3 ways to handle people who are angry with the church
"Angry at the Church" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
I know this cartoon may be offensive to you. So I would like to pose the question: Why?
- What is it about it that is offensive?
- Why does it upset you?
- Are you uncomfortable with anger?
- Does disrespect for something you respect disturb you?
- Is this blasphemous? Heretical? Over the top?
- Are you uncomfortable with conflict?
I've received countless messages from people very uncomfortable with my critique of what's wrong with religion, Christianity, and the church. They don't know how to deal with it. But there are people this angry with the church. I meet this anger in others all the time. In fact, I've been angry with the church in the past.
Some are angry because they were tired of being manipulated and coerced. Some are angry because they suffered continued sexual abuse and even rape. And everything in between. Within the church.
But I try to help people work through it and not stay there. I learned how to do it. I help others do it too.
There are¬†a lot of people who are angry with the church. I'm friends with people who are so angry that they swear they will never darken the door of a church again. I know people who are furious with the church and have never darkened the door of a church yet. There are people in my life who have been so repeatedly abused by the church and its leaders that they have to spend a lot of time and energy working through their bitterness, resentment and anger. They don't want to stay livid. They want to move on. But for now they are angry. Very angry!
I'm convinced, through my own experience and through my own observations, that when people are allowed to express their anger, then they can move on to deal with it. This is called health. It is addressing the disease and its symptoms. I've seen it over and over again that when someone is given the space to process their very disturbing and offensive feelings, especially in the presence of compassionate support, they often work through to a healthy and happy state. Some even go back into the church and try again. It doesn't mean their experiences are glossed over, but they are processed and integrated.
They can remember the past without reliving it.
Have you read the post from a couple weeks ago, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology?
Read the comments! It will take you a long time. It is full of anger. I've received a lot of messages from people very uncomfortable
with it and asking me to do something about it. But I've also received a lot of messages from people thankful
¬†that there is a safe space for¬†people to¬†process their anger without fear of being edited or censored or even blocked. As a result‚ over 300 comments later... we are seeing people apologize to and forgive one another. People are moving on.
So what do you do when you encounter someone who is really angry with the church? In fact, maybe there's someone inside of you who's angry with the church. Yourself! You can use these principles on that person too.
Here are the three basic principles I use:
Don't manage them! Just listen to their story. There must be a reason why they are so angry. Let the wounds of their afflictions be lanced. Let them talk.
Don't allow your hangups to get in the way. Fears of blasphemy or profanity or losing faith. Being wrong. Disrespecting something holy. It's confession time when there are no restrictions.
Don't put a time limit on them. I've seen people feel better immediately after a raw, hot pouring out of anger. I've seen others take years to work it through. Trust the process. It works.
We might feel very uncomfortable in the presence of anger. We might get very disturbed by public displays of this anger, such as this cartoon illustrates. But it is real. It exists. How do we deal with it?
I've seen so many people who embrace their anger in a supportive environment work through to the other side where they are at peace. That's how.
Could you use a safe space to process your anger? Or do you know someone who would benefit from this? Consider joining The Lasting Supper, our online community.
*** the image is taken from, of course, the famous Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes.