Whether we want to admit it or not, sexual abuse is occurring in every denomination. It is not just found in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Catholic church, or New Tribes Missions. The stories I hear in our support groups have indicated this. Many of the abusers that are talked about in group were pastors, youth pastors, elders, Sunday School teachers, youth workers, worship leaders, and family relatives who were churchgoing people. All of these people were nice and appeared to be God-fearing people. But, in reality they were people grooming and preying on children, teens, and sometimes adult women.
It is time for us to realize sexual abuse is not just a world problem. Every week their are men and women sitting in our pews who were abused in the past and have never told their stories. They may not even know the abuse that happened long ago is still impacting how they view their world. They may not realize it is impacting how they react and respond to life's events and to people currently in their lives. They may not understand that it also impacts their ability to fully trust God and His plans for their lives.
While it is true that some survivors have sought out the church because they were abused by non-churched people, many have been abused by those in a church setting. Some of those that were abused by people in the church left and others stayed, but have a hard time trusting people within the church. We must understand that when abuse happens within the church or in a "Christian" home, the wounding is great, because we all desire and maybe even expect the church to be one of the safest, most loving places in the world.
We should not be surprised that abuse takes place in churches because Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he can destroy. Because he is evil, he targets children, believing that if he can destroy their hearts and their ability to trust God, he can silence the testimony of whole generations. One of the strongest and most effective weapons Satan has in his arsenal is sexual abuse. Not only does it destroy children's passion, it silences their voices, causes them not to trust their own intuition, causes them to forget that they were made in the image of God, and convinces them they are too dirty, too defiled, and too defective to be loved and empowered to serve in the church.
Another weapon in Satan's arsenal has been the church and her response to abuse. Many people in the church don't want to believe survivors' hard-to-hear stories. I have had people tell me those kinds of things don't really happen or if those things have happened to someone they would have told someone before now. Yet, we learned from the gymnasts who suffered for years at the hand of Larry Nassar that they repeatedly told and no one did anything. We have learned that children repeatedly reported the abuse they endured to the Catholic Church, to Southern Baptist Churches, and to the New Tribes Mission Board. They were silenced. Those religious bodies never reported the abuse to legal authorities. It was covered up and abusers were simply relocated and left to abuse others.
We can be sure more victims will come forward in the future. Some of them will have remained silent because they were threatened and just now realize it is safe enough to tell. Some have remained silent because they were told the abuse endured was their fault and the resulting shame experienced forced them to keep it a secret. They are just now hearing the truth that abuse is never the victim's fault. Some went through abuse so horrendous at such a young age that their mind has refused to remember it until they were old enough to have words to describe it and until they were in a safe enough environment to face its impact on their lives. And, many did not tell, because they did not believe anyone would believe their story.
Our first response as believers to hearing about abuse is very telling. How often have we gotten defensive, claiming the victims must be lying? How often have we cast doubt on their stories, saying they must have misunderstood their perpetrators' actions? How often have we blamed the victim, implying they were somehow complicit? How often have we implied they did something or wore something that caused their perpetrator to act out? How often have we told victims, just to forgive and move on, denying the horrific impact it has had on them physically, spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically and then act like they are somehow defective for not just getting over it? How often have we gotten upset at the media for exposing the horrendous sin, sin that we, ourselves, should have exposed and dealt with instead of being more concerned about "damage control?"
We need to realize the cover ups, the inaction, and the mishandling of abuse is just as damaging to survivors as the original violations were. When we cover up victimization, we can be sure the Lion of Judah will rise up. He will see that the sin is exposed and He will see that those responsible for covering it up are exposed as well.
When we are indignant, we tend to respond very poorly to abuse. We do this because we believe we are somehow protecting Jesus and His church's reputation. But, the truth is when the church covers up abuse, it ceases to be Jesus' church. The truth is a church's reputation is more damaged by the coverup of abuse and the lack of protection for the vulnerable than it is by an abuser abusing someone..
And, our Jesus--He doesn't need us to protect His reputation, He needs us to be obedient to speaking up for the abused. He needs us to assertively confront abusive behavior of any kind. He needs us to compassionately care for victims. The Jesus of the gospels was not a passive make everyone feel good kind of guy. He publicly confronted sin in the religious system. He strongly confronted religious leaders who were taking advantage of the flocks entrusted to them. He confronted those who were not protecting the vulnerable in their care. Jesus never worried about the horrible things people said about Him, He simply lived out His integrity for all to see. If He didn't see a need to defend Himself, why do we think He needs us to?
The church needs to realize predators do not wear scarlet "P's" on their chests. They look just like you or me. They appear to be kind and loving. They appear to have high morals. They are often married and have families. They are often very gifted people and they also prey on the vulnerable. We cannot assume a person is the sum total of what we know of them. Each of us is capable of horrific acts.
Survivors in our groups have been told not to say something evil about such that "godly" man. They have been told that by talking about the abuse they could cause the man to be fired or split up his family. Some have been told that the church's reputation would be ruined by their telling. Some have been told it is wrong to ruin the lives of such gifted men. All of these statements were used to manipulate victims into silence. They shifted what should have been adult responsibilities on to the shoulders of children--shoulders that were way too small to bear the weight of what was being put on them.
Come on, Church! Wake up! Abusers can be kind to gain access to their victims. They may act loving to win over their prey. They may act moral so people will not suspect they are capable of the evil they are hiding. They may be married and may have families, but that doesn't mean they aren't capable of abusing children, teens, or vulnerable women. We need to realize the safest church is a church who reports abuse. Don't we believe our God is big enough, gracious enough, and faithful enough to replace a "gifted" abuser with another gifted servant who doesn't abuse?
There is another way the church can be used as one of Satan's weapons that is as insidious as overt abuse is. We have let the world's view of "boys will be boys" and "men will be men" creep into our churches. Men don't hold each other accountable for Godly behaviors, sexual integrity, and Godly actions towards women. Over the years, I and other women have seen men and teenage boys standing in groups, nudging each other as they look over the women and teenage girls coming and going. I recently had someone tell me she was sitting in a coffee shop when she noticed a well known pastor sitting at a table with his computer and Bible open in front of him. At first she thought it was cool, but then noticed every time a female walked in he looked her up and down. She said it was creepy to watch him looking over women with a Bible open in front of him. The truth is that is creepy! Some may laugh at this, but when men who are called by God to be leaders of churches and homes do not hold themselves to Biblical standards of relating to women, they normalize predatorial behaviors, making them seem normal. This is dangerous because those things that should alert us that something is not right become normal and we end up putting ourselves or our children in vulnerable situations where great harm is done.
I pray our churches become safe havens. I pray that we would believe victim's stories. I pray that every church would put in place a committees to handle complaints so that little girls who have been raped by grown men do not have to sit in a room full of men to tell their stories. I pray that we would call legal authorities to report abuse so abusers cannot continue to prey on people. If we just followed God's instructions in how to relate to one another, we could no longer be used by Satan as his most effective weapons for destroying the hearts of people God has placed in our body.
Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!