So here’s the thing. For every new revelation of abuse within the church, there are those of us who are not surprised. Saddened yes. Heartbroken even. But not in the least surprised.
Maybe it’s because we’re the real Calvinists, even though we’re usually the kind of people Neo-Calvinists think are off the straight and narrow. We’re the ones who believe in total depravity. Usually because we’ve experienced it. We’re the ones who’s lesson has been “it could be anyone”, and it’s a heavy burden.
But it means we’re not surprised.
And sometimes, your surprise hurts. It’s a reminder that no one has listened to us. It’s a reminder that our lives exist in a different universe to yours apparently.
So, in this three post series, I’m going to try to explain why we aren’t shocked. And ask some questions about how that might finally change.
The first post is about real church reviews. The second is about historical abuse. And the third one is more directly about theology, although of course, every part of this conversation touches on it.
So, first, the real church reviews.
I’m on several Facebook groups where people ask for church recommendations. Maybe their friends are moving to a new area, or they know someone who has become a Christian and want to know where they should go.
And because evangelical circles in Australia are small and ossified, I can almost predict which churches will be recommended. They’ll be recommended as “solid” or “bible based”. Sometimes as “welcoming” or “good for new Christians”.
But because evangelical circles are small, the weird among us usually know each other too. And the ex-vangelicals. And the victims.
So, often, this process of reading recommendations is painful for me. Because the head pastor of that “bible based” church told my friend to go back to her verbally, physically and emotionally abuse husband because “it’s what God commands”. Or because the head pastor of that church which is “good for new Christians” has chewed through so many assistant ministers that people will call people any person who they think might apply for a job with them to warn them. Or because that “great ministry” has employed someone who was moved on from their last ministry because of spiritual abuse and has tried to sue people who’ve made it publicly known. Or because that “great church” is full of people who’s response to another friends deep depression was as useful as Job’s friends, so that friend has given up church altogether now, with not even one follow up call from the church she was at for five years. But they teach the bible, goodness yes they do. Much better than that other terrible church down the road.
I’m not just talking about “my friend didn’t like that church because there were no people his own age”. I’m talking about “my friend told that pastor he was suicidal and the pastor told him to read Lamentations.” I’m talking about “that church has defined Christian maturity as attendance at their events and serving in a minimum of two specific tasks from a list and very clearly don’t see anything troubling about that.”
I’m talking about abuse from leaders (of other leaders or of church members). I’m talking about leaders who facilitate others in abuse. I’m talking about leaders who neglect the basic tenets of pastoral care, and I’m talking about leaders who’s fear-driven, Pharisaical theology burns up and spits out the little children.
And I get these reviews of your churches from the people who’ve left. The people you’ve stopped listening to. Many of them have even told you why they’re leaving and have had their problems minimised, criticised or ignored.
Have you asked them why they’ve left? Do you know them?
Or, more troublingly, why do *I* know about the reasons they’ve, but only because I *do* know the right people? Why don’t we talk about this? Why does it keep taking commissions and inquiries and investigations to unearth what some of us already know?
Do you know what your church’s real review is? How would someone in an abusive marriage rate your church? How would someone suffering under child abuse rate you? How would your ex- Assistant Minister rate you if his future jobs weren’t on the line? The answers to those questions are vital to the effectiveness of your church and its health in bearing witness to the suffering of Christ.
If your first response is “oh, we’d probably be fine! I’ve never heard of anything like that happening here” then think again. And if your first response is “well, we have some disgruntled ex-members, but they’re obviously wrong”, then you probably have even more reason to pause for thought.