How Pastors Foster Abuse

How Pastors Foster Abuse May 10, 2022

Only in the past 100 years have we begun to truly understand how humans work. Up until this point, it was believed that there was a devil out there and demons that couldn’t harm us. It was the best way people could devise to understand the turmoil or trauma that they felt.

Religion gladly adopted this theory because it worked well for their mission to save the world. But, now we know that trauma produces shadow in us that must be addressed. It can’t be bypassed as a demon that needs to be cast out or removed. It is a part of us and needs to be felt.

I was a pastor for 20 years. During that time the best thing I could do was stuff down the things that I had to deal with. Pastors generally express their grief as, “Who can I tell?”

So this is the starting point of the discussion. For most of the church’s history, we have ordained special men and women to be the primary leaders of the church.  My assumption is that most of them deal with trauma and many have genuine mental illnesses that go unaddressed because either they are looking for a magic spiritual cure or they are simply bypassing and ignoring it, hoping it will go away.

People arrive at the church doors wounded and carrying their trauma with them. They hope the church can help them – the church wants to help them – but, often the church makes it worse.

Once a church attains any size, it becomes an organization. Once the church is an organization, then the needs of the organization come first.  Everyone thinks their church is an exception to this, but it’s true. Most of the money and time and energy is devoted to salaries, building upkeep, and putting on the show each week.

A codependent relationship is nurtured between the pastor and parishioner.  The pastor needs to be affirmed because of his/her own unaddressed trauma.  The parishioner wants to feel good, and the service is designed to make them feel good. It is practiced, focused, and performed to accomplish that.

People feel better when they go to church, but that feeling fades on Monday and they dream about going back next week.  It’s a low grade addiction for both parties that is exploited.

Of course, the problem is that there’s very little time left to address personal issues. It takes a lot of energy and time and money to keep the organization moving.   Financially, it takes about 70% of the money for salaries, building upkeep and putting on the show.  But as for energy, it takes everything we’ve got.

There is very little tolerance for questions or certainly for something anything that sounds like a challenge to the “authority” of the church.  Creeds are recited, people are confirmed in their beliefs before they can form their own opinion, and a steady drum beat of indoctrination takes place every Sunday morning, whether we admit it or not. Sometimes we brag about it.

Many of my ex-pastor friends now see the church as generally abusive as an organization. The pastor that keeps this ship sailing in a consistent direction has no choice but to participate in this ritualistic abuse.

Like I may have said before, that was not their intention, but it happens nonetheless.

With the advent of the internet, most of the services of the church like teaching, worship, sacraments, and small groups can be done somewhere else without the need for an organization or the cost or professional clergy.

Add to all of this the increasing instance of outright abuse of children, youth and adults that is rampant in the church, and it seems like it is time to raise a big huge flag and say enough is enough!  Not only are people not getting better in church, they are being abused and that abuse is being bypassed.

It’s time for a reformation, and it can’t come from within the church.  It is almost impossible to move a piece of furniture within the church, much less totally revolutionize it from the inside.  You can’t remodel a house while you’re still living in it.  It has to be abandoned for a time, so that we can see it. objectively and totally rebuild.

I proposed to take a year off, which is now closer to 3 years. I’ve never been happier. I have healed much of my trauma and I find plenty of community and support in my own community and in my online community.

We can do this and I believe we will do it one way or another. Either we deconstruct the church or the church will fail under the weight of us own trauma.

Be where you are, be who you are,

Karl Forehand


Order Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!

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