Sinead O’Connor: “Take me to church, but not the ones that hurt …” by Brad Jersak

“Take me to church
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth”
Sinead O’Connor

Just because someone has been hurt badly or offended greatly in the context of a ‘church’ (whatever that means) and has stormed away in anger and wailed and railed about … does not mean they have renounced love or forgiveness or the need for a safe place to belong. It does not mean they’ve shut out their own conscience or have no regrets about harm they’ve done. It does not mean they’ve let go of their own beautiful song … songs of love and joy and lament and healing.  

Within Sinead O’Connor’s beautiful repertoire, you’ll hear it all — from prophetic protest to blasphemous barrage, often in critique of the church she can’t quite stop obsessing about and pining for. So when she sings, ‘Take me to church,’ we know she’s got no interest in ‘the one that hurts’ … and of course, she means, ‘hurts children’ and ‘hurts women’ and hurts ‘the poor’ and so on. That kind of ‘church’ (no matter how it dresses up or down) isn’t the truth, doesn’t represent the truth, doesn’t know the Truth. But it also strikes me that if she could find a safe place to belong that echoes her own experience and let’s her tell the story without judgment, you can bet that place would be ‘the one that hurts’ … that is, such a ‘church’ would be a harbor for the hurting and give them space to continue processing their hurts without faking it. 

Unfortunately, spiritually abused folks frequently find their way from one abusive situation to another, a seemingly endless path of one disillusionment to the next. If there’s a way to break that cycle, O’Connor holds one of the keys. Don’t stop singing, don’t stop living, don’t stop loving … and don’t stop caring about your own need for freedom and forgiveness. So it won’t do to scurry to shadowy digs that drown the bad things in denial or numb them out with distractions. We need somewhere and someone with whom we can face ‘the bad things’ we’ve done and invite a thorough spiritual and emotional washing. That might be what O’Conner is saying … or maybe it’s just what she inspires in me. 

But she’s raised a new possibility — the idea that there may be a ‘people’ or a ‘form’ rightly called (but not necessarily labeled) ‘church’ that is completely ‘other’ than those associated with our painful past. So it’s not just about escaping some beast that’s rotten and rotting. What if Christ has not abandoned his children to an all-or-nothing, abuse or isolation dilemma? Here’s my hope for the reader: 


1. if you are in a spiritually abusive situation (not just discontent, but real spiritual abuse), don’t believe the lie that there’s no other place for you. Get out right away and then weigh your options). 

2. If you have fled spiritual abuse, don’t believe the lie that there is no safe place anywhere for you. Don’t accept isolation and loneliness as the only option. There are spiritual ‘inns’ and shelters where you can love and sing and process pain and experience forgiveness. 

3. If you are looking for that safe place–not just the next in a long series of calamities, don’t rush. Some of the safest places might be more traditional than you thought (e.g. an Al-anon meeting in your neighborhood; the street mission in your inner city; an online ministry like ptm.org). And some of the most dangerous places might be much hipper than you thought (e.g. with the slick, charismatic leader and impressive facade). Do interviews, get references, use the buddy-system. How’s the peace? The joy? The love? How do they treat the children? The poor? The disabled? Are you allowed to observe? Ask questions? Disagree? Are they kind to you? To the marginalized? To the different? What do they ‘do’ with sin and ‘sinners’? Is there gentleness and forgiveness?

A couple questions you might pose directly for a first impression:

  • Is this a safe place?
  • What makes this a safe place?
  • Why do people come here?
  • Why do people leave here?
  • What’s most important to you? 
I’m sorry that groups that call themselves ‘church’ are often not what Sinead is looking for or what Jesus was offering at all. I’m very sorry that I have been part of the problem at times. I’m sorry that some very fine ‘churches’ get painted with the same brush as the abusers. I’m sorry that we don’t exactly know what ‘church’ means any more and that it’s become a swear word to so many wounded.  
I’m happy that Sinead is still imagining something better. I’m happy that many fellowships and ministries that don’t look like and don’t call themselves ‘church’ are actually what O’Connor wants and Jesus had in mind. We’ll need to think outside the box to recognize them. I’m happy that online ministries, social networks and podcasts are trying to contribute to the solution.
I’m sad that online communities can also be abusive and aren’t very good at giving hugs. But sometimes, they’re a first step out of isolation and occasionally a good place to sing the first few broken notes of one’s healing song. The need for tentative steps and an arm’s length relationship can begin there, and prepare one for more incarnational expressions of a ‘faith community.’ 
I’m sad that it seems so hard to find the most basic structure: two or three friends who share faith in Christ and love for each other. I’m sad that hurting people hurt people. But in my sadness, the request still rings … take me to ‘church’ (whatever that is) … not Christless religion, not spiritual abuse, not the building or the timeslot. Whatever it is … the thing Jesus meant … someone still wants that and is willing to sing about it. 

“Take Me to Church”
Lyrics by Sinead O’Connor

I don’t wanna love the way I loved before
I don’t wanna love that way no more
What have I been writing love songs for?
I don’t want to write them anymore
I don’t wanna sing from where I sang before
I don’t wanna sing that way no more
What’ve I’ve been singing love songs for?
I don’t wanna sing them anymore,
I don’t wanna be that girl no more
I don’t wanna cry no more
I don’t wanna die no more
So cut me down from this here tree
Cut the rope from off of me
Sit me on the floor,
I’m the only one I should adore


oh, Take me to church,
I’ve done so many bad things it hurts
yeah, Take me to church
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth
And that’s not what it’s worth
Yeah, take me to church
oh, take me to church
I’ve done so many bad things it hurts
Yeah, get me to church
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth
And that’s not what it’s worth


I’m gonna sing songs of loving and forgiving
Songs of eating and of drinking, 
songs of living, songs of calling in the night 
’cause songs are like a bolt of light
And love’s the only love you should invite
Songs of long and spiteful fails
songs that don’t let you sit still 
Songs that mend your broken bones
and that don’t leave you alone
So get me down from this here tree,
take the rope from off of me
sit me on the floor,
I’m the only one I should adore!


oh, Take me to church,
I’ve done so many bad things it hurts
Yeah take me to church,
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth
And that’s not what it’s worth
Yeah, take me to church
oh, take me to church
I’ve done so many bad things it hurts
Yeah, get me to church,
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth
And that’s not what it’s worth

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