For those of us who left abusive unhealthy churches, the warning against bitterness is an appropriate one. Whether a bad experience was in a church setting or totally unrelated, one needs to be on guard to not allow bitterness to remain should it be encountered. Bitterness will hurt you more than anyone else in the long run and you will never heal.
Some current members of unhealthy churches love to throw out the bitterness label should a former member mention anything that appears to be negative about the church, its leadership, or the teachings and practices. It is done in an attempt to discredit and silence them. While people can twist what bitterness is, or attempt to scare people with verses pertaining to it, the fact remains that bitterness is real and is something the Bible tells us to put off and not allow to remain in our lives. Sometimes we do not want to admit we have a problem, but denial of it will not help one to overcome. Because a verse was used against you in a wrong way or was twisted, does not mean that we can avoid the true meaning of the passage.
There are indeed people who struggle with bitterness after leaving an unhealthy church environment. Does everyone? No, but many do for varying lengths of time. The key is to not allow it to remain for months and years. We cannot brush it aside and simply claim it is anger and say we’re allowed to feel angry when that anger has actually turned to bitterness. This is like anything else- if one denies the struggle, they can’t be helped much. Don’t be afraid to admit struggles.
If one speaks about their past unhealthy church experience, does this mean they are harboring bitterness in their heart? No, this in itself is not bitterness. I’ve been accused of being bitter in having my spiritual abuse web site because I speak about what happens in abusive churches. The web site would be a whole lot different if it was done out of bitterness! Speaking about your experience does not mean you are bitter—-but how you speak of it may show if you are.
Talking about our experiences does not mean we are hanging on to the past. The admonition to “Get over it and move on” is unhelpful and shows ignorance of the complexity of the situation. Normally in unhealthy churches, certain questioning is not welcomed and one certainly is not at liberty to openly question the validity of teachings or how the church is operated. When one leaves, there are usually many questions and issues which need to be addressed in order for the person to heal, recover and sort through the various teachings. Some need to discuss and vent more than others. They need to be given space to do this. Doing so does not equate to being bitter or holding on to the past.