More and more people are finding their voices to speak out about the harm down or caused by a church. Often times I hear the counter argument that “It’s just people that hurt you. You need to forgive them and get involved in a different church.”
I have a few thoughts. Thought I will note that most of these are based on my own experience.
The presented solution is pretty much to tell people to grieve and forgive their hurt and then to get involved in a better church community. Where is the answer for those that have been continually hurt by those within the church? To continue the cycle of being hurt and used and then move to a new and supposedly better community. Many people are fed up with being hurt and just want to move on.
Looking back at both of the churches I grew up in, and I don’t see a place I can trust or find care or community. One of them protected a known sexual abuser, and the other proved inhospitable to anyone the pastor or his family may disagree with. These places were the community I had as a child, the supposed “family of believers.” I’m suppose to look at the place that betrayed and wronged my family and go “that’s just the people.” It was not. It was the whole church leadership that willfully protect an abuser.
As for the Baptist church my family then turned to, it changed leadership at the time we started attending. It’s hard to describe exactly the issues there, but it’s like death by 1000 cuts. Small things that wound and slowly build over time. Like the pastor pushing away members merely because of a debate over who’s kid should play the weekly music special. Refusal by the pastor to change methods or listen to any criticism. Or treating me and my wife like second hand trash after we chose to look for another place to worship. (Small town – you are going to run into everyone eventually.)
I will also mention that this was the same pastor that told me I must have been never saved after I spoke with him and his wife. (Baptist’s believe that you can’t loose your salvation. Once saved always saved right? But what if someone seems to “stray” or walk away from their beliefs? Then, of course, they really weren’t saved in the first place. Because if you were “truly saved” you would never walk away from that.) He also hinted that I “better be sure” about my faith choices lest my children be cast into hell due to my lack of faith.
My point is that, yes, people are hurt. People have been gravely wounded by the people they were suppose to be able to trust within the church. But this is often a repeated cycle. One that doesn’t break until they step away from endless cycle of trying to find a place that doesn’t hurt then and where they can feel safe.
If someone doesn’t feel safe within a church, don’t criticize them or try to force them back into a church environment. Chances are that this isn’t their first time being hurt by the church. Please, just let them step away and heal.