Religious Trauma is a Real Thing (Podcast interview)
A few months ago, an old college friend asked me if I would be interested in being a guest on a new podcast that a colleague of hers was starting on Religious Trauma. I agreed, and sat down to a chat with Anna (a therapist) about what it’s like to go through religious trauma/spiritual abuse as a missionary. Being a victim of RT/SA is awful for everyone, but going through it as a missionary is particularly isolating and scary because our choices are to 1) submit to the abuse and stay quiet or 2) to lose our homes, our jobs, our livelihood, our friends, our faith community… everything.
What struck me in particular as I reflected on my story (you can see the full thing in print here) and the 4 years it’s been since we left our abusive missions agency is that we really can and do recover AND it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to do so. It isn’t free.
At any rate, please give the podcast a listen, and if you are into the topic, go back and listen to the earlier episodes as well. The Spotify link is here, but you can find it on apple podcasts as well.
2 thoughts on “Religious Trauma is a Real Thing (Podcast interview)”
Wow, you do have the wonderful literary ability to say things boldly and with resolve. I find myself in the mood to engage you with agreements and disagreements. It is difficult, of course, because you have been writing for awhile and I am just catching up on your post-evangelical thinking and discoveries.
Yes, you are right: Not to speak is to Speak. This is my first installment and hopefully I’ll get better at this as we go.
Although we have known each other for a long time, in reading your blogs I discovered how much I have missed in your journey. Yes “rose-colored” glasses can cause that, but no more.
Your journey has been far more rigorous than I had understood. The real trauma of the parting with your missions agency has especially been important to me. I cried when I read it.
However, at the heart of your comments, your views essentially dismiss God’s revelation in history; in biblical human experience; in the Bible specifically. Our view of truth is overwhelmingly important and we usually connect the ingredients of: reason, scientific method, philosophical presuppositions, experience, etc. We argue about truth, hoping to cement our ideas as solid, lasting, even righteous.
While my faith story parallels yours: growing up in a Bible believing family; Evangelical tradition; believing friends. It wasn’t until college that I began to investigate the basis of my faith.
But my major was history so as I met students who seemed to be knowledgeable and genuinely happy in their faith, I was challenged to look into the reliability of the New Testament. If what is recorded there, is an accurate depiction of Jesus’ sayings, then there could be a basis for following him. If not, wow!
The basis for my investigation was the three tests for truth, going back to the greek philosophers: 1) historic verifiability; 2) logical consistency; 3) existential relevance.
1) My time in the university library was short but intensive as I looked at biblical and extra-biblical historical evidence. Your blog “No, Jesus didn’t have to die for my sins” is contradicted by my findings. As the documents were found by me to be reliable, my reading indicated, not just a theory of the atonement, but a teaching of Jesus on forgiveness of sin.
2) The words of Jesus not only fascinated me, they progressively taught me how to live with myself and others. I found it consistent within its’ own context. The Bible is not just the most read and printed book in the world, because some ancient tribal peoples radically reimagined an Old Testament God and imputed ideas about Jesus to him (Peter Enns). Is God really only who we imagine him to be, because we are so ‘culture bound’?
3) My discovery was of a Jesus, whom I could know and follow. Receiving a new life has been an on-going event for 60 years now. As I left our recent conference in Bali, I visited an Indonesian church in Borneo and two Albanian Christian churches. These followers of Jesus live in overwhelmingly Muslim societies. Jesus is existentially relevant to them as they live out their faith in a savior who redeemed them from sin and gave them new life to share with all their neighbors. They believe that they were given a living word that is expressed in the Bible. They named their churches: The Church of God’s Word in Pontianak; The Art Hostel Church of the Word (Tirana); The Evangel Church of the Messiah (Pristina).
Yes, you are correct that their are many nominal Christian believers who do not live consistently as ‘followers of the living word’. But that’s simply true for the many, nominal believers in EVERY religion. I, for one, refuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
With great respect for you I should like to continue our exchange soon.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
Overall, I don’t really have any issues with what you’ve written. I find the person of Jesus very compelling, and I find truth in the Christian Bible.
Where we differ is that I do not thing that the Bible must be or should be taken literally or that in places where God is depicted with a character that is different than goodness, love, and mercy (aka like Jesus), it should be affirmed as a truth claim. I feel comfortable saying this because there are blatant, obvious untruths in the bible when it claims certain historical and scientific “facts.” So there is something “off” about those claims. I am comfortable with the truth that can be found in myth – something that modernity lost the ability to hold but tribal people still understand. I am comfortable with the idea of good God expressed in the Incarnation, but it makes no sense to say that Jesus is God but also believe a violent warring God that doesn’t forgive, delights in cruelty, and holds people accountable for the sins of others. God is like Jesus or Jesus isn’t God. You can’t have it both ways.
So all that to say, the Bible is in no way an authority in my opinion, though it is important and helpful in its own way. As someone who has spent a lot of time around illiterate people and understanding that they represent most Christians historically, I cannot believe that their faiths are less real or that they are less able to know God or discern truth than me or you. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd member of the trinity, not the Bible. But the modern (and especially American) church has forgotten that.
Finally, I want to make it really clear that this isn’t a “postmodern rejection of truth.” The opposite actually. Because I so deeply believe that there IS truth and so deeply seek to find it, I reject the notion that truth is held by modern evangelical Western Christians and their interpretation of a sacred book. What an incredibly arrogant thing to believe. I won’t ever be able to swallow a single religious system of belief because I believe God is way too big to be confined in one. That’s the very definition of a seeker, I think.