Helping a Friend After the Trauma of an Abusive Church

The Amen SistersThis summer Precious Times Magazine published an article that I started writing in the summer of 1993, Helping a Friend After the Trauma of an Abusive Church. The article is a complement to The Amen Sisters. I wrote it hoping that it would help people who have friends and family involved in abusive church situations. So I share this article with you, hoping that you will share it with the people in your life that you think might be helped by reading it. Select the link below to read the article. God bless you.

Helping a Friend After the Trauma of an Abusive Church

The Amen SistersHow do you share with a friend the pain you feel after finding out that your pastor is actively sleeping with over half of the female members of the congregation? How do you confide to your friends that your savings account has a zero balance because you funded the pastor’s new wardrobe? How do explain to them that you got more sleep on your job than in your home because of all night Bible Studies? These were things that I wanted, and needed, to talk about after I left, what I now know, was an abusive church. Because I didn’t feel anyone would truly understand my involvement in such a scripturally unsound environment, I kept my thoughts–and my pain–to myself. As a result, the journey to recovery was long and lonely for me. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you have a friend or loved one who has left an abusive church, there are five things you can do to support your friend through this traumatic time.

1. Forgive her.
She already feels a lot of guilt for the hurt she caused and realizes that although she had good intentions, she was wrong about a lot of things. The abusive church that I left had very strict rules of conduct and man-made restrictions on what it means to be a Christian. I accepted those rules as truth and tried to warn my friends and loved ones away from their own “worldly” church. I even called some of them “sinner” in my attempt to get them to see the “truth” that I had found. Later, I felt guilty and ashamed. Asking for forgiveness was hard and I never felt that the words “I’m sorry” were enough, but they were all I had to give. When your friend asks for forgiveness, give it. Don’t shrug her request off as nothing, because it’s something to her, and don’t withhold your forgiveness as a way of punishing her for hurting you. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32

2. Don’t bad mouth her old church.
Though your friend has physically left the church, she may still have an emotional bond to it. It may be difficult for you to understand, but there were some good things that drew your friend to the abusive church. Your friend has to resolve the conflict that she feels over the good and godly that she at one time saw, with the evil and ungodly that she now sees. Any effort on your part to bad mouth the church will make her feel she has to defend it. If she makes negative comments, you can agree with her, but don’t go overboard. “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” Proverbs 10:19-21

3. Resist the urge to say, “I told you so.”
You probably told your friend that “something wasn’t right in that church.” Though she now realizes you were right, she does not need to hear you say it. My mother waited about three years to say the dreaded “I told you so” to me and she’ll never know how much her self-control was appreciated. She said those words at the right time, a time when we could both look back on my experience with the wisdom of hindsight and the clarity that only comes with time. As Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7 (NIV) tells us, “there is a time for everything” including “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

4. Don’t rush your friend back to church.
While you may be worried that your friend has lost her faith and will never return to another church, you have to remember that, despite the situation, God is in control. God opened your friend’s eyes to see the evil in her old church and God gave her the strength to leave. Allow Him to use you and your relationship with Him to make this a time of faith-building for your friend. She’s seen “false” Christians, and by you loving God with all your heart, you reaffirm for her that sincere Christians do exist. “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and purity” 1 Timothy 4:12b (NIV).

5. Pray.
Not only does your friend need your prayers as she recovers from her abusive church experience, so do the people she left behind at the church: the other victims, the victimizers, the enablers, and the innocents. The other victims and the victimizers are easily identifiable but the enablers and the innocents may not be as easy to label. Enablers know about the abuse and, either by their silence or encouragement, they allow it to continue. Innocents, on the other hand, have no knowledge of the abuse; they are the most likely targets for future abuse. Pray that the Lord helps the other victims to recognize their victimization and take advantage of the opportunity for escape that He always provides. Pray that the eyes of the innocent are opened so that they can escape before being harmed. We’ll only see abusive activity in the church end if we treat it like the spiritual warfare that it is. “we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those might powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12 (NLT).

The bad news is that church abuse is much more prevalent that we want to believe. The good news is that God is bigger than any problem. Our hope is in Him.

11 thoughts on “Helping a Friend After the Trauma of an Abusive Church

  1. I recently finished the Amen Sisters and I just wanted to say it is a powerful book. I am a 23 year old african american women and feel that all young women should take the time and be blessed by this book as I was. I’ve never been in the situation the characters went through, but it just really opened my eyes. And it has taught me to forgive, trust in God and he will lead us all in the right direction. Thank you!

  2. Dear Angela,
    Thank you for the powerful wisdom and awe inspiring insight of undaunting truth in the “Amen Sisters” I was deeply touched, being so by having been in similar situations as one of the characters! I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t alone in this particular experience and the advice was the pat on the back I *REALLY* needed. It was quite easy to put myself in the characters shoes and for so long many among myself have been at a lost for words to discribe to others and their familes the same situations dealt with in the book and how to overcome it! I just want to thank you for you bold wisdom and for bringing this topic to surface. Thank you for all the right words.

    [Name withheld to protect privacy]

  3. I really enjoyed the book and have experienced some of the scenarios that are in the book!!!! I feel this book is a tool for healing to take place in the lives of those who have experienced like sitauations. Thank you for writing this book.

    God Bless,
    Cassandra M. Lang

    I would like to schedule a radio interviw with you on my radio Show ” Life Issues & Stories of Success.

  4. I have been out of the churchof my youth and also where i was employed for 1 year 8months and 13 days. My pain lessens by the day and God has placed positive persons in my life in the last few months who help me restore my faith as I plan for the future. Yes I obtained another job but not another church. Fear is what has kept me from making that kindof commitment again (40+ years is a long time) but I know, believe and must trust God for another home where I can again share my ministry skills and be blessed as I bless others. Your article alone was so needed thus I’m sure the book will be a further blessing. Blessings to anyone who takes a stand however the wind blows. Peace my Sister.

  5. Selma, my heart both aches and rejoices with you. I ache because of your pain and I rejoice because of the heart that you displayed in your post. I will join you in prayer, and ask my fellow bloggers, to join as well as you find that place where God would have you serve. There are people who need what you have to offer as much as you need to share the gifts God has given. I write this as someone who has experienced, and is experiencing, what you’re going through. I’ll stand firm with you. Your sister, Angela

  6. Angela,
    I would like to learn more about how to reach a family member involved in this type of abusive church senario. My little sister may be involved and has been for over 20 years now. Her group has a “mission” or church in Ghana but she lives in NJ and works two jobs to send all of her money to fund the church. Many young women go to Ghana and don’t come back. Prayer is my hope to reach her.

  7. Wow! To think I came across this after all these years! Thanks, Angela…I will be in contact as soon as my shcedule allows and I can come up for air…

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