Can Churches Be Healers of Church-Rooted Trauma? | Sojourners

Can Churches Be Healers of Church-Rooted Trauma?

Religious communities have a role to play — and a responsibility — in the journey of healing.
An illustration of Vietnamese climate activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong. She has blue and purple-dyed hair. In the background, a small earth and grassy field at sunrise is to the left, a forest river and waterfall above her, and fish in the sea to the right.
Hoang Hong, a Vietnamese climate activist, was arrested June 1, 2023, the fifth high-profile climate activist in two years to be charged with tax evasion in Vietnam. She remains in jail as of this writing. / Illustration by Hoan Phan

FOR MATTHIAS ROBERTS, and many others, growing up in the church was a traumatic experience. His childhood churches, he writes in our cover feature, were “filled with people who weren’t afraid to tell me I needed to become straight for God to save me from hell.” The effect of such “adverse religious experiences,” as Roberts explains, goes far beyond the immediate harm done to individuals in these settings and can linger deep into their adult lives. That trauma can be triggered by any church experience, even in a supposedly safe and affirming context — another reminder that what happens in any branch of the body of Christ affects the integrity and witness of the whole of the church.

Journalist Gabriel Pietrorazio writes about another kind of church-related trauma, that stemming from what Pope Francis called the “cultural destruction and forced assimilation” of residential schools, often church-run, that many Indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada were made to attend. While there isn’t a clear or easy map to healing for the survivors of religious trauma, one necessary component is the presence of a loving, compassionate community — it’s not a journey to be undertaken alone.

The cover for Sojourners' September/October 2023 issue, featuring a blue illustration of a woman praying. You can see tendrils of her nervous system glowing through her skin. She's surrounded by black bramble, stained glass windows, and a church building.
This appears in the September/October 2023 issue of Sojourners
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