Question: When people hear the title of your book — Trusting God’s People...Again — the first images that come to mind are of those who have been sexually abused by a priest or high-profile pastors like Ted Haggard who have publicly admitted to moral failure. Who was this book really written to reach?
Anyone who has ever felt betrayed, even in the slightest way, by other Christians. In our experiences working with conflicted congregations, the folks who have been victimized by abuse (sexual, emotional, or spiritual) are definitely out there, but they do not represent the majority of this group. The larger number of people who have felt betrayed by Christians are ones like Mavis, the example from the book, who got their feelings hurt just in the day-to-day “stuff” of human relationships. Of course, the good news is that the journey toward healing is the same for both kinds of woundedness.
Question: There are some who have expressed surprise that there is a market for a book like this. Are there really that many people who have been wounded by the church? Based on your experience, what are the most common scenarios that drive people away from fellowship with other believers?
As I have traveled and spoken, I have been astounded by the universal need for this message. Go to your favorite search engine and type in the word “ex-Christian.” You will be shocked. There are entire communities out there of people whose only point of “gathering” is that they have been hurt by the church. To the question about common scenarios, James’ words from 2000 years ago are still true today: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it.” I have found this attitude at the heart of 95% of the church conflict I have seen in my own travels. Whether it is leadership behaving badly (immorally) or power struggles or spiritual abuse—it comes down to people seeking what they want instead of seeking what God wants.
Question: Some of those examples are pretty serious. Can there really be healing for people who have been that seriously wounded?
Doesn’t God’s Word give us examples of even worse woundedness that is healed? How can I witness the healing of wounded people like Joseph and Elijah and Peter and not want that same kind of healing? God truly is the “God of all comfort” — yes, I believe there is a healing journey there for every believer.
Question: It seems like trusting the church again is the LAST thing people would want after they’ve been hurt by it. How do they get to the point of even desiring healing?
It is probably a lot like healing from a physical wound. I know I need to have the broken bone re-set, but I’m not really looking forward to the process. What motivates me, however, is understanding the alternative — what if I DON’T take the treatment? That’s true of emotional and spiritual healing as well. Pain (of any kind) is a funny thing — the longer I have it, it can become a kind of “friend”—a “crutch” that I come to depend on. Maybe I don’t want to give it up just yet, because it’s been a great excuse for me for a long time. The longer I have it, the harder it is to give it up.
Question: In your book you talk about a “healing journey.” Describe that journey for us.
First, it’s important to note that, though there are some common “touch points” to every healing journey, they are otherwise all unique. Your journey will not look exactly like my journey. I believe God’s Word is like that—it hits each of us very personally in a way that is specifically applicable to my life. That said, there are these areas of the journey that are common to all of us. I can identify three of them: reconciliation, recommitment, and re-engaging. All of us who have been wounded by other Christians have to deal with these three topics at some point along the way of our healing journey.
Question: When you emphasize “reconciliation,” are you saying that every person who has been hurt by the church must go back and reconcile with the person(s) who hurt them?
What I mean is that God’s Word shines its light on every relationship in my life—and especially on those relationships which have caused me pain. “Reconciliation” is God’s way of making me examine that relationship and ask if it is one which honors God. If not, then what can I do to bring it in line with God’s will? It means my taking responsibility for my half of that relationship—not their half (I have no control over that), but my half.
Question: You also talk about “recommitment” to God. Is there always a spiritual element to this healing process?
Yes, always. I believe God really does cause “all things to work together for good for those who love Him…” I believe He will use every painful circumstance in my life to draw me closer to Him, to reveal Himself to me in new ways. Until I have experienced this from my woundedness, I have not completed my healing journey.
Question: The last element of healing you mentioned was “re-engaging.” Can you describe what you mean by that?
Being hurt by the church, i.e., by other Christians, does not change that fact that we are essentially social creatures. We were created for community. We all have it hard-wired in us to need connection with others. A broken leg is not something I just learn to live with. I go through a healing process so that I can get back to walking again. How silly would it be to say, “Well, that’s it, I don’t want to try walking again since that’s how I got hurt in the first place.” I would not consider my healing process to be finished until I am back on my feet again, even if it still causes a little pain. The same is true of emotional or spiritual brokenness — there must be this point of taking a deep breath and re-entering the walk with God’s people. It’s getting back in the saddle again (to borrow an image from my home state).
Question: You recommend that this “healing journey” not be taken alone. So, who should take it with you?
It should be someone who at least has some basic understanding of my pain and a desire to see me heal. It should be someone who will tell me the truth (in love) when I am avoiding parts of the healing process. It should be someone who will give me a little space to mess up but will still love me enough to encourage me to continue on the journey. It might even be someone who is going through their own healing journey and whom you can help just as they help you.
Question: Are the stories you tell in the book true stories? What are some of the biblical examples that teach us about conflict resolution?
The Bible stories are true—they are real life stories of very real, very flawed people. Mavis’ story is fiction, but oddly enough, will feel very real and very familiar to any readers who have been in church for any length of time at all. In the Bible, there are stories about dysfunctional families (like Jacob and Esau, or Joseph and his brothers). There are characters like Jonah and how he faced his greatest fears. There are stories about conflict in ministry, like Paul and Barnabas. God’s Word is filled with true stories about people just like you and me.