It’s been a rough few weeks. All too familiar feelings of anger mixed with sadness and a little bit of discouragement have tried to demand that I entertain them. I have had knots in my stomach and have spent time wrestling with my own convictions and beliefs as well as shaking my head in frustration at the opinions of others. What triggered all of this you ask? The revealing of the Duggar family scandal. Absolutely nothing makes me angrier than child abuse, friends. But I’m not writing this to share my thoughts about the Duggars- I’m not naive enough to believe that we still know every detail about the situation and therefore I can’t speak with authority about it (Plus, others have already written everything that I feel far better than I can. Read this – http://www.elizabethesther.com/journal/2015/5/27/its-not-just-about-josh-duggar-its-about-an-entire-system-of-abuse). But what the entire mess highlights to me is another example of spiritual abuse. I cried while reading different articles, all saying the same thing – the Duggar’s church leaders did absolutely nothing when the abuse was revealed to them. Mandatory reporters of abuse sat idly by and did nothing to ensure the safety of young children. It has been so disheartening to me that once again, we are seeing another example of powerful people whitewashing abuse and using the name of Jesus to cover-up scandal. I’m so tired of hearing stories about the church failing to (or refusing to) protect the lives that have been entrusted to them. It’s spiritual abuse guys, and we have to do better.
Spiritual abuse is not a new concept. Scripture is full of examples of religious leaders taking advantage of others and using their position to fulfill selfish desires. One of the easiest examples would be of the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus warned the crowd about not following in the Pharisee’s footsteps because they do not practice what they preach. Our Savior called the Pharisees “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, and “fools.” He told them that they shut the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces, they place heavy loads on people’s shoulders that they themselves are unwilling to help carry, and my personal favorite “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (vs.15). Jesus had a lot to say about a system that was more concerned with dogma than it was with people, a system that was more interested in culture wars than in washing feet. Jesus didn’t seem to tolerate the people that He came to this earth to die for being mistreated by religious leaders.
I have spent the last few weeks reading article after article, blog after blog, from people sharing their stories about the spiritual abuse they have experienced. Women placed under “church discipline” for divorcing their emotionally and sexually abusive husbands, children raped by their pastors and then asked to keep silent to protect the church’s reputation. The stories would amaze you. Innocent faith is being destroyed every single day and all in the name of what? Grace? Saving face? Protecting an institution?
WE HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THIS. We have to stop acting as if the kingdom of God can be shaken, as if God can be dethroned. Silence in matters of abuse does not represent Christ and what He stood for and why He came to this earth. We have to stop acting as if a church institution should be protected at any cost and rather live as if we really believe that people should be saved at any cost. If we want to better represent the heart of our Father than we must be an army that is willing to stand up and say that WE ARE NOT OKAY WITH INNOCENT LIVES BEING VICTIMIZED. That we are willing to ask questions and talk about the hard things and stand up for the victims and speak the truth always.
The church is supposed to be a safe haven for the hurting, a hospital for the sick, a lifeline for the drowning. People should be able to walk through the doors of every single Christian church and feel accepted, loved, and a sense of belonging. They should be safe. An overwhelming “we are so glad you are here” should be the church’s response. People should be able to bring their doubts, fears, insecurities, and baggage and find refuge, peace, and protection. Their experiences, problems, or abuse should never be looked at as something to be swept under the rug or ignored because of a “bigger picture” to defend. Sadly, this is just not the case in a lot of churches. Many times, people walk into a church and find judgment and legalism, shame instead of love. People in positions of authority use their power to victimize and damage innocent souls and then throw around words like grace, mercy, and redemption to downplay abuse, as if forgiveness and accountability are mutually exclusive. Sadly, a lot of times, church hurts like hell.
A few years ago, I experienced the worst emotional pain of my life at the hands of my church. The spiritual abuse that I experienced sent me spiraling into a depression and placed a weight of shame on my shoulders that I thought was going to destroy me. For months, I walked around feeling like I could barely breathe or even stand up straight. The pain felt so unbearable at times that I didn’t even want to wake up in the morning. I’m a girl who grew up in church, who has a long history of loving the church and serving faithfully and always doing my part to ensure her success; yet, despite all of that, the church had become my greatest source of pain.
It’s a normal response to want to run away when you are hurting. When rumors and lies have destroyed your reputation, when too many people know the painful and sacred details of your story, it seems like the only answer is to go far away where no one knows you. I begged God to let me leave my church, to send me somewhere else. I promised Him that I would continue to serve, that I would stay plugged in and wouldn’t let what happened to me cause me to turn my back on Him – I just wanted to do it all somewhere else. Anywhere else. Over and over again I tried to bargain with Him, and over and over again He responded with a simple “no.” God asked me to do one of the hardest things that I have ever done, to stay planted in the place that hurt me. He promised me restoration, but only if I stayed put. Four years later, I can honestly say that this truth has never been more real to me – He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
If you have ever been hurt by the church or have experienced spiritual abuse, I am so so sorry. You didn’t deserve it. Please know that what you went through is not your fault and is not the heart of God for you. Regardless of what anyone tells you, your feelings are valid and you have the right to hurt. Just don’t lose heart my friends. Yes, church can hurt so bad. It can break your heart and leave you questioning everything you thought you believed in. But there is always hope. God is so near, He deeply cares about what you have gone through, and He is grieving with you. Your pain matters to Him. If you let Him, He will fight this battle for you (Exodus 14:14). Lean on Him, turn to Him, and ask Him for guidance during this season. Take a break from church if you have to, just don’t ever leave His side. Seek Him like never before and take comfort in knowing that He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). You may not know how to move forward, and that’s okay. God knows, and the Spirit will reveal it to you when it’s time. And then if God says go, run as fast as you can until He says stop. But if He says stay, you anchor yourself to His promises and take a deep breath – you can do this. Your fear and anxiety are liars, you were made to do hard things. Just trust Him. (and if you have to cry in your car for 5 minutes before you can go inside the church like I did, that’s okay too). Please, just don’t ever give up.
For every story that you read about abuse in the church, there’s a community of people somewhere else who are loving people well, making a real difference, and representing Christ the best that they can. People who know how to walk with you through pain and aren’t afraid to sit in the dark, murky trenches of life. People who will grab you by the hands and listen to your story and understand that you have the right to your healing process, whatever that looks like, because Jesus paid for it. People who refuse to use the name of Christ as a weapon and believe that the casualties in our culture wars aren’t worth it. Keep searching, keep looking. These people are out there, and they are waiting for you.
Church can hurt. But church can also be a place of healing, restoration, joy, peace, community, friendship, love, and safety. And sometimes, God will take the place that was your greatest source of pain and turn it into your greatest source of redemption.
After all, He is the author of resurrection.
**If you are wondering what the church’s role should be in cases of abuse, read this : http://www.russellmoore.com/2015/05/22/what-should-the-duggar-scandal-teach-the-church/**