The pain inflicted by our brothers and sisters in Christ — particularly those in spiritual authority over us — is not so much like a wound that heals entirely with time. Rather, as pediatric physician Lina AbuJamra says, it’s “a latent infection” that might lay dormant but whose symptoms are hidden just beneath the surface, ready at any moment to reveal themselves.
AbuJamra read a moving “letter of forgiveness” during the RESTORE Chicago conference Saturday, according to investigative Christian blogger Julie Roys. AbuJamra, a former women’s ministry director at the flagship location of Harvest Bible Chapel, the embattled multisite church founded in 1988 by disgraced ex-pastor James MacDonald, was addressing the “church hurt” that has plagued her life since she left the Chicago megachurch several years ago.
If you don’t know all the details of the consistent sinful behavior that ultimately led to MacDonald’s demise, you can catch up here. The 59-year-old former pastor made news once again over the weekend when the elder board of the church he founded officially deemed him “biblically disqualified” from ministry.
In a letter read to the congregation during Sunday worship services, elder Karl Jackson thanked MacDonald for his 30-plus years of ministry service but condemned him for failing to live and act “above reproach,” revealing the founding pastor had been fired for espousing a “sinful pattern of inappropriate language, anger, and domineering behavior” over the years — a realization that came only after MacDonald went on a profanity-laced tirade against Roys and other journalists who exposed his behavior during a radio interview in early 2019.
Now, as for AbuJamra, she wrote in February that she decided to step away from Harvest Bible Chapel after MacDonald aired a home-made video during worship services in 2013, showcasing four elders vehemently condemning the “sinful” behavior of three ex-elders who voiced concerns about the pastor’s pattern of inappropriate behavior. The four elders in the video not only fully vouched for MacDonald but also encouraged members of the megachurch to disassociate themselves from the dissenting elders, whom they referred to as “the enemy.”
It has been six years since AbuJamra left Harvest Bible Chapel, “and it still hurts,” she said during the conference Saturday.
Church leaders who abuse their power, she expressed, should not be allowed to “hit” and then “run” to new places, as MacDonald has apparently done. He was seen in mid-October, according to Christianity Today, at two events (a men’s retreat on Oct. 12 and a Sunday service on Oct. 20) at other Chicagoland megachurches.
“I’ve come to find out that church hurt is lot more like a latent infection, like herpes or shingles or mono; once you get it, it’s always there,” AbuJamra said. “It will go dormant for a long time, and then, just like that, any kind of stress will cause a flare-up. And with each flare comes the pain — the flares can be sporadic or recurrent, and each is accompanied with agonizing pain known only to those who suffer from that same pain.”
AbuJamra went on to reveal that, despite the fact that six years have gone by since she left the church founded by MacDonald, whom she said was her “hero,” she still has a great deal of trouble trusting other believers and church leaders.
During her emotional 10-minute speech, AbuJamra talked about the act of forgiveness, that it’s not something done once and never revisited, but that she’s learned it’s a continual decision, a spiritual remedy that must be taken time and again. With that in mind, she went on to publicly forgive MacDonald for all his wrongdoing and then repented for her own sin: the anger that has, at times, fed her spirit of unforgiveness, bitterness, and untrustworthiness.
Even in that, though, AbuJamra talked about the righteous anger she still harbors, equating abuse within the church to the callousness and thoughtlessness of hit-and-run accidents.
“I’m angry at a system that seems to continue to allow someone to get away with running over someone else,” she said. “I’m angry at the driver who seems to have gotten away with it. I’m angry at the passengers in the driver’s car who have quietly moved on in their lives, putting the past behind them without a shred of shame. I’m even angry at God for allowing it all to happen. And I’m angry at myself for feeling so angry, for not being able to just move on once and for all.”
But even in her hurt and her indignation, AbuJamra saw her unforgiving heart for the “poison” that it is.
So how is it that we heal from the hurt that is guaranteed in this fallen world? We stand up for what is right, we call out what is wrong, we expose what stands athwart God’s design, and we forgive. And then, we forgive again, and again, and again.
“I want to be free,” AbuJamra said. “So today, I am here to forgive — again.”
Watch her full speech below: