Photo credit Dalton Moore West Plains, MO
Yesterday I had an interesting encounter with two other people which left my mind spinning. I was visiting with an older fellow at a public event. We had never met before, and were spending a few of the last minutes at the event talking about our families, and another upcoming event that we would be involved with.
During the course of our discussion, another person that was attending the event joined our conversation. She was a young lady, and was dressed and fixed in such a way that it was obvious why she was at the event, bible in hand. She was there to witness to the lost. She seemed to be a nice and polite lady. I’ve no doubt that her heart was in the right place. But as she joined the conversation I saw my new friend’s attitude and demeanor change before my eyes.
The fellow who had minutes before been laughing about music and family, quickly turned the conversation to religion. In the next few minutes I watched this fellow, give this nice young lady a sermon that gave me chills. He quoted scripture and made connections between scripture and the life of Christ in such a way that even in my 30+ years of church going, I had never seen the like of! It was amazing! And sad.. and even a little scary all at the same time.
I immediately felt sad for the woman. After about 15 minutes she tucked tail and practically ran in near tears. However, I also recognized something in my spiritual friend too… Someone who “looked” like this person, had at some point in this man’s life, hurt him very deeply. His natural defenses to that pain reared up, upon her entering the conversation, and as she walked away he simply pointed after her and stated “people like that are why I don’t go to church”.
His reaction to her wasn’t rational, they had only just met for that few minutes. I have no doubt that she was a precious lady who was doing her best to spread the gospel. However, what she hadn’t considered is that many people suffer from past emotional religious abuse. Some even, to the extent of post traumatic stress disorder.
In the last few years of observing these types of situations (I work in a field that creates many opportunities to see those who are struggling and those who are assisting them) I have noted that many of those who fear organized religion, have also gained a level of spirituality, that any Christian would envy. It is as if because of the hardships they have faced in the name of religion, that they have built a deeper and more personal relationship with Christ.
As Christians we need to be aware and take note. Christ did not/does not want his modern day disciples to create further pain to those who have already suffered abuse in his name. Whether we want to admit it or not, religious persecution often comes in the name of Christ. We must educate ourselves to respect every stage of the journey of spirituality.
I hope that older fellow didn’t hurt the young lady’s feelings too much.However, I am thankful that I witnessed the event. It caused me to rethink some of my own behaviours, and practices in regard to spiritual matters. Also, it gave me hope that those who many of us might “write off” as lost, may in fact, be operating on a spiritual level that most of us just don’t understand yet.
While I will never know the exact cause that led to the older fellows distain for organized religion, I do have faith that it isn’t brought about by a lack of wanting to do the will of God, or the work of the Church. As Christians we have to be mindful of what type of pain we might contribute to those who have experienced trauma.
Modern day religious persecution exists, and sadly it sometimes comes from those proclaiming to be a Christian– not ISIS. While there are many examples in the Word for Christians to serve the poor, it is difficult to find scripture supporting the practice of witnessing to them in the way that many modern day Christians seek. While Christians have a responsibility to fulfill the great commission. (Matthew 28:16). We have to be so careful not to cross lines that carry over to reopening old wounds from years gone by of religious abuse to those we are serving.
Church leaders, I beg this of you. Arm yourself and those you lead with education in ptsd, and similar mental health issues. Spreading the gospel to the lost is the Church’s most important task. In doing so we must be careful not to cause more pain to those who need Christian support the most.