4 ways the church can support post-traumatic growth

July 8, 2019

Claudia was the first victim of trafficking I had ever walked alongside. For most of our early encounters, she wailed out her anguish in unintelligible Spanish. The grief, the loss, the flashbacks, the nightmares, and the constant anxiety controlled her life. Everything had been stolen from her. 

Week after week, we met in a small storage room at a local church that had donated space for us. A pencil drawing of Jesus hung above the chair where Claudia wept inconsolably. Many times, I shared the gospel with her and assured her of God’s love for her. She would nod and point to the picture of Jesus and fold into the fetal position weeping. I wept, too. Garnering support from local churches to help her set up a household, we loved her in every practical way we could. She improved. She began to use new skills to minimize her symptoms and feel more in control of her life. 

A year later, we sat in my counseling office. I mentioned there was something important I wanted to share with her, but interrupting me, she said, “Wait, are you about to tell me the way to God?” I surprisingly nodded. “I have been waiting for you to tell me this!” she said emphatically. Then she listened. She listened like she had never listened before. Jumping from her chair, she said, “Yes! I want this!” So, we clasped hands tightly, bowed heads, bent knees, and Claudia prayed to her new Savior. We wept tears of joy as we fell into a heap, hugging and celebrating the new life she was receiving from Jesus.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: trauma can prevent people from hearing the gospel. 

But, trauma also creates a ripe mission field where real, practical, unmistakable love can be a tool for harvest. How do we enter this place? To serve here, we need to steady ourselves while hindrances slowly fall from tormented minds, bodies, and spirits. We must minister patiently with great hope. 

I see the cumulative impact of severe trauma upon human life every day and can only imagine the grief the Father feels. The god of this world is destroying human life in so many ways. It’s atrocious and tragic. Christians are needed in this space. Conquering the enemy is our destiny (Rev.12:11), and God tells us to overcome evil with love (Rom. 12). 

So how do we lead the traumatized gently, patiently, and wholeheartedly so that they are not alone and ultimately flourish despite their trauma? Here are four ways the church can support post-traumatic growth:

1. Communicate well: How we minister to traumatized people matters. When we understand the impact of trauma upon human life, we can begin a new way of communicating with the traumatized. Education is important in the ministry realm. We need to know people. Being savvy in trauma-sensitive practices of choice, trust, collaboration, empowerment, and safety renews our communication and opens the way for conversations that restore dignity and the power of choice to survivors. Good communication paves the way for the gospel to take root in the hearts of victims and for them to freely choose Christ. 

Trauma is an experience that steals power and choice; it can shape development, hinder physical, mental, and relational health, and hinder decision-making abilities. Trauma impacts the entire person—body, mind, and spirit—and can keep its victims trapped in unhealthy cycles, unsafe relationships, fear, anxiety, depression, shame, or addiction in attempts to alleviate emotional pain and suffering. Uninformed, impatient, forceful, or intolerant speech can mimic abusers and reinforce shame and the lies deeply planted into the hearts of traumatized people, short-circuiting posttraumatic growth. 

2. Be a companion: Get involved, deeply involved, in the rebuilding process of a life. At my church, I am regularly tapped on the shoulder by women who have been seeking God and safe human connection after decades of sexual abuse by parents or family members. Even childhood victims of trafficking (being sold for sex by a parent, guardian, or another as a child), now grown up, have blended into the crowd and come desperately seeking relief from their pain. I know they are in your church, too, and they need us. 

In my experience as a counselor, so many victims want to believe that there is a God who loves them. But abuse creates lies that break down relationships; lies about worth, purpose, and potential, that hinder healthy human connection. While salvation and regeneration of the person happen in an instant, deeply entrenched false beliefs created by abuse take time, patience, and truth to root out. Christians are beautifully positioned to be present, build trust, and model faithfulness in relationships, creating a safe space for victims to explore God’s redeeming love, find his peace, and discover his purpose for their lives.  

3. Offer practical care: Help trauma survivors create stability in their lives. Help them identify needs, and offer practical help. Help them know that they are not alone. The traumatized need our tender, loving care; Good-Samaritan-kind of care, care that shows up and costs us something. They need an investment by us, proof that they are worth it. Not toxic charity, but sacrificial love for our neighbor; love that help loosens bounds in the aftermath of trauma and propels them toward growth. 

4. Commit to prayer: Without prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, we divert like a car out of alignment pointing toward the ditch. Our heart of compassion, our tolerance for the painful places, our wisdom for support, and godly loving counsel will flow from a life of prayer. Victims need you to pray faithfully for the healing of their hearts, minds, and bodies. Prayer also keeps us patient and loving and believing God for posttraumatic healing. 

Recently I met Claudia for dinner. “La libertad es increíble,” she shouted above the noisy restaurant. In English, this means “Liberty is incredible!” Her words took my breath. We wept tears of joy and melted into one another’s arms, grateful for Jesus and in awe of the intentional intersection of our lives. Claudia has grown beyond the trauma of seven years ago and now lives in freedom in Christ. She’s now married, and her husband and daughter have since put their faith in Jesus. With perseverance, practical help, lots of love, and big, praying faith, we got to be involved in this miracle of God’s transforming love. 

Rachel White

Rachel R. White, LMHC, is a licensed counselor who has devoted herself to serving traumatized women in her community to help them improve health in body, mind, and spirit. She is a wife, a mom, and an ambassador and advocate for human trafficking survivors, and the founder of Her Song Jacksonville … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24