I get it now. I think I finally get it.
For the longest time, I haven’t been able to understand why it is that when I try to explain to people within the church that it’s incredibly harmful to gay kids to grow up in a church world that tells them that they’re fundamentally broken, the only response I get is bafflement at why I’d think that telling kids they’re broken is a problem. I mean, it seems obvious to me. Teaching kids that they’re broken and repeating it so often that they internalize the message is a bad thing, why would anyone think it’s no big deal?
I finally figured it out. It’s because so much of the evangelical world, or at least the reformed part of the evangelical world, teaches every child that they’re broken. They don’t see why it’s bad to tell gay kids that they’re broken because they believe that about themselves too. They’ve internalized the brokenness message to the point that it’s normal.
A few weeks ago, Stephanie Drury at Stuff Christian Culture Likes posted the following tweet from a reformed pastor on the SCCL Facebook page.
Teach your children they are broken. Deeply broken.
— Steve McCoy (@stevekmccoy) July 1, 2013
That tweet has prompted an outpouring of stories from people who have been incredibly wounded by growing up hearing that message of brokenness. I thought I’d quote from a few of those stories, though you really should go read the full pieces for yourself because they show just how much that message has messed with people’s heads in profound ways.
This is because when you teach a child they are unworthy and somehow intrinsically broken/flawed/less-than, you set them up for disaster–not just in their relationship to God but in their relationships with people.
Indeed, my biggest obstacle in healing from a harmful theological framework has been an inability to receive love. For YEARS after leaving an oppressive church, I could not receive the love of God—and many times, the love of people—because I kept blocking it with the whole “I’m a wretch! I’m a worm! I don’t deserve love!” mentality.
Speaking from personal experience, when I sincerely believed I was broken/bad, it was nearly impossible for me to receive God’s grace and love.
When I believed I was inherently broken, I stayed in relationships and situations and churches that caused me long-term pain because I didn’t believe I deserved better. I was desperate and needy and clung to people—even harmful people—because having an abuser love me was better than nothing.
And excerpted from the Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook:
I’ve been fighting depression for years now, as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I grew up in church, where the message was the same as that tweet: you are not whole. There is something deeply wrong with you. This played up my depression, my OCD. Over the years, hearing these words made me question every decision I made. Was I sinning? Was my depression punishment for all that I did wrong? Was I going straight to Hell? Did God hate me?
Here are some more stories that I’d recommend that you read.
Somehow, despite growing up in the evangelical world and in reformed circles for half my life, I missed the message that I’m supposed to be deeply broken just by existing. Maybe it’s because for the first half of my life I was first in charismatic and then in Southern Baptist churches that were much bigger on the Four Spiritual Laws with emphasis on the, “God Loves You and Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life,” bit, but in any case, I missed all that during the age when I would have internalized the message.
And so, while I’ve been saying for a long time that the Church needs to stop teaching gay kids that they’re broken, it’s time to say that the Church needs to stop teaching all kids that they’re broken. Telling kids that they’re deeply, profoundly broken is sending a message that there’s something fundamentally wrong about the very essence of who you are as a person. It puts all of the focus on the flaws and the imperfections rather than on grace.
Instead of looking outward and upward to Christ as the redeemer who makes us washed and perfected before God because of his atoning work, it sends us inward to dwell on our badness. The message of the Gospel isn’t that you’re rotten, it’s that Jesus has taken all of the rottenness and filth and mess of the world onto himself so that you are clean and whole.
We aren’t broken because before the foundation of the world, God knew us and called us by name. We are whole because Christ made us whole. We’re forgiven. None of the mess and the sin is counted against us because Christ died for us.
It’s time to stop focusing on brokenness and start remembering that the Gospel is about grace and love.