Abuse always feels like a betrayal, and it is. Someone you’ve trusted, or even cared about, has hurt you deeply.
Abuse that occurs within a church building or by a trusted spiritual leader can feel especially painful and shocking for many victims. After all, your place of worship and the things you experience there are sacred. It’s no place for cruelty. And the spiritual mentors you trust should protect you. They should not be the ones to violate your relationship.
You are in the right place to find help if you’ve been abused either at church or by someone within your church. I am committed to helping people break free from abuse cycles, and that often begins with coming to grips with what happened. In addition to the abuse itself, this kind of betrayal often leads to spiritual trauma.
How to Handle Abuse in Church
Understanding Spiritual Trauma
Spiritual trauma happens when you are hurt by someone in your faith community. If you've experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse from a member or leader within your church or at your place of worship, your trust is likely deeply broken and you may experience Spiritual trauma or a crisis in faith. You can also be traumatized if someone within the church uses your religious beliefs or practices against you to cause you pain through control or manipulation.
None of this is right and certainly is not God's desire. My heart goes out to you if you’ve experienced this kind of treatment from someone you once trusted at church. But please don’t despair. Know there is hope, and there are steps you can take to heal.
Knowing the Truth
Abuse often goes hand in hand with deceit. One of the most frustrating things about abuse within a church community is that abusers distort the beautiful truths of faith into something they misuse to hurt us.
But abuse is never your fault. And someone else’s choice to be cruel does nothing to diminish your value, your great qualities, or how much God loves you. You are cared for by many, and you can find hope in God, even after the pain of spiritual trauma.
God is Grieved by Abuse
Often people walk away from the church altogether because of the trauma they experienced there. They may even walk away from God entirely because they can’t understand how something as painful and harmful as abuse could happen at church.
I know it is tempting to wonder how God could let this happen. But abuse is never part of God’s plan. God never wants abuse to happen inside his Church, and it grieves him deeply to see one of His children cause such pain to another.
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The Church is made up of broken, sinful humans; yes, even hypocrites and people who give themselves over to abusive behavior. When a Christian, a supposed Christ-follower, misrepresents Jesus in such an awful way, they are taking God’s name in vain, and He knows their terrible error and your deep pain. Abuse is truly a time when Satan is at work, trying to destroy unity between people, and distance them from God.
Leaving the specific church where your abuse occurred is a sensible and safe step. But the Church as a whole is still a place for healing. There are many, many healthy faith communities where you can safely heal and recover. As you seek help during post-abuse recovery, think about what you hope for from a faith community. Ask your friends about their experience, and perhaps attend a service or meeting with them.
Reporting abuse is always an option, even if it’s been a long time since the abuse occurred. You can report your abuse to the police, who will help protect you and ensure your safety.
Depending on who abused you at your church, you may also choose to report the abuse to other church leadership.
Whatever you decide, there is support to help you report abuse in the safest possible way. It will be painful, but you are not alone at any point.
Along with our trained HopeCoaches, I can recommend these organizations wholeheartedly as safe places to open up about abuse:
They will help you protect your personal and emotional safety, and they will treat you with kindness and respect.
Putting Safety First
As with any experience of abuse, your safety is your number one priority. Do whatever you can to put distance between yourself and your abuser. That may mean not going to the same church anymore, and that’s okay. You never need to feel ashamed of making decisions that are necessary for your well-being.
Healing after abuse is a slow process, but there are lots of ways to find extra support and strength. If you’ve experienced abuse at church, you are not alone. TheHopeLine is experienced in helping people through post-abuse recovery. Talk to a HopeCoach for judgment-free support after abuse. We are here to listen, and we believe you are always worthy of acceptance and love.