Yeah, That’s Not Okay

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I listened to the podcast episode in frustration yet not in disbelief because I’ve experienced the bitter pain of church hurt myself. An author I’ve read and resonated with–even though sometimes we’ve disagreed–shared how her family was asked to leave the church they had finally settled in because of her writings.

Is this author on the progressive side of things? Yup. Does she have a fair share of questions and doubts? Absolutely. Had she been deeply wounded by religious Christians before this latest experience? Oh, yes. These are all the more reasons she had hoped to find a place of safety and grace as she rebuilt her fractured faith.

Unfortunately instead of grace, love, and understanding, she found condemnation, judgement, and rejection. Um, guys, there’s a serious problem with this!

If broken people can’t come to Jesus’ brothers and sisters for healing then where are they supposed to go?

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There is a deep issue within the church these days. (Many actually, but we will stick with just one for this post.) People have lost the Awkward Middle Way of grace AND truth and instead we have factions, wars, and sides.

Truth people might hold to the authority of Scripture–although often lacking context and appropriate hermmeneutics–but too often they also see in strict blacks and whites. They love right and wrong and push a list of correct behaviors without seeing the value of precious broken hearts.

Grace people love and accept lavishly–until you disagree with them–but often they are quick to interpret Scripture and historical Christianity through their own personal lenses of right and wrong. How they feel about something is what matters regardless of the way Christianity and the Bible has viewed that issue for the past two thousand years.

My biggest problem with these two sides is that neither of them is an accurate picture of Jesus Christ.

Jesus calls Himself The Truth in John chapter fourteen. He constantly spoke truth about God, about Himself, and about humanity. He didn’t sugarcoat things, and at times the truth He preached was offensive. But simultaneously Jesus was also filled with scandalous grace. He horrified the religious leaders by welcoming the outcasts–sinful and broken people they rejected as less–with open arms. Jesus walked the Awkward Middle Way perfectly.

And it is His example that I am striving to follow.

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What does this practically look like?

  • It looks like welcoming the questioning and doubting, listening closely to their heart, hearing their story, and empathizing with their experiences before offering ANY answers.
  • It looks like totally rejecting pat Christianese phrases or spiritual band-aids.
  • It looks like refusing to share a Scripture or pray a prayer until after we’ve made someone feel safe, heard, and loved.
  • It looks like being attentive to the Holy Spirit as we listen so that we will know when to share truth and how to say it gently.

Being people of grace and truth doesn’t mean that we don’t have a solid rock of truth that we stand on, but it also means we know when to keep our mouths shut and just listen. Shockingly, the Holy Spirit is even more eager to draw people to Himself than we are. 🙂 He doesn’t always need us to share everything we know. And often He uses the strangest little things to do His greatest work.

Friends, we live in a polarized, divided world and unfortunately people who call themselves Christians are in the dead middle of the problem. This. Is. Not. Okay.

WHAT IF WE CHANGED?

What if we Jesus Followers hold our beliefs, but hold them loosely enough that can can still love and accept people who disagree with us?

What if we became people who just ooze grace while still clinging to truth?

What if we made an intentional effort to find and listen to someone who disagrees with us each week? It could be a podcast, or book, or actual conversation. What if we did our best to see from their perspective even if we can’t find any common ground?

What if we began to practice being humble and gracious?

What if we recognized that leading people into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is WAY more important than forcing them into our side of political or societal issues?

Jesus is the only One who can save people. And like I asked before, if broken people can’t come to Jesus’ brothers and sisters for healing then where are they supposed to go?

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A Peek Inside My Heart

Welcome to a peek inside my heart… A random collection of my current thoughts and experiences. 

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A year ago I was in the middle of the darkest season I’ve ever gone through. It was bitter, and painful, and long. It felt like the Valley of the Shadow of Death that David talks about in Psalm 23. There were times that I just wanted to die. It completely broke me.

I’ll be honest, healing takes time. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing good, and sometimes it still hurts. Last week, memories were coming back in a flood. I stood there in church during worship fighting back tears…just one person among hundreds…feeling so alone.

“Your brokenness was a gift.”

I heard the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper…five words in the core of my heart. And as I recognized the truth, the feelings of pain, loss, and despair slowly melted away…

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” Psalm 23:4.

Jesus WAS with me! I feel like I walked through fire but didn’t get burned. Instead, I got melted. Which is a good thing! 🙂

Good gifts came from my melted brokenness.

I had six sessions with a fabulous therapist who is also a Jesus follower. After our first day, where I just poured out my heart, she spoke these words. “You have been hurt.” Sometimes we just need people who will acknowledge our pain. God used her to start my healing journey.

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I found a book called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen. Seriously, every Christian should read this book! It put my experiences as a teen and young adult with Bill Gothard and IBLP into perspective while opening my eyes to more prevalent issues. Any of us are capable of abusing others when we lose sight of (or never experience) a life of grace in Christ.

I am less sure of myself and more willing to listen to others. Which brings me to my next step of learning and discovery…

When I first started the (lengthly) process of writing Impostor Jesus, there were three popular memoirs that irritated me. These authors all came from conservative evangelical Christian backgrounds but became disillusioned and left. They have large followings. I was frustrated because I went through “more extreme” circumstances and I still believed in an evangelical version of Jesus. How dare they lead people astray?! Prideful much?

Then I got melted and things changed. I’m realizing that there is a huge number of people who are angry and disillusioned with the evangelical church, and they have legitimate reasons. Their stories have value. Their hurts need to be validated.

I bought those three memoirs on Amazon and I’m looking forward to reading them. Not as someone trying to pick apart theology or judge beliefs, but as someone feeling their pain.

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Which brings me to my book.

I’m still planning on writing Impostor Jesus, but it’s changing. I’m realizing that my extreme experience in legalism is simply part of a larger problem. The modern Christian church is too often just a religious system instead of a group of people who love and follow Christ. We’ve lost sight of the real Jesus. If He showed up, I’m afraid we’d miss Him. Instead of being disciples, we would be the Pharisees…upset because God doesn’t fit our idea of who He is supposed to be.

It’s time for another revival, for another awakening. The church has been overhauled multiple times in the course of history. Let’s do it again!

Shhh! Don’t Talk About the Can’t Talk Rule.

As I continue my way through “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse” I am recognizing more and more that the extreme circumstances I faced as a teen and young adult are just a tiny piece of a larger problem. It is making me rethink the focus of my blog and the book I want to write. It’s easy to get tunnel vision looking at your own experiences. It’s easy to judge people who grew up like I did and left Christianity. But I’m realizing they have very valid reasons…

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11 ESV).

There is a lie spread throughout Christianity and it really bothers me. I’ve experienced it firsthand both in my Christian cult days and in “normal” settings since then, seen it expressed on social media, and read it in articles.

This lie allows people in Christian leadership to cover up serious problems. It allows abusive situations to continue, and it keeps hurts and issues buried.

Let’s talk about the “Can’t Talk Rule.”

Although, it can be stated (or left unstated) in a variety of ways, the core lie goes something like this: We must ignore, hide, or cover up sin (including unethical behavior and abuse) for the sake of Christ, to protect God’s name, for the sake of unity, or something similar…

Please hear me. I am not advocating gossip. But there are times when the truth needs to be told. Talking about a problem does not make you the problem. It is not okay for Christians to use fear, intimidation, or twisted biblical ideas to shut people up!

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Consider this:

If God really believes in sweeping people’s sin issues under the rug to protect His name, wouldn’t He have left certain stories out of the Bible…David & Bathsheba…Samson & Delilah?

If God really feels that it is vitally important to hide issues for the sake of Christ, why did He publicly kill Ananias and Saphhira?

The “Can’t Talk Rule” is a lie. The only people who benefit from it are the perpetrators.

Yes, we should be careful who we tell and why we tell it. Yes, we need to avoid gossip. But without accountability, Christian authorities have unlimited freedom. This is dangerous. Even as Christians, we are still broken sinners who are capable of incredible evil when left to ourselves.

 “Leaders are more accountable because of their position of authority – not less accountable. Why? Because if you are a leader people are following you, behaving the way you do” The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, pg. 69.

Sadly, there are a lot of wrong things that secretly happen within Christian churches and ministries. And because of the Can’t Talk Rule, people who talk are considered the problem instead of addressing the real issues.

Countless, precious individuals, made in God’s image, are being injured by Christians and are walking away from the church deeply wounded.

If that’s you, I’m SO sorry! Please know that the Can’t Talk Rule is not Biblical. It’s not from God. That’s not how He feels. People can misuse Bible verses and twist them to make you think this is truth, but God is never on the side of the abuser. Never!

Fellow Jesus followers, we have GOT to stand up for the victims of abuse, including spiritual abuse.

  • We cannot continue to turn a blind eye, or allow things to be swept under the rug.
  • We cannot blame victims.
  • We must humbly recognize our own lack of perfection and desperate need of grace.
  • We need to be aware of how Christianese terms and ideas may reinjure these precious, hurting people.
  • We need to evaluate our own beliefs against the Word of God. Just because we were taught something in church doesn’t make it truth. Ouch.
  • We must be like Jesus…full of love, grace, and acceptance.

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How has the Can’t Talk Rule affected you? Have you felt the pressure to stay quiet? Have you become the problem because you talked? I really think that much of the hurt behind this rules comes from a misunderstanding of grace. But we will talk about that next time. 🙂

 

Just a note: The words libel and slander can be used as threats, but you should know that in the United States legal system, things are only considered libel or slander if they CAN’T be proven true!

“Church Hurt” is a lot Like Miscarriage

I’m starting to think that “church hurt” is a lot like miscarriage. It’s way more common than we would ever imagine but no one talks about it.

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had a dinner date that made me rethink my entire book idea…Devoured a book that blew up my old “cult” and it’s leader…And am in the middle of another book focused on spiritual abuse.

I feel like I have been thrown ten miles up into space and am looking down with a new, much wider perspective.

What do these have in common? What is the theme that is emerging in my mind?

Broken people break other people, all within the supposed “safety” of Christianity. 

I can think of at least five stories right off the top of my head of people who were deeply hurt by Christians in church or ministry situations. I’m sure that each of you reading this have stories you could share…about your own hurt or people you know who have been wounded.

But, like the pain of miscarriage, we don’t talk about it. Words like “gossip” and “bitterness” may stop us…or maybe we are trying to “protect God’s name.” I don’t know. But I do know this, Noticing a problem does not make you the problem. That might be my favorite quote from the book I am reading called, “The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse.”

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It’s not new. If we look at the Bible we can see it’s been happening for thousands of years. False prophets leading people astray with promises of pretend peace… Pharisees laying burdens of impossible rules on people… As Solomon says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9.)

Guys, here’s the absolute truth: We are ALL broken people who are capable of causing terrible hurt. Even as Christians, we all have the capacity to inflict deep wounds in other people. Each one of us is in desperate need of Jesus!

  • We need His forgiveness.
  • We need His Spirit to be at work, restoring, convicting, and empowering us.
  • We need His grace.
  • We need to be aware of our need for grace, so that we can in turn extend grace to others.

And do you know what else? We are all passionately and scandalously LOVED by the God who made us.  We are ADORED right where we are at, warts, wrinkles, blemishes and all. Jesus sees and understands our broken hearts, not just our outward actions. He gets us at a level no human will ever comprehend. He wants us to be His friends.

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The hurt that people have inflicted in the name of Christianity is in complete opposition to the real God who exists.

Isn’t that good news?

Stay tuned. I’ve got more. My heart is bubbling over.