the number one reason why the church doesn’t care for its own victims

"How's My Driving" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“How’s My Driving” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the sad reality this cartoon depicts. The church is hurting people at an ever-increasing rate. I help people who, for whatever reason, have left the church or at least have questions about it. But I also want to challenge the church to stop hurting people. It’s one thing to help people find their own validation, voice, and freedom. It’s another thing to challenge the system that created the victims in the first place.

I know the church can be good at taking care of people who enter it wounded. At least for a time. The church’s goal would be to eventually convert this person into an active member of the congregation.

But what about people who get wounded by the church? Why does the church fail to help these? We could talk about the normal reasons like not being able to accept responsibility for hurting people; or denial that wounding occurred at all; or embarrassment that the church actually did hurt someone; or the commitment admitting it is harmful may require.

But I think the number one reason why the church fails to help those it wounds is its obsession with usefulness. That is, the church is interested in how useful we are to its agenda. Generally, the church disdains neediness and loves usefulness. Pushed to its logical conclusion, the church punishes neediness and rewards usefulness. This is why, no matter how much we’re hurting, as long as we’re contributing… financially, volunteering, or otherwise… we will be rewarded. Otherwise, we will be left behind.

The number of victims the church has created and left in its wake is baffling. I suggest it is epidemic. But nobody cares because what’s to be gained by caring for them? They are like how many perceive rape victims: used goods, finished up, disposable, a shameful tragedy to be dismissed and forgotten. Who wants to keep victims around? They are a constant drag on the system, an expense, an irrecoverable loss, a sucking parasite, a write-off, dead wood, an extra-grace-required, a burden that prevents the church from achieving its goals.

Dragging people out of the river is important. But stopping who’s throwing them in upstream is even more urgent.

This, I feel, is the task before me.

Join us at The Lasting Supper. We know all about it.

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28 Responses

  1. Lydia says:

    David, The problem I see with what you have described is that it is not Christianity in the first place. We must ask ourselves why we would think such a place is the Body of Christ?

    I have little hope such ingrained institutionalized thinking can be changed within the institution. I did have hope at one time but now I see that they are too good at “words” and we only prolong the inevitable.

    I say it is healthier to simply come out from them.

  2. Hi Lydia: I would suggest that your solution is half of the problem, as I stated. Your solution is one I’m passionate about… helping people find their own freedom and expressing that however they will. But the other half of the problem is the system that perpetuates the problem. I’m also passionate about that.

  3. Tom Wilson says:

    In my experience the Church is especially fond of those who give great amounts of money! The more the money the better. If one gives a lot mammon they are nearly guaranteed a seat as an Elder and/or a Board member. Matter of fact they do not even like a person who gives a lot of time who, but doesn’t make tithes and offerings. The Church is everything Jesus spoke and his life and interactions with people demonstrated against. They are against everything he spoke and demonstrated in favor of unless its to get you to join, but once you join and get back on your feet you better start paying your tithes and give offerings and if your tithes and offerings small you better give a bunch of your time too.

  4. JRD says:

    I think there’s a few key problems. One, Wolves don’t think they’re bad. Despite biblical admonitions to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, those around the wolves won’t recognize it until they’ve been eaten.

    Then there’s a “no true scotsman syndrome that works two ways, people see the good someone does but ignore the terrible things they do, either because they think it’s in the name of good or they didn’t personally witness any of the things being accused and can’t be bothered to connect the dots.

    The other, is if they’re not regarded as Christian, they don’t try to stop it.

    Also, when’s the last time a prominent Christian stood up to Pat Robertson? People say ignore the troll and they’ll go away, but hello, Pat’s still spewing his idiocy.

  5. JRD says:

    Another angle is that it might be believed to be an injury caused by the victims themselves, because of the “sin in their lives”. Which has been used a lot.

  6. Jason says:

    Well said David. As a former pastor who now works with recoveringfromreligion.org, i can attest to the reality of what you are saying.

    Outreach, food pantry, bishops store house et al. It all has a purpose, an agenda. There is a limit to how long and how far it will be extended. There is an expectation that once a recipient hears the message and becomes a patron, they become an active participant supporting the machine. Those who don’t or can’t are seen as sinners, not “true believers”, etc etc.

    The bible even supports this thinking. Worth the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt 13:24) the church emphasizes is purpose as reaching lost souls (cultivating wheat) not dragging perpetual tares.

    Thank you for your passion and your ministry.

  7. Carolyn Kohlenberger says:

    When a church member has moved from conversion to usefulness it seems to imply the job is done. You have been fixed. Fixed as in “repaired” but also fixed as in “put on a shelf for permanent display”. Should you have the audacity to jump down from the shelf and say “wait! I am in pain, and all this glue is dried up and falling apart,” you have failed in your duty to be a perpetual advertisement that Christianity fixes everything, forever, and all you have to do is believe and your problems will vanish.

  8. Derik says:

    I am a youth minister turned missionary. I have been working in churches for 13 years, going to church for 35 years. I have become more and more aware that the “machine” of christianity is seriously flawed. Religion, including christianity in all its denominations are a hinderance to making disciples. I have not met one eldership that has making disciples as their top goal. The goal is to perpetuate their particular brand. Churches fight with churches and people get left behind. If we were interested in making disciples we would be too heavily invested to leave behind the wounded.

  9. Jill says:

    “But stopping who’s throwing them in upstream is even more urgent.”

    — this is the heart of it and needed to be said. I am amazed (although why should I be?) at even quote unquote progressive churches’ utter oblivion to this blazing issue. The only reason that I can think of is the church-wounded are hidden from view– out of sight, out of mind.

    But is there simply too much chosen ignorance here? Too much ‘go along to get along’? Why aren’t there healing protocols for church abuse within churches? I know my concerns have been downplayed at a local progressive church I’ve attended. I don’t get it.

  10. I think the church as a system is blind to its own evil.

  11. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    “Dragging people out of the river is important. But stopping who’s throwing them in upstream is even more urgent.”

    Absolutely! Well said David.

    I wonder if those church wheels are being turned by it’s mighty vision? The high and holy quest for growth and world domination???

    Those despised souls who try to draw attention away from the ultimate purpose become merely collateral damage as the church pursues it’s fairy tale.

    Ridiculous!

  12. This commentary has given me some food for thought. I am wondering how many people I have wounded? I am more in touch with those I have offended. Isn’t that a bit different than wounding?

    I preach a more inclusive theology than some. Many families, who focus on being exclusive were offended and left the church. Did I wound them with my sermons???

    Different subject.

    I am in touch with one of the most beautiful experiences of my ministry and I did not organize it. I think my wife played a slight role. A woman in my church, who happened to be an alcoholic, had a difficult birth (4th child) and needed to focus on the baby. 30 individuals in my church were organized to provide day-time care for the other children, so the husband could continue working. I was on a trip when this happened, so that is why I know I did not organize it. No one was critical of the woman’s decision to drink while pregnant. I remember clearly a very opinionated man in my church who was one of those 30 people and I didn’t hear a critical word from his lips. No one was critical. They just served. As far as I know, there were no victims from that episode, as far as “outside” comments were concerned. Sadly, this was an exception, but at least once the church “the body of Christ” responded to a human need without criticism or judgment.

    During this same period, the mother was arrested for drunk driving. Her circle of friends didn’t bail her out and the church folks were not judgmental. She could no longer deny that she had a problem and she achieved sobriety. And she went through this journey without having to deal with angry church members. A true miracle, if one ever existed.

    On a humorous note, I did not know that she was an alcoholic, but I did note her heavy use of garlic.

  13. Trevor Haug says:

    I have no doubt that many people have been hurt by people in the church. Nothing surprises me. However, I often ask myself as I follow this site, “What is the ultimate goal here? Is this helpful, or does it just reinforce the pain? Do we ever move on? Does forgiveness have a place here?” Honestly, I could not spend my life dwelling on my hurt. Then again, I may be deep into denial.

  14. Jason says:

    Trevor, talking about it begins the healing process. 🙂

  15. graham says:

    Good stuff, thanks, because being honest and talking about our mistakes, problems and failures is actually part of ‘repentance’. which is followed by healing and growth. I think that lack of accountability and transparency is the churches biggest problem. The church sucks at repentance, it should be pro at it…

  16. John Taylor says:

    Has it ever occurred to any of the people who make these comments that the body of Christ is you. The church is you. There are some people within the church who should be ashamed to call themselves Christian. But there are thousands of people who have the genuine Love of Christ and follow His teaching to love one another and make incredible sacrifices to make that love a reality

  17. April says:

    What a validating article. THANK YOU! I feel used and marketed at …when I attend a new church. I have been rolled over and find church attendance to be highly triggering, superficial, and often dangerous to victims of abuse or trauma. Recently I (foolishly) stood up for an altar call for “people with a broken heart.” I stand, reluctantly- fearing manipulation and the mega church using needy people, like me, for it’s own gain. That is what happened. I was given horrible counsel in the back, asked why I don’t forgive ( I have) and “why did I look so sad?” UMMMMM you just ASKED people with broken hearts to come forward and I was in a 15 year marriage with a narcissist and abuser. You asked!! (And spiritually abused before that in a cult for 5 years) HORRIBLE. I went home numb- could barely move or function. Thankfully a friend who has a Ph.D in Trauma and wrote her dissertation on the topic called me…first time in months and validated my experience and the truth that healing from trauma simply takes time. It’s an emotional injury and even though I DO believe in spiritual gifts and healing prayer (when used properly- big caveate) it was normal to be in a series of grief.

    Church is often, a very very dangerous place to be. And I am born again, used to be missions, on church staff, and active in ministry. I can’t even attend anymore except small groups that are VERY low key and more relational.

    There is a great article about the dangers of “biblical counseling” (victim blaming) that should be mentioned here. Many churches send hurting people into biblical counseling where they are re-injured. It is a horrific situation and we truly need a Reformation.

  18. Thanks April for sharing your story. I’m sorry that happened to you. It is rampant. I had a similar thing happen to me once.

  19. Alex says:

    Hi,

    It’s an interesting subject and I agree that when this is happening it is not right.

    However, I attend a church where in general the purpose of it is making disciples. There is no specific system for doing so except the leading of the Holy Spirit but I could tell of countless stories of people coming through bad situations into the fullness of God’s plan for them. I am one of those people.

    I don’t suggest that my church is perfect but I hope it encourages you to know that it’s not all bad

  20. Karen says:

    “This is why, no matter how much we’re hurting, as long as we’re contributing… financially, volunteering, or otherwise… we will be rewarded. Otherwise, we will be left behind.”

    Not only that, but often people who are contributing are given license to mistreat others with impunity. If you confront that, especially where you are the person who is mistreated and the abuser is someone who gives more time or money that you, you will be met with excuses, denial, minimization, and assertions that the church has no power to address the mistreatment, even where the abuser is in a leadership position. After all, confronting the abuser would turn off the time/money donation spigot from that person, and heaven forbid, some task or event might not get done.

    At its core, the church lost its way when it embraced usefulness, or what I would call the idolatry of “getting things done” instead of focusing on relationships – loving God and loving others.

  21. Elderyl says:

    We were just discussing this and wondered why you chose the word Upstream instead of downstream? Was there a conscious decision to use this word? Is it so that victims are recycled? Thank you

  22. Elderyl: If we are pulling people out of the river, saving them from drowning, I’m saying it would be good to know who was throwing them in upstream in the first place.

  23. Kay says:

    I just want to write the name of a church on that cartoon. 🙁

  24. Jason says:

    Can I just add that (imo) the #1 reason the church leaves a trail of victims is that….

    it doesn’t have the answers.

    Oh sure, “we’re making disciples” seems like a supporting, healthy, happy statement at first, but when you break down that statement with the actual process as its applied, it quickly morphs into a very different animal indeed.

    When we talk about making disciples we are taking about teaching new believers how to overcome sin (usually sexual sin, anger, substance abuse) through bible reading, prayer and guilt/repentance/guilt/repentance. …

    When a believer fails to meet the mark through these pseudo-scientific methods, they are “re discipled” a few times, but very quickly they are seen as tares, as a drag on the system, a dead fish on the line so to speak and they are swept aside to make room for new catches, new converts.

    The reason that this happens over and over is because talking to one’s self (prayer) even on your knees, in a “talk to yourself” closet simply doesn’t overcome addiction, mental illness, etc etc. …. These are placebos which only work until the emotional high wears off.

    Those who fall victim to reality are caste off.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I wonder if those church wheels are being turned by it’s mighty vision? The high and holy quest for growth and world domination???

    By Pastor’s Vision Casting.

  26. Tracy says:

    I’d never ask church people for help because they don’t truly want to help…unless it’s for a missions trip that brings about a key and prominent role for them and their church. Women and kids from domestic violence or alcoholism, well that’s not something in which their church wants to become involved, because helping those people is not glamorous. They are very few churches with support groups for divorced people, alcoholics, single parents. The church wants mostly young, intact families and some older folks to continuously “oil” the wheels of the church machine. The older folks also make a mean casserole for the potluck dinner.

  27. It is hard to find good help anywhere. Thanks Tracy.