Evangelical trauma Do’s and Don’ts

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Recently, I posted about the culture of fear within the evangelical community and how it has left me deeply scarred. I had many people who voiced their support for me as I continue to recover from this trauma. Others, while perhaps well-intentioned, were less than supportive. This trend is something I’ve noticed throughout my life, and especially within the past few years on social media. Rather than listening and validating someone’s experience, there is a tendency to turn it around and make it about you and what you’ve done wrong.

As I’m sure any trained trauma specialist would tell you, that’s not the way to go about helping someone heal. Since evangelical culture doesn’t seem to get that, I thought I’d provide a list of do’s and don’ts for anyone involved with someone who has been traumatized by evangelical culture.

Don’t perceive this as an attack on you. The pain evangelical culture causes is a result of systemic dysfunction, perpetuated by those at the top on down.

Do try to understand the problems your RE (recovering evangelical) has with evangelical culture. Even if you don’t agree, try to see where they’re coming from. If you were directly part of the problem, acknowledge that, apologize and ask for forgiveness for the pain you’ve caused.

Don’t victim blame.
Too often, evangelicals will try to show a RE “their part” in the trauma they experienced. One person suggested that I had fear and kept feeling the need to rededicate my life to Christ because I wasn’t really a Christian.

Do understand that this is something that happened TO them. Just like any other victim of abuse, they are not at fault for what happened.

Don’t quote Bible verses.
Evangelicals always seem to have “clobber verses” at the ready, meant to show the RE how wrong they are and reinforce how right the evangelical is because Biblical authority. It’s as if they are bombs dropped on someone with PTSD and the evangelical doesn’t understand how that wasn’t helpful.

Do be loving.
Somehow, evangelicals have interpreted “loving” to mean showing the RE the error of their ways in the most condescending tone possible. In reality, nothing could make a RE run away faster. You can be loving by understanding that the RE’s experience was real, listening to them, and doing what you can to support them in their recovery.

Don’t be incredulous.
It’s one thing to be surprised. It’s quite another to tell someone that what they’re saying can’t possibly be true.

Do validate the RE’s story and their pain. Just because you did not experience or perceive what the RE did does not mean that it isn’t true.

Don’t feel like you have to save a RE.
A RE is on a journey. That journey may include leaving evangelicalism. It may mean having a different view than you on what being a Christian means and looks like. It may mean leaving Christianity altogether. Just know that it’s their journey and it is not up to you to dictate which direction their path takes. And for Godsake, don’t presume/tell someone they’re going to hell. Remember, if you believe that a person’s journey with God can only look a certain way, you have a very limited view of God.

Do ask how a RE is doing.
Do not presume to understand how a RE is feeling and what their journey with God is like. Engage with them. Listen to them. Believe them. Support them. Love them.

12 thoughts on “Evangelical trauma Do’s and Don’ts

  1. James just deleted my well thought out long comment.

    So just a “yeah that!” and I find your suggestions helpful and I hope others do as well.

  2. I have been fascinated reading about your experiences. As I may have shared with you, I grew up a “church kid”, in what I think was a very healthy church. There was another church in our area that a bunch of other kids went to… which had a strong youth group and what I would consider a very evangelical theology. I went to some of their social functions with them; some concerts, etc., and was always turned off by the pressure of the alter call. I always refused to go up; I had been confirmed when I was 12, declared my faith publicly, and, to me, my faith and relationship with Jesus was personal – and I did not need to “prove” it at an alter call every time one was offered. I was accused of not being a “real” Christian because of this. Since then, one of my former classmates has gone on to become a minister and I have watched as he builds his little empire. I try not to judge; yet conversations I have engaged him in about faith have been met with such close-mindedness and defensiveness… I do believe intentions are pure, for the most part. But the theology that evangelicals are spouting is not in line with the grace-filled Jesus that I know. I’m sad that you were so hurt by the church, an institution that “should” be a safe, sacred place.

    • Ugh. I’m sorry that happened to you. I hate that they use peer pressure to force conversions and alter calls. It feels like they try to get you to a spiritual high or vulnerable place…almost like a cult.

      It seems that doubt and discussions with room for change have no place in the evangelical church. Questions mean you’re challenging biblical authority, the very thing from which they derive their authority and build their house of cards around.

      Mike grew up Lutheran and is all about grace. This was almost a foreign concept to me when we got together. Yes, it was there in concept, so long as you had minded all your p’s and q’s and checked all the boxes.

    • this was my experience too. It’s bizarre too cause my parents are getting more fundamentalist (if that’s the right word) as they get older and my kids aren’t afraid of it, but they look at them strange. We have prayers in our house every day, Bible readings pretty much every day, my 10 year old can stomp most people in Bible knowledge but they look at my parents and they don’t understand what they’re doing. Very soon I’m going to have to remind my parents that the reason I stuck is because they didn’t push and bully me into having a faith and they didn’t hang God’s wrath over my head as punishment and the sure fire way to drive their grandkids away from faith is to do that. My aunt did that to her kids and they all ran as fast as they could from church.

  3. Again. Yes That! Some churches can be very dangerous, and I’ve seen very few that don’t fit that thought, that allow your spirituality to be personal. My mom finally moved on from the church I grew up in, right about the time they kicked her out for marrying a black man. She’s changed a lot since then and all in good ways. We have a much better relationship and she rarely brings up church or God to me anymore. She knows I’m not interested. Last weekend was a rarity. I was hurting emotionally and I went to her because “I needed my mommy” and after talking for an hour or so she stopped and said “I’m just going to say this. You are leaving God out of your life and it’s hurting you. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.” and it was. There are a handful of people from that culture that have moved on and I’ve been able to have great relationships with. I know they still believe and it’s ok. We have much more to talk about than church.

    • What happened to your mom is awful!
      I wrote this because, while I think most people are well-intentioned, they honestly have no idea how to communicate with someone who has been hurt by the church.
      I haven’t decided completely leave God and the church out of my life, but the thought of trying again and bringing more devastation into my life right now is too hard.

      • Sometimes that’s the best. I know many people who have been traumatized by the church I grew up in to the point that they’ve completely walked away from church (if not God). Often for the same reason you mention, it’s just too hard to consider going through that again. Most people it seems juts don’t want to admit that a church could be the bringer of pain in the way it has been for many of us.

  4. Also, big props to you for addressing this issue. Religion is such a polarizing topic. I’ve considered broaching it on my blog, but for the few people in my life that still believe. It’s a conversation I hate having so I’ll leave it alone.

    • It’s definitely scary whenever I click the “publish” button, but I figure it’s part of my healing process. I know how I feel when I read posts and say, “Me, too.” If I can help someone who feels alone, then it’s worth it.

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