For all the good religion does -- the healing, the guidance toward wholeness, the moral foundations it builds, the charity, the respect, the love -- sometimes it also wounds people.
The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt felt wounded by the way members of her family and others misused the conservative Christian religion of her childhood to justify abuse, patriarchal dominance and other terrors. Her road to recovery has been slow and difficult, but finally she is able to share her story in her new book, Healing Spiritual Wounds: Reconnecting with a Loving God After Experiencing a Hurtful Church.
Although no one's story is the same as another person's, anyone who has felt injured by a faith community can find light, help and sustenance in this frank, insightful book.
After her own difficult childhood with a harsh father who relied on twisted readings of scripture to maintain abusive dominance in the family, Merritt, now a Presbyterian pastor, eventually began to find her way to spiritual wholeness, all the while noticing how many other people were on that same path:
"The wounds were easy to see. . .They were people with the sort of trauma that comes when your injuries are wrapped up in the condemnation of the soul, the shunning of families, or the shaming of flesh. . .It was staggering to see what people suffered in the name of God. Many sought a cure for their spiritual wounds."
Merritt's own path to recovery through re-envisioning God as loving and not obsessed by the punishment sinners deserved may not be everyone's way to find a new road, but it is enlightening and instructive, as is her own story of growing up in a spiritually pinched, harsh family and church environment.
"Religious wounding," she writes, "occurs when people and communities violate the love of God, self, and neighbor. . .For instance, when we fashion a vengeful God who demands eternal torture, we desecrate the love of God. Or when we think that we must hate our gay neighbor in order to love God, then we partake in religious wounding. Or when we imagine that we ought to allow ourselves to be abused in order to love God, then we transgress the laws of love."
Merritt's understanding about how humans grasp even the concept of God is revealing and useful: ". . .when we describe God, we are always using imperfect words and metaphors constructed by humans. We're like toddlers, trying to fit syllables around a concept so large that our mouths can hardly utter them. Every time we talk about God, we attempt to know the unknowable." (It's a point I try to make in my own new book, The Value of Doubt.)
So when we hear people speak about God in rigid, know-it-all ways, we can be pretty sure that someone is going to get hurt.
When we are spiritually wounded, Merritt writes, we often feel that "God was behind what wounded us. So the first step in spiritual healing is to learn to love God by separating God from our experience of being wounded." In other words, she argues, it wasn't God who hurt us but people with a twisted sense of who God is.
This is an intentionally Christian book, but its lessons are helpful for people from any faith tradition who have been pierced by the many available ways religion can be -- and often is -- abused.
By the way, among the things you can find about and by Merritt when you click on the link I've put on her name above is her blog. I recommend it. Well, not instead of reading mine, but as a complimentary voice.
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A REASON TO CHEER TRUMP
Good for President Trump for deciding -- against the wishes of Christian conservatives -- to keep Randy Berry as special envoy for the rights of LGBTI persons. As the story to which I've linked you reports, the Obama administration created Berry’s position in 2014 "to support efforts abroad to protect gay people from violence and death." Naturally, such folks as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, think Trump's decision is a disaster and, to use one of Trump's favorite words, sad. But it's nice to see the president taking the right stand on this.