Thursday, November 11, 2021

Mimicking Safety

The other day on Twitter I saw a pastor argue that people who have traumatic church experiences shouldn't leave the church as a whole. Instead, they should find a healthier church. This excluded progressive churches, because "they aren't really churches." And why should people continue to seek other churches even after they've suffered in one? Because the outside world is even worse.

One problem (there are many) with this argument is that the types of churches this person likely has in mind are still exclusionary in thought or action toward those who encounter abuse in such spaces. A non-affirming church will always by definition be abusive to LGBTQ+ people. A patriarchal church will always be abusive toward women who feel called by God to ministry. A church without external and objective methods of accountability will carry the risk of claims of abuse not taken seriously.

No amount of coffee bars and welcome packets and lip service paid to God's grace will change that.

Many churches will mimic safety until it's time to actually be a place of safety to someone who needs it. At that point, the system takes over to protect itself and to get the wayward member to fall in line. 

There are times when churches as places of safety do need to protect themselves from those within their ranks. Abuse, exploitation, and pathology can be as rampant within the walls of the church as outside. Contrary to what this Twitter pastor suggests, it can be just as bad inside if a church doesn't take its role as place of safety seriously. When it does, that's the sign of a truly healthy church.

But when the system itself is the abuser, then yes, it's time to leave. Maybe finding another church is part of the journey, maybe not. Getting away from an environment that won't love you entirely comes first.