it. When I walked away from there I hated them and I was very angry with God for allowing those kind of people to represent Him.
            Sinners seemed nicer. You knew what you were getting with them. And you knew when they were trying to get something out of you.

            I couldn’t understand why God hated me. I reasoned that He must of hated me. Why else would He put so many horrible people around me when I was reaching out to Him? It was like getting my hand slapped over and over.

            As I was getting towards thirty I was reflecting on how much I loved my children. How I didn’t know it was possible to love anyone so much. When the thought hit me that if I can love this much as a human then how much more love was God capable of? Not an original thought but it was huge for me at the time.
            There was a new church in town and when I found out that someone I knew went to it, I asked her about it. I was told that it wasn’t the kind of church that would appeal to everyone. That it wasn’t meant for everyone. I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, I forgot. I don’t go to church because of people like you.” But I wasn’t angry at God anymore. I didn’t blame Him for those people. I felt resigned though.

            Over the years there were a couple more rejections in times and ways too personal to say here. But I would say from the worldly victim perspective I could make a pretty good case for saying “the church” hurt me. If I believed in that.

            Here is what I learned. As long as I was focused on protecting myself I was not only distant from God but I didn’t teach my eight kids a single thing about Him.
            When child #4 was invited to a youth program in high school I was nervous. He came home upset because the preacher had said that Muslims weren’t going to heaven, that only those saved by Jesus were going. I realized how much I had messed up.
            The fact that I was going through a second divorce was beside the point. My children didn’t know the truth about God because I had spent my life protecting them from the “mean Christians” instead of teaching them about Him.

            After a couple of years I went with him to church when I found out the place was large enough I could go unnoticed. Right away we ran into a family from our neighborhood that had never represented Christ’s love to me. That was like a test. I stepped past that. I felt like someone had given me a lifeline out of the mess of my heart and I was determined to hang on.
            When people found out I was going through a divorce they were kind, they said they were sorry. Which I didn’t get at the time. One person was nasty though (a friend)and I’ll admit it has stuck with me.

            In the eight years since I have questioned “was I saved as a teen or not?” All the while I was hanging onto that lifeline I was still wondering why God had let that happen. I still had so much anger and hurt. A large part of my heart was still hard.
            One day I was listening to a podcast by Mark Driscoll on the introduction of Revelation. I was ironing expecting to hear a little bit of yelling the way he does and the next thing I knew I was on the floor crying. Driscoll had taken a different softer approach. He talked about Jesus’ friend John and how things must of looked through his eyes of everything that had happened. He talked about how Jesus was abandoned by his friends. The Holy Spirit showed me my sin clear back to when I was a teen. Jesus was my friend but I had treated Him worse than anyone has ever treated me.
            Yes I loved Jesus. Yes I believed He was Lord and Savior. Yes I wanted Him to save me…. and to live happily ever after.
            Taking up my cross didn’t mean actually experiencing what He went through. That wasn’t real. I didn’t count the cost.
            What becoming a Christian meant was someone was supposed to love me the way I needed. To make me feel secure and safe somewhere. Not that I was supposed to love other people the way that Christ had loved me. Saving me wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I demanded more, just like a two year old.

            Over and over my sin has been shown to me the same way-by God. When we studied the Gospels I was like many, identifying with Peter. Impulsive Peter always blurting out stupid stuff. Yep that’s me. Until the Holy Spirit showed me that I was Judas. Judas that saw how great and wonderful Christ was but wasn’t content to just follow Him. Judas who had his own ideas on how things should happen. Make Christ be who he wanted Him to be.

            This year God showed me Judah. I wasn’t Joseph. Joseph, who even after being sold into slavery by people he loved; thrown into prison on a false rape charge; forgotten there by someone he helped; still loved, respected and honored them all. I wasn’t him.
            Now Judah, who screwed it all up but when faced with his sin repented and grew in his relationship with God, I could be him. Someone can even reason that Judah was the product of his environment, what with Daddy playing favorites all the time and everything. Who could blame him for the things that he did?
            But in the end a person is alone with God and their sin. Pointing the finger at everyone else and saying that they hit first doesn’t help us to grow in Christ-like maturity. It just keeps us immature.

            In the past eight years, God has healed me by having me see my sin in it instead of looking at everyone else’s. I’m not innocent. Even if I’m innocent in one single particular situation. I’m sure there are 50 million others where I am guilty of something. I am no better than any of those people that hurt me.
            I had to face the woman who told me that her church isn’t for everyone when our children played on the same soccer team. When she realized who I was she asked if I remembered her and was clearly confused why I didn’t say hello. I ended up inviting her to a bible study.

            So yes, weep with those that are weeping. When it happens that day. Then be a friend and help them get past it. Scripture tells us to help people to grow.
            The world tells us that we have rights and to demand better treatment. But Jesus says to lay all that down and imitate Him. Philippians 2:6 He gave up everything-every right.

            Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27

            Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

            Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:13-15

            It all starts with me. I can’t wait for it to start with the other guy. If they hurt me then pray for them.
            It’s not just persevering through adversity from the world that grows you in Christ. Right? Sometimes the adversity is right in our own families.

            Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
            Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
            Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:14-19

            Nothing in my life was of any worth and it was because I was “hurt” more than I loved. In the last eight years I have been blessed in so many ways including seeing seven of my eight children come to Christ.
            I’m determined not to let this lesson be wasted after wasting thirty years.
            I apologize for my poor ability at writing.

            1. Thabiti says:

              Hi Melody,

              Thank you for courageously sharing so much of your story. I know this could not have been easy, and may even fill risky now with so many who may disagree harmfully. But I thank you.

              I don’t know why you say you’re “confused.” I thought you made the case for what I’m saying in a far more compelling way. If I’m reading you correctly, I suspect you see application in even the more difficult situations of hurt, not just what I’ve called “run-of-the-mill.” I do think there’s application, but I’d want to add two qualifications:

              1. Some situations ought to be reported to the police immediately. These are criminal offenses that ought to be treated as such. I wouldn’t want anyone to confuse what I’m writing here with those situations.

              2. As in your own case, getting over hurt may involve many twists and turns over a long number of years before you feel Pilgrim’s heavy burden rolled off your back at the cross. Even though we may see application in instances of serious offense and hurt, we still need to temper the application with a heavy dose of patience and prayer, knowing that God doesn’t usually get us “there” over night.

              Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s a beautiful testimony to God’s relentless love, to His kind providence, and to the basic point of this post–”the church” is rarely the culprit, even when we’ve had some pretty bad experiences.

              The Lord shower you with His love today,
              Your brother,
              T-

  27. Linda says:

    Pastor Anyabwile, Your tagline for our blog is “A Desire for an Increasingly Pure Church.” If so, please speak to perpetrators rather than victims. Why the church shames victims and keeps perpetrators on pedestals is beyond me. Our God clearly explains true justice to be when we speak up for the defenseless. Even so called “run of the mill” hurts can be quite damaging. Many people have been hurt by “the church” in that this body of people is not a safe place for them any longer. How many stories of abuse by church leaders, or swept under the rug by church leaders, have to be told before we stop blaming victims and telling them to repent and “search their own hearts?” How many lives crushed by gossip, judgmentalism, legalism and belittling? The best men are men at best… and none of us deserve a pedestal. Victims need the church to be a safe place to heal and share their story…. and it is NOT that place when you start with questioning the motives of those who are most hurt.

    1. SB says:

      I agree with this statement. I understand that the church wants to be a place where it is clear that the gospel is for everyone regardless of the sin they have committed. Somehow however, that has translated into a place of safety for offenders and a place of deep hurt for victims. Some churches, from my perspective, don’t see a problem with this. I have been in those churches and have experienced them treat offenders as golden boys who can do no wrong while treating their victims with contempt and disgust. I have been in others where the issues are much more subtle. The church wants to reach out to both groups and have the offender and victim reunite in some kind of perfect display that is supposed to show a picture of God’s radical forgiveness, etc. In doing so, the set up the offender to offend again and they disregard the trauma and deep hurt of the victim. In this, the offenders have free reign and the victims are either re-victimized or they leave the church for a safer environment.
      Where are the churches that actually address the crimes that offenders have committed? Where are there people reaching out to traumatized victims and helping to heal their wounds, with gentleness, patience and kindness?
      My church IS a place of healing and has often referenced the Gospel Coalition as a resource for congregants to find encouragement, etc. yet the Gospel Coalition’s stance on the Sovereign Grace allegations has shocked me. It has made me question everything. I don’t feel safe anywhere anymore.

  28. Marg says:

    I didn’t get the “10,000 charms” bit. What does that mean?

  29. "SAM" says:

    One of the things I was taught by the church I left that we “must be *near* the man of God” in order to be blessed. (The sermon was based on the relationship of Elisha and Elijah; it was a not-so-subtle sermon on attendance with a clear reference to not being across town when the church doors are open.)
    It’s my understanding we are blessed if we are in Christ and that we are to *be* men and women of God (1Tim.6:11) – not “be near” someone who [supposedly] is (meaning the pastor). They also had some seriously wrong teaching about spiritual warfare.
    The church leaders were not open to discussion when it came to Scripture twisting or misunderstandings. Not sure I want anything to do with organized religion after that experience although I am open to meeting with other families in a house church setting.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi “Sam,”

      I’m sorry for the experience you had at that church. You are most certainly correct–everyone in Christ has been “blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We’re not sacerdotalists.

      And, whenever we find ourselves out of step with a church’s statement of faith, we’re free and right to find another congregation with which to worship and serve.

      But I have a question, if I might. Why would you not meet with another local congregation but be open to meeting in a “house church setting”? What do you think would be the difference?

      T-

  30. Melody says:

    Thank you, and I agree completely with contacting authorities. And that growth comes in different rates. I appreciate your kind words.

    I should say that there are some things that I still struggle with like the church that I attended when I was twenty. They have changed their name for a third time and have built a building now. I do not even know if any of the original people attend it. But when I meet someone from that church I struggle to love. I recognize that the difficulty is mine. It’s my sin, even if the person is just as stiff and self-righteous as the people I remember. They are still sisters or brothers in Christ and I’m called to love them. I try to view them as the weaker ones.

    The first few years in my own church were very hard. Because my trust was not there I was on guard.
    To add to things, in an environment that I hoped to be anonymous one of my sons became a believer and married one of the pastors’ daughters. A complete blessing now but a very scary thing for someone like me.
    The thing that helped me though was that every time something hurtful came up I ran crying to a friend that would not coddle me. She was sympathetic but then she would tell me that I had to love them. It was just that simple for her. We are called to love. So just do it. When I can’t face whoever because I’ve been to hurt or offended, I pray for them. I pray for them more than anyone else. I pray for God to bless them. I pray for God to help me to love them.

    But the biggest thing is that I study to know God. To know His identity, his character. Knowing who He is better than I know myself is key. I’m always changing and unreliable like the people around me but He stays the same. That is what I count on, not people. When the a situation comes up I ask Him, “ok what do you want me to learn from this?” Sometimes it takes a lot of asking.

  31. SB says:

    I don’t know that I have said this specific phrase, however, I have often wondered why churches feel like one of the least safe places. I have worked through this to a degree for my own self and would like to share a bit of that.
    I grew up in a denomination (or at least a section of that denomination – multiple churches, multiple christian schools, etc.) where sexual, physical, and emotional abuse was or at least seemed, pretty rampant. We were kept very isolated from the outside world and it was all we knew. There were certainly some good people within that world, yet abuse flourished in many of the homes. It was an environment fairly safe for abusers, but not for children or victims. I look back at my peers and most of them have nothing to do with God or church. Most of them would say, “the church hurt me”. Many were molested throughout their lives and leadership did not intervene. Many saw friends and siblings commit suicide, run off or be sent away. The church did hurt all of us (our own families, church leaders, etc. were all free to abuse in multiple ways and be excused for it). In those cases, the “church” was a section of that denominational group where some of their core beliefs prevented basic protection of children and condoned harsh levels of “discipline”. As for me, I moved on to my university years, thankful to get out of that environment and hopeful to find safety elsewhere. I didn’t quite yet tie the abuses to the “church” in general, just to the environments I grew up in. At the christian university, however, I had experiences that led me to broaden my definition of “the church hurt me” once I realized that the university defended the abusers and agreed that the crimes of abusers should remain within the church/away from legal assistance. This university was well known and well respected, so when the administration saw abuse as something to be covered up, hidden and as something that rendered the abuse victim as worthless, that added to my shame and my questions about churches being safe. At that time, I still wouldn’t have said, “the church hurt me”. For one thing, I thought I deserved abuse.
    I left the university environment and went to my first church, freely starting out my adult life. That first church made it clear that former victims of sexual abuse were not welcome in their church. They were clear to make sure I knew that other churches would welcome me, but their church did not want that kind of defilement within their church. I still don’t think I would have said at that point that “the church” hurt me, but it dawned on me finally, that “the church” was not a place of safety and hope for some people. By this time, I did not see God as good or loving, either, though I still believed in God.
    Years went by and I found a church home that was more welcoming, loving, genuine, etc. It wasn’t a place of secrets and covering of abuse, etc. and they patiently demonstrated a truer picture of Jesus that brought me a great deal of healing.
    In more recent years, as I have reconnected with those old acquaintances and friends from the past, I look around and see the carnage that was left behind by the churches and christian schools we were in. I see the effects on my peers faces as they struggle to understand why they were abused day in and day out. I see their struggle as they wonder if there could possibly be a God and if there is, then can he possibly be good. I see that as each of us approach the church and school leadership that committed these abuses (sometimes crimes), we are each condemned and further humiliated. So I ask, did the church hurt us? Did the church hurt my peers? The answer has to be yes. Are those churches part of the true body of Christ? I don’t know.
    I still wouldn’t walk around and say that the church has hurt me. That isn’t exactly how I see it, yet even though I now attend a wonderful church with kind leadership, the least safe place I feel on earth is at church. At church is where memories and fears come flooding back. Church is where I can’t let my children out of my sight. Church is where I have to face my greatest fears and sort through them. Church leaders are those who I fear the most to trust, knowing all the while that it is not fair to judge them by my past experiences with others. I fight my fear and choose to trust, but it is a guarded trust. I feel like a bird perched on a branch alert and ready to spring at tiniest hint of danger, even though THIS particular church has been and continues to be a place of healing for me.
    I read your article trying to think through the reality of it. I found the most abuse and deepest shame within a group of churches. I developed a deep fear of God within those churches, yet I am finding healing, albeit slowly at another church. Did “the church” hurt me? Yes. Looking back now, I would have to say yes. A group of churches, their leaders, their schools, the university they most connect with – all provided an environment where serious abuses flourished. All turned the other way when the knew of abuse (when they weren’t the ones directly involved). All had a stance on abuse that shunned victims, but protected perpetrators. They did hurt me and many others. Yet, the church – a church that more accurately (from my perspective) portrays the heart of God, has also been a source of healing and hope, a source of learning about God’s love.

  32. Melody says:

    Some of us suffered abuse in other places. What do they have in common? Human beings capable of horrific evil. There are no safe places until Christ comes again.

    I have found healing by refusing to be a victim anymore. My identity is in Christ. God didn’t let my sin keep me from having a relationship with Him. I’m certainly not going to let someone else’s sin keep me from having it anymore. He told us how to fix that. If we can’t do it ourselves, we usually can’t, He will help us. He suffered so much more than I did.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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