3 ways to handle people who are angry with the church

"Angry at the Church" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Angry at the Church” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

I know this cartoon may be offensive to you. So I would like to pose the question: Why?

  • What is it about it that is offensive?
  • Why does it upset you?
  • Are you uncomfortable with anger?
  • Does disrespect for something you respect disturb you?
  • Is this blasphemous? Heretical? Over the top?
  • Are you uncomfortable with conflict?

I’ve received countless messages from people very uncomfortable with my critique of what’s wrong with religion, Christianity, and the church. They don’t know how to deal with it. But there are people this angry with the church. I meet this anger in others all the time. In fact, I’ve been angry with the church in the past.

Some are angry because they were tired of being manipulated and coerced. Some are angry because they suffered continued sexual abuse and even rape. And everything in between. Within the church.

But I try to help people work through it and not stay there. I learned how to do it. I help others do it too.

There are a lot of people who are angry with the church. I’m friends with people who are so angry that they swear they will never darken the door of a church again. I know people who are furious with the church and have never darkened the door of a church yet. There are people in my life who have been so repeatedly abused by the church and its leaders that they have to spend a lot of time and energy working through their bitterness, resentment and anger. They don’t want to stay livid. They want to move on. But for now they are angry. Very angry!

I’m convinced, through my own experience and through my own observations, that when people are allowed to express their anger, then they can move on to deal with it. This is called health. It is addressing the disease and its symptoms. I’ve seen it over and over again that when someone is given the space to process their very disturbing and offensive feelings, especially in the presence of compassionate support, they often work through to a healthy and happy state. Some even go back into the church and try again. It doesn’t mean their experiences are glossed over, but they are processed and integrated.

They can remember the past without reliving it.

Have you read the post from a couple weeks ago, Tony Jones on Mark Driscoll: What came first, the thug or the theology? Read the comments! It will take you a long time. It is full of anger. I’ve received a lot of messages from people very uncomfortable with it and asking me to do something about it. But I’ve also received a lot of messages from people thankful that there is a safe space for people to process their anger without fear of being edited or censored or even blocked. As a result… over 300 comments later… we are seeing people apologize to and forgive one another. People are moving on.

So what do you do when you encounter someone who is really angry with the church? In fact, maybe there’s someone inside of you who’s angry with the church. Yourself! You can use these principles on that person too.

Here are the three basic principles I use:

  1. Don’t manage them! Just listen to their story. There must be a reason why they are so angry. Let the wounds of their afflictions be lanced. Let them talk.
  2. Don’t allow your hangups to get in the way. Fears of blasphemy or profanity or losing faith. Being wrong. Disrespecting something holy. It’s confession time when there are no restrictions.
  3. Don’t put a time limit on them. I’ve seen people feel better immediately after a raw, hot pouring out of anger. I’ve seen others take years to work it through. Trust the process. It works.

We might feel very uncomfortable in the presence of anger. We might get very disturbed by public displays of this anger, such as this cartoon illustrates. But it is real. It exists. How do we deal with it?

I’ve seen so many people who embrace their anger in a supportive environment work through to the other side where they are at peace. That’s how.

Could you use a safe space to process your anger? Or do you know someone who would benefit from this? Consider joining The Lasting Supper, our online community.

*** the image is taken from, of course, the famous Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes.


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41 Responses

  1. Sabio Lantz says:

    Yes, it is offensive !

    It is offensive because the human brain is highly susceptible to fear & taboo. Most religion plays on fear of death, fear of bad fortune, fear of loss of loved ones, fear of poor health. Religion layers all that fear in symbols and sacred taboos.

    Marking anything as sacred is a horrible manipulation.
    It exploits humanity’s weaknesses.
    This cartoon is offensive because it attacks the sacred.
    We are afraid of our freedom,
    of our condition,
    and so we are offended.

    David, I love your brave psychology and fearless approach — you serve others well. To the actual person angry at church, I’d add what I wrote above:

    If you see something marked as sacred, realize that you are being manipulated.

  2. Angela Shannon says:

    First of all I love your work. I have been wounded deeply by the church. As a pastor who struggles with the church at various intervals in my life, I found the picture disrespectful, not because I have NOT been blisteringly angry with the church, such a gesture would be disrespectful in other arenas. But that just me. Folks are entitled to their feelings and have them witnessed as real and authentic so they can move on. The very horrible christianey crap of forgive and forget has only led to re-offending and re-wounding.
    Your three principles for helping folks move through their anger are spot on. Good stuff. Thanks!

  3. Caryn LeMur says:

    I laughed. And… I thought it was an accurate cartoon. I think that during the grief process of our internal hopes (for relationship, for acceptance, for belonging to a group, etc.), we most likely experience the Kubler-Ross model: shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

    I like your #2 thought ‘Don’t let your hangups get in the way’, and that is one reason I always recommend non-religious-based professional licensed counselors (LCSW or PhD). The person venting is too wounded to to hear ‘Whoa, let’s pray together before you depart. Oh Father in Heaven, help us to see….’ So, it is best to avoid the church-based pastors/counselors when the grief involves disappointment in them or disappointment in God.

  4. David Waters says:

    There was a time I would have been offended, not angered. Now it has zero effect. Great stuff though David. Good art and hitting nerves that need addressed!

  5. tru says:

    Tangent time!

    I find it offensive because Bill Watterson’s work has been appropriated way too many times. It’s been appropriated as seen here to show disdain for whatever the subject, be it Fords or churches. It’s been appropriated to show approval for the church as well. Since he has resisted merchandising of all kinds, those who co-opt these characters are, in Watterson’s words, “thieves or vandals.”

    So, well, um, yeah.

    I like your 3 principles, though. Have you ever read the works of your neighbor, Pema Chodron? (neighbor in the global sense) I think you’d like what she has to say.

  6. Yes I’m aware of her. Her book “Comfortable with Uncertainty” helped me during an important time in my life. Watterson… there’s a great documentary about him on Netflix.

  7. Sabio Lantz says:

    Hey tru,
    I have not thought out copyright morality vs. open-source morality, but I know that none of my ideas, drawings or words are truly mine. We are all in a web of mutual influence: borrowing, giving, stealing –usually unconsciously.

    Your run to defend Watterson, led me to read a bit on Peeing Calvin. Fascinating. But it seems Watterson doesn’t care if folks use his Calvin, and holds it all in a light way, though companies invested in profiting off him may care. Really? Is Calvin still Watterson’s — nah, I don’t think so.

    I’m not sure, but I hold lightly any of my thoughts, and hope centuries of thinkers before me don’t mind that I have borrowed and corrupted theirs?

    We should never create, if we are afraid of losing our creation. For loss is guaranteed.
    We can only hope that the moment’s creation serves others well. I think David’s did.

    Maybe I am wrong.

  8. lynn barry says:

    Anger doesn’t get the respect it deserves……it can motivate us to action against those who would harm us, it can propel us toward healing if it is allowed expression. The image in the cartoon is juvenile and offensive……but necessary for some to relate to in order to legitimize their anger. I only hope that those who relate to that emotion find the support to grow THROUGH it, to the healing that awaits them, and the confidence to not accept the unacceptable from ANY individual, or ANY institution!

  9. James says:

    They want to move on

    But there is no way on. Church is a non-negotiable part of the deal, as much a part of the creed as Jesus, God the Father and the life everlasting. But where all of these other things are propositional (you can no more disprove the existence of God than you can prove it) – or in the case of Jesus attested historical fact – when it comes to the church you are required to say that black is white against all the evidence.

    I cannot do that.

    If that means eternity in hell, so be it.

  10. Jeff P says:

    IMO if the church can’t handle a little pissing on, then it is the church that has the problem.

    Nice cartoon. I laughed.

  11. Randy says:

    David, this is brilliant ! You have nailed it to get everyone’s attention to a serious topic and explained clearly why. Certainly some will find it offensive, but then I would ask also this question if they find it offensive, Why are they not able to separate the church from God?

  12. mike says:

    Allow me to come at this from a different angle that will hopefully make sense to a lot of you. In order to appropriately assign the blame for the state of the “church” we must see-through the clever psychological side-step that’s been used by pastors and clergy for centuries to deflect their personal responsibility for the sad state of affairs within Chrisendom. The “church” is a metaphor for a Organized conglomerate of believers who follow the guidance and instruction of self proclaimed ‘leaders’-pastors/evangelists/clergy, These are the people to whom we should direct our anger at, not “the church”.

  13. Sabio Lantz says:

    Piss on:
    — the American Flag
    — Jesus on the Cross
    — Abraham Lincoln
    — Albert Einstein
    — the White House
    — Yahweh, Krishna or Mohammed

    Peoples’ little churches are not the only things that should be able to handle a good piss down.

    If “Killing the Buddha” offends you, you’ve got more sacred bonds to shake loose!
    The unquestionable, Secular or Religious, need to be brought down.

  14. Sabio Lantz says:

    Did my last comment with the “Killing the Buddha” link get dropped? I have noticed you instituted up-and-down buttons and wonder if there is a glitch. BTW, I suggest using only UP buttons, as I have seen on other sites. With DOWN, things just get nasty and competitive.

  15. Phyllis says:

    This cartoon almost made me wish I had a penis. I was so angry at the church I thought I might spontaneously combust. During my toxic phase a dear friend gave me a pistol, and I found several copies of a drawing of a church that I took to the shooting range to use as targets. Yep, I was angry. Learning to use a pistol legally in a safe environment in this way really helped me.

  16. ya i’m working on removing the dislike button.

  17. Julie says:

    Personally, I don’t care for images that use bodily functions to make a point. It seems a bit juvenile. Having said that, some people may think the way I express anger and/or frustration can be juvenile.

  18. mike says:

    I’ve have a devilish feeling of vindication as I’ve watched the Institutional church slowly implode upon itself, . preachers everywhere are shaking in their Johnston&murphy’s and dropping like flies.Their Glory days are thru, the cozy Church gig is over- finished-finito. I’m not sure what disenfranchised preachers will do now to feed their Egos since the fan base for the Old-Time religion is “Crossing the Jordan”, so to speak.

  19. Pat Pope says:

    Good points, David.

  20. thanks guys. i was actually a little nervous posting this one. as you can see on the cartoon, it is dated ’13.

  21. It’s not like the Church hasn’t pissed on people before.

  22. Danica says:

    Really, it’s just a building. Right? Or is the cartoon meant to show the hurting person pissing on the people who hurt him?

    If it’s the actual church *building* (which I would guess isn’t your intent), it reminds me of once, when I was a child in the Islands … the Anglican church there (the only church), was surrounded by a coral border. The locals called everything the border, ‘kapu’, or, ‘holy’. I once saw a man standing inside the border … his friend was smoking just two feet from him, but outside the border. He deliberately stepped outside the border, took a drag from the ciggy, exhaled, then stepped back to where he had been standing within the ‘kapu’ place.

    This legalistic, almost supersticious elevation of the church building as holy or sacred is crazy to me. But I think that if the cartoon offends a person, I would guess that it’s because it could be revealing that they really see the church building as more than just bricks and timber.

    …. and yet. If we view the church as the Church (people, the body of Christ), then I think this illustration is spot on. I think our response as the Church should be to love and listen to those who are angry, instead of being offended that they dare to challenge something we hold sacred.

  23. Brian says:

    It has been DECADES. I’ve come to accept the fact that I will never recover from my anger at the church, at fundamentalism, at anything even remotely spiritual… it’s taken on overtones of PTSD. In my worst moments, this cartoon isn’t nearly offensive enough. Doesn’t even begin to describe the damage that was done to ME. In my worst moments, I wish fundamentalists could be made to feel – and carry around every day like I do – every bit of the pain inflicted on me by the self-appointed self-righteous.


    I sincerely wish venting WAS cathartic, that catharsis worked for me.

    It doesn’t. I’ve been in and out of therapy for decades. It’s helped… but it doesn’t change the fact that I just have to figure out how to not let it devour me from the inside out. On far too many days it’s a losing battle.

  24. mirele says:

    I’m so used to seeing that Calvinish-style (as in Calvin and Hobbes) cartoon on the back window of pickup trucks peeing on the logo of the opposing university football team that I guess David’s cartoon lost its impact years ago.

    That doesn’t mean I occasionally don’t get ideas. Some years ago, a church in the next city over draped a HEUUUUGE American flag across its front after 9/11/2001.. Every time I drove by (which was pretty much twice a day, every day for two years) I wanted to stop and pin a note to the flag asking if the flag was an idol. I never did. Some time after that, I noticed the flag was gone. I guess they got tired of it.

  25. Gary says:

    David, I recommend either keeping both the like AND dislike buttons or removing them both. To only remove the dislike just feels like a form of control to me.

    Loved the post BTW!!

  26. Sabio Lantz says:

    It is also a form of control and censor to stop character assassination, vulgarity, ad hominem arguments, and much more. We just have to decide what atmosphere we want in our houses.

    ‘Tis always a trade off — with everyone having different preferences (usually determined by their temperament).

  27. Gary says:

    I don’t equate a thumbs down (meaning I disagree with the viewpoint expressed) to be the equivalent of “character assassination, vulgarity, ad hominem arguments”. But even in those examples…censuring them as you state, is still a form of control. (The only one of which I MIGHT support is the character assassination) David has had a policy very different than the one on your blog (which drove me away from any desire to ever participate on you blog again) and that is one of allowing the conversation to flow freely. I believe allowing ONLY thumbs up is walking away from that principle.

  28. Julie says:

    I think it’s fine to get rid of the dislike button and keep only the like button. If someone dislikes the comment, they can say so and they’re more likely to explain why. It’s more constructive that way. If someone likes the comment, they can simply give a thumbs up. No explanation is necessary because it’s already constructive in some way even if the person doesn’t know exactly what it is about the comment that’s liked.

  29. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Gary,
    Ah, as I suspected, this is the very same Gary who has filled past Naked Pastor posts with explosive swearing at other commentors. You are absolutely right, Gary, I don’t allow that on my blog. Nor do I miss your comments on my blog.

  30. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Julie,
    I totally agree, Julie!
    I didn’t want to just thumb up you. 🙂
    Very well said.

  31. Gary says:

    LOL – Nice Sabio. I think this is the character assassination piece you were referring to…as I have NEVER engaged in “explosive swearing at other commentors” on your blog. No our disagreement came over a much more troubling form of control…when you intervened in a very respectful and positive exchange between myself and another atheist there and would not allow it to continue because it was not following what YOU thought was a proper progression.

    At least we agree on one thing. I will not be participating on your blog.


  32. Sabio Lantz says:

    So glad we still have a mutual understanding, Gary.

  33. Gary says:

    Julie, It seems to me your logic would apply equally to both the like and the dislike buttons.

  34. Julie says:

    Gary, I don’t think so because people generally don’t follow up with an explanation after they “like” or “dislike” a comment. Without an explanation for the “dislike,” it ends up being unconstructive. “Likes” are always constructive, even if only as an encouraging gesture that another person connects with something you said.

  35. Gary says:

    Hmm…I would still think a gesture of agreement or disagreement would be of equal value without an explanation one way or the other. I believe both carry the same constructive and/or unconstructive potential. I agree that the author receiving a “like” feels better about the feedback than they do when receiving a “dislike”, but the same can be said for full comments of agreement or disagreement. I don’t see the value of the buttons as anything more than a general barometer of the general perspective of other readers…and without the ability to reflect both positive and negative there is no real value at all. Which is why I don’t mind them not being present at all…but only allowing “like”s is much more superficial in my opinion.

  36. Shary Hauber says:

    I have a lot of friends who are, have been, or should be angry at the church. On my FB site I tell people you do not preach at someone if they get angry you listen, you learn, you identify with them. Everyone walks their own journey in their own time. I have not found two alike yet after talking to many mostly Missionary Kids who were abused in the mission environment.

    O the picture doesn’t offend me, I had two little boys. He doesn’t even look angry just that he aimed and hit what he was aiming at and is gleeful. 🙂

  37. Mich says:

    Amen, David. I had this image of Marge Simpson who just kept burying her feelings until, one fine day, she explodes on a bridge in the middle of traffic.

    I came to realize that we cannot truly feel love and compassion until we can admit to ourselves that we are entirely capable of hated. It does take courage to allow stuff to surface. Unfortunately, like Marge, we often wait until it comes out explosively.

  38. Mich says:

    oops, forgot to weigh-in about image. Funny, non-offensive to me. Worth a thousand words.

  39. Mich says:

    Sorry to hog the comments here but just noticed the slight “passive-aggressive approval-seekingness” of the kid’s look.

    See, it’s making say a thousand words. Stopping now…