When Church is Dangerous

Many people have had negative experiences with church, which flavor their feelings about church and their ability to attend or commit to a church.  Whether it's inauthenticity, cliques, or burnout, there's a lot of stuff that people have encountered in a church setting that sours them on putting themselves back in that setting. 

As sad as that as, I want to talk about something far, far sadder.  Over the holidays several weeks back, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend of mine. He had a bad experience with church that had nothing to do with inauthenticity, cliques, or burnout.  Rather, he was, systematically over several years, tortured and abused, in a church, at the hands of church leaders.  Even worse (as if it is possible that there is an "even worse" after that sentence), he was shamed during it all, being led to believe that it was because he was bad that all of these things were being done to him, and being threatened that he would be struck down by God if he ever told anyone.

As much as I feel I have really tried to empathize with my friend through the fallout of his childhood traumas, I cannot begin to understand the confusion, fear, and anxiety he goes through in his adult years.  Nor can I fathom the conflicting feelings he has about God and church, both of which represented utter terror in his childhood, and both of which have represented redemption and salvation since then.  For a religion that values church participation and deep relationships so much, as a part of the faith journey, how my friend is able to intersect with both is, needless to say, charged with much emotion and uncertainty. 

Unfortunately, I know that my friend is far from alone in this world.  I am thankful for my friendship with him, which among other things has taught me to be more aware of the fact that there are many around me for whom church is dangerous.  I am reminded and challenged by our conversations to do what I can to make God and church safe again for these people, whoever they may be.  In doing so, we participate in a very precious aspect of our faith's story, which is God actively and lovingly restoring the broken to Himself.  I can hardly think of a better or more powerful way to think of our faith.
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