Yesterday, I went to church again. Both my husband and I were encouraged by the message, and strengthened by the reminder that Jesus loves and forgives us.
We chatted in the large gathering area of the mega church with a few people on the hospitality team. We were served coffee by a friendly guy at the coffee bar. The people seemed genuinely happy that we were there, and expressed an interest in our lives.
The musical talent on the stage was tremendous. The songs were meaningful and comforting. They reminded me that I am God’s child and I don’t have to be afraid. They reminded me that I can trust God.
The message communicated truths to me that were applicable and timely in my life. This past week I had been reading Gerald May’s book Addiction and Grace, and I was blown away by the fact that some of the things the speaker said hammered in some of the same truths. I heard God say to my heart once again to loosen my grip on the things of this world and make room for the good that only He can give me. I needed to hear this message.
I wonder sometimes how church can be so comforting and terrifying at the same time. Our family suffered the worst abuse and betrayal by the pastor of our previous church, and when it was exposed by me, the elders manipulated the truth to make it more palatable to the church. What happened to me wasn’t labeled as abuse or an affair, and because of this most concluded I had just had an affair. The shame, confusion and betrayal of the people we had known as our family caused us to feel we had no choice except to move and start over.
I have written about my experience over and over again on this blog. I have struggled hard with my own confusion and fear, sometimes feeling like I would drown in it. I have found relief only through others who are willing to listen and understand, most of whom have been victims themselves. My therapist has walked beside me for three years faithfully and has kept me sane.
I read a tweet from Diane Langberg recently. Dr. Langberg does tremendous work in educating the church especially in the areas of abuse of power. She attempted to educate my former church leaders, but they did not apply what she had to say.
I have discovered the difficult way what Dr. Langberg says is true. We need community and connection to survive. We need to be able to share our sorrows and pain. Loneliness is suffocating and has made me feel as if I was dying on the inside.
Scripture is clear that God’s plan for the church is to provide this kind of community. Church is not a mandate that proves we are high and holy Christians. Church is a place where we encourage one another, weep and rejoice with one another, and bear one another’s burdens.
Church also is not a place where we micromanage one another’s lives or where pastors abuse their position and take advantage of their God given power, intended to be used to serve the body of Christ.
I do not believe that all churches abuse, however more and more stories continue to hit social media with taglines like #churchtoo #MeToo and #EmptyThePews, and when I read these stories I can feel totally disillusioned by the church. I have met so many who have been through similar experiences who have totally given up on ever attending church again. When I have heard their stories, I totally understand.
I think what is most bothersome to me is the fact that I read minimal responses from the religious leaders who want to help victims and prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Far too often the church is silent on the issue of sexual abuse in the church. The voices I hear the most are the victims crying out in pain and the church leaders either calling them liars, asking them why they waited so long to report the abuse, or defending themselves. Similar stories are coming out of Hollywood and politics. Sometimes I am so confused and angry that I am tempted to shut down every social media account I have.
But I will not shut down my accounts, because I believe that these stories are important to listen to and respond to. God has called us to be salt and light in this world. If we remain quiet, God says that the rocks will cry out.
I have not given up on the church. I still believe that God is doing so much good through the church.
However, I am confused as to why the church is not being more vocal about the abuse that is taking place in her midst?
It is my prayer again today that God would speak to any church leaders who are willing to hear about the abuse problem in the church and that they would repent, pray and seek His face and act in wisdom to prevent these kinds of things from happening in their midst. I also pray that churches would give victims a voice to share their story and walk with them through the confusion of their pain. We need each other.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21 ESV