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Opinion | Confronting “church hurt” emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually

In the church-going community, members are talking more openly than ever about “church hurt.”

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“An Education Grounded in Truth” is the bold proclamation on the Pineview Christian Academy website. Founded by the Pineview Baptist Church in Harvest, Ala., the school’s mission statement is just as direct: “to provide a Christ-centered, affordable, quality education that equips students with knowledge and life skills as they develop into Godly young men and women.”

Lofty, noble aspirations for any organization. Well worth aspiring to – yet we know in real life, aspirations aren’t always met. 

In the church-going community, members are talking more openly than ever about “church hurt,” one of the prime examples of a failure to meet aspirations. It’s a term that refers to people being abused – emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually – in a church setting. The abusers can be clergy or lay people. 

Pedophilia in the Catholic church? Sex scandals in Protestant churches? Cultish practices directed by leaders who divide families and split churches? All of it can be classified as church hurt.

Based on various media reports, that’s what happened at Pineview. The family of an unnamed student filed a lawsuit in June, naming the school, its principal, and a 17-year-old male student. The plaintiff, referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe, alleges that she experienced negligent alleging that she was assaulted by the male student. 

Apparently, Jane was at a Pineview event last year when she claims the male student touched her inappropriately. She says she reported it to teachers and wasn’t the only one the student assaulted. 

Jane and her family also allege that the school and its representatives didn’t respond to her allegations in a way that made her feel safe. She says she encountered the male student the next time she was at school. 

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Jane also didn’t feel the principal was taking her allegations seriously. She said he joked about her situation in front of a representative from the Alabama Department of Human Services. Jane also alleges that she was removed from the starting lineup of Pineview’s volleyball team and that her playing time was cut as retribution for reporting the assault.

Even worse, Jane alleges that Pineview tried to force her and her siblings to leave the school. Her parents refused initially, but later decided to pull them out. At this point, they allege that the principal tried to trick them into signing a non-disclosure agreement. When Jane’s mother refused to sign it, the school allegedly refused to issue a refund the family was due.

This is nasty business for any school. But especially for one that promises a Christian education, “grounded in truth.” 

The allegations in the lawsuit could make a person lose his faith. But those of us who’ve been around churches for decades have heard variations of these charges before now. 

Funny thing about churches and the religious communities that grow around them. Once you look past the declarations, doctrines, and labels they wear, it’s clear that they are just people. Broken people – with the same problems and propensities that all other people have. 

Preachers, evangelists, prophets, bishops, ministers, deacons, trustees – it doesn’t matter. They can be – and sometimes are – just as abusive, scandalous, weak and vindictive as anyone else. 

Regular members are no different. They can be Bible-toting, in church every weekend, paying tithes – and still be addicts, abusers, cheaters, liars and thieves.  

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I grew up in church. I still go to church. And I’ve heard and seen it all, from the pulpit to the pew. Even in my own family. My own home. 

My own soul. 

Beliefs don’t make us perfect. We are still human beings, who sometimes do awful things.

So, it’s easy for me to believe the allegations Jane Doe has made regarding Pineview. Easy, because from what I’ve seen, churches and their affiliates read from the same playbook that corporate America does when a scandal strikes. 

Ignore it. Deny it. Cover it up. Even if we must shame or slander the alleged victim. 

That’s definitely church hurt.

And after the legal filings, headlines, and whispered gossip have faded, the Jane Does and their families are left wounded and scarred. Trying to figure out life after the scandal alone. 

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Some will. And some won’t for years, if ever. I’ve seen some of that, too.

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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