Therapists tell us that we need to deal with our past before we can move forward. The more traumatic the past, the more difficult and necessary it will be to wrestle with it before we can be whole and healthy.
So . . . if we have endured a trauma regarding parents, pets, illness, accident, warfare, breakup, or fiery crash – know that those issues will come back to bite us over and over again until we either deal with it or die. (And maybe God makes us wrestle with it in the next life. Who knows?)
The same is true for religious institutions. Congregations and groups of congregations (mid-councils, dioceses, etc.) can be traumatized by unhealthy leadership, scandal, abuse, and heavy loss. Obviously the good people of Sutherland Springs, Texas have been subjected to both personal and corporate trauma. Two years ago, fire tore through a 200 year old church building in New Jersey. Thousands of church buildings and homes were destroyed in last fall’s hurricane season. Those are obvious traumas to both individuals and to church communities.
What is less obvious but perhaps even more destructive – because there is shame and blame involved – is trauma caused by individuals in church organizations: the trusted leader who stole money, the mentally ill leader who emotionally abused staff and parishioners, the sexual misconduct leader who violated both the trust and bodies of human beings in his pastoral care.
Diminished trust is one of the most challenging results of trauma in congregations and groups of congregations. How do we trust again when we’ve been lied to, emotionally wounded, violated?
I have no easy answers for how to address a breach of trust, but I do know that an institution cannot be healthy again until the actions and structures that destroyed the trust are addressed. It might mean going back in time and offering lament and confession. (It’s never too late.) It might mean holding people accountable. It might mean making amends to victims.
On this Groundhog Day in the Year of Our LORD 2018, what it never means is hiding in a hole and hoping spring will come six weeks later. We as the Church need to deal with the past before we can flourish in the future. God surely wants us to live in abundance.
What is it that your congregation or congregations need to deal with? It’s going to be hard, but resurrection happens after death and destruction.
Image of Jacob Wrestling with God/the Angel by Chagall (1963)