Tag Archives: sexual abuse in church

Why Abuse in the Church Makes Me Crazy

You want to know what breaks my heart and gets me angry at the same time? Abuse. That’s it: just abuse. Domestic abuse, sexual abuse, child abuse.

My stomach turns at the stories of what people have endured at the hands of their fellow human being, whether it’s a prisoner of war tortured by his captors or a vulnerable child preyed upon by a family member.

It’s what poet Robert Burns referred to as “man’s humanity to man,” in his poem Man Was Made to Mourn. Here’s just that stanza:

Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Yep. Truth.

But just when I think my heart cannot break any more from the pain and heartache some of my fellow sisters and brothers have experienced, something even more awful occurs: Some in the Church—my beloved family—allow and even accommodate abuse.

for such a time as this rally

Click to learn more about the rally

This is on my mind today as the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Dallas. I know a lot of Southern Baptists, and by and large, they are great people with whom I can easily fellowship. However, they have been plagued in the last few years with issues regarding leaders who overlooked or tacitly condoned abuse (e.g., here, here, and here).

So today as the SBC meets, they will be greeted with the For Such a Time as This Rally, a protest organized by people concerned about the way women and abuse survivors have been treated by church leadership.

But let’s face it: This isn’t just the Baptists. I’ve heard such stories from other denominations, and they include such actions from church leaders as:

  • Telling a victim they must forgive their rapist or abuser immediately after the crime
  • Stating or insinuating that a victim’s dress or behavior caused their rape or abuse
  • Counseling an abused spouse to stay in a marriage; in particular, telling wives their response should be to “submit to your husband”
  • Advising that abuse be kept quiet so that we won’t hurt the abuser’s family or dilute our witness to others
  • Not reporting abuse to authorities, which is against the law in the US
  • Explaining away abuse incidents in a leader’s past and allowing them to continue serving
  • Not fully investigating abuse accusations against a leader because “I know him, and he’s a good man”

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor!

God has a heart for the oppressed, and His people should take up their cause with fervor! #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror” (Psalm 10:17-18).

Jesus quoted the book of Isaiah when He came into the synagogue:

“‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.‘”

And as Psalm 9:9 says: “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” The Church should be the physical representation of that refuge.

This is a broken world, so evil people will continue to sin against their fellow humans. Man’s inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Man's inhumanity to man will continue until Christ comes again and God delivers final judgment. Yet we have opportunities to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Click To Tweet

We are not all church leaders, but at some point in our lives, we will be faced with seeing or learning about the abuse of someone in our midst. How will we respond?

I haven’t always responded the way I wish I had. In my younger years, I sometimes felt helpless and ignorant about what to do. Which is why I want to encourage all of us to do better — to think clearly about this issue before it happens, to know which side we will stand on, to vow in our hearts and before our God that we will defend the oppressed.

But why is a Christian sex author talking so vehemently about this subject? Well, abuse has always made me crazy. But since taking on this ministry, I’ve heard from many women, and a few men, who were abused. Some as children, some by a spouse, some by a stranger.

All of them were deeply hurt by their experience, but what seems to have really made the difference between those who still feel the wounds and those for whom the wounds became scars is the response to what happened. Were they surrounded by support?

Now, of course the victim has a part in recognizing and reporting the abuse — that is, getting help — but once they come forward, the reactions of others matter a great deal in whether they will be able to find healing and hope.

As Christians, we should be the best at embracing the hurting among us. Because that’s exactly what Christ would do!

I cannot in good faith come here and talk about how to have a great sex life in your marriage without addressing that some have abuse in their past, or their present, that makes this nearly impossible. How can you open up your body to someone in the most vulnerable way possible when your body was damaged and discarded by an abuser? Yes, you can get there, but you must first address the abuse.

So here we are: With an opportunity to reach out to hurting people, to mourn with those who mourn, to be a refuge in the storm. When it’s our turn to stand up for the oppressed or look the other way, what choice will we make?

Speaker Fee Waived for 2018!

Are We Afraid of #ChurchToo?

In case you just woke up from a two-year coma, there’s this thing going on called #MeToo, an international movement against sexual harassment and assault. It’s got its own Wikipedia page now, which explains how “Me Too” was first introduced in 2006 but popularized as a hashtag in 2017 following allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein that he harassed and assaulted multiple women.

Since then, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of women have shared their #MeToo stories, and I’ve both written about it and discussed it with my fellow podcasters on Sex Chat for Christian Wives.

But lest we think the problem is with Hollywood or Washington, D.C. or just secular culture itself, consider how this movement has reached down into our churches and revealed heartbreaking stories of the mistreatment and abuse of women.

Hashtags like #ChurchToo and #SilenceIsNotSpiritual have allowed women to share their stories of being harassed or assaulted by men who were supposed to be acting as their brothers in Christ. Dozens of men, at the highest levels, have been accused, many with convincing evidence or testimony.

It’s been heartbreaking to see that not only have we failed in this area, but we’re late to the party, so to speak. Why isn’t the Church forefront on the issue of respectful treatment of women?

Why isn't the Church forefront on the issue of respectful treatment of women? #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

We have example after example in the Bible of women receiving privileges uncommon for the time they lived, and our Messiah, Jesus Christ, repeatedly modeled how much he valued women.

Now I can envision someone immediately sliding this discussion into one of gender roles in the Church. But that’s not really what I’m talking about. Indeed, I’m not “egalitarian” — rather, I believe God specially tasked men to lead in their churches and homes. But we don’t need to debate that issue for us all to agree that mistreatment, harassment, and abuse of His children is against God’s will.

Our Lord is a champion for the oppressed: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

But we have done a poor job of standing up for people who have experienced oppression by other Church members. What stops us from acting as God clearly wants us to act? What keeps up from holding harassers, assaulters, and abusers responsible for their actions? Are we afraid of the #ChurchToo movement?

I think some are. Fear is the only explanation I can think of the unconscionable silence and suppression we’ve seen in some church circles.

Fear of Weakening Our Witness

What if people find out that some who appeared to be upstanding Christians actually mistreated fellow sisters in Christ? Will they reject the message because its messengers are flawed?

Leaders who told victims to stay silent about their abuse or mistreatment often suggested that the good of the Church itself or the Gospel of Christ outweighed the damage done to an individual.

Look, I’ve seen firsthand that when a prominent minister is ruined, some congregants do indeed go out the door. But what we rarely acknowledge is the number of believers who quietly slip out year after year because their safety and wellbeing were not given the value they deserved. A number of people would still be in church but for our inaction in the face of their mistreatment.

Instead, let’s remember this:

Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God. (Psalm 146:3-5)

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:4-7)

Let God take care of His Church, and let’s do all we can to take care of His people.

Let God take care of His Church, and let's do all we can to take care of His people. #ChurchToo Click To Tweet

Fear of Ruining Related Lives

Let’s say a minister sexually harassed women, abused someone, or encouraged suppression of truth, and that’s bad — but if he’s hit with a scandal, what happens to his wife and kids? Don’t we owe it to them to keep their lives from being ruined? I’ve heard this reasoning as well, and I get it. It can come from a place of compassion … but also fear.

And we’re fearful of something happening that’s already happened. This person already violated his marriage vows, let down his family and parishioners, and/or discarded Christian ethics. It’s a done deal — by the perpetrator. Whether we recognize it or not, it’s still there and impacting the people in his circle. Indeed, many times when bad news comes to light, those around finally have an explanation for something they sensed was wrong long before.

Now, of course we can handle the situation very poorly. (I’ve seen that too!) But in those cases, it’s not the truth itself that does damage, but rather us caring more for gossip or judgmentalism or some other non-Christian approach. We can aim for the right thing and go about it in the wrong way. But how we aim for the right thing, the right way? Seeking truth and justice, while showing Christ’s compassion to all those affected by the truth — that was going to come out someday, somehow. Wouldn’t it be better for the family to have a Christ-like community to fall back on?

For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” (Luke 8:17).

Fear of Finding Out Who We Really Are

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Anyone who’s been in the Christian faith for long knows this verse and likely has it memorized. We share it one another to remind ourselves that we all need a savior, the Lord Jesus. And sure, we buy it — that we are sinners. Thus, we talk about sin and repentance, but what happens when we are really faced with the sins of someone in our congregation? We become very uncomfortable.

Admitting that someone we trusted was abusing power and hurting people means that we were fooled at best and complicit at worst. Moreover, what if we peel back the layers and find more terrible stuff underneath — by this person or others in our church? What if looking deeper shows us that we aren’t who we thought we were?

King David’s son Amnon raped his sister Tamar, David’s own daughter. 1 Samuel 13:21 says, “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” But you know what David did? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. David didn’t want to acknowledge the poison in his own family, the person his own son had become. And it cost both his family and his kingdom greatly, with ruined and lost lives.

If we don’t look deeper, we don’t have a chance to save victims and change oppressors. We don’t let God do His greatest work of redeeming people.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:8-11).

Why am I talking about all of this now? Likely because of recent events regarding upcoming he Southern Baptist Convention. I’m not Baptist, but I hardly believe that their denomination is alone in having issues with the treatment of women. The movement isn’t #BaptistToo, it’s #ChurchToo.

And even those who aren’t in leadership need to decide where we stand. When we hear or read credible accusations against a church leader, what’s our gut reaction? Do we recoil in fear, encourage silence, remain with the status quo? Or do we value all individuals involved, seek out the truth, and pursue righteousness and justice?

I for one am 100% ready to defend the Church on its core message, regardless of what the world thinks — including my ongoing commitment to sharing God’s perfect design for sex in marriage. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes!” (Romans 1:15). But I will not defend oppressors, no matter who they are. “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

(Amos 5:24).