Beyond religion: a Bonhoefferian discussion of Ecclesial repentance in the aftermath of abuse

Christopher Whyte*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abuse, when committed by spiritual authority figures, can have far-reaching consequences for church communities well after perpetrators have been removed and held accountable. In attending to survivors, a host of issues may come to light, including but not limited to, organizational complicity in abuse, institutional marginalization of the vulnerable, and the revelation that worship spaces can be traumatically triggering. The work of scholars like Michelle Panchuk, Elaine Heath, and Katharina von Kellenbach all point to the challenging reality that ecclesial repentance­ may demand dramatic changes to restore a safe environment and righteous expressions of worship that honour God's intentions for all. Glen Kinoshita's ‘ministry of reconciliation’ and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ‘preparing the way’ and ‘religionless Christianity’ are texts that on the surface address this type of process; however, it is not clear that either scholar fully reckons with the issue of a worshipping community or space that has been so marred by abuse as to become an impediment to a survivor's participation in liturgy. In this article, I modify Bonhoeffer's work to move beyond his claims and make recommendations for further steps towards repentance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalStudies in Christian Ethics
Early online date22 Feb 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2024


  • Christian ethics
  • Spiritual abuse
  • Ecclesial repentance
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Michelle Panchuk
  • Elaine Heath
  • Katharina von Kellenbach
  • Glen Kinoshita


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