What do you do if you suspect that you belong to an abusive or toxic church? Firstly, it is important to speak about your concerns or questions. Gather supports around you; seek out a trusted Christian brother or sister outside of the community and ask their opinion. If there is a denominational structure to your community, seek out a higher authority, and ask whether your experiencing is true doctrine and practice. Be open about your church’s practices, leadership, and teaching.
Speaking openly about your experience is important because abuse thrives in secrecy. The traits of an abusive community are all designed to stop the individual from talking about, or questioning, toxic and destructive behaviors. The best way to dethrone the power of an abusive church is to bring its destructive patterns to the light.
Secondly, if you believe you belong to an abusive church, it is important for you to remove yourself from the community. Leaving a community is never easy. Such a decision will always be emotional. However, God never calls us into an abusive community. God never desires you to be ridiculed, judged, or condemned. Such things work against the grain of the Holy Spirit. God’s desire for you is to be spiritually healthy, happy, and whole.
Abusive communities directly contradict Christ’s call to love. The Christian church is called to be a body of love, healing, and reconciliation. As the body of Christ, we are commanded to “bear one another in love, forgiving as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13), and to continually “encourage one another towards love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:25). As Christians, we are called to live out that which we have received from our Savior. We love as we have been loved. We forgive as we have been forgiven. We are gracious just as He is gracious. This is Christ’s vision of his body, the church, and it is this that Christ desires us to experience within it.
If you are experiencing abuse of any kind, please reach out to your local authorities or call the local helpline. People are willing, and waiting, to help.
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life.