What do you do when Christianity hasn’t lived up to your expectations? And the church, which is supposed to be a place of healing, instead has left deep and permanent wounds?
In this edition of The Roys Report, Lina Abujamra, Bible teacher and author of Fractured Faith, shares a very personal account of how her faith was nearly deconstructed.
On staff at a multi-site megachurch in the Chicago area, Lina was in the inside circle and friends with the well-known pastor and his wife. People were getting saved. Her Bible teaching ministry was taking off.
Then, she saw corruption at the top. Rather than look away and stay, Lina left. Slowly, over the next few months, the pain set in. And her faith began to falter.
Where is God in the middle of our pain? How can Christians act in such cruel and callous ways? And what do you do when your story turns out the opposite of what you wanted or expected?
As many today consider what it means to deconstruct faith, together Lina Abujamra and Julie explore these important questions.
Lina Abujamra is a pediatric ER doctor, now practicing telemedicine, and founder of Living With Power Ministries. Her vision is to bring hope to the world by connecting biblical answers to everyday life. A popular Bible teacher, podcaster, and conference speaker, she is the author of several books including Thrive, Stripped, Resolved and her most recent book, Fractured Faith.
Lina ministers to singles through her Moody Radio show, Today’s Single Christian, and is engaged in providing medical care and humanitarian help to Syrian refugees and others in disaster areas in the Middle East. Her ministry also provides spiritual retreats for women at The Hope Ranch. Learn more about her at www.livingwithpower.org.
JULIE ROYS, LINA ABUJAMRA MD
JULIE ROYS 00:04
What do you do when Christianity hasn’t lived up to your expectations, and the church, which is supposed to be a place of healing, instead has left deep and permanent wounds? 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 Lina Abujamra, author of Fractured Faith, a very personal account of Lina’s near deconstruction of her faith. As you’ll hear, Lina was on staff at a multi-site mega church in the Chicago area. Everything was going right. She was in the inside circle and friends with a well-known pastor and his wife. People were getting saved. Her Bible teaching ministry was taking off. And then she saw corruption at the top. And rather than look the other way and stay Lena left, and slowly over the next few months and years, the pain set in, and her faith began to falter. Where’s God in the middle of our pain? How can Christians act in such cruel and callous ways? And what do you do when your story turns out the opposite of what you wanted or expected? I’m going to explore these questions with Lena. But first, 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 60 majors, great leadership opportunities and strong financial aid. Judson University is shaping lives that shape 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 today is Lina Abujamra, a pediatric ER doctor who’s now practicing telemedicine. She’s also the founder of Living with Power Ministries, and She’s the author of several books, including her latest Fractured Faith. So, Lina, welcome. It’s such a pleasure to have you.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 02:18
It’s always fun to be with you, Julie.
JULIE ROYS 02:20
And I should mention before we dive in, that we are offering your book Fractured Faith as our premium for the month of October for anybody who gives a gift to $25 or more, we’ll send you Lina’s book. So, if you’d like to support this ministry, and also get this book that I think is just an awesome resource, just go to JulieRoys.com/donate. So, Lina, I’m just so excited that you’ve written this book. I know that there are so many people that have experienced church hurt, deep church hurt, and I know that’s what you’ve been through. And that’s where this book comes from this this place of real pain and really angst that you went through. And as I understand it, your church hurt story comes from your experience with a church and a pastor, I’m a little bit familiar with. Harvest Bible Chapel. You don’t name it, you don’t name the church, or James McDonald in your book. But that’s who you’re talking about. And I know this story, because we’ve talked, we’re friends, but also because you gave this incredible talk at our Restore Conference in 2019. And you’re coming back to the Restore Conference in 2022. In May, and in fact, we just put up the website so people can start to register. I’m just so excited about that. But I’m excited about you sharing your story because it’s from this really raw and vulnerable place. And so, let’s just start there. Would you describe your position what you were doing at Harvest, and kind of how everything started come coming to light and you began to realize Hmm, something’s not right?
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 04:05
So, I was practicing medicine but really my attention wasn’t on writing medical papers. It was now on Bible study. And so, I had this fine vocational life without really a second vocation because I was a woman in a conservative complementarian system without true, you know, Bible training, which is a whole other you know, story but I trusted God. There was so much faith in my heart that somehow God would just figure that out. And so, I stepped out in faith in 2002 came to Chicago. I didn’t think I’d end up in Chicago, I thought I’d stay where I was very involved in a church, but the Lord very clearly brought me to Chicago, and I lived through sort of a very difficult season in the first few years in Chicago. So, I genuinely like struggled understanding, okay, God, I feel like you really want me to be in in this calling, and I can’t find my place. And so, after about five or six years, well, early in my time in Chicago, I remember going to Harvest Bible Chapel because they had a big meeting of counselors or something and my mom was into counseling stuff at the time. She is a biblical counselor, and So I remember going with her and the James McDonald effect wooed me at that time, and I think anyone who’s gone through some of those celebrity driven mega churches understands that whether it’s Mark Driscoll or Brian Houston or whoever it is, that’s like the leader, I think there is something about the presence of a strong charismatic leader that sort of blinds you. And so, I remember just him making an impression in his in his preaching, and my heart was ready for strong preaching for a moving of the spirit. But it was a very far church at the time I lived in the city, so I didn’t go there. A few years later, I would call every few months and found out that they had opened the campus near the city. And I started going to the Niles campus. And it was really like a season of revival my heart like I felt after so many dry years of wrestling with Okay, God, like you want me to serve you, and I’m here, but there’s nothing there. Harvest was the answer to that dryness. And I think this is critical, because I think because of that you overlook a lot for a long time. And for a long time, it was good. And so, I went from that, you know, very quickly, you know, the energy there was very, you know, you look back now, and you see, even that is not normal, and not in a good way. But when you’re in it, it feels like something big was happening at that church, like it was a movement, a swell, something bigger than you that is so alluring. And it almost supersedes, I mean, if you tell yourself that’s revival, that’s Christianity, maybe there are components of it. But it takes on a life of its own. So that now like, this charismatic leader becomes even more elevated in your mind. And every you know, there’s this inner circle that you longed to be near, because you would watch it in the hallways of the church, people would literally like reach to touch this person, and you don’t even notice that you’re sucked into this vortex of that. And so, years went by, and I think at some courses, I started teaching a Bible thing and, and then that led to eventually long and short I became the woman’s ministry director. And it was a season when I was on the sort of what you would call, I was on the road to the inside circle, and becoming the woman’s director sort of sealed the deal. I had some friends who are on the inside and why do I even tell this I mean; I haven’t gone into all these details yet on an interview. But I think this is so relevant to why leaving was so stinking hard. Because it didn’t feel like you were just going to church. It felt like you were part of God’s thing. And to tease out those two things is extremely hard to do. And when people even now they talk about those systems that tend to be abusive, and you overlook a lot of badness when something so much bigger than when you think at least in your brain, you think what’s happening around you so much bigger than you so much better than you, and something that will suck you up to the heavens, so to speak, you know, like and all these dreams that I had all this calling that I felt all this energy that I wanted to serve Jesus with, I felt like we’re so tied in at that point to what’s happening in the church. And I couldn’t see, by the time I started seeing some cracks in the foundation. Of course, there were people whose eyes were open that they were able to sort of tease out all of what’s happening there because they had more information. And as they started giving the members more information through blogs that were deemed evil. I mean, at some point, people started reading them. And at some point, you started asking questions. And that was, of course the elephant’s death. And at some point, there was enough things happening in the culture of the leadership that led you to kind of as you’re reading these things go, well, that actually did happen. And so, I think this is where like your eyes are open is you would read the stories and go well, this isn’t really a lot like it inside circles telling you these are lies, but your kind of going to can’t reconcile it to be a lie, because I’ve seen it. And there’s a point where you kind of have two things in the weights and the balances. You’ve got you know, what’s being written and you’ve got your experience and, and you’re sort of like at some point you realize like, and what you’re being told, and you realize that the truth is actually like in favor of these, what was deemed as the ugly lie or dis unifying blogs and, and so when that happens when the switch comes on in your brain, I think there’s a lot of things that you have to come to terms with and one is, what do you really believe about God? And are you part of a movement or are you part of a faith that follows a savior named Jesus? And I think there’s also a recognition in that moment that leaving would potentially mean the destruction of your dream. And I think that was why it was so hard for me to leave. I think in hindsight people ask at the time, even when I left people asked what would you have done differently? And I would say I probably would have left six months sooner if I had the maturity to have done that. And I really think I was scared. And then on the other side, I say had I had known how bad the years after would be, I’m still not sure I would have left. So, there’s sort of this mixed bag in your heart. On one hand I think I should have left sooner. But it takes so much courage to walk against again not just a system that also ends up shunning you unfortunately they go well you left you deserve to be shunned and you’re sort of you’re going well I did leave I guess I do deserve to be shunned and so you start carrying a lot of that angst and shame and then you feel just like you’re God’s stepchild and you don’t understand. like God’s you it’s plays a mind game on you starting with God, you prefer them? Are they the better Christians? There was a point where I even wondered, well, maybe I’m not a Christian, because it makes sense. Like if we’re both God’s children, why did I don’t get it? Like, why can we just fix this? Why is this continuing? And why do I feel so lonely and so isolated and, and really like as if I did something wrong when really, I didn’t feel like I didn’t do anything wrong, I just read the situation I read the data, like, you know, it’s like a physician who gets the data. And at some point, I had to make a diagnosis. And I felt like the diagnosis was that there was corruption, and that if I stayed, it would not be good for my soul.
JULIE ROYS 10:30
Well, you did something, right.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 10:32
Well, I know.
JULIE ROYS 10:33
You had the courage to do something. And I do think there is a unique dynamic that was at Harvest and is at really toxic dysfunctional systems where if you leave it’s like the Hotel California or something, you know, you feel like you can never leave. But then once you leave, everybody shuns you. That’s not normal. I’ve left churches before. I actually left a church once because doctrinally they shifted pretty majorly. And we just couldn’t affirm it anymore. And they actually brought us up in front of the church and blessed our family and gave us an opportunity to say kind of this is where we just can’t, we can’t affirm what’s going on. And they actually prayed for us and blessed us as we left. I mean, that was probably the best I mean it actually restored my belief in church the way that they handled it. But, again, in those sorts of systems, I have to say that your experience of being shunned is probably more typical of people who have left church than the ones I’ve had.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 11:37
I agree. And I think and this is again, part of why I think it didn’t matter whether I named the church or not, and this is why I want Like, right now 2021 we’re recording this, hearing a lot of the podcasts and right now there’s a popular podcast on Christianity, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. Why these stories are riveting. I don’t think it matters whether it was Mark Driscoll, James or Bill or I mean, there’s plenty of them right now. The problem is that I think there is a bigger cultural dynamic taking place in our eyes. And I think hearing that Mark Driscoll podcast, what has been the biggest take home message to me and sort of coming out with this book is the communal aspect of an almost like an entire generation, I’d say more than a generation that seem to have been victims of a church movement of the past 15 years, that looked good. That seemed to have good fruit but was rotten at the core.
JULIE ROYS 12:26
Yeah. And I think that is the celebrity, the evangelical celebrity machine culture, whatever you want to call it. It is pretty rotten to the core, as we’re discovering and, you know, are there some mega churches out there that might be good. You know, there, there probably are. But I would say there sure are an awful lot that aren’t and there sure are pressures within that system that seem to encourage everything that’s bad in a person instead of affirming and encouraging what is good and godly. And so, I think, again, I think this is why your book is so important is because there are so many who say I’ve had that experience. And one of the things that I thought was really interesting, you wrote in your book that you used to think that church hurt was a wound that would leave a scar that would eventually get better. Now you think it’s more like a latent infection. But explain that what you mean by that, and how that’s played out in your life.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 13:23
I think there are elements of the style of church that flare you up, or you’ll see someone from the old church, and you realize, so those latent infections like herpes, or like mono, and I don’t mean to be sick about it, but it’s the fact. You have the virus living in you. And given the right amount of stress, it flares up. And so, people get cold sores in the same fashion. And so, I think this is sort of becoming more evident to me as much as I want to tell people well, if you do these five things, you’re sure to get us you know, healing, I think it’s, I think the Christian walk is more nuanced, more complicated, but not in a bad way. Where I used to think that was sort of frustrating, I think I value it now. And this has probably been the richness of the journey is, I see that Jesus isn’t so black and white. And I say it with I get that there’s sins blocking him holding his wife like I get the there’s orthodoxy. I don’t mean that. But I think that grace is so big. And so, and I think that relationship with Christ demands a continuing drawing to him. And I think when those things flare you up, there’s a recheck of your spirit, like what’s happening here. So, it’s not like we want the Christian life to be Oh, I walked down the aisle, I gave my life to Jesus, I’m saved. It’s all good. This is why so many American Christians are frustrated. Christians in general are frustrated with sanctification because it’s not a onetime done all, right? We like oh, yeah, I’m holy now why do I keep sinning? Well, because we’re human. And I think you know what church hurt; I just get a nauseous feeling sometimes still. And I think the other thing that I’ve noticed, and I think this is another way that the ‘infection’ presents itself I find it I have to really like, remember the Lord when I hear a leader because I think we’ve become more skeptical of leadership in general. By the way, I don’t think you have to have gone through church hurt . I think watching the layout, I think this is a new symptom of American Christians is that we are not that trusting of leaders. And if we now become much more cautious in going to church. It takes a lot for me to just like, you know, like, when I when I hear there’s a special offering, like I have to really hear from God about it, you know, like I’m become much more, where are you spending the money? Like, the money factor is really sort of burned a lot of people. And so, I see these changes in me and sometimes I’m bothered by them. I think there was a more of a naivety before a freshness to despair. And I think those leaders will account for some of that, that many like me, now cannot look at church, you know, financial, you know, whatever the campaign’s that they do without some level of cynicism, and rightfully so. They should be cynical, because they were you know, fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice. There’s a point, you know, but those are all elements of, you know, you almost have to intentionally remind yourself that God does love the local church. And so now, you know, how do you play out submitting to authority in the local church., I find that to be one of the biggest transitional changes that I found to be to be just hard and I think and not just personally, but I see it in American Christianity. We’re not people who are going to be easily subdued. And so how will God subdue us? I don’t know and I think this is the part that I ponder sometimes like God, how is the church as a whole changing and while there’s a lot of good things happening, I think there’s a lot of like Christians that are just floating around that don’t go anywhere. They have no sense of and on a positive note, they don’t have anybody telling them what to do on a negative note, they have no connection to humans. We’re lonelier than we’ve ever been. We’ve got a lot of like weights on our shoulders that nobody’s there to carry with us and it’s hard to look at a person who’s been ruined by church and say well get right back into church and it’s all gonna be fine because that wound flares up again when you’re in that setting and so they’re just so guarded and protective and so and so I hope that this understanding that I think in the book if anything, I think what I gave is words to the hurts and I think by the way, that was probably what made that talk at your conference so powerful. I think I just God has been able to use because I felt those things so deeply, he’s been able to give me words to feelings that sometimes are hard to express because it’s easier to shove them down and ignore them and get on with the Christian life and read your Bible memorize five verses and show up to the next small group meeting. But you just have nothing left inside and you don’t feel the fire of Jesus in you anymore.
JULIE ROYS 17:33
Well and I think too you gave license to say it. To say how you feel to just be raw to just be vulnerable to say I really didn’t want to give this talk. I didn’t want to be here, and it still hurts and I’m still processing through. So, I think that’s a big part of it. But you mentioned I think it’s really sort of a catch 22 that those of us who’ve been through church hurt and you know I talked about it recently on your podcast about how I’ve gone through it now at church that I thought we would stay at the rest of our life there were a number of things but that kind of the last straw for us was a sex abuse scandal that was covered up you know, it wasn’t told to the church till two years after this guy was charged. I mean it was bad and so we lost trust in leadership. And after I had reported I reported so many stories with bad church leaders and bad churches, but I had my little cocoon, so I was cool, you know, right. I was okay. But now it’s like an again disappointment with church disappointment. Not so much. I mean, yes, leaders, not so much as people because I mean, our friends have been great throughout this whole thing. But here’s the catch 22. You’re suspicious of church you’re suspicious sometimes of Christians. I know you go to church, and you get triggered. I remember around Easter while I was reporting on the Harvest thing, the church that I was at played a Vertical worship song and I’m just like, whoa, you know, I mean, it’s, I felt totally triggered by that, you know. But there are triggers I used to love contemporary worship music like I used to listen to it all the time. That used to be like my staple when I went running was to listen to contemporary worship music. I can’t listen to it now. I’m just like, give me hymns. I know nobody, you know, these are nobody’s making and profiting off the royalties of this. I can just listen. So how do we process through, and I know your whole book is a part of processing through that. But how do we begin to push through that, you know, walking into the lobby and feeling suspicious? I think some skepticism is good. But, you know, at the same time, that’s so often other people in the church is the conduit of our healing.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 19:48
Well, look, I think I talk a lot in the book about my struggle with the Lord as a result of my struggle with leadership. And how that resolved, and I really think this is probably in my mind the key which is to remember how different our father is from any present leader that is running any church or system right now. And there’s people in every faction that will swear by this leader swear about it if to this day even I mean I think about people who love Franklin Graham. I mean, his dad was Billy Graham, my goodness and you can go across the board. There are others I mean, you just do become you know, and so in your mind and I think this is the killer is you sort of start to see God through the lens of this leader. And I think really so how do you get over this I think you just have to sort of understand like, and that doesn’t excuse that doesn’t mean like, you’re not going to find a godly pastor. And by the way, I’ve met many godly pastors, I go back home to my mom’s little church. The pastor now is a dear friend, I love him. But these are like you wouldn’t know these people from out of their true lovers of Jesus followers of his word, they’re simple, they would have been ironically, my old church would have looked at these churches and said, oh, healthy things grow these these little pastors need to shut their churches because they’re not quite therefore God doesn’t bless that work. And you know, and so and so I think you need to first of all wrestle. I think that wrestling that comes out of that hurt has to happen with the Lord and I think you have to get to a place for me part of it was understanding that God hadn’t disappointed you know, the disappointment that I felt even though I kind of related on God, because it felt like God hadn’t stepped in or, or taken them down in time. Even now, listen to the Mars Hill thing. I mean, they were thousands of miles away in Seattle. I don’t I’ve never been there. I’ve never heard Mark Driscoll sermon, believe it or not, it’s a fact I knew of them. But I’ve never heard an entire Mark Driscoll. I’m Lebanese, I was a doctor. You know, there’s a lot of factors you can say. But the fact is, I feel a sense of injustice, like God, why don’t you shut him up when all these people were being wrongly accused? And there’s a sense of, in my mind, like, find the people then see it, but you God, you saw it. Why didn’t you do something? And so, one of my chapters is about the fairness of God, because I really felt like God just isn’t right or fair, or just. Now, of course, now we know, things have come to light. And there is a sense of vindication in that. But to me wrestling with God, and even getting to a place where I was like, I just almost stopped talking to God. So, I would show up, I was still doing ministry, I prayed out loud, I did but inside, I just felt like there was this wall with God for a while. And the wall is because I just felt like I stopped trusting God. And so, I think those wrestling matches so the person who’s struggling, I think, start wrestling with God, like, don’t be afraid of the conversation. Like we’re so afraid to even have a conversation with God. How can you ever break down a barrier? And so, you know, God already knows what you think. And so, the model to me is always Jacob and Genesis 32. Like he literally wrestles with God. And what I found when I’ve taken God to task, and again, I say that humbly, like, we’re nothing God could literally blink, and our breath has gone from us like, but if anything, I have a bigger view of God today than I did before. And it comes out of this understanding that after all the struggle, and this is the image that I keep going through in the book, he is a good father, who is running towards us with open arms., I cannot get over that! The thoughts that I’ve had about him about his people or his leaders about his church, I wanted nothing to do with them. And yet, here he was. And I think until we get to the place where we see the goodness of God, despite the evil of the abuser, whoever that abuser might be, whether it’s a pastor or your parent, whether it’s your boss, I think until we can tease out the goodness of God, and the faithfulness of God in the face of that abuse. And I look back and I think sometimes I think I’m too proud to say, I was caught up in spiritual abuse. But there is a level of spiritual abuse. I did an interview with Wade Mullen that we haven’t aired yet. I don’t know if it’ll have aired by the time this comes out. But it’s sort of, you know, almost like you feel sort of stupid to be like, well, I guess I was part of spiritual abuse. And we talked about that a bit. But like, I think you just sometimes don’t say it, because it feels like you’re weak to admit it, but was a spiritually abusive system. And I think when you start to see God, and I think this is why I think we need to run to God with our questions, not the pastors. I mean, God uses people and counselors, like if the person who’s, you know, cause you to trauma is leadership at church, that’s probably the worst place for you to get help, you might need to find a neutral party. I went to a therapist or an end, by the way, it was a therapist who is not in the vein of what I had grown up being told about the type of therapy. It was a Christian therapist, but it was a therapist who would be a little bit more integrative than I normally would go to. But I was okay with that. And I said, because I didn’t need the judgment of memorize these three verses, and now look at these three wounds and take this verse and apply it there. And while I think there may be a place for that I needed grace. And I think sometimes people who err on the side of truth are afraid of this kind of grace. Do you think if you give people this kind of grace, somehow, we’ll leave the bounds of Orthodox Christianity? And I just don’t think that’s true because Jesus and God are the one who keeps us. And so, I think we fear too much. And I think if we could just let God be God, I think we do it with our relationships. We have siblings or kids or parents Whenever we want to influence a friend, coworkers, we want to change people we want to do this do that we stay after. And we feel like every Thanksgiving, we got to harp the gospel down well, because we were afraid. It’s driven by fear, I feel it, I have people my life. And I think we’re afraid to sometimes let go. What will that look like? And I think the key for me has been, you know, I mean, you know, I talk about a lot in the book, the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude. You know, I think, I think a lot of the systems that have been broken in the last few years come from a background of a lot of shouting and do this and do that. And, you know, and I think you see some elements that again, we’d like, because we want to control our faith, we want to control God. And I think there is a sense of lack of control when you leave a church and you lose your dreams, and you feel like God hasn’t been there for you, that that will send you reeling for a while. But if you could just get back to the spiritual disciplines. You mentioned hymns. I agree with you. I think there is a beauty to getting away from all the fanfare that has been so popular, but really, how has it helped us?
JULIE ROYS 26:08
I think when you talk about grace, and even just being a little more comfortable, maybe with things that you weren’t before, I was thinking, as I was reading your book, just about this evangelical triumphalism that I think I grew up with, right? And then it’s in its grossest form in in say, prosperity gospel, you know, your best life now. But there is a sense to which if you come to Jesus, these are the stories we heard, which I still believe, you know, you come to Jesus, and he just he changes your life and you there is victory over sin. There’s, you know, some of these things, but at the same time, what’s not told us, or at least not emphasized, is that we will suffer as Christians. And there is legitimate suffering. In fact, I had a friend of mine who was in ministry who said, and, you know, he kind of made this up as far as percentage, but he was like 85% of sin is just trying to escape legitimate suffering. And, you know, I’ve thought about that, as I’ve processed a lot of what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced, that we’re not in heaven yet. Yet, we expect it like when you ask that question in one of the chapters of your book, you know, is, is God fair? And even, you know, what should we expect out of this life? Have we embraced wrong expectations for this life?
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 27:37
I look at even Hebrews 11, and I’m astounded in Hebrews 11 in the hall of faith of the Scripture. Person after person has written but the verses that moved me the most are at the end of the chapter, where it says that these have twice actually it shows up in the after the story of Abraham, it does give a reference to those who didn’t get what they wanted. And they still lived for a promise to come. And then at the very end of the chapter, it goes through and says how it gives these examples, it’s almost worth looking at. These disciples and followers of Jesus who basically were sawed in two, killed, persecuted on and off people who didn’t have their good advice. People who all of these idolized, you know, the stories that we longed for. We want our knight in shining armor, we want the cancer to be healed, you know, the dead to rise, all of these things that make this great Hollywood Story. And yet it tells us in Hebrews, and those are the very verses that have given me hope. When I read about these people who, yeah, the things didn’t turn out like they wanted to, but their lives were fire for Jesus. Why? Because they saw past the things that could be seen. And I think, man, when did it to me, that’s the biggest grievous sin of those pastors of prosperity. And by the way, even conservative evangelical prosperity preachers, because that’s what we’ve seen. That’s, that was part of the problem at Harvest, is there was a prosperity message that was driven there that I think is rooted in evil. And it gives the idea of what we should be aiming for that is against scripture. We should be aiming for Christ; we shouldn’t be aiming for the comfortable life. When a pastor is modeling this is what’s good that it confuses the people who are looking to you as an example of Christ. So, there is a heavy responsibility in many areas for the leader, but I think the common ones are the power, the possessions, the money, and the flesh, you know, the, the pleasures, I guess, if you want to illustrate. And so I think you know, I think I think pastors and leaders need to model what godly expectation should be and yes, I do think some are doing it well, but I think many of those who are doing it well, you’ll never hear about because they’re in some Podunk town, who’s like, like the lady who was from the(XXXXX road at podcasts) living in some Midwest town somewhere, has given her $20 check to ministry go into some church with some pastor, no one will ever know. But heaven will tell stories of those people who were satisfied with so little in this life because they saw that they had so much more in their heart. And if we could just do that, in our Christian life, boy, I think, as opposed to be known for whether we believe in wearing masks or not, or getting vaccines or not, if we could become those kinds of Christians, we would revolutionize this country.
JULIE ROYS 30:15
I think when we have these crises, they reveal some things about us and you share pretty vulnerably you’ve talked about your dreams were dashed, obviously, you had a career path. And I’ve talked to a lot of people from Harvest that their career path, and I think James would look for people who were in ministry that he could do something for, that then become beholden to him. And if they leave, they know, okay, my ministry is going to really take a hit, you know, but I’ve also I mean, I remember talking to a guy from Harvest, former elder, who told me he couldn’t go on the record, literally, because he has this Bible study at Harvest, that is really important to him, and he can’t give up. And I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me! And at this point, I don’t even think many people were coming to his Bible study. And again, once we sacrifice our integrity, what God’s calling us to do for the sake of our ministry, doesn’t that reveal a certain amount of idolatry and that our identity isn’t in who we are in Christ? Just as followers of his, but really how we’re tied, and you talk about it. And you’ve alluded to it.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 31:24
No question. Yeah, I mean, I think I think that was the biggest like sort of come to come to Jesus’ moment but really, awakening. But I had to be honest about that. Yeah. I mean, why does it take us so long to leave? Because we prioritize the work we’re doing for God over God. We prioritize the dreams we have for God, over God.
JULIE ROYS 31:43
For God. But really for us, right?
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 31:46
Yes. And I think that’s the really the work that I think most of us in the West need to do and, and I think, you know, in some ways again, I think it’s, I mean, I know it’s so complicated because like I had another career. I could walk away. Like imagine how hard it was for me and I didn’t have any (XXXXXMBAs) and I didn’t have any like I had a job I continued to work as a doctor. Like nobody even knew this angst was going on the hospital. Then people read the Chicago Tribune and then they knew wasn’t that your pastor? And you know it’s like oh, I guess no wonder you were under some stress. But in general, like I have an out and it was that hard. If enough people who do this this is their livelihood and I actually think that is why a lot of like I look at sometimes I’m intrigued by like the colleges that have gone. Right now, there’s Liberty University’s in the news a lot and not now anymore as much as since Jerry Falwell left but some. I’ve listened to some of the podcasts that have told some of that story and it’s interesting because you wonder well how so many people staying? Even now you wonder but there’s a lot of good things happening there again. I don’t want to throw every story under the bus but I think it’s because a lot of those poor people who work there after working there 10-20 years getting paid meager salaries you know, kind of becoming focused on the Christian world you’re not as competitive in the secular world and in some ways and in mean you’ve given that up in order to be in Christian work and so there is a sort of like what else do I do? And there may not be the means to okay well I’m going to just pack up and move myself somewhere I can sustain myself for a couple of months and so you become sort of tied to a system that you might not even believe in or agree. And by the way, my book is also meant for that group. I believe that even now as we’re speaking or people listening who are in churches and in systems that they see as corrupt, but they have no out or maybe they feel that they have no out God always makes a way of escape, right? Or you think I could fix things. A lot of people who stay I think that, but I think what happens over time is you slowly start dying inside and I think that was what was happening to me. I think that slow sort of just disillusionment with Christianity with the system with the leadership. I think that sent me in a tailspin for a few years. But I would say to that person get the book because I’m telling you you’ll see I think there is you know that sense of not being alone in the way that you feel that so encouraging. Once I started, you know, I think when you start telling the truth about your story, like that first time that happened to me. Besides I mean, I was close with a couple of people still after I laughed like there are people who knew it wasn’t like I was on an island alone. But I remember really breaking down sort of what I was feeling with my therapist and there is something incarnational about it ministering with other people, close people, whether it’s a friend or a counselor, whoever. When you tell your story, when you see that human still cares for you, still sees you there, it’s very powerful to me. The opportunities that I got right after I left Harvest were what I felt like I was now going to be blackballed. And I was still offered opportunities to do things that ministry to me, those were very meaningful, because I felt seen and loved. And I think there is and then there’s this reality that oh my gosh, they haven’t left like Oh, they still like me. There’s a deep insecurity that grows in that, but I think when you start telling your story and you see that people haven’t left you, I think there’s a lot of power in that kind of place. So, for the person who’s listening who’s sort of hiding these things and feeling the pain of being alone, I would encourage you to find someone safe email us. And I could say for me, email me go to my website, email, we’d love to pray for you. There is some victory and freedom that can be held simply by telling your story. That’s why victims of abuse have then you know, you watch them they come on Twitter to share your stories, and you go, man, and why now and why? Because there’s a lot of reasons why not till now because there’s fear and there’s shame and but when they do it, you see, it’s sort of an opening of their souls and as power that grows out of that, and, and there’s a boldness I’ve seen it, I can name 234 faces that come to mind right off the bat have many more, right now being played up to specs. Meaning this week, I mean, it’s a woman who have spoken out there. And you just, you know, has there been some negative effect to those to those women? Absolutely. Has there been negative effects to elders of churches who have walked away and said no more? Absolutely. But you see a soaring of their souls, as they come to terms with who God is and how God works and, and they might wait 235 10 years, I think, for David Corning, he was maybe 10 years in the waiting before he saw the truth unfold to the degree that he thought it wouldn’t. And I know that and he’s this this man who used to be an elder of the church, probably the first one who left that church and I think, you know, you’ll never hear from him. I’ll never use any of his social media account. But you know, that in his soul, he knows God, you are fair, God, you are good. And God, you do see, and I’m not the one who decides how long and I knowing that man he’s godly, he’s still probably to the status doesn’t take joy in the, in the demise of a church doesn’t take joy in the demise of a leader, but the grieving process, but also the sense of vindication, which is so heavy in the songs and so encouraging. Those were many of the passages that encouraged me during that season in my life was passages where David literally says to God, vindicate me over and over again. And, and I think eventually, we’ll all you know, who are trying to live by the truth, trying to walk humbly and under authority. I think eventually God is going to show you that he is indeed aware of every single tear that falls out of your eyes and is closer than you feel him to be in those seasons.
JULIE ROYS 36:59
You bring up Dave Corning. I remember the day that James McDonald was fired, and my first feeling was relief. And my second was, I thought of Betsy Corning, his wife, and I thought, how easy is it for me that I was sued by James McDonald, and within six months, he gets fired, and there is this vindication, right? I know for you it was much longer because you left like in 2013, or somewhere around there. And he wasn’t fired till 2019 January, I think. But I thought of her and all the years that she suffered. And I know she said to me that she felt like she had PTSD. And I think you know, at its core, what a lot of people are dealing with, is this disappointment with God. Because they’re innocent. And so often they see the innocent you bring up the SBC and those poor women who have been sexually abused and then they’re blamed for it. I mean, it’s unbelievable what’s happened. And they’ve seen their abusers go on to be leaders in other churches. And it’s just, it’s awful. And you think God, you’re supposedly a God of justice, a God of fairness. And I know for me this isn’t my first rodeo either, you know, it’s like you said, there were other things in my life. I remember back when I was in college, and I struggled with four years of depression. And I’m like, why? I’m following you. I’m doing everything a good Christian is supposed to do. Why am I so depressed, you know? And I remember reading a book by Phil Yancey called Disappointment with God. And I’ve heard some people read it and say, they hated it. But for me, I loved it. I loved it, too. And the one thing that spoke to me was, was Job that at the end of it, you know, after this wager, that you know, we’re led into it as, as a reader, we know what’s going on. But Job never finds out. And when God finally speaks to him, he doesn’t say, oh, let me back this up and give you the backstory, you know, let me tell you what’s really going on. He doesn’t do that. He just says Where were you when I formed the earth’s foundation? You know, were you there? And he basically lets Job know how little he is. And at some point, I think these sorts of struggles reveal do we trust in God’s goodness, when life is horribly cruel and unfair?
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 39:31
Oh, 100% Yes. 100% you’re right. And I think you know; I think this is the good outcome of this scenario. I mean, when you know in the intro or a preface, I say that a friend I remember a millennial read the book and she had some feedback early on and she had asked me, you know, can you see anything good come out of your deconstruction? And again, my first thought was, oh, heck, no, I want to I never want to do that again. Like, I don’t want to go through this every few years. I don’t want that to be my thing. I mean, there will be like you said, there have been other times in my life. Never seemed as heavy. And I think the heaviness again came because it was so tied in the church and God are so tied in. And I think the good part of it is I think that there is again, I go back to the sense of a big God, but I don’t mean it in a faraway God. I mean, it’s a big God in the sense that I trust that God sees now like, for a moment I didn’t. There’s a season where it wasn’t that I didn’t think he saw I just felt like he didn’t see me. And I think, and I think it felt like he didn’t prefer me. And the scenario at church would like it’s kind of followed with other things. So, you know, in the Christian publishing industry and a speaker industry, like it just started feeling I’m not like them, like, and but I think that that idea, you know, I think ultimately, why do we come to God? Well, because we find someone who loves us so much that He died for us. And yet, I mean, again, I kind of go back to like, where did we lose that? And again, I go, I kind of think about like the greatest tragedy of the American church movement now which is going through a leadership upheaval, but which, by the way, is a gift of God’s grace, I think. It’s not an accident that there’s not one but ten people that we can name. It’s tragic, but it’s not an accident because I think God is moving the stirring this church. I think the church is being purified. I tend to think now that God kind of agrees. I could be wrong, but I think I think that God is proving a point to American Christians if we could just listen without getting in our own way. And the saddest part for me has been to see a lack of even now like, I mean, we wanted some of the works like Driscoll. Like, where’s the apology? Where’s the repentance? I think about James – like what happens to these pastors that go through this, and there’s a lack of recognition of, you know, what, I may have been wrong here, I may need to repent? And, and I don’t know what it’ll take, like, I think about my life, too.
JULIE ROYS 42:00
I think it may take them getting saved.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 42:03
You know, I can’t I don’t know hearts. But that is a bold thing to say. And I think, Julie, I think I think it’s hard.
JULIE ROYS 42:10
I mean, I’m not saying I know that for sure.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 42:11
It’s hard to disagree sometimes. And I think, you know, I think that’s, you know, sometimes it makes me introspect more. And thank God, I don’t want to be diluted, I don’t want to be self-diluted, I’m very aware of the sin in my life. And I’m very repentant of the sin in my life, and I can tell areas where I struggled to change. And so, I quickly moved to me because I think what I need to, I need to take care of this before I could, but there is a sense of be-wonderment.
JULIE ROYS 42:40
I think of a sermon, oddly enough by Bill Hybels which, by the way, Willow Creek had a huge impact on my life. When I was coming out of college, Christian College, had a pretty disillusioning experience, and then came to Willow Creek, and Don Cousins was preaching when I first came, who was the assistant pastor, and he was doing the whole thing. He is a great guy, and on the 10 commandments, and, you know, it really helped me put my faith back together at Willow Creek. And I do remember when Bill showed up in September, after a summer break, I was like, who’s this guy? Like, I like Don. But anyway, Willow was huge in my story. And I’m glad I didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes at the time, because I was ministered to from that church. And I’m not saying that I know the eternal destiny of these pastors. But I will say this, and I’m quoting a Bill Hybels sermon that he gave, and he said, one of the marks of authentic Christianity is a changed view of sin. It’s not that we never sin. You’re talking about the sanctification process. That’s a process as, you know, becoming more like Jesus, sinning less. But when you are not grieved over your sin, when it is glaring as it is in these cases.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 43:59
You gotta wonder that’s a really good quote, too, by the way.
JULIE ROYS 44:01
The apostle Paul said, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Test whether or not you are actually in the faith. And I think this applies for the pastors who have been a part of it. It also applies to those of us who have been wounded. And it’s like, why did our dashed hopes and dreams and expectations bring us to a crisis of faith? Didn’t Jesus tell us there would be wolves? Didn’t he tell us there would be false teachers? Didn’t he tell us there would be this kind of pain? And so, I do think there’s a crisis of faith. But as you say, the reconstruction and you’ve gone through this, I thought it was interesting in your book, you actually have a diagram of and maybe you can walk us through some of those steps of kind of, here’s the natural progression of how this works, from your own experience, but also, I know you’ve talked to a lot of people of reconstructing a faith. A lot of people just stay in the deconstruction, right? Yeah, we have a lot of, and I understand that. I grieve over it because I think, you know who have we in heaven, but you? I mean, what else is there? If there’s not God?
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 45:15
Yeah, well look, I think yeah, I mean, I think to go to that chart, I mean, I think the chart just again just gives words to, like you people could be like, well, I’m not deconstructing, I think, you know, what does that there’s people who stopped believing that’s like the Josh Harris’. You no longer you know, wrote a book now regrets had left the church now that you know, and we see ourselves as far from that, but it started somewhere. And so, the chart that I created about the book sort of shows you the progression of what I think starts this painful process happens that leads to disappointment. And I almost think every deconstruction story and in order to deconstruct it has to have been strong faith. And so, it doesn’t surprise me that many of these stories are ex worship leaders, ex people who went to Bible school. There’s a lot of people who, in the deconstruction forums that you’ll see on Instagram post every comment like it would shock you how many people like I lost my faith in Bible college. And so, it doesn’t surprise me because people who believe strongly then you know, whenever deep pain comes in their life and questions they cannot explain, I think the process of what are the emotions that go on here? There’s a deep disillusionment that happens that leads to deconstruction and if now if you could just rebuild on correct building blocks. And so, what happens is a lot of people ask questions, but they don’t get good answers. And so, they become cynical, they eventually leave. And so, in the breakdown of reconstruction versus disbelief eventually Why does one person like myself still walks in faith beliefs, God more strongly now than I did before. Trust His goodness more strongly. I think I’m more interested in my view of God has become more biblical now and, and more in line with who he really is than who I’ve made him to be. And so, in deconstruction, you go to disbelief. What you do is, and I think we see this we sort of the action that happens here, we expose ourselves to others. So, I talked earlier about telling the truth now, now, if so, how we do it in 2021, we go on social media, and so we become naked on authentic. People applaud our authenticism. And so that exposure to others makes us feel good for a moment. But the problem is that people at the end, they don’t care. Like they read your post, they like it, they move on. But now you’re stuck with authentic to someone who’s not really authentic back. I don’t know, you might find a new community. And then now any which philosophy and belief is dumped your way and you might feel love from people who believe something completely false. Like just because your love doesn’t but doesn’t mean that that’s true. Not all love, you kn4ow, you’ve kind of go back on God’s love. But don’t get too philosophical here. But just because you’re cared for by community doesn’t make that community truthful. And so, there’s grace and truth. And so, the problem is when you expose to others, you get a lot of grace, but no truth. So, you need a balance still. And so, the other side of it, the reconstruction, there is still an exposure. But I think this is very critical because I think the difference is, rather than just exposing yourself to others, which is our society now a cultural standard of the highest form of an evolved man. Now we expose our hearts to God. And so that’s the key I think that happens when people deconstruct. They shut God out. This is why I think so much of the tension that we have is with God and we need to expose ourselves to God because as you how do you do that? Well through the rhythms of faith. You might not want to read the Bible like before you know what? You may need to throw away your Bible reading plan. You need to you know, you’re so obsessed like if I just keep doing my devotions things will work out No, you might need to actually for a change get rid of that and just be with God. Like I don’t know what that looks like. It might just be focusing on one verse and might for a week be not reading the Bible per se, but you have it like I can’t tell you how many nights I would wake up in the middle night and Psalm 23 which has come on my mind, and I just say the whole thing. I don’t know where that, but I just knew that there was someone bigger than me who was still near me. And it happened for months like clockwork. But it was a slow unfolding of an exposure. Is it wrong to tweet? No, but if that’s all you’re doing, you’re never exposing your heart to God you’re never gonna find faith and truth and true love. You’re gonna find the sympathy you gotta find empathy you’re gonna find someone who for a minute might give you a high five so that you feel better about yourself. You might even get a new book deal with a publisher to write about your experience. You know it you know, as we are what was that the debacle with Josh where he then gave courses you know about weakness. And he apologizes to his credit. I’d like the guy actually and I and I never felt like his book by the way was this Bible of Dating In fact, I still remain single so it didn’t help me much, but I should get my money back for that. Like I guess I really did kiss dating goodbye. Forever. I wish I could find it again. But I think that’s the key is if we could just expose ourselves to God again, to the rhythms of faith, quiet down the noise. Listen to the spirit. I started going on walks during COVID I mean early in COVID, even before leading up to COVID. I found that going for a walk and I did it for a while. I would not take any worship songs for you know; I think we turn everything into a To Do activity for God. And so, if I was going on a walk, I would have to listen to podcasts, I’d have to listen to a worship song because now it justifies now it’s a spiritual walk. There was a season I started taking nothing, and I didn’t see it as a wasted hour. I don’t think I’m the only one with that problem right now. We have noisy souls. And I think part of that and by the way, Julie, I think part of that has been a result of this crazy church movement. That is loud, and lights, and fog and excitement, and revival. And I think it’s gotten us so noised up, which is why many of evangelicals I leave have, for the past 10 years, we’ve heard them, leaving the evangelical churches who more Eucharist based service. Why? Because they’re tired of the noise. And I think in many ways, people who deconstruct that sort of the journey that ends up being where I’m tired of the noise, but now rather than tuning in, just to whatever, you know, philosophy is being thrown at you by the world tune in to the noise to the voice of the Spirit. That’s what Elijah did. Many others in Scripture., Jesus didn’t regularly deconstruct, but he regularly took time apart and quieted his soul, which was why he was always so well, he’s perfect but he you’d never see Jesus upset, you know, and I get that He is God, man, I get it. But, but still, he lived in temptations like ours. But I think I think he built that into his psyche, to his life into his system into his way. And I think again, we need more of that. And I think that’s ultimately what will lead back to Faith.
JULIE ROYS 51:31
I love that at the end of your book, and I hope people don’t miss this because you have a little afterward. And you talk about, and you’ve been open about your disappointment with the fact that you didn’t marry the love of your life. And yet, you say you realize that your great romance of your life, we’re gonna get choked up, is Jesus, right? And he’s been for me, you know, I’m married, and I love my husband. But Jesus has been the one main romance of my life. And all these other things and it’s not that we don’t need the church because the church is his bride, and we can’t ignore his people. I don’t think we need all the things that go along with church in America. But we need as people we need community; we need to pray for each other. But I think so often these sorts of things bring us back to our great love affair with Jesus. And if we didn’t have that, if we were pulled into church because of the other things, the excitement, the whatever that was there. And we didn’t love Jesus then we really do have nothing once our church experience implodes. But I have been so moved by people hurt 10 times more than me and who have seen you know, I talking to Dr. Diane Langberg about you know, we’ve had some real conversations. I’m like, how do you deal with all the stories of abuse that you deal with at the hands of so-called Christians and keep your faith? And she says, you know, it comes down to Jesus and I’ve had to find him in this. Just you know, if you could speak to those right now who are you know, in the midst of this, but trying to find you know, rekindle that love with Jesus.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 53:33
You just start declaring the truth to yourself. That’s so basic right? I mean, but why did we make it so complicated? The Christian faith is a lot easier than we make it out to be. If we can just get back to that place of understanding again the love of the Father and for me, it has taken brokenness deep brokenness in my heart to see the depth of His love and yeah, that afterward, I wrote it because I felt like I needed just like it was like there was a missing thing. I just felt like it’s a sad story, the book but there’s a lot of hope in it. I think people say that but, but it’s more than hope. I think the afterword was my way of saying you know, listen. It wasn’t just that there’s hope. It’s even more like hope is like you’re still waiting for something to happen whereas the afterward was my way of saying I am living the life of those dreams that I wanted. I’m living the life of those riches that I’ve wanted and yeah, it’s every you know you think about even like human relationships. Every relationship has ups and downs and seasons of dryness and it’s a love story in its most basic format and I don’t mean it in any way or dramatic way I just mean it really is it’s a love story that will be you know the cap of it that the apex of it will be when we see Jesus face to face which is why one of my favorite verses in Scripture is what Peter of all people like I love Peter and at the end in his in his letter to the epistles, he’s he just says that we’re gonna see him someday and the joy that is inexpressible when you see him because you love him so much. And I think Peter understood that at such a deep level because he had seen such deep, humiliating brokenness. And to me again, that’s the picture of how did Peter come back? He didn’t. Jesus came to him. He was out on this boat fishing. It was Jesus who came to Him. Jesus does the first step. He’s come to us right now, I believe if you’re listening, and you’re in that place of hurting, I genuinely believe that God would use the show, to remind you that he has already taken his steps towards you. And the question is, will you say, yes, Lord. Whatever it looks like, and I’m going to learn from those things. I don’t know what I don’t know how I don’t know when, but I’m going to respond, yes, to that invitation of coming into a deeper relationship with you. And that, I promise you, you’ll never be disappointed in.
JULIE ROYS 55:41
Well, Lina, I know we could talk about this for hours. I think you and I could sit down, definitely unpack this for a really long time. But this has been rich. And I just really appreciate you. I appreciate again, your integrity, your authenticity and vulnerability in this book. And I just pray for God’s anointing and blessing on it and your ministry. So, thank you.
LINA ABUJAMRA MD 56:06
Thank you so much for having me. We did talk a lot a lot, but it’s been so much fun. Thanks, Julie.
JULIE ROYS 56:12
And thanks so much for listening to The Roys R, a podcast dedicated to reporting the truth and restoring the church. I’m Julie Roys. And just a reminder, if you’d like a copy of Lina’s book, Fractured faith, we’re offering those to anyone who gives a gift of $25 or more to The Roys Report this month. So, if you’d like to support this ministry and get a copy of Fractured Faith, just go to JulieRoys.com/donate. Also, just a quick reminder to subscribe to The Roys Report on Apple podcast, Google podcast or Spotify. 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 this 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.