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What if the church has hurt me?

by Alyssa Robinson

In every church I’ve been part of, there is a huge emphasis on seeking the “unchurched.” They want to reach people who didn’t grow up in a church to share the Good News. It makes sense. Every organization wants to reach new people and bring them into the fold. It’s exciting to share the love of Jesus with someone who’s never been exposed to it. I’ve attended webinars, special events, read articles, and watched videos on connecting with the “unchurched.” But what about the de-churched?

I more often meet people who grew up in the church, but chose to leave, than people who have never been to church. Rev. Rachel Baughman is the Senior Pastor of Oak Lawn United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. She and I had a deep conversation in the Life+God Podcast on how to support people who have been hurt by the church. You can listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

I want to emphasize that there is a big difference between leaving a church and leaving the Church. I've talked to plenty of people who decided that a church they attend is no longer helping them grow, or they disagree with the direction or decisions that the church has made. Church shuffling can be hard on a church community, but it doesn’t concern me as much. Ultimately, I think it’s good and healthy to discern whether the community you’re part of is deepening your relationship with Christ. If that’s not happening or there are too many distractions, I understand choosing a new church. To be cheesy about it…I’m sad to see you go but excited to see you grow.  

But I feel so much pain for the people who have turned from the Church entirely, or perhaps the Church turned on them. Maybe they didn’t feel loved, or they didn’t see the value of a church community in their lives. Some de-churched people have been hurt deeply by the church or multiple churches. Maybe they didn’t quite fit societal norms, or their questions were met with hostility. Maybe they never felt included. 

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s me.”

So, what do you do? What do you do when the church has hurt you? I wish I had an easy answer. Pain can run so deep, and it could take years to unfold - even when you’re willing to do the work. What I will offer is all I am able to provide: an apology. I can’t possibly speak on behalf of the Church, but I can speak for myself.

Here is my open apology to people I have hurt in the church community:

I am so sorry. I’m sorry for the times that I was so consumed with myself that I neglected to look up and see your pain. I let my need for accomplishment and productivity get in the way of connection and relationship.

I’m sorry for the times that I’ve judged you. I assumed the worst in you rather than seeing Christ’s light living inside of you. When you thought, lived, or loved differently than me, I chose to react with fear rather than compassion. I forgot that you are made in the image of God.

I’ve been a hypocrite, trying to persuade you to the love and grace of Jesus while gossiping behind your back. I complained rather than confronted, and the few times I did confront, I didn’t listen. I let my anger and hunger for being right guide my words when I should have been guided by humility and motivated by harmony.

I’ve been fake. I pretended that my life is perfect and kept my shortcomings hidden, making you feel broken or like an outsider. I’m broken, too. 

I’ve been condescending. I acted like I had all the answers, and I made you feel small or frivolous when you disagreed with me. I don’t have answers. I don’t know God better than you do. My experiences don’t cancel out your experiences. I’m sorry that I was dismissive and tried to invalidate your story.

I didn’t defend you. I heard others make offensive remarks about you, and I stayed quiet. I feared becoming the target of their attack, and I looked the other way to protect my comfort. I saw someone treat you unkindly and didn’t stop to help you.

I saw you sitting by yourself, and I didn’t make room for you to sit with me. I heard your sniffling tears in the pew behind me, and I didn’t turn around. I felt the fear and loneliness inside you, and I didn’t extend my hand.

For all of this, and all left unsaid, I apologize. I hope someday you can forgive me for my misrepresentation of Christ. I hope someday the wounds I’ve inflicted on you can heal. I hope my confession can be a small part of that healing. You didn't imagine it. I wronged you, and I'm sorry.

All of these things I apologize for are things I know I’ve done. I can think of individual faces that I have wronged, and sometimes I wish I could go back in time and make it right. But all I can do is try to do better moving forward. Maybe you’ve done some of these wrongs, too. Maybe your mistakes look completely different from mine. We’re all human, and we all mess up.

I believe that confession is an important part of our relationship with God and with others. Recently, I’ve been reciting this Confession of Sin from The Book of Common Prayer. Maybe this can be your prayer today. And if you are one of the people who has been hurt by the Church, I hope that God brings you the healing you need in the way you need it most.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Posted by Alyssa Robinson at 7:00 AM
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