I am probably going to make enemies on both sides of this conversation. But in order for things to get better, I think someone from the position I am in is going to have to extend the first olive branch.
I am a pastor. I am trained vocationally with two theological degrees and 24 years of experience under my belt. I am a dyed-in-the-wool, diehard Christian and follower of Jesus. And I love the Church. I have given my life to helping the Church become everything she is intended to be. I think everyone would benefit from being part of a church. She is not perfect. But for all her warts, she is still the bride of Christ.
That being said, there are some problems in the Church. Not just my church — the capital-C Church. As a pastor, I am given the sacred privilege and responsibility of walking with people through some of the darkest times in their lives. Tragedy, pain, brokenness, and even death are all scenes in the landscape of paths I have walked with others. And they trust me with that. When I think about the amount of faith people have placed in my ability to bring them some sort of hope and healing in their lives because of God’s Word and my relationship with Him, it takes my breath away.
I am a trained theologian. I have some training as a pastoral counselor, but certainly no degree. So when people come to me and ask me questions about theology and the Bible, I feel qualified. But sometimes the lines around conversations I should be having and shouldn’t be having are really blurry. Where my abilities begin and end becomes hard to know. What conversations I should be having with people and which ones I should be referring are hard to separate.
This is not unique to me. It is a pastoral problem. All pastors are taken into situations they are not trained to handle. Nor are they equipped to understand the unique dilemmas these situations present. Most of the time, we survive it with a certain degree of a “fake-your-way-through-it” mentality. It is hard. We pastors do genuinely love our people and truly want to be a help to others. But sometimes, that gets the best of us. Consequently, there are times when, for all our attempts to help, we actually hurt.
Because of that, the Church has not always done a good job journeying with people through their brokenness. Some types of brokenness seem to create these spaces more often than others. I want to address one specific issue that seems to create so much hurt.
Can we be honest for a minute and just say that the Church is completely daft in how we attempt to deal with issues of abuse?
Please hear my heart: I am not angry or belittling here. But we are getting it wrong, and someone on my side of this reality has to stand up and say it. We are not equipped to deal with the effects abuse has on abuse victims. We are also not equipped to deal with the manipulative savvy of abusive people. While we desperately want healing and freedom for those hurt by abuse, we are woefully unprepared to be a part of the solution. Admitting that inadequacy is hard. Pastors give their lives to helping others see that the Jesus we know and love is the answer for every situation. His message of love, forgiveness, and freedom is the message the world needs to hear.
But sometimes, we lose that message because of the messenger. Maybe we are ignorant. Maybe we are arrogant. Maybe we have poor dogma or doctrine. It is probably a combination of all of this. But somewhere along the way, we lost the goal of helping people heal in the name of correct thinking and acting — whatever we think correct thinking and acting may be. Somewhere along the way we stopped asking whether or not what we are doing is actually helpful to the person. Maybe we forgot that it isn’t “rightness” that God loves — it is people.
We are not completely useless when it comes to abuse either. We can be present with that person. We can sit with them, encourage them to keep fighting, and celebrate their successes as they find healing and freedom, which I believe with all my heart can be achieved. We can even remind these hurting people of the theological truth that God is for them and pulling for their success in this journey.
But to try to unravel and deal with the wounds on the soul of a person who had their voice forcibly taken by another person solely concerned with their own desires is not territory we have been trained in or are prepared to navigate. We are not unwilling to go there, but willingness does not equate to competency. And too many times, what winds up happening is further damage to the precious person who risked everything to be vulnerable enough to talk about his or her darkest secret.
Can we just be honest? We suck at this. We don’t want to, but we do. More than anything, we want broken people to find healing and freedom. But what we observe in the Church is that too many times, we become a further part of the problem and wind up creating a second emotional injury.
I cannot apologize for anyone else. That is not my place. But for my part, I am sorry. I am wrong for doing that.
So from my side of the conversation, maybe it is time to stop trying to defend what we did or did not do — with the best of intentions — and just acknowledge that it didn’t go the right way. Maybe we should stop saying it is the fault of the person who “didn’t respond correctly,” or “who obviously doesn’t want to change,” or perhaps who we think “had it coming.”
We are wrong. I am wrong. And we cannot make it right until we admit that.
It’s time to start the conversation. I am sorry for being wrong. I am sorry for believing the lies of false repentance. I am sorry for not surrounding you with properly trained people to help you navigate the devastation of your very being. I am sorry for being part of the problem. I am sorry for partially blaming, or blaming at all.
I am sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. I will do better.