Forum on Spiritual Trauma
November 2, 2021 / Beth Broom and Josh Sercey
Over the last decade, the church has slowly awakened to the reality, impact, and devastation of trauma. However, there is one form of trauma that seems most elusive for the church to identify: spiritual trauma. But the difficulty in identifying it doesn’t change the painful experiences many Christians have endured under the guise of Christian leadership.
Here at Icon, we want to be a gracious, accommodating, and healing voice for those in our city who have endured such trauma. Because of that, we hosted a forum to unpack what spiritual trauma is, how to identify it in your own story, and how to begin the healing process.
This event included a two-part teaching: Part one was from Beth Broom, a Trauma Specialist LPC. Part 2 was taught by Lead Pastor, Josh Sercey. Josh and Beth then partnered to conduct an audience Q&A session.
Note: Due to copyright considerations, the first teaching by Beth Broom is available by request only. Please email email@example.com for the link to the audio recording. The following recording includes only the teaching from Joshua Sercey and then the audience Q&A.
As we learned at the event, we weren’t meant to walk the journey of healing alone. We recommend the following counseling centers with trauma-trained specialists:
Westminster Counseling Center
Bell Tower Counseling Center
Polis Recovery Project
Beth Broom is the Licensed Professional Counselor who taught a portion of this event. She specializes in trauma, both counseling victims of trauma and speaking on the topic at conferences. We’d encourage you to follow her work: check out her Instagram or her website.
Further Sermons to Explore:
We received a ton of questions during the event, so we’re including this summary of some key themes and answers to some questions we weren’t able to get to that evening:
Noticing and Addressing Abuse in the Church
Q: Are there ways to spot, or are there signs of a prototypical spiritual abuser?
A: As Beth shared on Monday night, those who undergo spiritual abuse are not weak and are not gullible. Trauma victims often feel like they should have been smarter or stronger. But the truth of the situation is this: those who are spiritual abusers are just very good at deception and grooming. Because of that, the person being groomed can have a difficult time recognizing what’s going on. In order to spot spiritual abusers, this is another area where it’s helpful to have Christian allies who can see what’s going on objectively. Those more objective to the situation can recognize more easily the signs of a spiritual abuser, who uses the Bible, spirituality, or God in order subject others for their own selfish purposes or gain.
Q: How, pragmatically, does Icon invite everyone’s participation/critique of leadership?
A: One of the things I shared is that Icon seeks to be a place where critique or warning is welcome. This is because no system of leadership is too godly to not be susceptible to sin. So, first, we consciously avoid language that makes it seem as though critique is not welcomed or that we have it all figured out. We are not God’s great answer to Seattle. We hope that in our language, people see that our leadership is faithfully seeking God for the health of our church without falling into the trap of thinking that our leadership is infallible. Second, this is why we take Partnership so seriously. Becoming a Partner (member) at Icon is a commitment from both the person and the church. We invite and ask Partners to meaningfully contribute and critique what’s going on at Icon. But we also genuinely believe that we can be helped and made healthy by the perspective of other Christians, even those who are not committed Partners at Icon. So, we build in our leadership culture the importance of listening with sincerity.
Supporting Victims of Abuse
Q: How does the idea of “spiritual consent” play into the conversation around spiritual trauma and not further traumatizing or triggering people who have been hurt by authority figures?
A: Spiritual leaders should not assume that their position affords them the right to speak into sensitive areas of people’s lives. It’s not a given that people want to hear what we have to say. Because of that, simply asking the question as to whether someone wants to hear what we have to say is important. This is also important when relating to someone who has experienced spiritual trauma. Asking the person whether you have permission to speak into their lives first helps in a key way: the person will be less triggered because they have a measure of control they did not have in their experience of hurtful leadership.
Q: How do we distinguish between actual trauma and perceived trauma?
A: The truth is this: someone who loves you deeply, and whom you love, that gives you grace-oriented calls to repentance is not spiritual abuse. Being told that we’re wrong by someone who has the right relational capital with us is not spiritual abuse. That’s why it is important to distinguish between these two. If you’re relating to someone who says they’ve experience spiritual trauma, here’s two recommendations: (1) stay curious, and (2) encourage them to a professional. Stay curious because you can’t assume that what they experienced is or is not traumatic. So give them the dignity of hearing their story without trying to counter it. And then, let a professional counselor be the one who unravels for them whether they’ve experienced such trauma or not.