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Recently a friend shared this Huffington Post article15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist Christian – on social media. I jumped into the conversation, but I’m not satisfied that any of us really heard each other (or even stayed on-topic). It’s far too easy to react from the gut rather than listening from the heart, especially where it comes to personal matters like faith and religion.

The sad truth is too many religious groups are abusive to their members. And the abuse is not limited to Fundamentalism or Christianity. Fundamentalist Islam is training children to be killers while causing the deaths of thousands in the Middle East. HBO recently ran an expose of physical and psychological abuse in the Church of Scientology (Going Clear). And people around the world are still waiting for justice in child molestation cases in Catholic and Protestant churches alike.

What the author of the above article is saying is: remember who you’re talking to. Remember what we’ve been through. Be sensitive to what we’ve suffered.

Look at it this way: if someone we knew went to the city on an errand and was jumped by a street gang, robbed and beaten and left on the street, would we expect them to get up and run home and go to work the next day as if nothing had happened? Wouldn’t we take them to the hospital? See to it that their injuries were treated? Look in on them and visit? Understand if they didn’t feel like going to the city again for awhile?

The injuries suffered by people in abusive churches may not be visible but the scars are just as real, and the wounds need time to heal. Here’s what I mean:

If you had a life-threatening physical injury… If you have had a faith-shattering spiritual injury…
  • Would people expect you to go to work the very next day, ignoring the pain and the doctor’s orders?
  • Do people expect you to go to church the very next week, ignoring the pain?
  • Would people expect you to deny your pain and carry on as if nothing had happened?
  • Do people expect you to deny your pain and carry on as if nothing had happened?
  • Would people expect you to forgive the people who attacked you the very next day?
  • Do people expect you to forgive the one(s) who abused you the very next day?
  • Would people expect you to always have a positive attitude every minute of every day through months of rigorous physical therapy?
  • Do people expect you to always have a positive attitude toward organized religion as you work your way toward regaining spiritual health?
  • Would people look at your injuries and question your commitment to life and good health?
  • Do people hearing about your spiritual abuse question your commitment to God and spiritual health?
  • When you complain that you’re in pain, would people ask you why you’re not grateful for all the things you have?
  • When you say you’ve been abused, do people ask you why you’re not grateful for the good things about religion?
  • When you say “I hope they catch the people who did this to me” are you asked why you hate people so much?
  • When you say, “I hope they put a stop to the people who abused me” are you asked why you hate religious people so much?
  • When you say, “I need to speak out about gang violence” would people tell you to shut up and stop spreading bad news about the community?
  • When you say, “I need to speak out about religious abuse” do people tell you to shut up and stop causing hard feelings toward religion?
  • Would people tell you if you really had faith in God, you would pray and God would heal you immediately with no further need for medical care?
  • Do people tell you if you really had faith in God, you would pray and God would heal your heart and everything would be fine?
  • Would people dismiss or minimize your injuries and walk away?
  • Do people dismiss or minimize your abuse and end the conversation?

So if you’re a person of faith and you know someone who has suffered religious abuse, what can you do to help?

  • Pray for your friend (don’t make a show of it, just do it)
  • Listen, listen, listen.
  • Encourage your friend to share his/her story of what happened to them. Let them know you understand.
  • Don’t try to rush your friend back into church. It may take awhile. In fact your friend may never feel comfortable around organized religion again. It doesn’t mean they’ve lost their faith in God.
  • Don’t try to fix it. Your friend needs time to work through the pain and grieve the loss of innocence. Just be there while they do.
  • Remember your friend also needs time to assess what happened and rebuild healthy boundaries.
  • Do share positive spiritual experiences with your friend – answers to prayer, moments with God, spiritual insights, reflections on the life of Jesus – things that involve God but not organized religion.

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Worldwide Communion was this past Sunday, and in keeping with it I shared these thoughts with my Adult Ed class at church…

What does communion mean to you?  What do you think about when you’re taking it?  Is it a time of reflection? of confession? of remembrance? of cleansing from sin?

All these things are worthwhile and I encourage you to continue doing them.  Let me add two more thoughts that we in the Protestant tradition sometimes forget:

1) The elements of communion represent Jesus’ body and blood.  When we take communion, symbolically we are not only remembering Him, we are taking Him into ourselves.  This is a sacrament, which is defined as “an outward or physical sign of an inward or spiritual reality“.  As Protestants we do not believe the elements actually physically change into real flesh and blood, but we do believe Jesus is present in a spiritual way. 

2) We never take communion alone.  This is the church’s teaching, and it is also symbolic.  In communion we are to experience not only union with God, but also union with each other as well as His Spirit indwells each of us.

“…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” — words prayed by Jesus, John 17:21-23

This is the true meaning of worldwide communion.  Today we remember and worship the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke:

“Who has believed our message?
     and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Surely he has borne our griefs
     and carried our sorrows,
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   he was bruised for our iniquities,
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
     and with his stripes we are healed.”

— Isaiah 53:1, 4-5

 

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“The Church did not develop its creed and literature and then, one day, with everything neatly packaged and ready, begin to evangelize.  Rather… members of the early Church began to “make disciples”.  Through that process they developed a creed and literature…”
Reclaiming the Great Commission, C. Payne & H. Beazley

Keeping the main thing the main thing… it can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  How easily we get caught up in “churchianity”.   For the average person in the pew, it’s usually pride in one’s own church and/or denomination.  Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with being very happy and thankful to be part of a wonderful church or fellowship group.  But how often have you heard people say “well I’m Presbyterian…” or “well I’m Charismatic…” or “well I’m Catholic…” as if all other options are second-rate? 

(“Well I follow Paul…” 
“Well I follow Apollos…”)

(more…)

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