Even after I walked out of that last church, the one that I’ve written the most about in the past and the one that finally did the most damage to me and others, I tried to find another Pentecostal church to attend. I still believed they had The Truth. I still believed that they were right about everything but maybe had just made a mistake or two. Surely the problem was just a person or two. Surely it wasn’t widespread.
I called. I asked pastors if I could please go to their churches. Only one agreed to let me come. I asked the pastor there to do just one thing: don’t tell people where I’m from. I was greeted at the door by a member, “Oh, you must be Mary from ____ church! What happened? I know people there. I’ll ask.” The pastor had already told them where I was from. The gossip had already begun. And then the pastor smilingly told me that he understood that I didn’t want to talk about it, but that he knew some things about that church, himself, and he thought we ought to go out to eat and ‘swap stories’. I knew then that I would have to leave Pentecost.
It took me 19 years.
What do we do when the church betrays us? I stayed as long as I could. I stayed longer than I should have. I finally left. But the ongoing impact of what happened has remained. I don’t have any answers for what to do when church betrays us, but there are some things that churches and Christians in general can do to help:
Don’t pressure us to participate, to join, or to share. Give us time.
Love us. Not with a “You’ll go to hell if you don’t do what I say!!!” ‘love’ but with genuine compassion and mercy.
Provide opportunities to belong to faith communities outside of traditional ‘church’.
Remember that not every wound is visible, and not everyone will say they’ve been hurt. Be kind to everyone, whether they believe like you do, or act like you, or are members of your church or not.
What can we do, we who’ve experienced betrayal? Perhaps the same things.
Don’t pressure yourself, and don’t pressure others.
Give yourself and others time.
Believe yourself. It’s hard for some of us to believe that we really went through something ‘that bad’ in a place we thought should be good, but it happened. Believe yourself.
Trust your instincts.
Love yourself and love others with genuine compassion and mercy.
Remember that others may not see your wounds. You may not even be aware of all of them at first. It’s OK. It’s OK if it takes time to heal. It’s OK if you feel worse the second day than the first. Healing takes time. Growth takes time. And sometimes both come with pain. But it’s OK.
Be patient with others and consider their perspectives. They may not believe like you do or act or dress like you, but there may still be much to learn from them.
Be willing to diversify your friendships. Having friends with other opinions doesn’t speak badly of you, but instead gives you an opportunity to learn more about yourself as well as them.
Peace to you.