I expect this topic to be controversial. I have observed that at times people confuse a criticism of something done in the name of Christ with a criticism of God himself. But this fails to recognize that we are imperfect, and that we can make mistakes and do the wrong thing even when we are try to do good. This ought to keep us humble.
A came across an article in my news feed recent, “Religious Trama Syndrome“. This article inspired the present post.
I am passionate about this topic. My passion, as I’m coming to recognize, it for a healthy church (collection of those who are in Christ) and healthy Christians. I want to see Jesus displayed in all his majesty on earth. But to the degree the church is un-healthy, we’re pushing people away from him or not allowing them to come near in the first place. To this end, I try to combat un-health: the things which harm people and the problematic ideas and paradigms which lead Christians to these un-healthy places.
One of the things about the internet of which I’m most excited is this: it has given many people an opportunity to be heard which they didn’t posses before. It is logical that abusers often have power over their victims. This makes it more difficult for the victim to escape, and they are less likely to be given a platform to share their side of the story. The internet has opened this up, and I—along with many others—have been listening.
I’m sure people will scoff and bristle at the suggestions of “Spiritual Abuse” or “Religious Trauma Syndrome”. (These term seem to be getting at very similar things as I understand them.) Certainly we never want to hear something negative about a person or institution close to our heart. If we do entertain and/or come to believe that our beloved institution has committed a serious transgression, it can be very traumatic for us. Yet in order to become more healthy, we have to be honest about the problems. Honesty is one of my values and, while I am not perfect, I attempt to be honest about where I am at.
While my religious background wasn’t as severe as experiences described in the article, it wasn’t far from the theology which leads to these. So it’s not difficult for me to believe in “religious trauma”, nor do I suppose it is as isolated and uncommon an experience as we’d like to think.
I don’t have time to develop a full theology here. I’m sure I’ll write about it more later, but I must offer at least a few relevant thoughts. Jesus said that we can tell of tree by its fruit. He also said that he is life and came to bring life. If some part of Christianity or church is causing you depression, shame, overwhelming guilt, hatred of yourself or others, these are not life and I can almost guarantee they are not of Christ. The vision of God as this powerful, mighty being who is far above us and so holy that he can’t stand us miserable beings, whose terrible wrath must be appeased… though parts of this are quite true, I argue that this paradigm of God is more pagan than it is Christian. What better tactic of the Accuser1 could there be beside perverting the image of God into something which isn’t God?
1 As I understand it, “Satan” or “the devil” mean “accuser” in the original language.