Below is a link to a very good article called “What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Been Hurt by Church,” by Jonathan Hollingsworth. It is about interacting with those who have suffered spiritual abuse. Note what it does not say as well as what it does say…
Hollingsworth is not arguing that forgiveness on the part of the one abused is not necessary. He is not saying we should not have concern for the church’s witness or congregational division, or stick up for the church at times. He is not saying that the abused do not need to deal with and be set free from their own pain, or that it’s ok to harbor bitterness.
What he is saying is: love the person as they are, where they are, first. What he is saying is there is a time and a place for everything, and when someone is battling through abuse at the hands of church communities or leaders is not the time to defend the church or its leaders. What he is saying is, have the courage to love without qualification. He’s asking us to remember to serve the abused, not excuse the abuser.
Spiritual abuse is real, and like any other form of abuse, it runs the range of intensity and forms. It’s effects are invisible, but every bit as damaging and confusing as other forms of abuse—in some ways, more, because God is (falsely) associated with abuse and the abuser(s).
Are we as individuals willing to be safe persons for those trying to make sense of such abuse, even when it is very uncomfortable for us? Are we as congregations willing to be patient and show them the Jesus we know and serve, who abhors abuse, called out the abusers of his time, experienced unspeakable abuse himself, and weeps with the abused? Can we resist the temptation to qualify, rationalize, or counterbalance, and just love the hurt and hurting where they are, as they are?
The gospel of Jesus Christ is just as compelling and healing today as it has always been. We are called to be a people of hope and healing. Communities where the gospel is still proclaimed in word and deed are communities God can trust to bring the hurting and seeking, so they may be healed and found.
Want a good church growth strategy? Figure out how to be Jesus to the hurting.