What’s a Pastor To Do About RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome)


This week a blog has been making the rounds titled, “Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Issues”

The article seems to have struck a chord with the scores of young evangelicals who left the church or are leaving the church because of past abuses.  There seems to have been a collective sigh of relief that we have now found a phrase to help articulate our pain.  In fact, I am currently traveling with many peers who are in dysfunctional church situations.  Their pain is very real and deep and we should not ever ignore it or belittle it.

But there is also the reality that every time we name a new syndrome everybody claims to have it while most don’t.  And there is the “pity” factor where now I can claim to have this new syndrome so that you will feel sorry for me and join me in my epic war against the man and the machine (which at this point is kind of outdated.  Raging against the machine is so 1980s).

On a personal note, I fear the day when I will offer a piece of innocent advice that will be misapplied to cause severe damage.  I fear this day will bring about legal battles where the letters R-T-S are thrown wildly in my direction.  Although I take great pains to keep that from happening, the day may still come.

So on one hand I want to say, “Amen” to everything the RTS blog described but on the other hand  I fear that now there is a new phrase that any old embittered person can use against me and the church.

But last night as I was processing the RTS blog I hung out with 20 youth from our town.  They are as unchurched as they come.  Their families do not attend anywhere.  Their parents could not care less about God and I seriously think I was the first person to describe God to them and they were less than thrilled to find out God expected them to love unlikable people.  In their mind if you dress the wrong way or don’t use the right words you deserve their hatred.  They learned this from their parents of course and almost all of them come from severely abusive and neglectful homes.  Other than maybe a few teachers at school our leaders are the only adults who will listen to them, walk alongside them, look them in the eye and say, “That really stinks and I am horribly sorry your parents did that to you.”  Those 20 teenagers badly need a religion and they need it to be organized because disorganization and chaos brought about the neglect and abuse in their lives, a neglect and abuse they will most certainly pass onto their children unless an organized church intervenes.

So yes, I still believe in organized religion.  And I believe God is still organizing our religion.  The problem is not organization.  It is bad organization and the problem isn’t religion, it is false religion.  And there certainly is a fair amount of both.  But I echo what a preacher told me recently, “The day God gives up on his covenant people is the day I will.”

One thought on “What’s a Pastor To Do About RTS (Religious Trauma Syndrome)

  1. Cynthia Wilson

    I do not think that naming something that exists gives it power. I think it has more power without a name. And believe me, this exists.

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