Do you know anyone whose faith has been turned upside down into cynicism because of hypocrisy or abuse within a church or a family?
I do. I've lost count of those I know personally, and I have read about far more who have walked away from the Christian faith or at least wandered to the outer fringe of fellowship.
Since then, I've read books and blogs about various kinds of abuse, I've conversed with countless people who have been afflicted, and I've thought back on some of my own troubling experiences.
- Legalism in its many forms
- Controlling and even cult-like behavior
- Arrogance, greed, and a lust for power
- Leaders who failed to take appropriate precautions to protect vulnerable people in their care, then failed to properly handle abusive situations after they happened
- Leaders who actively covered up evidence to protect abusers rather than victims
- Leaders who were the actual perpetrators of child molestation, adult sexual abuse, violence in the home, embezzlement, and every other manner of aberrant behavior.
Then what happens? If they dare to share their doubts, are they met with compassion and genuine understanding? Sometimes. I'm glad when I hear that. Too often, however, they are instead met with sanctimonious condescension and contempt.
And then it was suddenly all your fault because you had the audacity to object or even just to ask questions. After all, you obviously must have a problem with God if you can't quietly and cheerfully obey those he "placed in authority" over you, right? You hear accusations that you are: Bitter. Rebellious. Divisive. A slanderer. Ignorant of Scripture. Faithless. Selfish. Too sensitive. Proud. Resisting accountability. Playing the martyr. A backslider, or never a Christian in the first place. A heretic. An infidel.
Here's a gem I've seen so many times, especially in blog comment threads: "Hey, if you don't like what I said here, that's your problem. The Bible clearly says "________", and if you disagree, you're arguing with God, not me."
Your trust has been shattered.
I am fortunate that I was able to find a healthier church, and that I was also able to make peace and continue warm relationships with friends and pastors from the church we left behind. However, certain aspects of the Christian experience can still be a struggle for me.
- extend grace, mercy, compassion
- listen long and well without deflection or excuse
take them seriously when they tell their stories and share their doubts
educate themselves about sexual abuse, domestic violence, and cultish practices
protect the vulnerable by putting precautions into place
- embrace the broken, and help them pick up the pieces
pursue justice and healing for the abused
- provide moderated support groups and on-line forums for abuse survivors
stop demonizing mental illness and start encouraging professional therapy
stop blaming victims for their own abuse
stop perpetuating power structures that keep others in bondage
humble themselves in true repentance
take responsibility for their failures and make restitution for damage
hold abusers accountable and make them step down from any positions of supposed authority.
Grace and peace,
P.S. #1: Some helpful web sites:
- GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments)
- Wartburg Watch
- Spiritual Sounding Board
- Spiritual Abuse Recovery
P.S. #2: Some of my own posts on abuse of authority...
- Recognizing Pervasive, Poisonous Power in Marriage
- My Thoughts on the Sexualization of the Church
- Sovereign Grace and Saving Face (Sexual Abuse)
- Child Discipline or Child Abuse?
- It Became to Me a Dark Thing (A Poem)