Religious Trauma

  • Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma

    The Worst Thing to Happen to Me

    Church is the worst thing that ever happened to me.

    Every single traumatic event experienced throughout my life – losing my community, being bullied, losing thousands of dollars to financial abuse and outright theft, sexual assault and rape, an abusive marriage and divorce by age 26, becoming a widow at age 29 – all of it was either caused directly by the church or made exponentially worse by it.

    There is no question about it – church is the worse thing to ever happen to me.

    For me, growing up in the church was being in a constant state of vigilant performance and pleasing hundreds of people who could never be pleased. I couldn’t win, but I had to. My worth, safety and acceptance depended on it.

    The high stakes were known by a young age – the message loud and clear:

    “Feeling frustrated? Sin! You must always be patient and kind.”

    “Short on money? Sin! Your selfishness and greed foiled wise financial planning. God blesses the prudent.”

    “Attracted to someone? Sin! Carnal desires draw you away from God!”

    “Got a speeding ticket? Sin! We must obey the governing authorities God has established.”

    “Don’t feel like smiling? Sin! We must always showcase the joy of the Lord. How else will people know we are Christians?”

    “Exhausted? Sin! You lack responsibility and maturity, so you stay up too late.”

    “Misplaced your car keys? Sin! Your lack of organizational skills prevent you from giving God your best.”

    “Missed your alarm? Sin! Laziness and sloth are the devil’s playground.”

    “Got a B in Math? Sin! We must do everything to the glory of God. Is that really your best?”

    “Feeling a little down? Sin! A cheerful heart is good medicine.”

    “Running late? Sin! Would you be late if you were meeting Jesus? You must do everything as if you’re doing it for the Lord!”

    “Made an innocent mistake? Spilled your drink, burned the dinner, broke a vase? Sin! Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Sometimes these messages were said overtly and sometimes it was more manipulative and pervasive than that. The church knows how to make you feel what they want you to feel without saying so out loud. It keeps them from needing to take responsibility, while still maintaining control.

    Living every second of every day this way for my entire formative years left a permanent mark. There is no coming back from that, not completely. There is only learning how to navigate my now hyper-alert nervous system, training myself in self-soothing and grounding techniques, and seeking out positive and safe experiences to rewrite as much of the first two-and-a-half decades of my life as possible.

    Religious trauma destroyed me. I never knew when I was going to make the next mistake. It would always happen when you least expected it. The slightest misstep and your world could come crashing down at any moment. And mine did. Multiple times.

    I was told regularly how bad I was. But I wanted so much to be good. Not just good; I wanted to be the best – the best Christian I could be, the best daughter, the best friend, the best student, the best employee, and eventually… the best pastor I could possibly be. I climbed the Christian ladder; studied theology, preached sermons, earned credentials, gave money, changed lives. But it was never enough.

    The system sets you up to fail.

    One day I would inadvertently bring the wrong flavor of ice cream to a ministry house and cause a huge scene. Apparently non-alcoholic amaretto flavoring in a “dry house” was a no-go.

    On a typical Tuesday I would nonchalantly put on a pair of long shorts to go to work, only to have a disapproving Christian boss point out a new dress code. I was out of compliance – by one inch.. ‘Jokes’ and snide comments would be made for months.

    Someday I would date a person who made me feel safe. But he used a rainbow filter on his profile picture and it caught the attention of the top-dog ministry director. I was on thin ice.

    One Sunday I would wear my hair in two braids and be chided for looking immature and childish – what will people think?! But when I started wearing more makeup and fashionable clothes, now I was drawing too much attention. It seemed my sin was existing.

    This performance culture would be the reason that at 27 years old I would wear yoga pants in public for the first time in my entire life. I was so excited for an acrobatics class I had always wanted to take – only for unexpected tears to come streaming down my face while I ran red-faced from my car to the class with a long sweater tied tightly around my waist; shame choking me so I couldn’t breathe.

    This insane emphasis on reputation is why, after 7 years of proving my character in ministry and giving it my all, I almost got fired and lost everything just for letting someone crash on the floor in my house when they needed a place to stay. All because he was the “wrong” gender.

    Christian perfectionism is why, now in my early thirties, if my husband is feeling grumpy I cringe, wondering what I did wrong. If he asks a simple question I snap back defensively, thinking he’s slyly criticizing me. I’m often nervous to drive with friends in the car, gripping the wheel in anticipation of the critiques that are sure to come at every turn. I’ll hit the brakes too hard or not hard enough, I’ll go too fast or too slow. I need to take the most direct route but also avoid the traffic; if I can’t do both it’s because I messed up. I should have used the parking brake, or maybe it’s silly that I did.

    Going to church is the worst thing that ever happened to me.

    I didn’t get the privilege of choosing my own religion. What I would believe was decided for me when I was innocent and impressionable. That’s not how beliefs are supposed to work. I didn’t get the chance to have a healthy brain or a normal development. I grew up always watching my back, reading into every word people say, watching and listening for cues and warning signs.

    I might have been able to pass it off as a fluke, just one bad church out of millions. But then my college ministry job, which at first came across as so accepting and communal, forbade me from dating or drinking even when off the clock. A speaker at one of their conferences made cutting remarks about “girls who wear yoga pants” right before making an altar call. The area director made demeaning comments about the students I dearly loved, only because their school was known as “progressive”. A male speaker at a conference told us that even though we were an egalitarian ministry, women still needed to take 10 years off from the ministry jobs they loved when they became mothers. Our ministry’s founder hinted at being severely disappointed in any community members who weren’t outraged at the legalization of gay marriage. (Even though in a community of over 500 people, there are bound to be multiple members of the LGBT community among us and even more who dearly love someone who is.) He expressed surprise at “how many of us were deceived”. A lesbian ministry staff member was forced to forego any chance of a relationship if she wanted to keep her job, and people would often talk about her “situation”, as if she was an interesting case study and not a person. A trans student was forced to live in a ministry house with people who shared their sex-assigned-at-birth, not their gender identity. My best friend was held back in her credentials training program and forced to repeat an entire year because she had a bubbly personality and guys might “get the wrong idea”, while a man who had sexually harassed her never had his behavior called into question. Her supervisor even admitted the decision was made based more on what the higher-ups would think, than on any problematic behavior from my friend. Another close friend was forced to cut off contact with someone she deeply cared about, because the leadership found out she had a crush on him.

    Even with all this I might have been able to chalk it up to really bad luck, two-for-two, but then the church I was required to attend on Sundays to fill my internship obligations, used me for free labor and volunteer hours even after my long 80-hour ministry work weeks. They had no regard for my need for rest or being ministered to for once. Frequently I would show up exhausted, almost in tears, hoping to pray with someone or just talk and let it out, only to be immediately asked at the door to cover teaching Sunday School last minute. I would linger after services, hoping to be asked how I was doing or invited to spend some unstructured time together, but no one ever did. One week, I bravely opened up about my deep spiritual wounds and the pastor’s spouse told me that “all good Christians walk with a limp” and if I didn’t get hurt I wasn’t engaging enough in the battle.

    Even my “progressive” church years later, ostracized my partner because he wasn’t as engaged in activism and being “woke” as they thought he should be. He was the greatest person I had ever known and is solely responsible for saving my life and supporting me through my darkest moments. But apparently that didn’t matter to them as much as labels.

    Christians from my distant past continued to stalk and harass me online for an entire decade after leaving their church. My fiance’s devout Christian family stole tens of thousands of dollars from me after he passed away, saying they thought I wasn’t “Christian enough” and wasn’t a “real widow”. Ministry friends I had considered like family, my closest companions I lived with for years, ignored my plea for support in the aftermath of my grief. Yet they still wanted all the juicy details about “where I was at spiritually”.

    Fuck them all. This isn’t a specific church problem. This is a Christian problem, widespread across multiple generations, regions and denominations.

    Church is the worst thing that ever happened to me.

    And they still wonder why I left.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Mental Health,  Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma,  Trauma Healing

    Good Christian Girl

    Two decades of stained glass and steeples, pastors and preachers but never a therapist. Surrounded by Bibles and hymnals; prayer requests welcome, but never a “negative” emotion.

    A Good Christian girl counts her blessings and remembers God has a plan. She always practices etiquette and good manners; she only says nice things, she’s never a downer.

    Christian mothers wagged their fingers at my furrowed brow, “You really would look so much prettier if you smiled more”.

    Sunday School classes centered on seeking the joy of the Lord, having a good attitude and never complaining. Questions were allowed if they had “easy” answers; anything else was backsliding. A Good Christian Girl doesn’t rock the boat.

    “You’ll feel better if you look on the bright side.” “You should volunteer, you’ll see others have it much worse than you.” “Follow God and you’ll be blessed.” “Everything happens for a reason” “God works in mysterious ways.”

    Church leaders promised if I trusted God I would be okay. After all, I was a Good Christian Girl and God was on my side. So I trusted and prayed, volunteered and obeyed, but the truth is, their promises turned up empty.

    With a cheery face and a scream trapped in my lungs, I was drowning. For far too long I was silenced with a smile.

    Living in a box too small for me, there comes a breaking point. So much was stolen from me in the name of Goodness, but I’m surviving and finding my strength.

    Now on the other side, I don’t need to find a silver lining. I’ve been learning a few lessons of my own. My innocence, my health, my happiness weren’t obstacles to my virtue. Suffering isn’t always refining.

    There doesn’t have to be a greater purpose to a loved one’s death, or abuse, or a diagnosis. Hardships don’t have to be lessons and trials aren’t signs I need my faith tested.

    Not everything is worked out for my good. I wonder where I would be if trauma hadn’t held me down? Sometimes evil injustice wins, and it’s not because of my hidden sins.

    I don’t have to be okay with it and I don’t have to get over it. I don’t have to believe this was all part of the plan. I can be angry, I can doubt, I can wrestle. And it’s not a crisis of faith.

    Now I let my experiences shape my beliefs and not the other way around. There is no magic wand waving in the sky. I choose to trust myself.

    Gone are the days of silent submission, fake smiles and shallow answers, and to hell with linear religious narratives!

    I’ve found love in all the wrong places,and encountered peace where it wasn’t supposed to be.

    I’ve discovered a sense of purpose in what I was told would be meaningless,experienced joy in situations I was warned would bring pain.

    Healing has come from the very things I was taught would damage me, I even felt the safest from decisions that were supposedly dangerous.

    The truth I was looking for turned out to be unorthodox and the saints I’ve met have all been sinners.

    I’ve encountered God among the ungodly and I have come face to face with goodness in perhaps the most surprising of places – I have found it in myself.

    Now I really have to wonder – what exactly did they try so hard to keep me from?

    I’m learning to find my voice again and the more I unravel the indoctrination, the more sacredness I find.

    Sometimes when I let myself sit in the darkness, I see the Light inside of me and I realize that maybe God is more like me than I was taught…

    Maybe She is angry too.

    ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

    This is a version of a piece I wrote for the deconstruction magazine Hyssop & Laurel. For those of you who have been following for a while, you might recognize it as a reimagination of two of my past works “Silenced with a Smile” and “Finding Love in all the Wrong Places”. It also includes brand new content. This piece I’m sharing now is very similar to my published version, with a few edits.

    This writing was an attempt at describing my mental health journey while living through religion and coming out the other side. There is a lot of darkness, but also so much light and healing to be found.

  • Reflections,  Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma

    When Reputation is Currency

    When reputation is currency, privacy is only afforded by the elite.

    Reputation is used to buy status within the community, but the high price to be paid is autonomy and individuality.

    Evidence is needed for a “good” reputation, and thus forced accountability, intrusive questions and betrayed confidence are the norm.

    Reputation is often traded like stocks – church leaders covering for each other and defending one another, or tearing apart someone who stands in their way.

    So many rules – each one serving a carefully crafted outward appearance.

    Hundreds of do’s and don’t that are never really about God.

    Instead its always “Put on a jacket! You don’t want anyone thinking you are a loose woman, do you?”

    “Make sure to write your name on your tithing envelope so the staff doesn’t think you’ve stopped giving.”

    “You can’t carpool to youth group with your guy friend, that will look scandalous.”

    “Don’t loiter in the parking lot, people will think you’re making trouble!”

    God knows the heart, but reputation earns your ranking among men.

    When reputation is currency, life is spent grasping at water and chasing the wind; trying to control what is not in your power, trying to hold onto something that was never yours – because reputation lives in someone else’s mind.

    Reputation is at the mercy of whims and moods of strangers and friends. It grows and dies based on whether they like you or not, how they interpret your actions and words, and what they choose to say behind your back.

    Your reputation might be just the thing someone needs to depreciate in order to boost their own equity.

    When reputation is currency, people are only a means to profit. The congregant is a low wage worker and the church is the CEO.

    An entire childhood spent pursuing fleeting favor – never fully at rest.

    Finally – a young adult. College meant a slightly longer leash. I didn’t notice at first I could breathe easier.

    It was my first ever event with a college campus ministry when I heard the speaker say “Reputation is who people think you are, and character is who you really are. Focus more on your character than your reputation.”

    Awe and respect flooded through me. In two sentences this man had summarized the church problem that had plagued my childhood and simultaneously provided a solution for a healthier way forward.

    I instantly felt safer in this community that seemed to have its priorities straight. Finally there was a better way, or so it seemed.

    But in time I would find out those words sounded fancy but rang empty. This new vehicle too, ran on the fuel of reputation.

    As a ministry intern I wasn’t allowed to drink alcohol, even in moderation, even when off the clock – because of what other people might think.

    As a ministry intern, I was never really off the clock, because the game of other people’s opinions doesn’t run on set hours.

    Each week I drove a complicated maze through town to make sure that when taking students home, I never ended up with a male student as the last one in the car. Not because our male students were dangerous or because I had inappropriate intentions, but because there were rules designed for what others might think.

    My best friend was failed and held back in ministry credentials training because of her bubbly personality. She was informed the decision was made based on what guys might think of her, and what other pastors might think of her supervisor.

    I once accidentally freaked out my male pastor by stepping out of the room briefly to take a private phone call. Why? Because that left him alone in a room with a female intern and the door unexpectedly swung closed behind me. This was a problem not because of anyone’s intentions but because of what other people might think. It “looked bad” and now it was my fault. I sucked in my breath, afraid to go back inside. It was just another day of always feeling on edge, wondering what other people might think.

    One evening, a few of us female interns and a male intern went downtown to grab food and we were sternly warned by a staff pastor to “be careful” with the male intern – because others might think we were up to something.

    I almost got fired for one of the most Christlike things I’ve ever done. I let my boyfriend at the time sleep on the floor in front of the heater at our community house, after all my roommates said it was okay with them. There was no working heat where he was staying and it was a dangerously cold winter night. I almost lost my job after 7 years of proving my character, because of reputation. Clearly one mattered more than the other.

    It’s unpredictable really, what other people might think. It’s all up to their mood, the kind of day they are having and their own unique backgrounds that we can never fully know. Carefully planning all my answers and actions based on expected reactions is exhausting and never foolproof. Its not if, but when you get burned.

    I watched helplessly as a handful of female interns had full-blown panic attacks over whether or not my non-alcoholic amaretto flavored ice cream could sit in their freezer for about an hour in between errands, in a strictly “dry” household. These young ladies weren’t afraid the ice cream was sinful, they were afraid of what their leaders might think. Once again, I was unintentionally at the center of the chaos, involuntarily stirring the pot.

    When reputation is currency, we buy all the wrong things. The earth is dying, children are starving, and people in our own neighborhoods don’t know how they will keep their electricity on this winter. Yet, here we were, worrying about the legality of ice cream?! I couldn’t do this much longer.

    Year after year was filled with one reputation disaster after another, each one pushing me closer to the edge. I so badly wanted to be successful in this rat race, I wanted to be beloved. I desperately tried to do the “right” thing, but I never could by the constantly shifting standards, opinions, and “convictions” of others.

    Finally, I withdrew my balance and closed my account. I stopped showing up to their nine-to-five. I could no longer buy or sell in most Christian circles. Perhaps reputation is the real mark of the beast.

    When reputation is currency, our investments are worthless and our relationships are fake. We aren’t real people, we are actors.

    When I pulled my reputation out of the ring, I lost my place in the running, but for the first time I owned myself. My personhood was the prize.

    At last, I could breathe.

  • Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma,  Trauma Healing

    Dear Mom and Dad

    Those of us who were raised in the church often have a particularly complicated relationship with our parents. When our parents don’t fit society’s requirements for being abusive, and yet we feel profoundly harmed by our parents, it sets up a unique internal struggle: confusion, guilt, and often a mix of anger and justification for our caregivers’ choices.

    Its especially hard if we love our parents and want to be close, but feel pushed away by their actions. We often take on the responsibility for their behavior, thinking if only we tried hard enough we could be different than them and still have a healthy connection.

    But we can’t lift both sides of the relationship. While our parents might love us and might have met our physical needs, they still put us in an abusive situation and often neglected our emotional needs. As much as we might love our parents and even feel empathy for them, there often comes a point when we need to confront them for the abuse they either caused or enabled.

    That’s what this letter is. It’s an actual letter I wrote to my parents recently when things yet again came to a head. Feel free to use any of these points with your own parents, if it would help you.

    P.S. – My parents aren’t horrible, evil people, and yours might not be either. But that’s the thing with high-demand religion – it makes good people do bad things.


    Dear Mom and Dad,

    I wanted to take a few minutes to open up and be vulnerable enough with you to let you know how the communication dynamics in our relationship are affecting me.

    It’s very hard to talk to you about anything beyond surface-level topics because you get so frantic and wound up and defensive and full of fear and anger. The way you both keep bringing up harsh and judgmental sentiments over and over, never letting it rest, and the way you make passive aggressive comments about heavy topics – seemingly to “get me thinking” about it or to get a reaction out of me – it starts to feel like harassment and it’s hard to enjoy my time around you without being always on edge.

    Going forward, I am setting the boundary that I will not discuss political or religious topics with either of you anymore. It is an unfortunate solution, because I would prefer to be able to chat back and forth as equals about whatever is on our minds, but the way you talk about these things makes that seem impossible. I feel preached at and cornered and you seem to listen only enough to form a rebuttal. That’s not a respectful, reciprocal relationship.

    I don’t want to be around the anxiety-inducing negativity and I also don’t want to see you living your own lives in fear and anger either. Life is short, why be consumed by that? Enjoy life, make the best decisions you can for yourselves, focus on the things that make you happy, and give others the freedom to do so as well.

    You told me recently that you feel you have to walk on glass around me, because I “take things SO personally”.


    I do take it personally when my own parents repeatedly defend my abusers (the church), yes.

    I do take it personally when my parents keep pushing the same ideology on me that originally traumatized me and gave me the lasting injury of PTSD. I will always take that personally.

    I do take it personally when subtle jabs are made in my presence and pointed at people who are just like me and fit my demographics. This includes me and the people I love in your insult – so yes, I take that personally.

    I do take it personally when my beliefs and decisions are misrepresented and distorted, and people who share my values are painted to be villains. I take that very personally.

    I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t understand the depths of cruelty I experienced from the people and culture at your church.

    I assume you don’t realize just how important my faith was to me (it was everything) and just how far the church had to push me and torment me, to get me to leave. I didn’t want that. I would have stayed if it was safe.

    You say you care deeply about me, and I believe you, but…

    1) you’ve never actually asked about my abuse or to hear my story, and you seem to prefer I don’t bring it up,

    2) you’ve never asked you how can help,

    3) you’ve never asked or talked about about ways you might have been complicit in what happened to me,

    4) you’ve never stopped defending the people who abused me,

    5) you’ve never stopped promoting the beliefs and lifestyles that harmed me,

    6) you’ve never approached me with an openness to learn and willingness to only listen without a defense,

    7) you’ve never clearly affirmed that you do in fact believe me, and defending the church makes it seem like you don’t (that’s one of the worst things an abuse survivor can experience, not being believed)


    8) you’ve never apologized for the ways you were involved – such as believing lies about me, talking to people about me behind my back, blaming me for what I went through and placing me in that community in the first place (even when done with good intentions).

    Again, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t fully understand all that happened and that you wouldn’t want to do these things on purpose. But there still comes a point where each of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and I believe in this situation we’ve reached that point.

    You don’t have to walk on glass around me, just please

    1) don’t defend my abusers,

    2) don’t keep pushing traumatizing ideology on me,


    3) don’t make frequent judgmental and negative comments around me

    And I believe the best and maybe the only way to do this, is to

    4) not discuss politics or religion together.

    A few final thoughts – before you say something negative about a person or group of people, ask yourself “Is this loving? Do I know this person’s entire story? Do I know their motivations? Am I 100% certain if I lived their EXACT same life and suffered everything they have suffered, that I wouldn’t end up in the same situation?” The world would be such a more beautiful place if we all saw the humanity in each other.

    And I’m tired of your frequent, passive Doomsday comments that are always out of the blue and jarring and pointless unless you are purposefully trying to upset me. It puts me on edge and makes me nervous to be in situations where it could happen again. This affects my ability to spend longer bouts of time with you.

    And finally – Please, just let me be me. Give me the same freedom you yourselves have, to be who you want to be.

    I love you both very much and I’m taking the time to say all these things because I want to have the closest and healthiest relationship possible.

    Love, Sarah

  • Progressive Christianity,  Religious Abuse,  Religious Trauma

    “Real” Christianity: The Phrase That Enables Abuse

    If you’ve ever tried talking about your experience of church trauma and/or abuse, its likely you’ve been met with something along the lines of “Well, that’s not REAL Christianity!” “Oh, but those weren’t REAL Christians!” I’ve heard this more times than I can count, and I have a few embarrassing memories of responding similarly myself.

    I don’t think manipulation, control, shame, abuse, judgment, discrimination, or oppression – which have all become commonplace in American Evangelicalism – are in line with the teachings of Christ.

    But that doesn’t mean we get to dissociate those behaviors from Christianity.

    “Christianity” is whatever Christians are doing.

    And yes, Christians lie. Christians gossip. Christians turn a blind eye to suffering. Christians misuse tax-free dollars. Christians sexually assault minors in their care. Christians colonize lands and cultures they deem inferior. Christians pass legislation that keeps people on the streets, in prison, and in destitute poverty.

    And “not all Christians” doesn’t negate the fact that Christians are still doing these things, and more frequently than most would like to admit.

    Christians also donate to charities. Christians volunteer at homeless shelters. Christians build community gardens. Christians practice radical forgiveness. Christians march in Pride Parades. Christians advocate for justice and peacefully protest. Christians give their extra bedroom to a homeless teen.

    All of this is real Christianity. The good and the bad.

    I have seen the Christian faith expressed anywhere along a wide spectrum – from hellish horror stories that still haunt me a couple decades later, to transformational healing communities that met me in my darkest times and make up some of the best years of my life.

    Christianity is the whole gamut. You can’t pick and choose what you like and ignore or justify the rest.

    I’ll admit, it’s tempting to gate-keep what is “allowed” to be Christian. That way anything that makes us uncomfortable, makes the faith look bad, or goes against our personal values is therefore “fake” and not our problem.

    Perpetrators of atrocities can be labeled insincere, fallen away, or wolves in sheep’s clothing – whatever keeps them disconnected from us.

    But we don’t get to conveniently assume the people we don’t like aren’t part of us. If someone practices the Christian faith, participates in Christian community, touts Christian morals, obeys Christian rules or makes decisions based on their understanding of Christianity, for all intents and purposes – they are a Christian.

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – its a duck. Whether its a cute duck or an ugly duck. Even if that duck leaves a poopy mess in the park. Even if that duck nips a child trying to feed it. Even if that duck wakes up the neighborhood at 5am with annoying quacks. We don’t get to say its not a “real” duck because we are fond of ducks and this duck makes ducks look bad. It’s still a duck.

    As I mentioned earlier, I used to respond to religious trauma survivors saying “Those people aren’t really following Christ” or “That’s not what Christianity is all about “. This was my knee-jerk reaction because I felt defensive of my own expression of Christianity that felt positive for me. It was uncomfortable to feel misrepresented. I had deep convictions about what Christianity was “supposed” to look like (which didn’t always line up with the lived experiences of others). At the time, my fervent life goal as a Christian was to invite more people into the faith which I believed was always the best thing for them. Acknowledging something negative about Christianity might scare people away. It was counter to everything I thought I was supposed to be doing with my life.

    But over time, as I experienced my own religious trauma, I learned firsthand how the “not real Christians” mindset dismisses survivors who were hurt in Christian churches, manipulated by Christian doctrines, abused by Christian leaders, and oppressed by Christian institutions. This response tells survivors – “what happened to you wasn’t real”.

    But it is real; perhaps more real than anything else in our past because of how it permeates our present and shapes our future.

    Have Christian abusers strayed from the true way of Christ and created their own warped brand of Christianity?

    It all depends on your interpretation of Christ’s teachings (and whether that interpretation allows you to see abuse in the first place). But I think many Christians would say yes – the damaging aspects of modern Christianity were not the original intent.

    But even so, positive intent doesn’t erase negative impact. Those of us who still identify as Christians must take responsibility for the ways our tradition has made room for and turned a blind eye to Christian abusers because we’ve decided they aren’t “real Christians”.

    And we desperately need to reflect on ways our tradition may have even cultivated harmful beliefs and behavior in the first place.

    By distancing ourselves from the abuse that takes place in our churches, we let it continue. By deciding that abusers aren’t real Christians, we are choosing to see the dangerous and damaging aspects of the faith as coming from the outside, and therefore not our problem. This enables abuse.

    As someone who spent almost 30 years in the church, I have a lot of repenting to do. Not just “I’m sorry” but actively undoing the harm I contributed to either directly, or by my lack of awareness.

    As someone who (kind of) still identifies with progressive and mystic forms of the Christian tradition, I acknowledge that for every way the faith has been good for me, it has been life-shattering for someone else. My tradition has brought a lot of healing to people, and it has profoundly hurt people. Until every single Christian takes personal responsibility for the ways our tradition has been harmful, and strives to change it, real Christianity will continue to spread unimaginable pain.