Toxic Religious Communities: Where Is The Balm?
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a wonderful evangelism training event that helps to prepare and equip believers to be more effective witnesses for Christ. We discussed ways that we could be more natural and conversational in our approach to sharing the love that Jesus modeled for us while he lived in the earth some two thousand years ago.
During this training, I was up earlier than usual every morning seeking God in prayer because I am constantly searching for ways to be a better human being in the presence of people across all cultures. This was a four-day training. I assembled for morning prayer with others who wanted to experience God’s blessings daily for the entire training session. But something happened in me during prayer on the last day as I was preparing to leave. I got in my car to drive to the airport but I could not because the tears would not stop flowing. A full hour passed before I was able to drive. While in prayer, it seemed as if the heavens opened and the Spirit of God spoke and said, “Now be released from your pain; the pain you have carried being a part of a particular religious community.” In one brief moment, God flicked through those experiences like a quick movie flashing in my mind’s eye. I have chosen in this writing not to name that community as I do not desire to hurt anyone by the things shared. However, I do want to enlighten people through awareness of the many ways we inflict pain on others who are a part of our religious communities and those who come seeking healing. We understand that there are no perfect religious communities, but there should be evidence of the fruit of our love and forgiveness in the way we treat others.
It is only because of the grace of God and good friends that I have been able to stand, as many others have, through unkindness, unjust suffering, rejection, labeling, persecution, sabotage, lies, disregard, being hindered from advancement, and ill treatment toward our children. I have had many opportunities for advancement beyond the religious community I serve, but I believe God uses our experiences to help others. He taught me how to be continually engaged in the practice of Radical Hospitality in spite of ill treatment. I am fully aware that Jesus had to do the same thing. Let me say also, that there are beautiful people who I personally share with in the same community that have known firsthand the things I and others have suffered and they found ways to encourage us and also let us know that they were praying for our families and our fellowship communities. For them I am grateful.
Through my personal experiences with humanity and having been a practicing Mental Health Professional for more than twenty-five years, I have had the pleasure of being seated in sacred spaces with people who have been so wounded by religious communities that they no longer wanted to be a part of them. Many of them sought out alternative environments because they still had a hunger in their hearts for spirituality. At times my heart was broken just hearing about their pain and suffering. They had been controlled, manipulated, abused emotionally and physically, blocked from advancement, exploited financially, and raped of their gifts and talents. Some of their experiences reminded me of my own, but I listened with compassion and the desire to help them work their way through the pain.
Religious communities should make every effort to be havens of consolation where people can come and find a real healing balm. In the natural, a balm is often an oily, fragrant substance that is used as a comforting, soothing, restorative ointment for wounds, cuts, and bruises. It is known for its medicinal value. Ideally, this is what religious communities are supposed to represent – an anchorage where people of all nations can have soothing experiences and find comfort and restoration for their hurting souls.
I have never understood why there is such tolerance for inappropriate behaviors from leaders and other participants in religious communities. I believe we all have a duty to address the wrongs we can clearly see. However, if we become mere beneficiaries of perks, then there is silence while people are being injured – some who may never recover.
The weight of my pain is lifted. I forgave the persons who hurt me at the moment of the injury. What I did not realize was that I still carried the pain. I have released it. I have learned that God will never waste my pain or yours. God will use everything that you and I have gone through for destiny and for His glory. I have to continue helping others to overcome their pain and to share with yet others how they can survive maltreatment and hurt, and still move forward with God’s purpose and plan for their lives – even when their hearts have been broken in a religious community.
If you are reading this and you are connected to a religious community that has hurt you in any way, know that God’s love is greater than what you have experienced. If you will remain open in your heart to the awesome power of God, your pain can be healed.
To Religious Communities everywhere; leaders and laity, I ask you,
“Where is the balm in your community that can heal any soul?” Peace