The Facebook ad caught my eye with its reference to "religious toxicity." The lengthy prose spoke in soothing tones, validating the feelings of those who have been hurt by the church, religious people, and/or specific religious doctrines. The author, an ex-Baptist preacher, offers his course on trauma-informed care to counselors who wish to serve people who have experienced religious trauma. The comments on this sponsored ad were both revealing and cynical...but most of all, heartbreaking.
I can't adequately explore every branch of thought that sprouts from the main trunk of Religious Trauma. It's difficult enough to put my own response into words, let alone dissect the ideas of other learned folks who have probably spent years researching and writing about this topic.
But I DO have thoughts stemming from my own foundation of Truth, the Word of God. And I offer them here because I think it's important to separate the wheat from the chaff, facts from feelings, and yes, lies from truth. Let's start with this first point...
1. Not all who claim to represent Christ do so with His blessing.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" - Matthew 7:21-23
It's tragedy that defies words, the abuses that have been inflicted upon the innocent under the guise of spiritual leadership. Recent exposés include failures of individuals (such as Ravi Zacharias) and denominations (such as Southern Baptists and Catholics). And sadly, these egregious wrongs surely go back through time and across continents and cultures.
Make no mistake--these ARE wrongs, abuses, exploitation. In a word, SIN. And there is NO excuse for it. NONE. Not for the perpetrators, and not for those who covered it up. WOE to those who cause such suffering! (See Matthew 18:1-9.)
But here's the question: do these evildoers and their actions negate the truth that God exists? Are we forced, because of their toxic actions, to conclude that anything having to do with religion/spirituality is therefore toxic as well, simply because the evildoers claimed some kind of religiosity?
I say no. I believe we can--and should--condemn those who do wrong (especially when they claim to have some kind of moral authority) while still believing in a loving, just, all-powerful God.
The very fact that we define abuse and exploitation of the innocent as EVIL is, in itself, a moral judgment that (to me at least) indicates there IS an absolute standard of right and wrong!
So then, a practical (and biblical) response to a person who has experienced heartbreaking abuse by someone in a position of religious power and authority:
Listening without judgment.
Understanding (as much as possible) the pain and trauma he or she has undergone.
Helping the person find help and healing.
And...if it has not yet been done...telling the proper authorities about the abuse so as to hold the abuser accountable for his or her actions.
This is a start. I hope to share more thoughts in a follow-up post to this one.
Thanks for reading along with me as I process some of my own thoughts about this complex issue. I'd love to hear your thoughts as well; leave a comment or send me a message if this is something that you've thought about or experienced.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet up with my husband, who was leaving work a bit early. I had to drop off two teenage boys for a hike with friends (extra important given the recent lockdown). Since their meeting place was near my husband's route, and since my other children were well cared for (our nurse with Verity, our special-needs daughter, and teenage daughters watching the youngers), I thought it would be a good opportunity to grab a quick "date" with Ted.
We met in the Costco parking lot with nary a coffee shop in sight.
And we needed milk, eggs, lettuce, and...
And so...we ended up speeding through Costco (wearing masks and socially distancing, of course), checking out in record time, even purchasing toilet paper! (Perhaps life really IS returning to normal after all?!)
Our time was limited, and now we had perishable groceries to put away. So...we got in our separate vehicles and drove home.
What just happened?! A date is rare these days...why didn't we take advantage of the time alone to find a place to sit and talk? We let practicality win out. It takes time and effort to get to Costco from where we live, and since we were close...well, why NOT get our cartful of groceries and call it a day?!
This rambling post could focus on the importance of dating your spouse...which is certainly a worthy topic. I love dating my husband, and I'm all too aware that we desperately need to make that more of a priority, especially in this season of life when we have kids getting married and going to college as well as littles who still suck the life force out of us most days. I cherish time we can spend together, even if it's a simple walk in the neighborhood.
But God gave me an analogy last night as I was closing my eyes that burned into my brain so vividly I was still thinking about it when I went for a walk early this morning...
Maybe I don't exactly "date" God, but I do have an intimate relationship with Him, and I do make my time with Him a daily priority. Yet my prayer life often feels disjointed and scattered. All too often I intend to have a "coffee date" with my Lord and Savior (a relaxed time of praying, praising, and listening), only to find myself mentally rushing off to "Costco" (going over my to-do list)!
What is that phrase? The tyranny of the urgent? Why is it so hard to slow down, stop even, and listen? This is something I must continue working on. For my mental, emotional, and certainly spiritual health, I NEED those "coffee dates" with Jesus. I need to stop running mental errands and instead quiet my heart and mind.
Costco can wait.
Psalm 46:10..."Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth."