Some Thoughts on Sexual Abuse

When it comes to sexual abuse or assault, we as the church need to listen better to survivors and then speak more. The trauma suffered, whether once or multiple times, among many other things, robs the victim of their ability to voice their pain. But even getting to the point of listening may take time and lots of trust built up over time.
Not for a second do I pretend to understand what a sexual assault victim has endured, nor, do I assume the seat of the various other professionals who are poised to help these silent sufferers (like case workers, therapists, and attorneys). However, I am learning that Jesus’ church has a place in offering the redemptive healing power of the Gospel for the sexually violated.
Here are some follow-ups to last Sunday’s talk on sexual abuse:
  • Listen and believe. I mean, why should an abuse survivor believe that anyone will listen? They’ve probably been shut down before. Andrew Schmutzer, a survivor and advocate, writes: “Unbelievable experiences tend to create unwanted testimonies.” In other words, people who can’t be believed will not be wanted to testify.

  • Listen more, believe and weep. Often what you initially see or hear is just the tip of the iceberg. This may come more naturally for some than others, but being so moved in mind and heart that you can cry for them— while it won’t change the past— will communicate redemptive empathy.

  • Believe (genuinely) and become an advocate, a voice, for the person. This is where the “speaking more” part comes in. With the survivor’s permission, you should take up their cause and even stake your own reputation on what is right. This is true, especially where children are concerned, but the sad reality is many abused children don’t give voice to their own trauma until they're much older.

  • As of 2020, the Illinois statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases has been lifted. That is a right weapon of justice for those on whom the legal time clock and possibilities for reparation and justice have past.
  • Christians and churches aren’t immune to this evil and need to face the music. There shouldn’t be “even a hint” (Ephesians 5:3) of ANY sexual deviance in Christ’s church. When there is, the church must deal with it. If it’s criminal and illegal, they must swiftly report it and work with local authorities.

  • Cultures of male dominance, whether or not they existed during biblical epochs, have almost always lent toward the minimization or abuse of women. Therefore, they are wrong. For a Gospel corrective to cultures of dominance, check out Jesus in Mark 10:42-45.

  • Though the abuser statistics sadly skew heavily male, women can abuse, too. Think of the classic case of a high school teacher who grooms one of her unsuspecting male students. Or, for a sordid biblical example, see Genesis 19 of adult daughters to their father.

  • Abusers tend to be skilled manipulators.

  • Sexual abuse is not just body, soul and spiritual. It’s an attack on gender. Robert Kelleman says: “We are female or male not only in our bodies but also in the essence of our souls, selves, and personhood. Sexual abuse abuses the female soul and body or a male soul and body.”

  • Sexual abuse survivors may have future trouble on what Schmutzer calls “the intimacy spectrum.” That is, “what is awakened in the arena of terror is not easily transferred to the realm of delights.”

  • Forgiveness and justice are two different things. If we were to look back to the example of David and his sin with Bathsheba. God forgave him, but David still had to endure the consequences of the sin. See the end of 2nd Samuel 12.

  • Forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because a victim may forgive their abuser doesn’t mean their relationship is automatically restored. It won’t ever be the same. And as Schmutzer wisely points out: “Christian organizations have been the most reluctant to accept that a confessing abuser doesn’t heal the abused.”
This hardly scratches the surface, but the conversation MUST keep going and our consciousness ever awakened. May God have mercy on us all.
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