Through the rich stories of eight participants, the author explores the psychological, spiritual, and ritual dimensions of religious trauma among queer people. Drawing on current scholarship in the field of trauma studies, the author makes a case for religious trauma as an important frame to understand the experiences of queer people in non-accepting faith communities. Though previous scholarship has limited the recovery from religious trauma to those who exit religious communities, in this research the author analyzes participant stories to understand how queer people might find healing in accepting religious communities. Using self-psychology to understand the depth of trauma experienced in non-accepting communities, the author explores the experience of God and sexual identity within non-accepting communities. Through these narratives, the author demonstrates the potential for post-traumatic growth and life beyond conservative faith communities. Petersen argues for a number of key recommendations for congregations and pastoral caregivers that seek to welcome those who have experienced religious trauma.
Brooke N. Petersen is lecturer in pastoral theology, director of the MDiv, MA, MAM programs and coordinator for candidacy at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC).
Chapter One: Trauma History and Critique
Chapter Two: Homosexuality in Psychology and Pastoral Theology
Chapter Three: What Was Lost: Describing the Attachment to Religious Community as Selfobject
Chapter Four: Estrangement: Leaving Church
Chapter Five: Psychological Analysis: Return
About the Author
Brooke Petersen’s new book is an incredible addition to the emerging literature on religious trauma. It narrates, as the subtitle indicates, queer Christians’ stories of estrangement and return. It’s important to note the last two words, “and return,” because much of the current literature on religious trauma is about estrangement without return…. The stories recorded in Petersen’s book may be familiar to some progressive pastors. But never before have they been so thoroughly gathered in one place, with a special focus on the healing function of return. This is an important book, and one that will be shared with religious trauma support groups and queer ministries for years to come.
In the dominant culture, religion is supposed to be kept immune from criticism. Maltreatment of marginalized people by religions is excused as 'part of the tenets of the faith.' And yet in every religious community, not only those from which these voices come, queer people are marginalized, persecuted, and traumatized in the name of the Divine, an act that separate people from comfort, connection, and community. Every pastor, pastoral counselor, and person concerned with the creep of religion's intolerance into daily life, should be reading this book.
In Religious Trauma: Queer Stories in Estrangement and Return, Brooke N. Petersen widens the vision of pastoral theology and trauma studies in this psychologically attuned work. That trauma is too often a part of Queer experience should not surprise, but we may be surprised by the hope that this book inspires, the pastoral practice it will engender, and its ability to push us to anew about religion. A needed and sure to be well-received book.
We have spent centuries building the assumption that the Christian church was the place for wholeness and healing that untangling that assumption—and the harms that go along with it—is going to take tremendous work for each individual, congregation, and denomination. Many, including members of the LGBTQ communtity, are in the process of 'deconstruction' to discover in themselves who they are and how they relate to God and the rest of the world. The deconstruction from religious trauma will be the ongoing work of the church for the next several centuries. Dr. Petersen provides a perspective roadmap for understanding, managing, healing, and growing from religious trauma for pastors and healers of all types.
At long last, religious trauma perpetrated on queer people is getting the attention it deserves. In her gripping book, Petersen makes painfully clear how religious trauma operates and why it does so much damage to queer souls. But this book isn't just about terrible acts of spiritual violence; it is also about incredibly resilient survivors. These queer souls can't or won't give up God. Their stories demonstrate how powerful queer spirituality is, even in the face of hate and violence, and what a gift these wise and courageous souls are to the church. Religious Trauma is an invaluable read for Christian communities that want to build stronger, braver, more honest spiritual homes for all their members.
It is a rare volume that draws so thoughtfully and persuasively from theology, history, psychoanalysis, and qualitative research to lift up the voices of those who have been deeply harmed by the church, but also offered healing and redemption in return. Religious Trauma Queer Stories draws realistically, but hopefully, on the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ persons who have suffered spiritual abuse which exiled them from their religious communities and practices, but eventually found their way to congregations of welcome, inclusion, and healing. Dr. Petersen’s high regard for congregational life (for better and for worse) and her recognition of the power of ritual to harm and to heal make this volume a critical, welcome addition to a theology that is truly practical. It is worth a second or third read!