Hurt and Healed by the Church: Redemption and Reconstruction After Spiritual Abuse – Ryan George

Hurt and Healed by the Church: Redemption and Reconstruction After Spiritual Abuse by Ryan George
Published by Punchline Publishers on April 12, 2024
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Theology, Social Justice
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What would you do if you learned-from a podcast-that your dad (a pastor) was a serial sexual abuser?

For Ryan George, this isn't a hypothetical question. He knew the faces behind the stories he heard. In fact, his mind flashed with memories of the abuse he'd endured from that same pastor as he listened to news that would change his life. In time, as he processed the destruction rampant in the cult of his youth, he found predatory behavior to be more of a feature than a bug of his former religion as both abuse and coverups were baked into its theology.

Rather than spiral into an understandable deconstruction of his faith, Ryan instead leaned into the intimate embrace of a winsome Jesus. Hurt and Healed by the Church details how he untangled Jesus from the harmful tenets of American fundamentalism. Ryan describes the mental shifts and the restorative relationships he experienced on his journey of healing from church trauma and spiritual manipulation. If you are someone looking to heal church hurt - by leaders or institutions - Ryan shows how rebuilding your faith doesn't have to look like abandonment. He offers hope and inspiration through his story of an unorthodox redemption.

If Ryan could find a thriving and contagious faith after experiencing deep church wounds, so can you.

In this powerful book, Ryan George shares his personal story about surviving spiritual abuse and coming to know the real Jesus through genuine Christian community. He explains that even though he experienced great harm in his childhood church, which his pastor father led, he was able to experience redemption and reconstruct his faith within a healthy church. He reflects on the truth that just as trauma happens within relationships, it heals in the context of relationships, and he shares his story of unraveling toxic beliefs, finding the real Jesus, and growing in his faith. However, even though this book draws deeply from the author’s personal experience, it is not primarily a memoir. Rather, it is an exploration of how the cult he grew up in contrasts with genuine, biblical Christianity.

Each chapter in Hurt and Healed by the Church focuses on a different theme, and begins with a statement in bold font that summarizes the message. For example, one chapter begins with the statement, “Unsafe churches forbade me from asking questions, but Jesus has often assured me that truth isn’t afraid of inspection.” Ryan George weaves in his personal story throughout these chapters, exploring how the false teachings in the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement contrast to truths from the Bible. He also engages with the harm done to many people through this fringe group’s belief system and practices, particularly when it comes to IFB churches sheltering sexual abusers, such as his father. As he explores institutional problems in the IFB movement, he also includes quotes from current IFB preachers, showing that a wide range of issues are still happening now, and aren’t a relic from his childhood.

I appreciated Ryan George’s passionate writing, vivid personal stories, and clear love for Jesus. He is also very honest about his own sins and failings, and he explores how his church community, wife, and friends have challenged him and helped him grow. This book is an encouraging story about healing and redemption, and the author’s passion for helping others by sharing his own story comes through clearly. However, even though the personal nature of this book is one of its strengths, this can also be a weakness, since so much of it focuses closely on specific problems and extreme practices within the separatist IFB cult. Some of the issues explored here generalize to evangelicalism more broadly, but many others do not. Readers with trauma from other denominational backgrounds should be aware of this limitation.

Hurt and Healed by the Church: Redemption and Reconstruction After Spiritual Abuse is a powerful exploration of the author’s experiences growing up in a fundamentalist cult, finding his way out, and healing from the trauma that he experienced due to his religious upbringing and ongoing family issues. This book is well-written, touching, surprisingly funny, and full of important truths, and the author’s passion for Jesus and genuine faith come through clearly. I recommend this to people who have similar backgrounds to the author, and to those who want to better understand others’ experiences in cult-like environments.