Forgive, forget, or leave altogether. What are the options for someone when church hurt comes in like a flood and deeply impacts a believer? Whether a person is Black or white, COGIC, Pentecostal, Baptist, or something else altogether, emotions can run as high as the elaborate hats church mothers are known to wear while leaving a member feeling distraught and alone. In this two-part series, several metro Detroit church leaders and members reflect on the sometimes disastrous effects of church hurt. This is part one.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
The scripture Matthew 18:20 implores Christians to remember that when coming into fellowship with one another, congregants ought to not forget that God is also in the midst.
Church in the Black community is one of the many staples that keep friends and families close as week after week they gather in the house of the Lord and worship God while leaving their troubles just beyond the stained-glass church doors.
Yet, sometimes the enemy still creeps in to cause distraction, confusion and conflict because as many know, the devil, too, goes to the church house on Sundays.
On March 29, 2021, among Black adults (who identify as Christian and non-Christian alike) 29 percent attended Black places of worship. Nationwide statistics also note that most Black Americans like to worship in racially diverse religious spaces.
For those that consistently attend church, how does a saint respond to a perceived sinner who is blocking their blessing intentionally or not?
Whether church hurt happens in the pews, the pulpit, or from simple misunderstandings (or even doctrinal ones) can people recover and restore relationships as the Bible says or leave the church altogether due to deep hurt?
Plummer-Thompson told the Michigan Chronicle that the “taboo topic” of church hurt is something she defines as spiritual or emotional trauma caused by people who consider themselves Christians in the institution of the church.
“We know it [the church] is made up of the people and not the four walls necessarily,” Plummer-Thompson said. “When we say church hurt, we are talking about the people and leadership of the people … caused by spiritual manipulation.”
Plummer-Thompson said she was born into the Church of God in Christ, which is a Holiness-Pentecostal Christian denomination and her mother and father were pastors.
“Growing up in church I’ve witnessed a lot of hypocrisy, backstabbing and I’ve always had questions about things,” Plummer-Thompson said. “In the Bible [and] Christianity as a whole we are kind of taught you don’t ask questions. It is what it is.”
Plummer-Thompson said that as an adult attending the Novi church for a decade, she experienced church hurt after posting on Facebook concerns she had about protecting her Black sons after Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. Eventually, she was called into the church office and asked to not post on those kinds of topics. Later they made a policy that states church members are not allowed to speak publicly about race at all.
“It became an issue with me speaking on race issues,” she said adding that she sang in the choir and people were upset about her postings because they felt she was representing the church in a negative light. “I am a Black woman and always will speak out for my people and protect my sons in this crazy world we live in.”
She has since left the church and now, in the last five years, Plummer-Thompson has not attended any church and doesn’t know if she ever will.
“I don’t know if you really ever recover – I feel like it is a healing journey,” she said. “In my case when you are in white spaces decolonizing the whitewashed Christianity…it’s a lot.”
The Church of The New Covenant Baptist of Detroit Pastor Brian Ellison told the Michigan Chronicle that all churches can cause hurt, not just the Black church.
“You have churches with these ultra-conservative politics that is problematic too,” he said, adding that everyone is “precious in His sight” as God’s children, and everyone should be treated the same.
“It needs to be said … God is the Son I [have] a ‘son right’ but I’m not the only ‘son right,’” Ellison said of being fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord with spiritual birthright-type privileges entitled to everyone who is a Christian.
He added that religiosity takes a turn when people say who belongs, and doesn’t belong, in the church.
“[That is] not the place of religion,” Elisson said adding that church hurt happens when one’s expectations for the church are not realized or the church community is “not reciprocating.”
He also said that he pastors a church where he shepherds some people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and some of his peers are preaching what he feels is their interpretation of the Bible.
“Most churches growing are fundamentalist,” Ellison said. “As a progressive pastor, a liberal, that is scary.”
Detroit millennial William Huddleston told the Michigan Chronicle that he has a family history attending a Black megachurch in Detroit and said that his experience with church hurt has to do with a lot of misunderstandings in part where the congregation looks to church officials as next to Jesus and faultless with the hypocritical expectation that the congregation should be perfect, which creates a negative ripple effect.
“I notice how other members perceive certain situations through a particular lens through their church hurt,” Huddleston. “Misery loves company and … I think trauma breeds trauma. Some people have negative experiences and feed those to other people.”
He added that while his church family is like a second family to him, he had to take a step back and assess things.
“I was a son of these people and understanding both sides is like it’s a matter of a lack of empathy from either end,” Huddleston said.
Rev. Kevin L. Harris, a senior pastor at Nazarene Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, told the Michigan Chronicle that some people’s participation in church is a “last-ditch effort” to find peace in their life yet they might be causing unintentional chaos in the church.
“When they’re mistreated … it can be devastating to a fragile soul,” he said. “The combination of unrealistic expectations in leadership, along with being mistreated can be difficult to work through. That’s why it’s extremely important for ministries to operate with love and wisdom.”
He said that focusing on God is the only way out.
“We need to always direct people’s attention to find peace in God and not man,” he said. “Even those in church leadership have human frailties and blind spots; sometimes careless and intentional, sometimes not.”