02 January 2014
Wounded by God's people
Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of American evangelist Billy Graham, talks to idea assistant editor Richard Woodall on her latest exploration of whether there is a danger we can give up on God as a result of wounds inflicted by His own people.
Many of us could pinpoint a time when we felt so aghast at how someone in church had treated us that it made us never want to go back.
But the danger with these kinds of experiences is that it leaves us open to confusing God's character with God's people – a sometimes fatal error.
Such potential wounds should not cause us to walk away from God in the process, according to Anne Graham Lotz, who has just released her latest book Wounded by God's People.
Anne tackles the painful question of what we should do when we suffer rejection and hardship at the hands of believers. The book is threaded together with both poignant personal stories and lessons from the Old Testament story of Hagar.
That Anne spent four years writing it shows how important a topic it is to her. "When someone wounds you the natural tendency is to wound that person back," Anne, who founded AnGeL Ministries based in North Carolina (a ministry focused on bringing revival to churches), says.
"It becomes a cycle that has to be broken. When you hold onto bitterness it's like drinking the poison but hoping the other person dies.
"The wounds we inflict on other people are hard for us to see – others need to help us to see them.
"The most desperately painful things are what some people do to fellow believers."
And this is where her "healing journey", as she refers to it in Wounded by God's People, gives us a good example of continuing along the road.
Anne, a grandmother-of-three, uses the book to draw on how she and husband Dan felt like "believers in exile" following a 'wounding' experience at their former church 25 years ago.
As loyal members of a church in the city of Raleigh in North Carolina for 15 years, they suddenly came up against the unexpected. "The church was going through pastoral change with the minister retiring and a new one being chosen.
"But they decided my husband and I had too much influence and the leaders called a business meeting for the Sunday morning where they removed my husband from his leadership position."
At the time Dan headed up the men's ministry and the deacons' ministry. "I remember feeling very humiliated but also that God was not like that church was," Anne adds.
"I felt that when I walked out, God walked out with us. It was a life-defining moment. We thought that would be the church we would stay in for the rest of our lives."
Although more than two decades ago, the way she describes it tells you all you need to know about how painful it was but perhaps, more importantly, how she allowed God to use it as part of her own journey.
Hurt from those within the Church can have a profoundly painful effect. "These kinds of wounds hurt more because they are people in the Church we have come to love and respect. "The book talks about how you too can begin a healing journey – it gives practical help for getting past your wounds.
"One reason I can move on is that at the end of the day I know God is going to sort it all out."
Throughout the book Anne consistently gives the message that this is not her just getting something off her chest; it's real life.
Later in the book she refers to another incredibly painful experience – not too dissimilar to the first. The church called a young man to be pastor but a subsequent disagreement between elders on his ministry sparked a difference of opinion with husband Danny, with the latter supporting the pastor.
"The elders removed the young pastor and so for a year we were outside the church – we were believers in exile." Sometimes with such situations the temptation is to throw the towel in with God.
"At that point I did not care if we ever went back to church – I was fed up with the power play and positioning.
"It was very painful and broke my heart. If you don't have a strong relationship with God at a time like that, you can end up rejecting Him."
So how can members of the Church prepare their hearts for similar battles? "We have to know our bibles and have a strong faith in Christ. When this kind of thing happens to us from others in the Church we do not know what to do about it. Jesus understands, but he did not stay in his wounding. God has used the wounds in my life."
Throughout her book she draws upon the story of Hagar from Chapter 16 of Genesis which unravels the story of Sarai's Egyptian servant.
"Sarah was wounded herself. But what Hagar shows is an amazing example of someone who did not live in the past. There is a lot of drama in the story but between this there is this beautiful love story between God and Hagar.
"We shouldn't become people who are easily hurt – some people get hurt very easily," she says.
Anne and her husband are now part of a church they helped to plant – a place she calls a "very warm and loving congregation".
She says writing the book helped her to understand more that she "was also a wounder".
"I would be amazed if there is anyone who has been part of a church and not been hurt by people within it. My prayer for the book is that people would begin their healing journey."
Wounded by God's People: Discovering How God's Love Heals Our Hearts Published by Hodder & Stoughton £13.99 paperback