are you a spiritual refugee?

Questions in a refugee camp.

A refugee is, by definition,

a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.

So a spiritual refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being the subject of hostility or ill treatment because of his or her spiritual condition and who has left the church and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the church’s protection and services.

Or, if you have not yet left the church, perhaps you are an Internally Displaced Person. An IDP is someone who,

has not crossed the border but shares many characteristics with refugees. They also cannot avail themselves of international law because they remain inside their own country. They are largely inaccessible to outside monitors and assistance because they remain within their borders.

So a spiritual internally displaced person is someone who is still within the church but who receive ill treatment and hostility because they have nowhere else to go. They feel trapped and that they have no recourse.

This is the problem with those who grow discontent with the church. They are either in unhappily or out altogether. It is a terrible choice to make that some find liberating and others find extremely terrifying. Just like refugees and internally displaced persons.

Perhaps you are a good and happy citizen of a good and happy church. In which case I am genuinely happy for you. I would encourage you to remember and do what you can for those I’ve been writing about above.

But if you find yourself within the church and feel that it has become detrimental to your spiritual health, or if you have left the church for this very reason, then it might be helpful to understand yourself as a refugee or an internally displaced person.

I will write more about this tomorrow.


12 Replies to “are you a spiritual refugee?”

  1. Oh, that the church would only practice the commandments of Christ – to love our God and love one another. There would be no divisions, no strife, no refugees . . .
    Blessings, David!

  2. I was and IDP and then a refugee.

    Yesterday’s post took me back to a long-ago incident. I wrote down my thoughts about it but hesitated to share it here. However, it applies to today’s post as much as to yesterday’s – maybe even more:

    What might be called my first “psychic break” from the Christianity I’d been immersed in for several years came when I was 20. I’d returned home from almost a year on the road with a gospel choir because my dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. No, the trigger for this change was not the fact of his illness. Yes, I did go through an emotional “if only” syndrome: feeling that if only I’d been a better daughter it might not have happened – yet at the same time I recognized that as an irrational but common emotional reaction. I also flirted with the idea of trying to bribe God by making outlandish promises if only he’d perform a miracle – but knew that was also an irrational but common emotional response.

    I didn’t believe that either God or the devil had anything to do with it – or karma or luck or anything mystic or magical. Bad things happen to good people. I believed that what mattered was how we reacted to things and that God was there to comfort, support, and provide guidance – not to wave a magic wand and make it go away. I believed that prayer was most beneficial to the one who prayed – it wasn’t an incantation or spell that would change the external world or alter God’s mind, but would instead change the person praying. Praying wasn’t about getting things – it was about seeking wisdom. It wasn’t about “God change them” but “God change me”.

    I knew my outlook was different than most of my Christian acquaintances, and radical to the crowd my family and I fellowshipped with. We belonged to a mega-church that was on the cutting edge of the apostolic, headship / submission, and prosperity fads that were becoming all the rage. I’d had well meaning church members try to fit me into their one-size-fits-all box many times. But as annoying, frustrating, and depressing as that could be, as mind-bending, manipulative, and confidence-destroying as it was, I hadn’t considered leaving. But when Dad got sick, I saw and felt the response of these “good” people for what it was – cold, hard, rigid dogma utterly lacking in compassion, empathy, or any type of wisdom or truth.

    You see, the verdict was that it was all Dad’s fault. Not because he’d smoked a pipe for years (although he’d quit at least five years earlier) or that he breathed Mom’s second hand cigarette smoke for decades. Those were, actually, very likely real, physical contributing factors. But no, that wasn’t the problem (except to the extent that smoking was considered to be a sin and therefore placed the smoker outside of God’s protection). No, the awful sin that caused this terrible calamity was much worse. It wasn’t even that Dad had married Mom – a divorcee – all those years ago. Of course, that certainly didn’t help things – it wasn’t the proximate cause, but was evidence of – well, something. I’m not sure what, but it was enough to prevent Dad from becoming a deacon. Never mind that Mom left her first husband for reasons that would make most “good Christians” cringe. Ignore the fact that Dad embraced not only his wife, but adopted her child as his own, fathered two more, and had been, by that time, married for almost 30 years. That he’d married a divorced woman made him unworthy of acting as a leader in the church.

    So, what was the really awful thing that placed my father out of God’s protection and put him in a position of vulnerability where Satan could smite him with a brain tumor? Why – hold your breath – he and Mom did not regularly attend a home “cell” group and place themselves under the “covering” of a “shepherd”. Oh, on Sundays they both taught Sunday school and attended both morning and evening worship services. Dad was an usher, and entrusted with processing the collection (he was a financial comptroller by profession). They also attended Wednesday evening worship service. Dad was also a troop leader in the church’s version of Boy Scouts. They hosted weekly bible study/fellowship groups. And they varied their attendance at a couple of different home groups. They also more than tithed. But they hadn’t bought in to the latest fad for micromanaging church member’s lives. They said the pastor was their pastor and God didn’t require them to submit to any type of “covering” beyond his grace. That was the great sin that, according to far too many of those “good” people, landed Dad in the ICU.

    Those who believed that rubbish were quite vocal about it – and not only to each other in their own homes or at church. They phoned Mom and told her what they thought. They said it to my face in the hospital. And I realized that they were far more lost than anyone they’d ever consigned to hell – hard-hearted, blind, doing wickedness in the name of good.

    I remember sitting outside in a garden next to the hospital, realizing that I’d come to an intersection. I had nothing in common with most of the people I’d been going to church with and little in common with the remainder. I knew that I would never again try to be what was expected or to fit in with them. I knew I had a choice – I could squash everything good and alive and hopeful and creative and unique about me and pretend to be like one of the group, or I could resolve to be true to myself and what I knew to be right.

    I’d like to say that at that point I left the church in general and began walking a very different path, but that was a long evolutionary process. I did leave that particular church – reluctantly, and not immediately. Even then, I didn’t give up my membership for years. It was more than a decade before I left church behind entirely and still more years before I realized that what had been faith had metamorphosed into something entirely different.

  3. There are so many lost outside, and inside the church, a spiritual refugee is a great way to word it! Thank you for sharing it! I’d love to invite you to check out our website at ! If you’d like to leave a review of our site or our music, I’d love to bless you with a 25% off on your first Order, simply e-mail me, and I’ll send you the coupon code.
    Bless you,

  4. Syl – I just wanted to tell you thank you for taking the time share your story here. I can’t imagine the pain of hearing such hateful things while your father was dying…and from the very ones who profess a relationship with Christ. Many elements in your story resonated with me deeply. Like you, I am no longer in a position to be victimized by such unGodly people.

    Take Care

  5. I’ve been an IDP and a refugee, but now I think I’m more of a spiritual Bedouin, much more at home out in the wilderness than in the “civilized” world of the organized church. I almost can’t stand to walk into a church – I just feel stifled.

  6. Oh, and my question marks refuse to be fenced in – they’re bouncing all over the place BOING BOING BOING!

  7. @Gary “Like you, I am no longer in a position to be victimized by such unGodly people.”

    Gary, let’s take it one step further and try to see those “other” and “Ungodly” people as really no different than ourselves.

    Yes, leave psychically abusive environments, but don’t abandon love, especially for those who hurt us, and even hate us.

  8. John, it is because I have chosen love over “psychically abusive environments” that makes them very much different than me. The fact that I am horrified by such hurtful behaviors does not mean I am incapable of loving even my enemies. It simply means I am horrified by such hurtful behaviors.

  9. Syl, there are many many many people out here like you and have suffered greatly under the ‘religions of man.’

    I came to know Christ by my own Damascus Road type of experience. I have suffered ridicule and hate since that time. It was not the start of something wonderful as I thought it would be. I also did not become a so-called “Christian” to become a door-mat or target for others. Or to be forced to believe in the multitude of lies and false teachings that dominate the majority of churches today. So after years of bouncing around and investigating all denominations and such I finally knocked the sand from my sandals and swore to never enter a modern mainstream church again nor to believe or support the majority of those on TV or with mega-church standings, or who demand I bow to the ‘prosperity gospel.’

    I have seen people die suffering because of such horrible teachings, treatment, judgements, and total dis-regard for others. I know some who committed suicide from listening to false prophets and modern Zionist or Judeo-Christianity and those who use the bible as a weapon or to force us to support evil and evil doers. To make us think we are not “perfect,” and that all bad things that happen to good people are hate judgements from God – which they are not. To force poor people to give to the already wealthy churches and those who do little for others. To keep us silent from challenging lies and so-called brothers in Christ who are actually not, but purveyors of the anti-Chirst and as Christ said.. “liars from the beginning.’

    I even walked away from bible college and mainstream ordination because of all the lies, false teachings and hate and back-biting. We are supposed to even teach about or mention some bible versus so we won’t offend someone or some special interest group that wants to control us all.. even our thoughts and spiritual beliefs. I walked away from all the cult-like mind-sets and demands that we be “in good standing with the church and their doctrines” or else go to hell and suffer illness and death. Well… WWJD? Not what the world and most mainstreamers would do or think or claim or teach.

    Sad days we live in. However, I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers and know the best is yet to come when we are released from this evil world full of evil doers and the multitude of lies that have encompassed our culture and society and leaders.

    Feel blessed and awakened.

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