(This piece was written sometime in July 2021, I’ve updated it and now have decided to share it because I’ve moved on to another church and feel safer to talk about it)
Recently this word went through my mind. I just had a very difficult exchange with an Assistant Pastor in my current church regarding how my case of assault by my ex was handled. I felt that even through he had tried to be a support to me, that his show of empathy to my husband (now ex) did me a great disservice and only served to re-traumatize me. I tried explaining this to him, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to sink in.
At the end of multiple talks through text and a face-to-face session where I painstakingly explained the impact of his words and actions towards both my ex and me and how he had facilitated retraumatization, he basically said that he would continue to give all members of his flock the “benefit of the doubt” and “be kind” to people no matter what. (referring to my ex)
Wow. Is that what you’re supposed to do with abusive men who beat up their wives? Show them empathy? Tell them “I feel you?” Goodness gracious me. No wonder abuse proliferates in church and no wonder so many Christian women are the unwitting victims of not just abuse at home but double-abuse at church.
In fact, his show of empathy towards my ex led my ex to believe that the Pastor was on his side, to the extent that my ex went around trying to spread the word to two people in my social circle, he said you should talk to Pastor Jacob of RHC to get a better idea of what happened.
I was shocked and maddened about this state of affairs and I texted Pastor Jacob to find out more about this. “What exactly did my ex tell you and what did you say so that he got the idea that you would advocate for him?”
All I got was more denial and invalidation. No recognition that how he continued to interact with the ex and empathise with him was doing more harm and enabling him.
What people do not realise is that church is often not a safe place for people to really be themselves and let down their guard.
In certain situations, the church is a place where people go to to find a sense of belonging but instead face disappointment, rejection, judgment and betrayal to a much deeper extent than they ever would have anywhere else.
As a trauma survivor, I found this to be especially true.
Coming back to the title of this post, sometimes words just pop into my mind that I don’t even know the meaning of – “Praxis” popped into my head shortly after my conversations and text message exchanges with Jacob. I had to go look up the meaning of this particular word.
“Praxis” means “the practical application of theory” Why does this word come to play when I think about this experience with an Assistant Pastor of the Church I left?
Because the practical experience of living through abuse and violence and emotional neglect is that much more devastating when you are re-traumatised at the hands of people from whom you would associate with safety and accountability.
When I first joined RHC (Redemption Hill Church) their theology didn’t matter too much to me. I knew that they subscribed to complementarianism – a theological view in Christianity that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, and religious leadership. This is in distinct contrast to Christian egalitarianism – a theological view that the Bible mandates gender equality and equal responsibilities for the family unit and the ability for women to exercise spiritual authority as clergy.
Back then, when I first joined RHC, I did not think to much about the theology behind the church because what I was looking for was community and I had found that. I thoroughly enjoyed the community I had found.
It was only later when I saw how my case of marital assault and abuse was handled by clergy (all men) that I realised that their theory had clearly influenced their practical application – the lens they use for marriage and “roles” that men and women are to play had seeped into their handling of my case. This informed their insensitivity and lack of repentance when I gave them feedback on how their actions and their support for my ex and their validation of his experience and subsequent inaction (not calling him out on coming after my father’s inheritance) was hurtful and retraumatizing.
I have now also had the practical experience of retraumatisation.
No one who has been through betrayal trauma ever sees the world or loves in the same way again. But this is a costly experience and one that come through moving through a lot of pain, most people do not want to witness or listen to anyone going through it or talking about it, let alone go through the experience themselves.
I have found myself unable to talk about this at length with anyone. But here I am writing about it because I know I am not alone. There are other people out there who have left the church and are thoroughly disillusioned with the church because of how they have been treated by other Christians including clergy. Count me amongst that number.
I’m not, however, disillusioned by my relationship with Jesus – this is why I still go to church (currently at New Creation Church which is doctrinally more aligned to what I believe), because the church is representative of the body of Christ, which Jesus loves and treasures. That which is important to Jesus is important to me.
Having said this, I want to point out that what someone believes is incredibly important as it shapes their mindset and informs all of their interactions.
While previously I didn’t think that it would be such a huge issue to be in a church that did not subscribe to having female pastors, or who believed that men should be the “head of the house” and final decision makers, I realise now that the theological principles a church adopts has a profound impact on the practical aspects of all relationship including marriage and provides a breeding ground for abuse and the denial of abuse.
Gaslighting within the church is unfortunately exceedingly common and as someone who is a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, I think it’s important for me to say this: what others say is important but remember that if you have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in you and will guide you into the right path.
While others in church may never be able to support or understand you in the way you need and want, realise that there are others along your life’s path that you will influence and be influenced by, people who will support you and whom you in turn, can support.
God will bring these people into your life. Trust his leading and be willing to learn from these new people and experiences.
If you expect to never be vulnerable, questioned or hurt, or even to question or inadvertently hurt others when you speak your truth, then it will be difficult to move forward.
But, if you’re willing to set aside your fears and move into what brings you meaning and purpose and fulfilment, then that gives you the ability to sacrifice temporary happiness for deeper purpose and fulfilment as you continue to pick up the broken pieces, speak your truth and rebuild your life.
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