When I was around 13 years old, I remember attending a few youth “church services” with a girl my age who was a regular attender. Full disclosure: My motives for attending were questionable. I vaguely remember a few songs being sung and some activities but what I enjoyed the most were the kickball games, which had no spiritual value. The people in charge I considered old by my 13-year-old standards but were probably only around college-aged. This was a very short and seemingly insignificant memory in my life but it has stayed with me because a few years later, as my life had already taken a turn for the worse, I ran into another church attendee who had been a long-time member that left and the shocking news that one of the main leaders had moved to another city and got a house with 4 of the younger girls who were part of the church. To be fair, I never pursued this to see if it was true, but I do know that it was also told to me in a group where 1 or 2 others familiar with the church could have easily refuted the accusation.
I don’t share this because I think I experienced a violation that severely impacted me. I don’t. The real victims were the 4 girls. But, I have counseled and shared the gospel with several people who have been deeply wounded by people in positions of authority in the church. I have seen first hand how it plays out in a person’s life as they fear to connect themselves to another church community and struggle to open up to a Pastor. No doubt there will be some who will read this through the pain of their own personal experience and it begs the questions: What do you do when the church hurts you? The place that is supposed to be an area of healing and refuge has been stripped of trust and now everything is in question.
The answer to this question is not simple because for those that have been violated it is not just the integrity of the church that has been challenged but the character of God. Satan has exploited man’s sin to challenge the character of God in the eyes of those who have been hurt. We see an example of this in the Garden of Eden when the serpent challenged Eve’s trust in God’s integrity. “Did God really say…?”(Genesis 3:1) and later, “You shall not surely die”(Genesis 3:4) tempting Eve to doubt God’s integrity and indulge in eating the forbidden fruit.
I’m hopeful that anyone reading this and can relate has the desire to overcome. Here are a few steps that I believe will help you in the process:
- Acknowledge how this experience has affected your ability to trust. This will not be easy because it will require a deep and honest evaluation of your thoughts and emotions as it relates to God and the church. There will be some that deny the idea that they doubt God’s character but the inability to trust in another church or leader ultimately reveals a lack of trust in where God wants you to be. This does not mean following others blindly, you can be cautious, but balance that with the awareness that the emotional wound from your violation may be affecting your ability to connect with others.
- Forgive. This may be the most difficult of all depending on the amount of emotional and psychological damage that has been done. The bitterness that something like this could cause isn’t isolated to that one relationship but it can become a root that springs up and distorts your view of others(Hebrews 12:15). My favorite quote on this subject comes from Corrie Ten Boom, a woman who knows all too well what it’s like to deal with violations as a holocaust survivor. She said, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”.
- Reconnect yourself with the Bible. The Word of God is essential to your recovery. Not only does it have the ability to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart(Hebrews 4:12), which is deceitful(Jeremiah 17:9), but it is also what restores faith(Romans 10:17).
- Pray. Pray for healing, pray that God would help you to trust, pray for the violator, pray for those who have been affected and pray that God leads you to a church if He hasn’t already(Psalm 145:18).
This is a process that takes time and may even require counseling, but as you move forward, I’m confident that God will provide you with everything you need for the journey.
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