Friday, June 5, 2015

How to Help People Who Have Been Hurt at Church

A friend of mine has had some really bad experiences at church.  It has been difficult for him to continue to attend in the midst of those experiences, and he spent quite a while being angry about them.  He asked me once what I would suggest to local leaders if I had the chance to talk with them about situations like his.

The following is what I said or would say to them: 

Let them be angry - but don't do anything to encourage continued anger - and do everything possible to soothe the anger - and don't seem condescending to those who are angry - but don't appear unfeeling either - and make our history accessible in all its messiness - but don't apologize for everything, since many things need understanding not apologies - but apologize for those things that really were beyond the pail with no reasonable excuse - and distinguish between those things clearly enough for people to realize you aren't trying to justify or hide but sincerely trying to strike the right balance - etc., etc., etc.

I don't mean that to be snarky, but I do mean to make a point that is important to me:

This is not an easy task, and the person who has been harmed can make it much harder by demanding detailed actions that are exactly what he would love to see - and demanding that they happen all at once - and not seeing or respecting what is being done or the sincere efforts extended on his behalf.

My summary request would be quite simple:

Recognize what has caused and is causing pain, including listening carefully to the concerns and complaints of those who have been hurt, and try to act in a way that lessens and/or eliminates that pain.

Frankly, I see that happening at the topmost level recently on a regular basis and in multiple ways. Yes, there are plenty of areas that remain to be addressed, but our part of the request is patience - and recognizing and accepting the current sincere efforts, and extending the attitude we request.

Unfortunately, it will take time for the water to get to the end of all the local rows - and that is the most painful aspect for many people.

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