When Church Hurts
“If these pews could talk I wonder what they’d say. Would they share the stories of people with heads held high but hearts full of shame?
I know all too well the rumors that have spread and even worse the truth that cannot be hid.
What happens when the place that was meant to heal causes pain that one should never feel?
I believe in the One who calls us all together, but I just can’t see past the actions of the people, nor the venom in the chatter.
Lord, help me to release this hurt that was birthed in Your church.” ~ Author Unknown
Church Hurt: a term often used to describe the pain inflicted by people from religious institutions. A pain that distances sufferers from church community and God.
The unfortunate reality is hurt is everywhere. Recently, we’ve seen hurt in the entertainment industry through the #MeToo Movement, we’ve seen it politically through our current administration, and many of us have witnessed, experienced or even caused hurt in the church. But it’s something about church hurt that cuts deeper than any hurt some of us have ever felt. We rarely, if ever, walk into a church guarded. Depending on where we are in our journey, many of us go to church open – seeking refuge, healing, acceptance, and/or love. It’s because of our vulnerability that the hurt we experience in church is exacerbated.
The sad reality is most of us turn a blind eye to the abuse we experience in the church. This is mainly because we don’t recognize it right away since church is the last place we expect to experience abuse. If there is no other place in the world, the church should be loving, safe, accepting, affirming, forgiving, and free from conflict and pain. Yet in most churches at least some elements of strife, conflict, and hatred creep in and tarnish that notion. Especially for the LGBTQ community.
Few things in today’s world divide churches and Christian communities more deeply than the issue of homosexuality. As a result, persons from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community have suffered from church hurt for decades. We’ve been damned to hell, silenced, demonized, banned from churches, blamed for the AIDS epidemic, disowned from families, subjected to cruel and unusual conversion therapy, classified as “non-human”, denied our civil rights, shall I go on?
Speaking from my context, spiritual abuse is particularly prevalent in the Black church. Especially as it concerns women and the LGBTQ community. Their abusive behavior is steeped in the remnants of White supremacy and Black respectability politics. I often ask the question, “Have the oppressed become the oppressor?” Do those who’ve been dehumanized in one way or another feel that they can only regain their sense of humanity by stripping other marginalized groups of their humanity? Religion has commonly been used within cultures to justify oppression. Oft times the Bible is used to construct theological perspectives that subjugates marginalized people and deems them unworthy of equal status and equitable treatment along with the dominate group. The Bible has been used to define Black people as a cursed and immoral people, relegated to slavery, segregation and unequal treatment. In the same manner, the Black church has continued to use the Bible to project a similar narrative upon people from the LGBTQ community. This systematically destructive behavior must end and Black church leaders must consider that justice extends beyond the confines of race.
The destructive narrative and behavior displayed by church folks has hurt me and many others so badly, we’ve contemplated or have completely given up on God, church, and at times life. I’ve personally considered all three, but later realized that I can’t charge God, the church, nor the gift of life with the sins of the people in the pulpits and pews.
Imagine that you’ve been hit by a car and rushed to the ER. Would you spend your time worrying about the driver that hit you? Or might your first concern be to survive? With physical hurts, we typically seek help immediately. However, emotional and spiritual hurts seem to engender a response unlike any other wound. When we are hurt by people in the church we tend to focus on the aggressor, not the Healer. This is one of the enemy’s most effective diversion tactics. He knows that healing is available, and he does not want us to attain it. The enemy would much rather we forget that being broken is an integral part of God’s plan for our evolution.
Healing from your hurt and finding forgiveness in your heart is imperative. When all we see is our pain we lose sight of God and if left unresolved we can easily forget or never seek to find our purpose. Believe me, I’ve had my own struggles with forgiving church folks. Let’s be honest, as an institution the church is not always in line with the vision set forth by Jesus to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). Instead, there is ageism, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and many other “isms.” I’ve witnessed the Bible used as a weapon from the pulpit. I’ve witnessed people use God as an instrument of fear. But the thing that gives me hope during moments of hurt is God’s healing grace for the oppressor and the oppressed.
This simple blog post can’t possibly communicate the gravity of the injustice the LGBTQ community has suffered at the hands of an institution that has been commanded to LOVE. The kind of LOVE that’s patient, kind, doesn’t envy or boast. The kind of love that isn’t proud, doesn’t dishonor others, isn’t self-seeking or easily angered or keeps record of wrong doing. LOVE that doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. LOVE that always protects, trusts, hopes and preserves. The kind of LOVE that never fails…AGAPE LOVE (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). It is my hope that this blog will help others start the healing process, and remind them of why they fell in love with God and Her church.