Embracing Scripture after Religious Trauma

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The Roys Report
The Roys Report
Embracing Scripture after Religious Trauma

Psalm 23 is a powerful psalm, reminding us that the Lord is our shepherd. Yet for those who have been hurt by their earthly shepherds—their pastors—the Psalm can sound trite or even off-putting. And sadly, this reality often keeps victims of religious trauma from the very Scriptures that can provide healing.

In this episode of The Roys Report—Julie explores this issue with K.J. Ramsey, author of The Lord is My Courage: Stepping Through the Shadows of Fear Toward the Voice of Love.

Though K.J. experienced a loving shepherd growing up, she and her husband later served in a toxic church with a narcissistic and abusive pastor. This experience left K.J. with deep wounds—and an aversion to much of Scripture.

Yet she found a safe place in Psalm 23. And as she began reading and studying the passage, she began hearing the loving voice of Jesus. She also began to realize that some of the things she’d learned about the passage were false.

In this podcast, K.J. tells her journey of pain and trauma—but also of healing and renewed intimacy with God.

K.J. also shares insights from her training as a trauma-informed counselor. She explains how stress leaves many of us in states of dysregulation, but how the Holy Spirit functions as a “coregulator,” bringing us back to health.

Tune in for a fascinating and rich discussion on these important themes.

This Weeks Guests

K.J. Ramsey

K.J. Ramsey is a trauma-informed licensed professional counselor and writer whose work offers space to see every part of our souls and stories as sacred. She holds degrees from Covenant College and Denver Seminary and is the author of This Too Shall Last. Her writing has been published in Christianity Today, RELEVANT, The Huffington Post, Health Central, Catalyst, and Fathom Magazine on the integration of theology, psychology, and spiritual formation. She and her husband, Ryan, live near Denver, Colorado. Connect with K.J. online at kjramsey.com and across social media @kjramseywrites.

Show Transcript


Psalm 23 is meant to be a comforting Psalm reminding us that the Lord is our shepherd. It for those who have been hurt by their earthly shepherds, their pastors, the psalm can sound trite or even scary. Yet my guest today, a survivor of church hurt, seeks to redeem that.

Welcome to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And joining me today is KJ Ramsey, author of The Lord Is My Courage. It’s a deeply moving and powerful book by someone who’s experienced some of the best and the worst that the church has to offer. Though KJ’s first experience in the church was with a loving Shepherd, she and her husband later served in a mega church with a narcissistic and abusive pastor. KJ tells her story in the pages of her book, while walking us through the truths and deep comfort found in Psalm 23. KJ also brings her training and experience as a trauma-informed counselor into her writing, and she opens up windows of understanding and healing while exploring the landscape of fear, trauma, and faith. Courage is not the absence of anxiety; KJ writes in her book. Instead, it’s a practice of trusting we will be held and loved no matter what. This is such a profoundly healing and needed book and I’m so excited to have KJ join me.

But before we dive in, I’d like to thank the sponsors of this podcast, Judson University, and Marquardt of Barrington. Judson University is a top ranked Christian University providing a caring community and an excellent college experience. Plus, the school offers more than sixty majors great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shaped the world. For more information just go to JUDSONU.EDU. Also, if you’re looking for a quality new or used car, I highly recommend my friends at Marquardt of Barrington. Marquardt is a Buick GMC dealership where you can expect honesty, integrity, and transparency. That’s because the owners there, Dan and Kurt Marquardt, are men of character. To check them out, just go to BUYACAR123.COM.

Well, again, joining me is KJ Ramsey, author of The Lord Is My Courage. She’s also a trauma-informed, licensed professional counselor. And as I’ve mentioned, she’s also a survivor of religious trauma. So, KJ, welcome. It’s such a pleasure to have you join me.

It is an honor to be with you.

Well, thank you. And I should mention that your book is our premium for the month of August, The Lord Is My Courage. So, if you give a gift of $30 or more to The Roys Report in this month, we’ll send you a copy of KJ’s book as a thank you. To do that, just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. And KJ, I should mention that your book was recommended to me from someone I highly respect, Lori Anne Thompson, and she says, Julie, you should read a book, I read the book. So, I did. And I have to say I wasn’t disappointed, probably because I report so much on spiritual abuse and religious trauma. And that, again, is the context of a lot of your book. But it’s also something that I’ve lived through. We actually had to leave our church pretty recently, because there was cover up of some abuse, and we’ve been going to a house church. So, I can kind of understand that whole process of really wrestling with those sorts of things. And really feeling like the church has let you down and trying to wrestle with you know, where’s your faith in the middle of that?, and I and I know that that’s something that you just wrestle with, honestly, in this book. So, I just want to thank you for writing it and for being so open about your process.

Thank you. Yeah, and thank you for being a safe place for survivors to talk about our experiences, honestly. We need it so badly.

Yeah, well, and I’ve heard that from so many people that this podcast has been helpful to them, because it’s like, I’m not crazy. And this is a common experience and okay, because when you’re in the midst of it, I mean, that’s part of it, right? That you are kind of wrestling with that. In your book, you walk us through Psalm 23, phrase by phrase, and it’s really, really helpful, helping us hear God’s voice instead of maybe a lot of the voices that we’ve heard in the past. And I want to dive into that. But I also mentioned that as you go through this book, you’re revealing parts of your story. And I know you’ve told that elsewhere, but I think for a lot of folks listening, they’ve never heard it before. And so, I’d like to kind of start there with you telling your story. And my understanding is you grew up in a home where you went to church a lot, your parents, their faith was very important to them. Describe that experience. Was that positive for you?

Yeah, it’s in retrospect, mixed, you know? It’s got a lot of goodness and also somethings that set me up, I think for what happened in my adult life. But I talked about in the book, I was almost born in my church parking lot. Very, very involved. My dad was an elder in our church, I grew up in the Presbyterian Church in America. And we in Michigan, I’m not on the Dutch Reformed side of the state. And, yeah, church was my life. And I went to a small, Baptist independent fundamental Baptist School, which was very different in norms and rigidity of belief than the church that I went to. And so that tension brought up a lot of questions throughout my growing up years. But there was a lot of chaos and trauma in my family growing up, and so there’s a lot of experiences where my emotions were not tended to, and where I did a lot of having to take care of myself and shut down a lot. And I think that those experiences, that I now would call religious trauma, were the beginning of being primed to be in a system where that would happen more intensely and be exploited later.

Well, and that’s part of what we’re going to get into. But I know too, it wasn’t just a spiritual journey. There also was a really physical component. You develop this autoimmune disease, and that really impacted your understanding of yourself maybe and how you view God and how you thought he viewed you. So, can you describe that a little bit?

You know, as a trauma therapist now, in addition to the genetic component of the way that I’ve inherited a lot of really messed up genes from both sides of my family that predispose me to disease. And I have actually now, seven conditions. There’s been a lot in the last year. It’s been my diseases that have actually woken me up to how I am already loved by God, and that my body has very wise things to say about my environment. And in the book, I talk a lot about how it was like a parallel experience, the learning to listen to my body and advocate for her fierce truth and her wholeness. That was the same process that happened in our church, of seeing like there’s an autoimmune disease of the Body of Christ happening here. An autoimmune disease, the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, and in the church, in spiritual abuse and religious trauma, that is the very same thing that’s happening. The institution attacks its own members, and its own health. And it was learning how to listen, and how to endure gaslighting. How to be resolved to seek wholeness in my physical body that allowed me to seek that in the institutional body and leaving that as well. So here a little there.

Yeah, there is a lot of parallel and even the same way that in the beginning with your autoimmune disease, a lot of people didn’t listen to you, didn’t think anything was wrong. You’re the problem, there isn’t a problem. And I mean, all those things are so common in spiritually abusive systems. And it’s never one person. It may have started with one person, but it becomes a disease. And everybody seems to be affected by and participates in, sadly. And that’s a good way of putting it. I mean, it’s a really good parallel. And your spiritual abuse story kind of starts with your husband getting a position at a mega church, and . . .

A church that wanted to be a mega church.

Clarified. A mega church wannabe. And that’s, again, just even that impulse to want to be large, that impulse to want to be great. So opposite of what Jesus says that you want to be the greatest be the least, you want to be the leader, you want to be great, serve. All of these things are so opposite and yet so prevalent in the church. How long were you there and described that experience a little bit.

Yeah, we were there for five years. Probably about halfway through, started running my counseling practice there. And so, we both worked on site. And while I was my own boss, I was also exposed to the subtleties of the shaming and domineering that have been in the environment, you know? The conversations in the hallway and hearing yelling happening down the hall.

Which is really conducive to a counseling environment where you’re talking with someone about their most intense or deeply personal things and you’re hearing yelling through the venting of your church building.

That story in the book where there’s like a family meeting going on downstairs with the elders and the staff members, and I’m in a counseling session upstairs. And I can hear through the floor vet like, oh, my goodness, this meeting has clearly gone wrong. Not exactly great rapport with my client. But in the in the actual day to day, it’s such a confusion to clarity story for us. And you know, in the book, I detail more stories of abusive things that were said from the pulpit, or the way that different conversations that would happen, where we’d be more, more than subtly shamed. But I think what’s really hard is in a church like that, because of the distance between the people in power and those in the pews, most people, I think, have abdicated their sense of discernment around whether their leaders are truly healthy, and whether this system is healthy. But it’s really only in close proximity to the people who wield their power and hoard their power, that you begin to be treated like a threat and an enemy, when you speak up about the ways that people need to be more respected and known and protected. And so, it’s a long process, in my opinion, to come to from confusion to clarity around toxicity in a setting like that, because partly because it means relinquishing your dream.

relinquishing your dream, risking your job, your security, I mean, all of those things. It’s really huge. And you talk about there was another pastor on staff, Josh, who spoke up. And I tell you, again, when you speak up in one of these systems, there is no problem you are the problem. And so, Josh, pretty much got tossed although he did stand up for himself in a bit. I know that was really painful for you to see and to experience. And I believe it was on your eighth wedding anniversary that you guys left. Yeah. And I love it when you leave because they throw you a big party and they make you feel not.

They probably wanted to put us in front of the church and like pretend like everything was bad. People were like, I won’t use the language I would normally use but no, you’re not touching my body and pretending that we’re hugging and we’re happy with each other.

And I’ve talked to people who have had to go through that.

Yes. So, traumatizing.

There’s severance, and then there’s an NDA on top. And they have to go and pretend at a party up to make sure everything’s okay to the congregation. Thank God you didn’t have to do that.

I said no to that.

But you ended up leaving. And this is the context for so much of your book that it’s really helpful. Driving up to visit, what it your parents or Ryan’s, your husbands?

My parents in Bozeman, Montana. Yeah.

Okay. Your parents in Montana, which is gorgeous, by the way. I’ve been to Montana for the first time this year. And I was like, oh, so nice. Yes, of course, you’re in Denver now. So, I’m in Illinois, I’m outside Chicago. So either place beats where I’m at. No mountains here. But you find yourself with your parents living in their basement. And it’s out of that, that the Psalms become really rich to you. What was it during this time that drew you into the Psalms in general, but even Psalm 23, in particular, because that’s what you really walk us through in this book.

We’re like driving through Wyoming. Ryan’s driving, I’m in the passenger seat, I open up my Bible, and I just start reading. And I’m like, David experienced this, David experienced being exiled from his community, and express that God was angry, furious, full of rage on his behalf. And he not only says that God is his refuge, but his rescue. And it was like the seed of a new story for us where it wasn’t that we were being exiled, but that we were being rescued from this place that we thought was our future. And we lost everything. So, it was in that wilderness of like, we’ve lost everything, we don’t know what our future looks like, we don’t know what vocation looks like, we don’t know how we’re gonna pay for anything, that we started to experience this new honesty with God, and this shepherd that comes to find out us out in the wilderness. And I became over the next year, really amazed by the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. And in Mark it says that he had compassion on them, on the crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And I felt this deep resonance. Like A) that has been me that has been us. And those are the people that Ryan and I care about. Our people are the people who feel like sheep without a shepherd. People who shepherds neglected them, peoples who shepherds devoured them, who attacked them, assaulted them. These are the people Jesus says He cares about and that he moves toward, and he meets their need. He feeds their hunger and makes a miracle out of nothing through a little boy’s offering that doesn’t feel like enough, and it becomes more than enough. And later, I come to find that that’s actually Jesus deliberately enacting Psalm 23 with the crowd. So, my way to Psalm 23 was through this whole, like, a lot of Scripture wasn’t safe for me anymore. And I had to learn how to trust. Jesus says, My Good Shepherd, when all the shepherds had really failed me. And it was astounding, he sought me.

I know my experience has been with things I love, like you said, some of the scripture was really toxic to you at the time, I used to love modern worship music. I can hardly listen to it anymore. So, I’m finding myself just give me a hymn, please. I would much rather sing a hymn where, you know, nobody’s getting any royalties on this. But we have to come back. And this has been, I mean, I don’t mean this toward any disrespect to those who are deconstructing because I think there is a deconstruction that’s necessary to separate us from evangelical culture and all of the baggage, and what is Jesus? what is real? I think that’s, that’s really, really good. But I’ve seen a lot of people then just cut themselves off entirely, from God, from the word. And that’s our healing. So, I love that, that you’re bringing us into the scripture in this book, and again, specifically Psalm 23. And we don’t have time, I wish we could go through the whole thing. But you know, that’s why you wrote a book. Podcasts aren’t meant to replace the book. But I want to just go through some of it. You break it up into three sections, the first section is blessed. And that’s the first three verses of Psalm 23. So, I’m just going to read it and then we’ll pick out some cool stuff from it. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his namesake.

Let’s just start with the Lord is my shepherd. And I mentioned this at the top. But for a lot of people, a shepherd is not safe anymore. When you’ve had a bad shepherd, that can seem you know, trite, or it can seem even worse than that. It can seem actually a little bit scary. So, you know, how can we trust Jesus? I mean, speak to those who have been hurt and are right now like, hmm, I don’t even know if I want a shepherd right? They’re feeling very weary.

Yeah. And I would say how you feel makes sense. Because there are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the harm Israel. I came back to church, my mind really wanted to be there. Because it had for my whole life up to that point, been my safe place at my place of joy, my place of deepest community. My mind wanted that again. But I would step into church and within 15 minutes of sitting in a pew, I was having either a panic attack or my disease symptoms would flare intensely. And I treat trauma professionally. And I was like, I can’t do that. Like I cannot force myself to basically not listen to what my body is saying. My body is saying, I do not feel safe here. And so, I stepped away for the purpose of healing, for the purpose of helping my body learn how to feel safe in general, with spirituality and with God again and with people again. So that maybe one day I could come back to church. And I will say I am still in the process of coming back. Like I am a member of my church. I am confirmed Anglican now. And I still can’t go to church every Sunday, because of the healing process of trauma. I still, sometimes I’m too triggered to sit through a whole service. And I’m like actively working on healing. So, I hope that gives people some encouragement that like, it’s okay that it takes a really long time.

I mean, I’ve been wrestling with this, does it have to look different? I mean, we have found a great deal of safety in a different structure. And I know the first time I came to the house church that we’re going to know I just the person who invited me said, what do you think? I’m like, well, this is going to grow. You realize that, right? And already, we’re breaking into two groups, because we’ve grown, and we want to stay small. So, you know, we’re, we’re splitting and not splitting, you know> Well, actually, we don’t care about using the right language. Don’t say splitting, say multiplying, whatever. But, but yeah, I mean, I, I really, really believe that we need to rethink all of that. And that’s maybe another discussion. But I think we need to give ourselves a little bit of space to say, you know, maybe church for me during this season means something different. Maybe it means, you know, meeting with friends, meeting with other believers in homes.

For me to step away, as part of my healing with the body of Christ, and part of my like, being able to trust Jesus as my good shepherd, again, that did not fit in my family systems expectations of what it means to be a person of faith. That did not fit in what my personal expectations were of what it means to be a person of faith. And there’s a dissonance there that I think we have to honor and just because it feels dissonant to do something different doesn’t mean that that is bad, it might mean that’s what you most need. So, you had to go back to trusting the shepherd. Again, it’s, I think, the experience of spiritual abuse, the experience of religious trauma, greatly dishonors the body’s need for safety, soothing, and respect. And to experience Christ as our good shepherd, the Shepherd who, like we’re shown in Psalm 23, seeks us, refreshes our souls, gives us rest, prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. To experience that, your body actually has to experience a sense of safety. And if you’re going back to church and being triggered all the time, if you’re experiencing a lot of anxiety on the way there and panic attacks afterwards and crying all the time afterwards, and feeling shut down when you’re there, perhaps not even remembering what was happening. You can’t listen to a sermon. I mean, side note, I don’t really listen to many sermons anymore. White men preaching still really hard for me. I think it’s important. It’s the key to being able to experience Jesus as a good shepherd is to listen to the sounds of your own body telling you that you don’t feel safe. Because your safety is going to be, your safety is something Jesus actually cares deeply about and is seeking. And to follow Jesus as your good shepherd means to follow him into goodness and life for your physical body. And sometimes that means stepping away, and it means going to trauma therapy, and it means reading poetry on Sunday morning underneath the tree, instead of going into another place that’s going to be too much for you, means getting coffee with somebody who you actually experience as respectful and dignifying of your story. It looks so many different ways.

You write, one of the most common dynamics that keeps sheep from lying down in green pastures is what author Philip Keller calls the butting order. Domineering older sheep maintain their position as leader by butting other often younger sheep from the best grazing ground. The other sheep mimic what they see, shoving around those below them in the batting order. Again, sounds like a lot of churches that folks have been on, and this does affect us, neurologically. And you explain this really clearly. Would you kind of go through some of that kind of the neurological response that we have when this sort of thing happens because it triggers some fear, right?

Yeah. And pretending like we’re not afraid doesn’t do anyone any good. So, I’m just going to start there. Your body, your nervous system is a stealth surveillance system. It is always scanning for how safe you are. It’s scanning within you, interiorsection that’s called. It’s scanning outside of you relationally, between you and other people, your environment, sounds, everything. And when we do not have enough cues of safety, when we have more cues of danger, like threat to our life, threat to our safety, than we have cues of safety, goodness, connection, respect, enough food. When we have more cues of danger than safety, we sink into states of stress. And states of stress begin in fight or flight. Goes into freeze, shutdown. But the translation is when we’re in a spiritual system, where there is not adequate safety, whether you have named that or not, whether you are fully cognizant of that or not, your body knows that you’re not safe. If you have not been adequately respected, soothed, seen by your leader, or by the people around you, your body knows. And your body, when you are around most people, and you are in that environment, is not relating to them from a place of calm and connection and expectation of hope. But from stress, from fight or flight, from what neuro theologian Jim Wilder calls enemy mode. It’s very hard because we expect church to be our safe place, and we want it to be our safe place. But like, often our bodies are telling the truth about that we don’t feel safe, and that this pastor that we love, their preaching is actually an asshole, sorry. And like, it is really arrogant, you don’t actually feel cared for. And your body knows that. And so that also happens to be contagious, like when, when any of us are in enemy mode or in the state of stress, the strongest nervous system in any room wins. And stress tends to be contagious. And so if I’m relating to you from a place of stress, and from scarcity of a scarcity of safety, but I’m not sure where I stand with you, and I’m not sure if there’s enough room for me and my voice, so I’m really anxious and nervous about this conversation happening right now, that’s going to actually signal to your nervous system that you should be afraid too, and that you should be powering up and trying to take up more space too. And it’s this vicious cycle where stress creates more stress. And without naming that stress and discharging it, we become a spiritual place of fighting and shutting down and fawning, faking, that we actually love one another and that we’re family, when really we treat one another like we’re enemies to conquer or control.

And that’s where we need a shepherd right? We need someone to rescue us. We are helpless in that state. And so often, I think especially in evangelicalism, it may be mixed in with, you know, the American, pull yourself up by your bootstraps. We’re kind of in this mode that we’ve got to do something to rescue ourselves. And I know for me, one of the most profound spiritual experiences I had come at the end of trying for several years to reach God and dealing with depression. And it was in the midst of that when I just gave up that the Holy Spirit met me in such a profound way that even now when I think back, this is like 30 years ago, not knowing if God existed at that point and him reaching down and me knowing His presence in just such a tangible way that I won’t go into the whole story. But I mean, it was it almost had to be him rescuing me because I’m such an activist, that if I had rescued myself, I’d continually think I’ve got to do it. And that was one of those kind of flag on the hill reminder, whatever. I mean, it’s like I look back and now I know the Lord is my shepherd. He rescues me, not me.

Absolutely. Yes. And that is actually what we know of how the nervous system works, is that when we are very shut down, when things are dark, when we are overwhelmed by our lives, when we are very disconnected from the reality we wish was true but don’t really feel as true, we actually need something called co-regulation, to come back to feeling like ourselves and feeling that our faith is true and real and that God is good, and that we are loved. Co-regulation is the experience of another person’s presence coming toward us with safety and empathy in such a way that it, like I said, fear is contagious. Love is contagious too. And that presence of love offers our nervous system room, almost physiological hope, to come back to life, to come back to the place where neurologically, we can access the parts of our brain and nervous system that allow us to connect social engagement system. That allow us to have perspective and think critically and change our mind, the prefrontal cortex. So that’s knit into the way God made us to be soothed. It’s actually the experience of someone coming toward you. And that someone can be Jesus Christ Himself, that someone can be the mystical experience of the spirit, that someone can also be just someone sitting with you and saying nothing, but physically being there, while you are distraught, can look so many different ways. But that’s, we all actually were made to be shepherded. And the Holy Spirit, so is our co-regulator. The Holy Spirit is our absolute co-regulator. And because of our union with Christ, we have the spirit within us, always. So, I think our faith, our whole life’s task is to realize the present indwelling of the Spirit with us now, and how real that is that I am never alone. You are never alone. There is actually always a spirit inside you who is seeking your good and the very same spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you and is giving you what you need to rise from every small death in your life. That is true. And that’s our task. That we get to experience that is true. And your body is going to be the vehicle that helps you drive there. Like your body is going to be the means of experiencing the spirit is true, not solely your mind.

So good. So good. Well, let me go to the second part of Psalm 23, which is the next portion that you deal with in your book. I’m just going to read it again. Because it’s so good. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me, your rod, and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.

You describe I mean; we’re talking about the darkest valley, you describe not just a really dark valley with what you experienced at church, but you even alluded to this earlier. Your health has been a really, really dark valley. How do you walk through this dark night, as you put it, and I like this, you said, you know often in evangelicalism, we’ve been taught that our faith is kind of like a kite that helps. I’m sorry, it just sounds so cheesy, but a kite that helps us rise above you know, the valley. It’s not really like that, is it?

Yeah, in Psalm 23, where it says that God leads us through the darkest valley is the way that that works. In the landscape in which this song was written in Israel, is that a shepherd will lead their sheep through these dark crevices almost, in the earth, where there’s like a little stream that passes through, like a ravine, you know, and that bandits and predators are hiding in this dark valley. It’s not a big, dark, open space. It’s like going through the middle of this area that feels threatening and ominous. But the point is that the Shepherd has been through the dark valley before, the shepherd knows the way and it’s also the only way to the water the sheep need. It is the way to the water. And it is the way to the open grasslands and higher country that the sheep will need to be nourished and to rest. So, the only way to the life without lack is through the darkest valley.

Part of the argument of my book is that courage is a practice. And I like that it’s a practice because that means that we can actually get better at anticipating that the Shepherd does know the way through. And that the dark valley doesn’t actually last forever. You do come out on the other side, and there will be water that you need, and there will be nourishment. And I found in my own life, thinking about sickness, I recently started high dose immunoglobulin infusions. IVIG for these new diseases that I have, and it’s, it’s really serious, it’s really hard. After my first infusion, I spent four days straight in bed. It was very sad; it was very heavy. And I’d have to do this every three week. And I was thankful laying there that I know, this won’t last forever. This feels like it will last forever, I feel afraid that this is going to be my whole life now. I feel afraid that all of this darkness is going to overshadow all the light that I’ve worked so hard to enjoy and cultivate in my life. But I know from experience, that the shepherd never leaves me here. So, I’m going to trust that and I’m just gonna let the dark be dark this week. And I know that the water that I need is coming. And I’m okay. Like I’m not looking forward to my next treatment in a week. But I know that the shepherd always brings me out, the shepherd always brings me through. I think that’s the practice of courage. It’s like learning to anticipate I can actually trust you God, because you do bring me through. And that this is the path that brings life. Just like the cross is what brought our salvation. The dark valley actually is what we have to walk through to get the water that we really need. And we’re thirsty.

There’s a part of Psalm 23 that we’ve heard as kind of embracing discipline. And that is the part about the rod and staff. It’s weird because it says it comforts us and, you know, I remember, I’m old enough to remember when there was a paddle at the front of the classroom.

There is a paddle in my principal’s office, for sure, and it was used on me. Yeah.

I don’t know. I saw enough people paddled in front of the whole class, which How humiliating, that I think that was enough of a deterrent for me. But the rod, seeing the paddle up there was not comforting to me. You say, that’s really not the right understanding. Which is funny because I’ve heard this in umpteen sermons about Psalm 23. So, what is that really about?

You’ve heard the This is God’s rod of discipline is because God loves you?

Which is biblical. I mean, that’s in Hebrews. I mean.

it is biblical. Yes. But that is not actually what Psalm 23 is about. So, in, you know, I came to this passage with an open heart and an open mind, knowing that I would find a lot as I studied. And so, in my study of Psalm 23, and both in studying the Hebrew and in reading lots and lots of commentaries and books, I came to find out that the rod and the staff are, the rod in particular is actually about the shepherd protecting the sheep from external threats. The rod would almost never be used against the sheep themselves to discipline the sheep. The rod is often like, has spikes on the end, like a piece of like a club, almost, that’s got almost like a mace kind of thing that the shepherd could throw to attack an oncoming like a lion or a bear that’s out to get the sheep. So, you’re rod and your staff, they comfort me, number one, your rod comforts me because you are willing to protect me and stand up for me when I am being attacked. That is the picture of our shepherd. And then the staff is actually often used as an assurance of the shepherd’s presence. So, the staff, a shepherd would lay across their sheep’s shoulder not like I’m gonna hit you with this staff. Because you dumb animals aren’t listening to me, but like, I’m gonna gently lay this across your shoulders so that you remember I’m here, I’m with you. I’m walking with you. And yes, sometimes the shepherd will use the hook of the staff to separate sheep who are fighting from one another, to pull a sheep out of briars where they’ve been stuck. But all of these features of a rod and a staff are more about protection from external threats and assurance of continual presence. And that is something I had never learned in my whole lifetime of knowing Psalm 23. And I find, frankly, really beautiful.

It’s pretty cool.

This is not about discipline.

You also talk about spreading a feast before me. And you talk about the feast really for you at a certain point in your life where church had become kind of scary. After you left that church, your husband took another job at a church. And that ended up being kind of a megachurch wannabe, too. And I tell you, what, once you’ve been through one of these, yeah, the alarms like you can’t you can.

Hell no, we’re not doing this.

Absolutely right. Like, what am I thinking? So, but you talk about just meeting with friends, and I love that you talk about, because Psalm 23 isn’t just about being a good shepherd or about the Good Shepherd. It’s about being a good host. Talk about that.

Yeah. Well, again, something I never learned my whole life was about Psalm 23. When David writes that you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you prepare is about a host giving a lavish feast. In that culture to show your abundance, you wouldn’t like buy something fancy, like fancy car, fancy horse, I guess. Like that version of like external wealth. You would actually invite everyone you knew to a lavish feast, where there was more food than anyone could possibly eat. And that was how you showed that you had experienced God’s blessing in your life. And the verb you prepare, it’s saying like spreading and preparing a table. And in that culture, theologian Kenneth Bailey talks about that is work only a woman would do in that culture at that time. So, David is consciously showing us that God is like a woman who prepares a beautiful, lavish feast for her guests with attention to every detail and greets us and welcomes us to that table. There’s a nurturing element to this Shepherd host that we’re being shown in the passage.

You just made a ton of Theo bros really, really uncomfortable.

They can take it out. I know, I know. I know I did. But it’s in the text. And it’s actually what’s really interesting is, Jesus does the same thing. So, in Luke 15, Jesus is basically elaborating on showing the fullness of Psalm 23 in the parable of the Good Shepherd, and what I call the good woman, Kenneth Bailey does too. But the lost coin, and also the prodigal son or the good father. And first he shows that he is like this Good Shepherd, who seeks the lost sheep who leaves behind the ninety-nine to find the one. But the parable directly after that is this woman who says Jesus is saying, God is like a woman who loses her one silver coin in her house, and she rummages for it. She gets down on the ground to find it. First of all, Jesus is saying, you can be lost right inside God’s house. He’s also saying, I am like this woman who searches so hard for her coin. And when this coin is found, which by the way, a coin can’t help itself be found. A coin can’t cry out. A coin is so inert and lifeless that it requires its owner to seek it and find it and make that return what is possible. So even when we have like, no ability to cry out or to come back toward God, God is seeking and finding us. But um, I just to get back to the female aspect here. It is in the Scripture. And I am not somebody who’s just pulling things out of my butt. And even saying it in that way, it’s gonna piss people off. But this is what theologians have said before me, and they will say after me. I just come to the Scripture as a student, and see that if this is in the story of the Good Shepherd, from Psalm 23 to a thousand years later, in Jesus Christ describing his own heart for the lost, then why do we not honor the way that God nurtures us and seeks us and prepares a table for us? Why are we so afraid of what Jesus clearly was not afraid of? And what are we missing by being so up in arms about the femininity of God. So, you can be mad at me, Theo bros, I don’t really care.

Well, and, you know, God encompasses both masculine and feminine. It’s clear throughout Scripture,

God is neither male nor female.

Not to get off on a tangent. But I mean, if God gave us an image of himself, right, in the image, he created them male and female, He created them. So, there’s something about male and female that reflects the image of God.


We have forgotten that. And now do we relate to God as our mother? Well, you know, I would argue in relation to us, he is masculine, because he always initiates, we always respond.

Although wisdom in the spirit is often talked about in feminine terms. So absolutely Godhead, I would like to retract what I said about not caring, I do care. Frankly, I don’t care to please Theo bros. But I do care in that, I grew up with the inheritance of the feminine aspects of just identity being subservient to men. And frankly, I think the way that we have taught one another to disrespect female intellect, female emotion, female intuition is very part of why systems of abuse continue to be perpetuated. This hierarchical way of relating to one another, the fruit is toxic. So, I do care. I carry because when we diminish the image of God, when we diminish who God is, as Father, Son, and Spirit, who is neither male nor female, we also diminish ourselves. And we diminish the dignity of our genders and how we get to show up in the world. And we create a context in which more abuse is going to happen. So, I do care because I think that they are perpetuating systems of abuse. And my story is part of the fruit of their desire for certainty and control. And I say they need to repent.


I just got really angry, but like, it goes together, those go together.

They do and when you look, it’s misogyny. And if you look at the root of misogyny, where is it? Right in the fall that God will put enmity between the woman and the serpent. And misogyny is from the pit of hell, it’s evil. It’s diminishing part of God’s image in us, which is women.

And Satan often works in the cloak and disguise of light. And so, I think Theo bro folks, who are bad at statements like this, need to do a deep listening process with the Holy Spirit about perhaps what you are doing is a grand, you’re being used by Satan to create more enmity between men and women. What if your desire for certainty around this and your need to correct people like me is actually a great tactic of Satan to keep us from loving one another? I hope that you will consider that.

I hope so too. Although I’ve not found a lot of openness to reflection in that group.

No, I haven’t either. But I don’t usually go off that much. But you know?

I went there with you. So, I mean, we’re there together.

Thank you.

You’re welcome. And I will just say what you just described, though, about this, you know, back to the table thing is a beautiful part of community, which has been found, you know, I would say I’ve seen it. I saw it at the Restore conference. When survivors come together, it’s so powerful.

Yeah, some of our friends who are in there in the last chapter of the book, they were there. And, yeah, it was so meaningful for them to get to be around other survivors and feel seen and heard and understood.

Well, I have very vivid memories actually of a dinner the night before and a dinner the night after, with so many survivors, and I’ll never forget it. It’s just so powerful. And so, we’re doing another one. Stay tuned. We’ll have a date pretty soon.

But let me just go to the last we’re not going to have time to go through, because of time, you know, we’re gonna have to cut the third part and folks, you’re just gonna have to like get the book because it’s that good. But the last part of Psalm 23, the last verse so good, surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. I have always thought of this. And I think it’s right to think of it this way, as a longing for Heaven, to be with Jesus to be one to be in his presence, which now we do see through a mirror dimly, right? Then we will see face to face. There is a part of the Kingdom of Heaven is not yet, but I love that you bring you really bring home that the kingdom of heaven that Jesus with us, His indwelling, is now.

It is now.

What does that meant to you, as you’ve walked through your valley and everything else?

There is nothing that can separate me from the love of God and Christ. There’s nothing. There is no pastors words spoken over my character, or my husband’s character that can separate me from Jesus. There’s no trauma that causes triggers that can separate me from Jesus. There’s nothing. Even if my perception of my relationship with God is one of great distance, ontologically, I am always connected to Jesus. The spirit is what resides at the bottom of my soul, and I cannot change that. And I find that the more that I trust that that is true, the more that I treat myself like someone God loves that much to dwell within, God loves enough to go through the dark valley of the cross himself, to allow his body to be brutalized, to be exiled, to go to the pit of death. All of the things. God loves me that much to be a high priest who knows every human weakness. I can treat myself like I am worthy of love and worthy of care worthy of a shepherd who sees me and hears my cries and actually comes and seeks me out. I can extend that to myself. And it’s in the physical experience of what that can look like, of responding to my symptoms of stress, as cries for connection to God. That is the place where truth becomes tangible. And where belovedness becomes my birthright and my sense of belonging in my every day.

And I just love, I think, something that I find so beautiful in, I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. It’s using this language of the Holy of Holies that like this dwelling is this tabernacle. And when Paul talks about that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, it’s picking up that same language as the Psalm and the word that Paul’s using there is niyas and it’s the Holy of Holies. Like you are actually the holy of holiest places already. Your physicality is where God already dwells. And that is an affront to those who have swallowed a lot of Gnosticism cloaked as Christianity, but it is actually true – your flesh is not your whole substance. It’s not your whole body; your breath, your bones, your emotions, this is where God actually dwells. And in learning to treat yourself and others like the dwelling place of the Most High God, you will come to experience love and kindness. You will move from like we talked about earlier that enemy mode into connection because God has made you his friend. God has not only made you a friend, he’s chosen to make you his home. Hopefully, the safest place in your life is your home. I mean for a lot of us that become untrue, or it wasn’t true as we were growing up, but if you think about getting to rest your head on your pillow at night. This is, you know, come back home, at the end of the day, at end of workday to the safe place where there’s food, and there’s shelter. Like God has made you the place that he dwells. And he is your dwelling. And that is already true, here, and now. And we get to experience that, as true as we practice that presence and as we truly shift in our stress, to let God soothe us, and let others do this too. And it’s a wonder my life has changed. It works like I experienced so much joy in the Good Shepard’s presence through practicing physical embodied contemplative prayer, all of these kinds of things like I am changing.

I can see why you became an Anglican. We actually came from Anglican Church, that was our last church, which we loved the embodied part of the experience and the sacramental Incarnate Christ in us.

I love that. I will say, I am really not okay with the Anglican Church’s response to the stories of survivors right now. And I’m seeing the ACNA just repeat the same institutional protection that the SBC did, and others are doing as well. And personally, I can’t be complicit in continuing that. And so, I don’t, I don’t think it’s my long-term home, because I’m not seeing the leadership of the ACNA repent, quite enough. And that is sobering and sad. But I think it’s important to say out loud, because I’m unwilling to like lead other people into a place where I don’t believe they’re truly safe. I think there’s some really great priests out there, mine is one of them. But I think the ACNA has some real repentance to do.

It does. It does. And we knew it a lot of the players. And it’s been hard. But I know it’s, it’s an experience that probably at least three quarters of the people listening to this podcast have. And so, we’ve been through it, we’ve been through it, and we go through it together, and we get to be the body of Christ together and to comfort each other. You can’t understate the importance of that. And so, I thank you for, for your book. I thank you for your spirit for sharing that with us. And I know that can be a really difficult thing, especially struggling with the autoimmune disease. And I know that just creates a real hardship on top of that but praying for you for your healing and for your strength. And just great to meet you. So, thank you.

It’s so good to meet you. Thank you for what you do.

And thanks so much for listening to The Roys Report, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And just a quick reminder that KJ’s book, The Lord Is My Courage, is our premium for the month of August, and if you give a gift of $30 or more this month to support The Roy’s Report, we’ll send you a copy of KJ’s book. To get your copy and to donate online just go to JULIEROYS.COM/DONATE. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or YouTube. That way you’ll never miss an episode. And while you’re at it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d help us spread the word about the podcast by leaving a review. And then please share the podcast on social media so more people can hear about this great content. Again, thanks so much for joining me today. Hope you have a great day and God bless.

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2 thoughts on “Embracing Scripture after Religious Trauma”

  1. My wife and I were in a church exactly like that where we were abused and taken advantage-of.
    You go off-base when you call it “misogyny”.
    Men and women are abused equally in most of these places – I’ll give you one exception though – which is John MacArthur and Eileen Gray …. that seemed like misogyny, actually.
    Most of these cases are not “misogyny” though …….. they are equal abuse of the men and the women.

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