When I Say Hurt by the Church…

I’ve encountered some confusion recently when I’ve talked about people who have been hurt and abused by the church. Some people think that I’m referring to (and only to) victims of childhood sexual abuse by the church.

That’s an understandable assumption, as news of such abuse (tragically) continues to be unfolding, and it’s something all of us can get behind in our disgust and outrage.

But when I talk about people who have been abused and hurt by the church, I’m speaking of a larger group. People who have been emotionally damaged by the church. People who are still trying to work through the shame that the church has instilled in them.

Who the church has hurt

People who were told as young children if they don’t behave a certain way, they are doomed to burn in the fires of hell. Children who spent nights lying awake wondering if they’d done something that day that would land them a fiery pit for all eternity.

Women who left abusive husbands and were told they are no longer welcome in a church that does not approve of divorce. Women who have been told they are not welcome at the table because they had children out of wedlock.

LGBTQ children, teens and adults who have been told that they are an abomination and even dangerous to the members of the congregation.

People with disabilities or who have children with special needs who have been told their presence is a “disruption” to worship.

Even if your church is different….

All of these things and more have done great harm and caused great hurt in many people. Just because YOUR church is a wonderful and welcoming place, know that wonderful and welcoming has not been everyone’s experience when it comes to church.

When people tell you the church has hurt them, believe them. Don’t try to make excuses or explain to them why they are wrong. Believe them. Weep with them. Love them. Let them know that there are places where they are more than welcome if the time ever comes when they are ready to give church another try.

Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Doubting Believer is a place for progressive and inclusive Christians to connect and encourage each other along the way.

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