Tuesday, November 24, 2009


For some time I've been moved to the point of tears at the plight of adults who have survived abuse - physically, sexually or emotionally.  More recently I have found myself aware that there is another form of abuse which us rarely mentioned, and that is what has been called 'religious abuse'.  In its most extreme form it is evident in the way some - maybe many - churches condemn certain sexualities and demand adherence to certain codes of sexual behaviour in order for people to belong.  For those who are  not heterosexual this frequently results in a sense of shame, guilt, rejection, abandonment and a desperate desire to hide the truth of their sexuality from others - and from themselves. 

A number of groups exist to help 'survivors' of such abuse know they are not alone, and some survivors will turn to therapists to help them deal with the abuse they have suffered.  But there is one aspect that may not receive as much attention as it needs, and that is the relationship of such victims with God.

Assuming that those emerging from an abusive church still have any form of faith, how can they be helped?  Groups, for example, for gay and lesbian Christians are of great importance.  But it is the underlying relationship of the individual with God which requires attention, for unless this is addressed there is the potential for a 'fault-line'.  I can know that my sexuality is acceptable by others.  I might be drawn to a church which is open and accepting of me.  And I might find that a therapist can help me deal with the issues that have arisen because of the way my sexuality expresses itself.  But what help is there which can enable me to face that most profound of questions - does God really love me as I truly am?

I raise this, partly out of my work as a Spiritual Director and partly because I am not sure that this need for someone who can help me sort out my relationship with God has been acknowledged.  For, beneath all the help I may be offered this one question can remain: How has my understanding of God been affected as I emerge from this situation of abuse?

As a Spiritual Director it seems to me that those churches which purport to accept everyone, regardless of their sexuality, have a duty to face the need to address the abuse that goes on in the name of God and to help those who have been abused to find someone who will help them in their desire to be themselves before the God who made them and desires that they are fully the people they are created to be.

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