Church Hurt.

Oh, y’all.

I’m going to throw this phrase out there, right off the bat, and then I’m going to guess how many of y’all have firsthand experience with this.

Deep breaths.

I’m talking about church hurt.

And I’m guessing that many of you have either experienced it, or know someone who has experienced it.

Y’all know that I tend to open up to some tough topics around here, but this is one that has been working for a long time in my heart. Mostly, I’ve struggled to put words to the feelings that phrase even brings up.

It’s not like it’s a secret. Church hurt is actually a hot button topic in the church world. We all know it happens. Most of us have seen it happen or experienced it ourselves.

But nearly everyone seems at a loss when it comes to handling it.

I’m going to be honest; I’m no stranger to church hurt. Some of my biggest emotional scars were inflicted by leaders in the church. Spiritual and emotional abuse. Manipulation. Outright abuse. Rejection and abandonment. Malice, backstabbing, lies, and hate.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

I grew up in a very sheltered religious organization. As a whole, this organization is known for the emphasis it places on appearances. The do’s and the don’t’s are a big deal, particularly when it comes to one’s manner of dress. Coincidentally, the majority of the don’t’s are aimed at women.

Being an organization that prides itself on ‘being set apart’ by their appearance, most of the focus is, well, on the outside. Not just the right outfits, you understand; the appearance of being put-together, of knowing the right people, of having just the right amount of the Lord’s anointing, which is demonstrated by fervent emotional displays.

Please hear me on this; I’m not saying that emotional, demonstrative worship is wrong. We all know that David danced before the Lord, to the embarrassment of his wife, who was cursed for her chastisement of him.

But when so much focus is placed on the outside – looking right, talking right, acting right – it’s easy to neglect the inside.

After all, if you look right on the outside, you’ve got it made. Entrance into all the best social circles, opportunities left and right, and doors opened for you.

The problem, friends, is that appearances have stymied truth in many of these leaders’ hearts.

The pastor who, after being approached by the abused wife of his favorite ‘associate pastor’, advises her that her body belongs to her husband and she should just keep quiet and not ruin his life. When she works up the courage to file for a divorce, she’s ostracized from her church family because the leadership sides with her abuser. Whispers and rumors of her fault – her sin – that ‘must have caused this’ abound.

The leader who grooms young ladies in the youth group for abuse, sending thousands of explicit text messages and arranging clandestine sexual meetings with these minors entrusted to his oversight by their parents because, well, he’s from a good family. When mom and dad find the evidence and approach the pastor, nothing is done. Because, well, the leader is his son, and he’s well known in the organization, and it would be embarrassing for everyone to find out that one of them has a sin problem. But when it does come out, dear old dad puts pressure on the victim and her family to retract or downplay the crime, because he deserves ‘mercy’. Oh, and the young lady? Well, she was totally asking for it.

This might seem surprising to a rational person. But to anyone with direct experience in these types of organizations, it’s not surprising. Heartbreaking, yes. Shocking? Not if you knew what they know. I mean, after all, dear old dad in this case has kept his son’s other indiscretions and lustful proclivities hush-hush his whole life. Other young ladies have left the church completely rather than share their stories of predatory or abusive behavior and bear the stigma of a ‘backslider’.

Y’all. It’s not ok.

And it gets so much worse. Abuse and assault. Children forever damaged by the sins forced on them by leaders that they trusted. Generations that grow to pass on that same damage, because it happened to them.

This goes way, way beyond ‘I got my feelings hurt by someone at church’, y’all. Nearly everyone can point to a story like that in their own history, because, well, the church is composed of human people. And human people are flawed.

But when a church organization excuses and covers these behaviors with a mantle of secrecy, they’re condoning it. And an organization designed to control and manipulate under the guise of religious fervor isn’t the church of the living God.

It’s a cult.

And for every story that is shared, there are hundreds kept guarded in the broken hearts of people who have been gutted by their own stories of abuse and pain.

Y’all, I’m no stranger to this. I suffered through some of the darkest mental and emotional times in my life in The Church. It took me years to separate God from The Church in my mind. The judgement and fear part, well, I got that loud and clear. I lived that for half my life in an organization that valued ‘spiritual discernment’ but used very little of it in their own lives.

The unconditional love? Mercy and grace? A lot harder to wrap my head around. I didn’t know that God very well. In fact, that view of God was something to be mocked as immature. Milk, when we should be eating meat, you understand. Pain was dismissed, because if you’re offended, well, you must be in the wrong.

Friends, that is not who God is. He is not an organization. He is not dictatorial leadership. He is not an abuser, manipulator, or liar. He doesn’t have favorites. There’s no one on a short list with the right last name and the best connections and the most correct outfits that is judged less for committing egregious sins against others.

He is our loving Father (Psalm 68:5, Isaiah 64:8) and righteous King who hears the cry of the oppressed and mistreated, bringing out justice on their behalf (Isaiah 30:18, Romans 12:19).

I’m not here to blast church organizations. I’ve spent the majority of my life working and ministering in church organizations, and I wholeheartedly believe that there is more good than bad.

But the bad is bad, and it should be called out for what it is so that it can be rooted from the hearts and mindsets of the people who call themselves followers of Christ.

If any of this is part of your story, my friend, please know that those behaviors are not of God. He does not condone evil; there is no evil in Him. Know that there is true unconditional love, peace beyond what you can wrap your mind around, and grace upon grace on the other side of your sorrow. If you’re dealing with trauma surrounding your own experiences, I highly recommend opening up to a Christian counselor or spiritual mentor not a part of the abuser’s circle. Acknowledge the abuse for what it is. Work on forgiveness and seek God’s peace. This is actually a great article about overcoming emotional and spiritual hurt inflicted by church leaders; I love that it reframes the ‘church hurt’ to a more specific ‘Steve-hurt’ or ‘James-hurt’ or ‘Kevin-hurt’ because it placed the blame where it belongs – on the individuals who inflicted the harm.

I also recommend connecting with a different congregation. It doesn’t have to be a ‘branded and approved’ church, but if they teach truth and walk in love and grace, they have all the stamps of approval they need. Our family connected with a local Baptist congregation, and while some of our theology differs, our church family is the most caring, serving, genuine group of believers I’ve met.

And I’ve met a lot of ‘believers’.

Friends, I know this is a lot to talk about, but I want you to know, most importantly, that there is joy on the other side of your hurt. I’m praying for those burdened by this today, and hoping that if that’s you, you’ll step into your healing process.

Be blessed this week, friends!

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