Saturday, March 28, 2015

U-Turn Conference: George Barna's Disturbing Talk on "Brokenness"

To read about George Barna's earlier talk at U-Turn, click here. To read about Paul Blair's talk, click hereTo read about David Barton's talk, click here. To read about Sandy Rios and Mike Huckabee's messages, click here.

On March 19th, the Pennsylvania Pastors Network hosted U-Turn: A Conversation with Pastors on Society, Culture, and Leadership at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. George Barna's second talk of the morning, "A Roadmap for the Future: Where Do We Go From Here", began with observations about leadership in congregations, issues of the day, and Christian discipleship. However, the tone of the talk changed sharply when Barna waxed poetic about "brokenness".
"One of the things that I've discovered about discipleship is that there are a number of things that God does in the lives of his disciples, and one of the things he invariably does with anybody who's going to make any kind of a difference is he breaks them. Now, I will tell you this. As I've studied the sermons that are being preached across America today, it is very, very rare to find anybody who preaches about brokenness, about anybody who encourages their congregants to allow God to break them. See, because that's become un-American. In America, we teach that we're overcomers. We're victors. We're triumphant. We're strong. We make it happen. We solve problems. See, but God's way is no, when you're weak is when you're strong. When you're broken is when you're usable."
"We've got a vast majority of people who are accepting Christ as their savior without brokenness," Barna complained, telling listeners that faith requires being broken in "sin, self, and society".

I was disgusted. Challenges make us better people, but traumas that break our spirits prevent us from flourishing. Barna's belief that only a traumatized, "broken" person can serve God ignores the fact that traumatic experiences can cause lifelong psychological and physical harm. The myth that suffering and trauma make us spiritually stronger ignores all the evidence that trauma undermines our well-being. (I encourage people to read about the ACE study to learn more about trauma's devastating effects.) Instead of telling people that God wants them "broken", we should help them find healing and cultivate resilience.

Moreover, Barna's ideas about "brokenness" discourage us from showing compassion toward those who have been traumatized. Barna discouraged audience members from alleviating the suffering of those who are being broken by crisis.
"God gives us the privilege of experiencing crises in our life. He gives us crisis. It might be a physical crisis, it might be an emotional crisis, it might be a financial crisis. There are all kinds of crises that he uses. I found that as I did the research, among those people who have been broken, number one, they had to be broken multiple times because typically we think, 'Oh my gosh, this is an awful circumstance, I've got to overcome it,' and on our own power, we try to undo what God was doing, so God has to give us another opportunity, which means another crisis ... More often than not, churches get in the way of people being broken, and what I mean by that is we're trying to love people, and so when we see somebody endure a crisis, we come up alongside them and say, 'Hey, let us love you, don't worry about it, we're going to overcome this, we're going to wipe this out of your memory, we're going to wipe, we're going to take care of this, you won't even remember that this happened to you' ... See, the whole point is that God needed that person to deal with that situation in order to understand their own depravity and their need for him.

So, we really need to rethink how you come alongside people who are struggling and suffering. Are you trying to take away the pain? Are you trying to alleviate the suffering? Are you trying to ignore what God is putting them through? That doesn't help them. That doesn't help the church. It doesn't help the culture. And so we've got to come to grips with the necessity of being broken."
Being broken is a privilege? God breaks us to teach us how depraved we supposedly are? What kind of spiritual sadomasochism is this? I thought. The faith that Barna described was one of pain and debasement, with God playing the role of a cosmic torturer who breaks the spirits of his victims. I want no part of a deity who abuses his children instead of uplifting them.

We have a moral obligation to prevent trauma and offer succor to those who have been traumatized. If we assign any value to the intrinsic dignity of others, we should "get in the way of people being broken". If we value social justice, we must recognize that some forms of trauma are the result of oppressive systems, and that we have a moral imperative to challenge those systems. No, Mr. Barna, I am not going to ignore the battered woman, the abused child, the hate crime victim, the veteran with PTSD, or the impoverished family going hungry. If your deity can't get with that, you can keep him.

To read additional commentary on U-Turn, visit the following links.

Americans Against the Tea Party: Radical Pastors’ Network Wants Right-Wing Pastor Who Can ‘Call Down God’s Fire’ on America

Lancaster Online: Pastors must take the lead to change the nation

Right Wing Watch: Pastors Network's Sam Rohrer: Gov't Officials' Job Is To 'Promote God’s Moral Law'


  1. Disturbing, yes. Very disturbing.

    All gods are created in the image of their believers, and this is an especially stark, revealing example. If you pay attention to most fundamentalists and theocrats, they're sadists. They revel in the anticipated catastrophes of the End Times, in the torments of the damned in Hell, in the punishments they expect God to inflict on the people they disapprove of. One of the striking things about fundamentalists is how little they talk about Heaven, the supposed reward of the righteous, where they themselves expect to spend eternity. There are "Hell houses" all over the country to scare people, but no "Heaven houses" to entice them. Fundies don't talk about Heaven because pleasure and rewards bore them. What excites them is pain and punishment.

    So yes, they do believe in "God playing the role of a cosmic torturer who breaks the spirits of his victims." Sadists themselves, they demand a super-sadist as their lord and master. They relish the suffering of "brokenness" and warn against alleviating it. I predict this concept will catch on and spread among fundamentalist preachers. It's perfectly tailored to excite and inspire them.

    1. Infidel -- I googled "Christian" and "brokenness", and I was startled at how many links came up. "Brokenness" seems to be a popular topic among fundamentalists, which should make us uneasy.

      You're spot-on regarding fundamentalist sadism. I think there's also an element of self-hatred as well -- if people believe that they're sinful, fallen, and depraved, they'll believe themselves and others to be deserving of God's cruelty.

      Another interpretation is that some Christians feel powerless in the face of their traumas, so they try to make sense of it by assuming that God is teaching them something. It may be an unhealthy attempt at imposing order on a chaotic world.

  2. "When you're broken is when you're usable."

    That above statement by Barna is a succinct explanation of why oppressive belief systems need "broken" adherents to thrive. Barna's observation that one must be broken to be usable is in fact an ugly raw truth and the only honest thing he said. For fundamentalists, it is doctrine. I grew up with this self-debasing rhetoric couched in terms of faith. "Thy will, not mine, be done" is merely another iteration that inculcates disempowerment and even self-loathing.

    Barna's God -- the fundamentalists' God -- is a sociopath and a sadist, one who allowed the devil to inflict every deprivation and indignity imaginable upon Job, God's most faithful servant. The lesson for the faithful? That God "loved" and "trusted" Job so much that he traumatized him.

    I'm with you, Ahab. Anyone who believes in that horrific and extremely childish God can have him.

    1. Agi Tater -- Good point. When people are hurting and vulnerable, unscrupulous religious leaders will have an easier time taking advantage of them. If one's self-esteem has been crushed into dust by mistreatment, they'll be less likely to speak up against religious leaders. It's disturbing.


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