How do I counsel someone who has been hurt by the church? Dr. Elizabeth Pennock emphasizes the need to listen well to the stories of those who have been hurt by the church and to seek the healing found in the gospel.
So, when we have someone who comes into our community of the church, or maybe even a counseling room, who has that background of abuse—and particularly within the church—we obviously want to spend some time understanding their experience so that we don’t just recreate what they’ve already experienced in other church settings. So that means I do a lot of listening. Often I’ll say, “I know I’m kind of coming into the story of your life in chapter eight. Help me know what is in the first few chapters so that I know where you’re coming from.” And it’s really after listening awhile that then, we can start to bring the gospel, because the gospel of Jesus Christ is one of hope and healing and redemption.
I can have been harmed by Christians, and God can still be good and can still bring healing and redemption. But often people get hurt when it feels like we bypass their pain and their experience so that we can hurry up and get to the good part. And so I think it’s important for leaders and Christians in general to make some space for that pain, to not dismiss it, to not minimize it, but to acknowledge it: to acknowledge the church has done harm—that’s not a surprise to anyone. And to help the person distinguish some of what’s happened because of humans in the church, and how that’s different from who God is, and what Jesus has done for us. And I think, once you’ve demonstrated that, and really been with someone and been a trustworthy person in their pain, particularly when it pertains to the church—and in some way you represent the church. It starts to create space for healing to happen, for some understanding of how I can have been harmed by Christians, and God can still be good and can still bring healing and redemption.