Tag Archives: Post Traumatic Church Disorder

Religious Trauma and the Binding of Isaac

13 Jul

I have featured Julia’s work, and recently came across this on her blog regarding the Sacrifice of Abraham.

“Deceived, tied up, and held at knife-point — all by his own father? Because God said so? Talk about traumatic!” an older lady exclaimed.

Here is the blog post.

I stopped reading the story of Abraham’s sacrifice to my children when they are younger.  My first born was shaking after I read him the story from a Bible story book, and he still asks me if I would ever kill him if God asked me to do it.  There are many stories in the Old Testament for which a young child is not ready to understand from a developmental point of view.

Julia makes the beautiful point that even when “God provides” during or following trauma – it does not cease to be traumatic.  The trauma still affects the individual – often in painful ways.

I have suffered religious trauma.  I am a victim of spiritual abuse, and struggle with something that I call – “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder.”

You can read more about my own story here.

Julia makes a beautiful point when she states,

It’s hard for the hurt and the hope to coexist. But I think that’s what the story of the binding of Isaac, and the story of any religious trauma, has to tell. It’s not an easy story. But it’s a good one.

Julia Powers is a writer and seminary student at Duke University Divinity School, where she is pursuing the M.Div. degree with certificate in Anglican Studies. Her primary professional interests revolve around pastoral care & counseling, spiritual formation, and young adult ministries. For fun, she enjoys blogging (www.juliapowersblog.com), dabbling in iPhone app development (www.emojicheck.com), reading, and spending time with friends and family.

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Be Not Afraid – A word to those hurt by the church

26 Jul

This article is part of a series that I have written on PTCD called Post Traumatic Church Disorder.  If you want to read the series, please search on the site using the abbreviation – PTCD.


This is the most repeated commandment in the Bible.  It was spoken to Joshua as he was about to enter the promise land.  It was spoken by the angel to Mary as God’s plan was revealed to her.  It was spoken to the disciples in the midst of the storm.

A commandment that we as frail humans need to hear.  Maybe because a relationship with God is built upon faith, and fractured by fear.

FEAR from Flickr via Wylio

© 2011 amboo who?, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Fear has always come between humans and God.

It was fear that drove Adam and Eve to hide in the garden.  It was fear that caused the disciples to scatter.  It is fear that drives us to endless diversions to escape the reality of our world.

When it comes to PTCD, we are frozen by fear.  We fear those who claim spiritual authority.  We fear the Bible because of how it had been used against us.  We fear anything that reflects our past trauma as it may subject us to flashbacks that return us to our place of abuse.

God commands us to not fear.  Fear is instinctual when faced with the unknown. 

As a child, I awoke from a late afternoon nap to find myself alone in a dark house.  Muffled voices emerged from somewhere outside the house.  A fire blazed in the darkness.  I became afraid, and did what any normal child would do.

I grabbed a flyswatter and ran to the front porch.  (Okay, so maybe I wasn’t quite normal.)

Once there, I huddled down in the darkness waiting for something to happen.  Something bad.  Apparently something – that I could overcome with my tightly-gripped flyswatter.

In my fear, I didn’t see any other options.

I could have turned on some lights.  I could have pushed away fear to realize that the spooky house was still my home.  I could have overcome my emotions to realize that the voices were strangely familiar.

In the midst of your fear, there are other options.

You may not see them.  You may need someone to see them for you.  You may need someone to talk you through them.  You may need someone to hold your hand.

Faith from Flickr via Wylio

© 2012 Eric Eberhard, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

These options require faith.

In the darkness, I can reach for a light.  In my panic, I may recognize the voice.  In my isolation, I can find those who care.  I can exchange my frozen fetal position into a bold, running embrace.

For this is the life of faith.

Be Strong and Courage.  Do Not Be Afraid for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you will go.                                                                                                                                                  Joshua 1:9

What I am Listening To – Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

17 May

The last several weeks, I have made some huge transitions in life by moving across the nation and changing jobs.  This has greatly affected the time that I have to write and post.  However, I am not done, and I have plenty of material that I have been producing.  EA Resources has also hired a staff member to help me keep up with the work, but I will share more about that in a later post.

I have been sharing some posts for those who have been severely hurt by the church.  I use the expression PTCD (post traumatic church disorder) to describe those who have so wounded by the church that it qualifies as a traumatic experience.

I am a survivor of PTCD.  This week, I wanted to post a link to a song that has given me great hope and encouragement through this journey.

Danny Gokey is the artist, and you can check it out here.brian gokey


The Wounded’s Mite

29 Mar

This post is part of a series of writings on spiritual abuse which I describe as PTCD which stands for Post-Traumatic Church Disorder.  For more articles on this topic, please search for the tag PTCD on my website.  

Photo courtesy of Aaron Robert Photography. Copyright 2014. http://www.aaronrobertphotography.com

Every Sunday, I used to sit up front. I wanted to be up close, in the action, and able to absorb everything.  Being fully engaged used to be so easy, and came so naturally.  It didn’t really cost me much.  It was actually quite enjoyable.

Then my life was changed.  A new weather pattern entered my world with raging winds and pouring rain.  A period of darkness interrupted only by the flashes of lightning.  In its wake, I was left spiritually wounded and scarred forever.

Now my front row seat is empty.  As I enter the church, I slide into a back row hoping not to be noticed.  I may or may not sing.  I will certainly not greet those around me.

Others watching may judge my mood and posture.  The ushers may be frustrated that I refuse to move into the center of the row.  My neighbors might be put off by the fact that I didn’t greet them with a smile and hearty handshake.

They do not understand.

They do not know the sacrifice it is for me to walk through the door of a church, or the struggle to be in a room crowded with Christians. They cannot see my emotional turmoil as music about God’s love fills the room.  They do not comprehend the inner fear as someone on a stage claims they speak with God’s authority.

I am thankful for all those who are singing, and speaking, and greeting.  I am not cynical towards your actions – for I was once one of you.  May you worship from the overflow of your life.  May God see your sacrifice, and be pleased.  I am not down-playing or judging your hearts.

I am only sharing a different story – my story.  A story that I do not own, but one which I share with thousands of nameless victims.  A story written and planned by God.  He knows my silent tears, He sees my down-turned face, and hears my wordless prayers.

As others watch, what I give at church may not appear to be my best.

He, however, knows the amount of my sacrifice.

Small, but costly – it is my mite.


Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.

Luke 21: 3, 4


David - Prof 2Dr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to provide resources to parents and churches who minister to emerging adults.

Becoming a Soul Survivor: Learning from fellow-survivor, Philip Yancey

23 Mar

“I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.” (Yancey, 1) 

Solemn words from one of the best-selling Christian authors.  Yancey is the author of several thought-provoking books such as What’s So Amazing About Grace, and The Jesus I Never Knew.  I want you to read them again.

“I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.” (Yancey, 1)

At one point in my life, I would have been irritated by these words – connecting them to the bitter, cynical, or irreligious.  Today, I however, find his statement interwoven into my story.  My journey of recovery is not as long as his, but for several years I have been on a journey to find healing from church abuse [I describe it as – PTCD or Post-Traumatic Church Disorder].

My desire to spiritually survive drove me to read this book.   Each chapter reflects upon an influential person in our world history, and how he/she inspired Yancey to deeper faith.  The list of inspiring Christians include:  Martin Luther King Jr, G. K. Chesterton, Paul Brand, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, and others.  While, I wish that Yancey had spent more time discussing his own journey and recovery, it was a great read.  Each chapter made me want to spend my life researching and drinking from the spiritual overflow of their walks with God.

While reading, I realized four things you must know in order to survive the church.

1.  You are not alone.

Tired Man Sitting on Bed from Flickr via Wylio

© 2008 Mic445, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The authors of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse describes the isolation of those affected by spiritual abuse,  “since most have had so much pressure to not talk about their experience, they feel alone, even crazy.”  (Johnson and Van Vonderen, 40)  In the midst of my deepest hurt, I was threatened and shamed into silence.  When you are forced to ignore your pain, and receive no affirmation that it even exists, you begin to wonder if you have lost all sense of reality.  As a fellow-traveler, Yancey’s presence inspires me to press forward.



2.  People inside the church act no different than those outside.

Part of my childhood church culture included a fear of outsiders, and naive trust towards insiders.  Yancey says, “As I think about individual Christians I know, I see some people made incomparably better by their faith, and some made measurably worse.”  (120)  Those outside our community were sinners. Their hearts were darkened.  Their minds polluted.  They could do no good.  They were heathen.  While I still hold to the depravity of mankind and gospel’s power to change lives, these concepts developed an unhealthy mistrust outside the church.  When I developed my first friendship with a non-religious person, I remember wondering, “How is he so nice?”  We must understand that the affects of sin are located within and outside the church.

3.  God and the church are separate.

© 2014 Alachua County, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Yancey says that while seeking healing, he “began the lifelong process of separating church from God.” (45)  I had never experienced God outside of the church.  I grew up within the church, and attended a religious school.  As a pastor, my life had been completely interwoven with the organized church.  This book showed me that there are aspects of any religious community that are unhealthy, and need to be stripped away in order to better see God.  Yancey said it was a lifelong process.  I hope he is wrong, but I fear he is not.

4.  God is with me – still.

Rejection by a church leader, board, or community does not mean God’s rejection.  Their words do not equal God’s.  As we separate the words and actions of a church from God, we can begin to rediscover God’s love, and displace the anger that grips us.  The journey of healing from spiritual abuse can be difficult and is ridden with potholes of emotions and bandits of faith.

Remember He is with you in the darkest of times – as our source of Light, providing hope.

David - Prof 2Dr. G. David Boyd is a survivor of church abuse, and yet dedicated to equipping and serving the Body of Christ.  He is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip churches and parents to understand emerging adulthood.

Beyond the Broken Church – Sarah Cunningham

15 Mar

old churchThe church is broken – not due to a design flaw, but through the use of faulty material.  The church is broken because it is ridden with pockets of sinful human nature.  As the church attacks and wounds its own, the impact and cultural influence of this sacred institution dwindles.  In Beyond the Broken Church, Cunningham attempts to reach the heart of those hurt by the church and encourage them in their healing journey.

Call me naïve.

I never imagined being hurt by the church.  When reading statistics about pastors who leave the ministry or people who leave the church, I knew I was the exception.  My love for Her unyielding, and without boundaries.  Maybe that is why healing has been so difficult.

Cunningham says, “That the people experiencing fierce emotion about the state of the church are the ones most invested in the church for the long run.” (Cunningham, 106)  I was naïve because as the author shares… “Everyone who is vested in the church, everyone who is serious about devoting his or her energies to advancing a local faith community, will at some point, to some extent, experience disillusionment.  It is not an if; it is a when.” (26)

The number of those hurt by the church is larger than we want to acknowledge.  In the book Church Refugees, Packard and Hope write the “story of what happens when an organization invests in training and discipling scores of people and yet does very little to retain them or reengage them when they leave.  (Packard and Hope, 11)  Cunningham writes that, “A multigenerational group of exhausted, depleted, and often jaded former church attendees can be seen wandering in the cloudy landscape just outside the church’s doors.” (Cunningham, 9)

Our inability to rehabilitate and restore those hurt by the church is fueling the megachurch movement.  Driven by a love for Jesus they force themselves through the doors, but hide among the throng of people desiring their tears during worship will not be noticed, and hoping to no longer hurt. 

Healing is a journey, and I believe Sarah’s book can help you take a step. David - Prof 2

(This is part of a series on spiritual abuse or as I call it – Post Traumatic Church Disorder.  Please share with those you know who have been hurt by the church.  If you have a church survival story, please let me know.)

Dr. G. David Boyd is the Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit designed to equip parents and churches to understand emerging adults.  If you would like to support our work and research, please go here.


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