Before we act on strong emotions, wreck friendships, and disrupt churches, we would be wise to examine why we feel hurt and angry.
Once upon a time, there was a hospital that took wonderful care of its patients. Doctors and nurses were diligent, loved their jobs, and worked well as a team. Morale was high. Surgeries were performed. Sick people got well.
At first slowly, then decisively, the atmosphere began to change. Some of the doctors and nurses leveled accusations against their colleagues. They claimed to be deeply hurt by a toxic work environment. Tears were shed and letters were written, denouncing a culture of abuse, bias, and authoritarian leadership.
The leaders who were accused were dumbfounded. They certainly weren’t perfect, but they regarded the events that led to the charges as minor instances—the kind of misunderstandings that occur in any high-pressure work environment: the lead nurse shouting brisk directions in an emergency; a doctor assigned too many night shifts; an intern reprimanded for lack of punctuality. The leaders invited the accusers to not take things personally and accept the demands of the job. “After all, we have lives to save!”
The accusers couldn’t believe it. “What! We’re hurt and it’s our fault?” They claimed their trauma had only grown after hearing such uncaring excuses. “What a lack of plain human decency!”
[destacate]We must protect our churches from corrupt leaders. But we also must protect them from another challenge: a new, false gospel of hurt feelings
[/destacate]Seeing that nothing had been resolved, the hospital leadership called in authorities to investigate the matter. Their hope was that objective criteria—developed over decades by the medical community—would be used to discern whether there had been malpractice. The leaders were looking for an authoritative report that would discern whether the accusations had merit.
The trouble was that in this case, appealing to higher authorities only raised the temperature of the situation. The accusers claimed the investigators didn’t have authority because they were part of the “system.” They came up with new, more charged accusations. And they claimed to be so traumatized by the situation they would leave their professions for good.
What took place in this fictional hospital is happening in all kinds of institutions, including churches. The past years have brought us greater awareness about power dynamics and abusive leadership. Victims have been rightly heard, corrupt leaders have been exposed, and studies reveal most reports of abuse through proper channels are adjudged credible and true.
But it’s also true that “abuse” is increasingly used in conversations and the court of public opinion without definable criteria. Accusations create clouds of suspicion before they are properly investigated. And younger generations (I write this as someone still in my 30s) are increasingly led by their emotions and prone to pass judgements before a final verdict comes in.
Yes, we must protect our churches from corrupt leaders. But we also must protect them from another challenge: a new, false gospel of hurt feelings.
According to this new doctrine, the criteria for discerning what is right or wrong isn’t God’s Word, but rather the perception of the person making a claim of harm. Such claims often arise from subjective interpretations and not from objective facts. The key problem is no longer sin for which we take responsibility but wounds inflicted by others. And voice is given to individuals who shout loudest instead of people who listen earnestly.
[destacate]The posture of victimhood has become so widespread that in some cases it has led to revolts of litigious people against peaceful, self-sacrificing leaders
[/destacate]Again, victims should be heard and given fair trials. But the posture of victimhood has become so widespread that in some cases it has led to revolts of the immature against the mature, of litigious people against peaceful, self-sacrificing leaders.
We need to realize this is a false gospel—one that defines reality by subjective feelings. Its authority is the sovereign self, not God’s Word. And after years of pandemic stress and political polarization, this new doctrine threatens to distract and even undermine churches through petty struggles.
It may sound uncaring to not fully empathize with people who say they hurt. But awareness of this new pseudo-gospel doesn’t mean we give less credence to real victims who have suffered. In fact, having objective standards will help us protect them better, making sure rightful claims of abuse are not lumped in with relatively smaller work disputes and relational disagreements.
When someone claims to be hurt, a lot may be going on. There might be an offense as serious as the person portrays it, period. The hurt may also trigger past unresolved issues, for example when a young man whose parents divorced when he was a child feels his pastor is rejecting him because that pastor is not available to meet as often as the young man would like.
A sense of hurt may also arise from immaturity. Sometimes a church is so welcoming that emotionally immature people expect to be accepted unconditionally, and become personally offended if someone, out of love, points to an area of personal growth. As Peter Steinke writes,
People vary considerably in how they address emotionally challenging events. On the lower (immature) side, people are reactive. They blame more often; they criticize harshly; they take offense easily; they focus on others; they want instant solutions; they cannot see their part in problems. On the higher (mature) side, people are more thoughtful and reflective; they act on principle, not instinct; they can stand back and observe. They are responsive.
Mature people suffer. Immature people also suffer, and they create needless drama, too.
Most importantly, hurts may also arise from our sin. When Cain became angry because God accepted Abel’s offering and not his, God asked Cain to examine the sin within his hurt: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6–7).
“Why are you angry?” is a question many of us need to examine. Before we blame others, it is worth pondering, Am I seeing things objectively, or is there a past hurt that is coloring the way I experience present events? Is there immaturity or inappropriate expectations on my part? Is there a sin within me that is darkening my feelings?
Spiritually and emotionally mature people put their feelings into perspective, take responsibility for their actions, and let pain mold their character. Godly suffering edifies and unites. Faith shapes life and creates redemptive communities.
[destacate]My prayer is that real victims will receive justice and the true gospel of Jesus’s grace for us, sinners, will shine unrivaled
My hope is not to discredit people who claim to be hurt; many have truly been hurt and need to be heard. My prayer is that before we act on strong emotions, wreck friendships, and disrupt churches, we will have the wisdom to examine why we feel hurt and angry. Then, real victims will receive justice, bloated claims will not make new victims, and the true gospel of Jesus’s grace for us, sinners, will shine unrivaled.