Betrayal, Denial and Church People: You need a reality check.

Betrayal. There is nothing that can seize sleep from the night like re-living each strand in the web of betrayal. To some degree, all of us lose oxygen from the sucker punch of opposition dealt from unexpected sources: friends, spouses, co-workers, and even fellow church people. What if even your own leadership at church betrays you? It can and will happen. Are you ready for it?

Lowering expectations to reality walks closely to the line of negativity, cynicism, and defeatism. But, it is a far better choice than denial–the drug we spiritualize as faith-ridden patience. We are addicted to our passive aggressive tendencies, duped into the more “spiritual” choice the humble-yet-forgetful servant employs. Betrayal then turns from what is happening on the outside of us to something we do to ourselves. After all, it is spiritual to suffer for Christ, right? So, why not bring it on yourself to yourself.

Gossip stings, and the words spoken cannot be retrieved. The art of denial is that we then move from self-betrayal to perpetrators of it to our own kin. The addiction is an insidious infection. We are all capable of living in this state of spiritual immaturity–one that denies dignity to people as we use them to further construct our false world. Or, we become so out of touch that we act as zombies devouring the next person in our wake.

If we are to survive and thrive in the Christian community, we must learn to confront the “spiritual” bullies in our lives. And, that means a mirror check, too. Here are several ways to map a successful path. What do we all need? Put expectations to reality. Here is the reality check.

EXPECT TO SUFFER FROM YOUR OWN TRIBE.

Christians, even your closest friends and even yourself, are capable of hurting and wounding your brothers and sisters. In fact, count on all of the above. The solution is to not manage this by escaping it through denial. Why be hit in the same place more than twice? Forgiveness is free while trust is earned. The reality is that you can forgive a person, but you don’t have to be anywhere near them if they are threat. It is still loving a person if keeping them at bay prevents damage to you. However painful this reality is, you have to realize that suffering from your own tribe is a given.

EXPECT LEADERSHIP TO RAISE THE STAKES.

Leaders, those of us who are clergy or in spiritually influential circles, can both hurt others more deeply as well as become greater targets. These two things are not mutually exclusive which is a hard reality to resolve for both those that are in positions and those that follow. What often happens is the preemptive strike. A dangerous thought arrives: “If I’m going to be hurt badly as a leader, I might as well take out those that are threats.” Instead of paranoia, the more mature thing is to invite critics that actually help you. It is better to see yourself for who you are from a friendly source. After all, you are human, leader. You bleed.

EXPECT TIME TO HEAL.

Denial says that “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” so I can jump off a cliff. We speak such words of betrayal to each other when we are most down because the reality that we might be taken out for a season because of wounds is not acceptable. If this person is your star volunteer leader, you might keep her leading a class while she heals from dealing with a divorce. Yes, we need to keep active. But, if we are wounded we need to be agents of healing not taskmasters who squeeze life out of each other. When we suffer, sometimes it is too embarrassing to admit the depth of the pain. Reality says we need space to heal. Leaders, we are especially faulty in this matter. It takes a real man or woman of God to declare their need for God. Remember, our gifts don’t compensate for the needs of our heart and soul and body.

EXPECT YOUR FAITH TO BE TESTED.

Doubt of your worth, God’s presence, and of all that you have been doing in your life creeps in when betrayed. The reality of God when emotionally wounded causes us to feel so far from him yet creates an opportunity for faith. This is not the faith that declares reality does not to exist. It is a faith that proclaims inwardly and outwardly the reality of our kinship to Jesus, the Sovereignty of God, and the constant empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. These become more real when we shun denial, and embrace our creed. No matter how long you have walked with God, a thing like betrayal will rattle your faith.

EXPECT NEW THINGS TO COME.

Denial keeps us focused on what happened, not what could be. Being ostracized is so painful, that dreams are shattered–or so it may seem. The fire of betrayal’s pain may be the very thing God uses to propel you to something bigger than you had the space to see. But, you will not see it without the pruning any pain brings to our lives. You can either re-run painful scenes in your head, or you can choose to dream about possibilities. Nothing good is birthed by ease. No woman welcomes birth pangs, but the goal of the child is greater than the thought of the pain.

In summary, betrayal is exactly what Jesus faced, even from those closest to him. During Holy Week we recount Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the kiss of Judas. We remember that at the cross the ambitiously valiant Sons of Thunder cowered in hiding. What few knew at these moments was that the suffering of the cross would bring new things. New life. A new beginning. I am praying and claiming for all of us these things this season. May the Lord of Peace be with you.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

18 comments

  1. Thanks you for ministering to me. Your message is most timely in my life right now. God Bless.

  2. My, at the time, 19 yo son attempted suicide after being ‘disciplined’ by our church for unfounded accusations. He was banned from attending any activities or being in the building other than for two services a week. As Christians our entire lives had revolved around doing good, first to the family of God, then to others and this was apparent by the many hours and capacities in which we served. We loved the church family. This was not the cause of devastation however. As we drew alongside the leaders to correct our son’s short-comings their story became convoluted, inconsistent and incompatible with biblical teachings and we found that there were multiple casualties amongst the congregation from the same style of abrupt, disproportionate and unfounded discipline. (The church has several thousand members and multiple activities each day.) The initial response when we asked what had happened was that they ie the leaders, had done nothing illegal. (We had not even thought of it from that avenue, never mind mentioned this!) It was the ongoing pattern of unbiblical and unjust behaviour which caused concern and the leaders’ unwillingness to meet with a christian mediator not affiliated with the church which created an impass towards reconciliation. The leaders insisted that nothing could be done until my son admitted to the accusations which he insists he did not commit and for which there is no clear indication as to whether or not he did. They also left off saying that the ball was in my court in initiating any conversation. We had started out hopeful our conversations would resolve things. That changed as the agony of watching my son fall apart, as well as an ongoing unraveling of our lives which had once been founded on serving others, has not lessened over time. I now completely lack confidence and courage to approach them. Our life had been built around the church family and we have not been able to recreate stability since then. I am alarmed at the anger, bitterness and desire to air all the scandalous, dirty details. The result of the behaviours, according to a professional is post traumatic stress disorder our energy is in trying to hold ourselves together and none of the members of the family are doing well. There is nothing left over to try and resolve things with the church.

    1. I am so sorry for the pain and hurt you and your family have endured. Truly, there is nothing like recovering from wounds inflicted by your own family. God never intended this! Please hear this: No matter what the hurt, the betrayal, or the pain God wants to restore you…especially to himself!

      Your identity is not in how you serve, or in what certain people claim. God is not the church. He did not do this to you. You have a right to be alarmed and angered at the injustices leaders and a culture of leadership used to abuse you and your family. But, that is not the end of the story!

      The point of my post is to raise a conversation about the reality of betrayal and hurt in a way that has the community, the perpetrators, and even the victim learn to move forward.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to respond Rick. My identity was in Christ. My actions (in serving others) was an irrepressible response of my absolute adoration and confidence in him. Since posting here I have read others’ stories which resonate with mine and this has been surprisingly reassuring to me. You may find the information at the links listed here http://www.abuseresourcenetwork.com/category/spiritual-abuse/ helps to continue your very much needed conversation. Because the stories resonated with ours, I had to take another look at the ugly words they were using to label the leaders’ behaviour. Thanks for taking on such a difficult and important conversation and allowing me a voice. I do want to be able to forgive, perhaps your post will have played a part in that.

    1. I’m humbled to read your words. God will redeem, even though scars remain!

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