Trauma-Induced Theology (Part 1)

These days I spend a good bit of time thinking about what I might call “trauma-induced theology”. I use this term to speak of how our trauma – both past and current – has deeply informed our understanding of God, as well as the church.

Many have either engaged in or know others who are, or have been, deconstructing and de-converting from the Christian faith. For many, this is primarily due to the spiritual abuse and trauma they have experienced, whether in the church, at home, in another religious institution, or perhaps all of the above.

I understand the journey many are traversing. I walked my own theological deconstruction path some years ago when living in Belgium. I began reading differing viewpoints and particularly those who were not of a more reformed or charismatic ilk, my specific background. And that broad reading has continued up to today. I’ve read mainline Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Arminians, Open Theists, universalists, progressives, and more.

For me, the process of deconstruction actually led to what I might call a more holistic faith. In all, I began to appreciate and embrace a much more mystical side of God and this faith journey we are on. This path was difficult for me to travel as a left-brained, theologically-trained academician. And I can still feel the cognitive dissonance at times as I butt up against confusing and competing ideas. Yet, through it all, I realized I couldn’t “control” theology – or really I couldn’t control the Divine. That may be the most difficult part as a recovering controloholic. But I’ve also found it the most liberating path.

I have friends who have left the faith, are hanging on to the faith by a thread, or have hunkered down at home having given up on any expression of the church. I lament the abandonment of the faith and church, or the chucking out the baby and the bath water when it comes to certain tenets I believe essential to the Christian path.

But I wouldn’t expect anything less in this day.

Why would I say such?

Because of all the garbage that was practiced by those who’ve gone before us. Exploitation, misogyny, racism, power moves, oppression, mistreatment of the LGBTQ community, as well as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse from leaders. Not all engaged in this, of course. But, overall, the church of America and the West did (and still do). Millennials and Gen Z’s watched their forefathers and foremothers live this horrendous expression of “Christianity”.

Something has to give at some point, right? There has to be an implosion of some sort. The trauma has surfaced, and has now hit the magnitude of a tidal wave.

I have compassion for many of these folk who are deconstructing and deconverting.

This is trauma-induced theology, which can many times fuel our trauma-induced reactions.

We all have trauma-induced theology – you, me, your pastor, my pastor, everyone. Yes, even pastors!

I’ve been a Christian for twenty-five years now and I’m still recovering from a deeply faulty image of God. I also know I will never have a perfected, nor even a near perfect, view of the Divine, though I still would love to build such. It’s been a long journey of healing. And, some of what I thought was healed years ago, I now look back on it and wonder if it was genuinely healing, especially with what I know today. Some of it wasn’t good back then; some of it was.

I think our first step in healing is awareness. We must be aware that, in some form or fashion, our understanding of God, church, and life has been informed through our trauma, both the horrific and small stuff.

But what do we do with this trauma?

Take some time to be, to listen, to journal.

Jot down some thoughts as you think about the painful situations you have walked through and how that has shaped and formed you, and your view of God. It isn’t a quick fix. It isn’t the answer. Though I wish it were. Yet, it can be small step on the journey toward the wholeness for which we long.

We have to be aware before can then move toward how we can receive healing.

2 thoughts on “Trauma-Induced Theology (Part 1)

  1. I met you many years ago on the airport when you were living in Belgium. Being an older generation I find your articles and reading very interesting. It is not just the younger generations asking questions but those who have gone before and have been subject to many of the abusive practices under the auspice of Christianity/religion. My journey of discovering the Divine and having a personal relationship of faith has been traumatic but powerful and liberating. Thanks for your articles.

    • Thank you for your comment, Hazel. I do remember you. Yes, this is not just a younger generation reality. I think it may be more difficult for those who’ve gone before us to face the trauma, abuse, and fall-out from it all. I am glad you have been able to come through much of the trauma you have experienced. ❤️

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