Tag Archives: sexual abuse

What to Do about Sexual Predators in the Church

Like many of you, my heart has been ripped apart and shredded over the recent stories of child sexual abuse by a subset of Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. While this latest report is so widespread that it sucks one’s breath away and makes righteous anger swell, it’s by no means the only story of church leaders taking advantage of their position to prey upon parishioners for the sake of their twisted sexual desires.

As someone who writes about embracing healthy and holy sexual intimacy, I contemplate how someone repeatedly abused by a church leader in this most vulnerable way can move toward healing. And how does their experience color their view of God?

While God is entirely opposed to such heinous acts, He has chosen through much of history to act through His people. Which is why these stories, of both Catholic and Protestant leaders preying sexually on adults and children, bother me most in the way they were handled by Christians who knew or should have known what was happening.

Did we support the victim? Did we demand accountability? Did we put into place boundaries that made acting on evil impulses more difficult, if not impossible? Did we oust those who would abuse God’s Church and embrace those whom Jesus would embrace?

Y’all, we have to do better.

If we want people to experience all the beauty of sexual intimacy that God intends for them to have and to have a relationship with Christ, they cannot be made pawns of cruel abusers. We must “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17).

So what should we do as a Church about the sexual predators among us?

1. Identify the perpetrators.

Yes, a number of leaders who abused parishioners have been finger-pointed, but I fear we have a long way to go. We need to know who these abusers are to deal with the problem.

The reason the Pennsylvania grand jury report included so many victims is that the state set up a hotline for people to call and report their abuse. Why can’t Church do the same?

All denominations and individual churches should have a policy about reporting abuse, including a hotline to call or a clickable button on a website that allows someone to send an email to a trusted individual representing the church. The person receiving these reports should have training in sex abuse prevention and response. Of course, reports of child abuse or sexual assault must then be reported to the proper authorities.

But we need to encourage reporting and following up on accusations. We should lead the way in pursuing truth and compassion. We need to make it as easy as possible for victims to identify the perpetrators and thus stop the abuse from happening again.

2. Support the victims.

Jeremiah 22:16 says: “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord.” Defending those who need defense is what it means to know God.

Too often, the Church has chosen to believe a leader over a victim, or simply placed leaders in such high regard that it can feel traitorous for a victim or victim’s family to come forward.

No matter how fabulous some preacher is or caring a priest seems to be, we cannot put those people on such a pedestal that evidence to the contrary will not be given consideration. We must keep an open door and an open mind and have resources to support those who have been abused within the Church.

Christian counselors, mentors, and support groups can help victims find healing and do so in a way that helps to preserve their faith. Churches should band together and create counseling centers, peer mentoring (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4), and support groups led by well-trained leaders. We should keep a list of community and online resources that can also help, including law enforcement and non-profit organizations.

We should mourn with the victim and not push forgiveness of the abuser too quickly, as I’ve seen some churches do. That makes what happened about the abuser, not the abuse. There will be a time for forgiveness, but go read Psalms and see how many times David asks God to crush his oppressor. We must allow sexual abuse victims to have those same feelings — to grieve what happened to them.

3. Pursue justice.

It’s not enough to know the abuse happened or to help the victim(s); we have to hold the abusers accountable and stop the abuse from recurring.

When Simon the Sorcerer tried to purchase the power of the Holy Spirit from the apostles, Peter answered, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God” (Acts 8:21). Don’t we believe that sexual abuse is bad enough to warrant a similar response?

If someone uses the Lord’s church to prey on people, should they keep their position? Simply be moved to another position and retain their salary? Keep their retirement? Why? Why would we support that?

Can some abusers be helped? Changed? Redeemed? Yes, of course. But I don’t know anyone who experienced a transformation without confession, humility, and repentance. So if the abuser isn’t seeking help, they’re not likely to change — and we don’t owe them a place in ministry, or even our church.

Rather, we owe our congregants a safe place to learn, worship, and fellowship.

4. Embrace prevention practices.

We must open ourselves to the hard truth that the Church has at times allowed abuse to happen, even by such small acts as leaving adults alone with children when they shouldn’t have been.

I don’t know about other states, but Texas requires child workers to undergo Sexual Abuse Prevention Training, and that extends to week-long church camp staff. Thus, I’ve gone through the training for the last 4-5 years. It includes the statistic that more abusers are situational offenders, meaning they will offend if they see an opportunity. Since we cannot always know who might abuse, one goal of prevention is to provide no opportunity.

Churches can therefore enact such policies as:

  • having two adults present for youth and children activities
  • installing windows in all classroom and office doors
  • avoiding imbalance of power (like an adolescent left alone with a preschooler; sad to say, perhaps half of child abuse is committed by an adolescent)
  • conducting routine background checks of all staff and volunteers
  • requiring all staff and volunteers to undergo sex abuse prevention training
  • providing a clear set of steps to pursue if/when abuse is reported

We should be leading the way of best practices for protecting our members, especially children. As Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). We should do nothing that hinders our children from embracing the kingdom of God.

Honestly, the need for ministries like mine would be substantially less if the Church did a better job at handling sexuality in so many ways. But among all the things we struggle with, this is where my heart most breaks — where we have historically gotten things most wrong: We cannot allow the Church to be used by abusers as a gathering place for their victims. We have to fight sexual sin everywhere we find it, but most especially in our sanctuaries.

We cannot allow the Church to be used by abusers as a gathering place for their victims. We have to fight sexual sin everywhere we find it, but most especially in our sanctuaries. Click To Tweet

May God show us the way.

Praying for the Victims of #MeToo

On Saturdays, I’ve been posting about prayers that involve sexual intimacy in your marriage. With my recent Q&A post, and one I have planned about that issue next week, I thought it would be a good time to pause and pray for those who have experienced sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.

Blog Post Title with close-up of woman praying in background

The current wave of allegations and the many #MeToo stories have prompted our nation, and others, to take a look at the culture that has far too long overlooked, dismissed, or opposed those who have been victims of sexual mistreatment.

Sometimes I hear people say this is a recent problem, but it’s not. The Bible mentions sexual harassment and assault. For instance:

  • Dinah’s brothers took revenge on the man (and his family) who raped their sister, saying that she was “defiled” (See Genesis 34).
  • Boaz told his men not lay a hand on Ruth as she gleaned in his fields, indicating that he knew overseers used their positions to approach and even harass women. (See Ruth 2:1-9).
  • King David’s son Amnon lied to his half-sister to get her into his room (sound like any of the “come to my hotel room” harassment stories?) and then raped her. (See 2 Samuel 13:1-22).

What’s recent is the ongoing news headlines and the tangible consequences befalling perpetrators of harassment and assault.

In the wake of all this, plenty of women have felt triggered by the news, by the personal stories, by the discussions. Some have responded with anger, some with sorrow, some with numbness. Some have had to step away because bringing up the memories makes the wounds sting once again.

For all of you — in whatever way you’ve been abused, assaulted, or harassed — I want to offer a prayer.

For all of you—in whatever way you've been abused, assaulted, or harassed—I want to offer a prayer. Click To Tweet

Lord, Father,

We know it breaks Your heart when Your children mistreat Your other children. May it always break our hearts too!

In this time of #MeToo, we are like Jeremiah who proclaimed, “What I see brings grief to my soul because of all the women of my city” (Lamentations 3:51). So many women have come forward with stories of sexual  assault and harassment they endured, and it brings grief to our souls. Men too have been victims and struggle to tell their stories as well, and for them our hearts ache.

God, the sexuality that You created for good, Satan has twisted and nudged others to use for their own pleasure and their own gain. People in positions of power, financially or culturally or physically, have abused those to whom they owed honor (Matthew 20:25-28, Luke 14:7-11). At times, it seems that such people prosper without consequences, that they are getting away with mistreatment and even evil toward others.

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand” (Psalm 10:14). We commit all victims to you, the helper of the fatherless and defender of the oppressed (see Psalm 10:-13-18). 

We pray for Your justice — that You will “call the evildoer to account for his wickedness that would not otherwise be found out” (v. 15). Make us Your vessels of justice, giving us the courage to speak out against oppressors and to seek justice for those wronged.

We pray for Your mercy — that You will “hear the desire of the afflicted,” “encourage them,” and “listen to their cry” (v. 17). Blanket them with Your presence. Make us Your vessels of mercy, giving us compassion to reach out to those oppressed and to provide comfort for their hurt.

We know that You understand the pain so many have gone through. High-ranking people used their power to mistreat Your one and only Son. Jesus Christ was disrespected, dishonored, and abused in so many ways. He was stripped and mocked (Matthew 27:27-29), mercilessly beaten (John 19:1-3), and crucified on a cross (Luke 23:33). Because Your Son has been there, Lord, You understand and know the pain so many have felt.

When it comes to marriage, some with #Me Too stories have brought bad feelings about sex, or even men, into their relationship. They struggle with wounds and triggers and baggage that don’t seem to go away. Lord, lift that burden! We pray that they will take Your yoke instead, the one that is easy, and thus find rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28-30). Help these victims to see Your plan for sexual intimacy and to view it as a beautiful gift. Give them Your perspective of their husbands and/or their sexuality, so that they can fully enjoy the blessings you have in store, both for them and their marriage.

For those who have assaulted and harassed, Lord, we pray that You will to prick their hearts. Show them that confession and repentance is the way to healing. Help them avoid sexual misconduct in the future and to “learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5). Do not let them be deceived by the lure of power, but rather turn their hearts to showing respect and care for those in their midst.

God, make Your Church the community that can lead the way. Help us to promote the biblical command to “show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17), to be the light of the world and the city on a hill showing what should be (Matthew 5:14-16) in how we treat one another and those we encounter. Help us to see clearly what is happening in our midst and to take action when we should.

Your Word tells us that “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). Be ever-present in this time in our history, this “#MeToo movement,” when wrong deeds are coming to light and we as Christians have an opportunity to join the path of righteousness and justice.

And God, right now, this very moment, someone is being abused, assaulted, harassed. Give them a voice. Guide the faithful to be there to listen and to support the victim. Help us to stop these cycles as much as we can. Lord, we know that evil will be with us until You come again, but each person we can help matters to You. May every one of them matter just as much to us.

In the name of Your blessed Son, and through the Holy Spirit,


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Overcoming Childhood Sexual Abuse: One Powerful Story

A little while ago, I answered a reader’s question in a post titled Q&A with J: Surviving Childhood Rape & Building Sexual Intimacy. That was a tough post to write, especially because I can only imagine the emotional pain of my readers who have gone through childhood sexual abuse.

To take an innocent child and abuse them in the most vulnerable way is a heinous kind of evil I simply don’t understand. And It breaks my heart.

Yet I believe in my Redeemer. I know my God is capable of bringing people out of the pit and into the light. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I’ve seen it the lives of others.

So when one of my readers responded to that Q&A post with a link to his personal testimony, I watched the video with both deep sorrow for what he’d been through and great rejoicing at how God had walked him through healing. Today, all I want to say is watch this video.


It’s important to recognize the horror of sexual abuse, to provide a safe and restorative place for those who are hurting, and to celebrate what God can do once we let Him work in our lives.

Thank you to the reader for sharing this video with me and for his permission to share it with you. His testimony is powerful, because our God is powerful.

Q&A with J: “My Wife Gets Aroused from Abuse Fantasy”

What a tough question we have today. It’s from a husband who wants to know how to help his wife enjoy sex with him. I was heartbroken when I found out that she can get aroused but it’s mostly from imagining herself as a sexual abuse victim. Here’s the question:

[My wife] is a very quiet person and finds it hard to express anything verbally in bed or out of bed. Years ago I found out that she was getting high 99% of the time by thinking of abusive situations. She battles that because she knows it is not of God, but her heart mind and body craves for the God gift of orgasm. I also found out that she does not feel much so it may be that there are issues with her clitoris. We have [several] kids so this could be part of the reason, but it has been so many years that she has used wrong thoughts that she is not sure when or if clitoris stimulation was ever the reason for her getting high. We do talk. We do read. Many talk about her exploring that area and understanding her own body and what stimulation gets her going. She may have done this, but she has never admitted it to me. She receives pleasure from me gently kissing and sucking on her breasts. We are both aware that she has the potential to have an orgasm from breast stimulation, but when she gets stimulated it gets to be too much for her and she has never tried to flow with that to see if that might be a way to get to orgasm. So, year after year goes by and she struggles with the moral dilemma of needing and wanting to get high, but seems to only be able to do that with going to the wrong thoughts.

It is very hard for us both. She does not give me clues that I am pleasuring her by touch or sex. When I ask her she says yes. “Do you like that?” – “Yes” – “Is that ok?” – “Yes” So for me it makes me feel selfish. Receiving pleasure and wanting so much for her to receive even more, but powerless to do anything.

Q&A with J--My Wife Gets Aroused from Abuse Fantasy (woman with thought bubble)

Having written this long about sex in marriage, I know what’s going to show up in my comments section if I don’t address it head-on: How can a loving husband continue to have sex with a woman who is putting herself through abuse fantasies (or nightmares) in her head to get aroused? Because I have to admit that I don’t see how I could continue making love to my husband if I knew he was getting off on images of being sexually attacked.

To the inquirer, I know that may seem harsh, but it’s a question I guarantee someone — perhaps including you — is asking. But when I go back through the question, I sense a strong desire from you to work out this issue. It seems that you’ve talked, read, explored, pleaded, and longed for her sexual setting to change. It’s also seems clear that you’re not abusing her sexually, but that she willingly engages in the marriage bed. Albeit under terrible mental circumstances. And your eight children are definitely a blessing from your physical unions.

So I applaud you for continuing to desire what God wants your wife to have and for seeking it out in whatever ways you can. Yet I also encourage you not to enable these awful experiences for her, meaning that you must figure this out somehow.

As often happens, I wish I could talk to the spouse. The wife is the one with key information that would help to illuminate what’s happening and reveal possible solutions. But since I don’t have that access, I’m going to throw out a few ideas and see if any stick. That is, one or more of these options might be a pathway to getting her the help she needs.

Has she seen a physician about this issue?

Since your wife’s arousal seems fueled by mental imagery, and she reports not feeling much with her clitoris, I’d first want to know if there are physiological issues impeding her sexual pleasure. She should see her primary care physician or gynecologist and ask to be examined with this in mind.

By the way, two important thoughts about seeing a physician about sexual issues:

  1. We tend to get embarrassed about bringing up the topic of sex with doctors, but I assure you that you’re not going to shock them. They see all kinds of stuff, so you saying, “I need to know if there are any physical problems preventing me from engaging in pleasurable sex” ranks about a two on the 10-point scale of shockers.
  2. Sadly, some physicians don’t take sexual dysfunction seriously enough. I wish it weren’t the case, but I’ve heard about and experienced doctors shrugging off such problems. Thus, I encourage wives, and husbands, to be advocate for their sexual health, pushing for answers and even changing doctors if needed.

(Related post: Finding a Good Gynecologist)

Was she sexually abused in her past?

Sexual abuse is so confusing, especially for children. A friend who was molested when she was young once explained to me that it wasn’t all bad — that is, since God primed us to experience pleasure when our sexual organs are touched, her body responded positively in some ways to what was happening, at the same time that she felt discomfort and revulsion.

If your wife’s early experiences with sex were abuse, it’s not uncommon for victims to have difficulty differentiating that experience and their sexual arousal. Some survivors report being later aroused by abuse or rape fantasies, and usually feeling shame afterward because they know this is a twisted version of sex. And yet, it’s how their bodies first experienced any kind of sexual pleasure, because their biology just did its job without regard to the circumstances.

This linking of abuse and arousal can continue into adulthood, and the answer to breaking this connection is to heal from the abuse. Your wife should seek help from counseling, a support group, and/or resources like Dan Allender’s The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Abuse. She will need to relearn sexual responses that are in line with a healthy relationship and God’s design for marriage.

What did she learn about sex?

Another source of sexual abuse or rape fantasies is good girl guilt. Many women were brought up to believe that pursuing or even enjoying sexual pleasure makes you a “slut.” The message could have been direct or implied, but too many Christian wives still have a subconscious feeling that it’s not good to desire or enjoy sex.

Given that your wife seems reluctant to express her pleasure or let breast stimulation continue, even though she gains great pleasure from it, I wonder what messages she received about sex growing up. Was the prohibition against sex before marriage so aggressively preached that she sensed sex wasn’t good even in marriage? Was she told that sex was for the husband, while the wife’s role was surrendering her body to the act? Was she convinced sex’s primary purpose was procreation, and gaining sexual pleasure was selfish? Was she taught that sex was carnal, thus in opposition to the spirituality God desires?

A wife who desires sexual pleasure but feels that getting it is selfish, bad, or impure might have abuse fantasies that allow her to engage sexually without feeling that she’s making the decision to do so. After all, in her mind she’s being forced. During a sexual encounter, such imagery can alleviate the guilt of wanting sexual highs, but of course they result in a different kind of guilt. And this is clearly no way to live a sex life that honors God’s design. If this is the problem, she must confront the wrong messages received and replace them with God’s truth — that sex is good and holy and beautiful within the embrace of marriage.

What does she believe about men?

Another component is what she believes about men. Did her previous experiences convey that men are predators? That a woman’s value is in being used for his sexual pleasure? That a hefty imbalance of power is to be expected in the bedroom? Some women, oh so sadly, believe they are not worth sexual pleasure for themselves; they sense that a man pressuring a woman into sex is how things should go.

That message might conflict with everything she knows about her own husband, but if it’s been implanted deep enough, she can still have that belief. Even if she doesn’t recognize it at a conscious level.  And such a belief obviously keeps her from understand the mutuality of sexual intimacy as God intended. Once again, the answer is to challenge these false beliefs and welcome a better, more truthful perspective of men.

Whatever the cause, I suspect flawed, deep-seated beliefs have affected your wife’s view of herself and sexuality. Uncovering and addressing these problems is really the only way to deal with her situation. Tough as it may be, sometimes the only way out is through.

I’d encourage her to create an intimacy timeline, deal with her sexual baggage, find resources that address her struggle, and pursue outside help if needed. A quality Christian counselor could peel back more of what’s happening and help her through her difficulties.

What’s not okay is settling for the status quo. Sex should never be about abuse, not physically and not mentally. God longs for His beautiful daughter to see sex as He created it — a healthy, mutual sharing of bodies, hearts, and souls in an intimate act that honors Him and strengthens your marriage.

Were You a Victim of Sexual Abuse?

Very little rips my heart like sexual abuse. I’ve long thought sexual abuse was among the most heinous acts perpetrated. It hits a victim with the full force of assault in the most vulnerable of places. It breaks my heart to think that in the next 24 hours, some of our most precious treasure — children — will be sexually abused by adults who should be caring for them.

You know who else’s heart is broken by this evil? God’s.

I genuinely believe He has a tender spot for the youngest of His children and a vengeance brewing for those who mistreat them. He does not want this to happen and will right every wrong in the end.

Yet too many of you were that child. Sex was used against you as a weapon. And left deep wounds.

When you enter marriage, how can you flip the switch to enjoy sexual intimacy as God intended? Between a husband and wife in covenant marriage? With trust and respect?

If only there were a switch. Rather, abuse victims report that it takes intentionality, time, prayer, rewriting scripts in their head, and — almost always — help from others to re-gain the healthy view of sexuality so wrongly stolen from them. Thankfully, they also say that open wounds become closed scars, and healthy sexual intimacy in their marriage overcomes the past. They can truly see and enjoy sex as God intended.

All month long, our marriage memory verses will be aimed at our difficult pasts. I wanted to start with the scenario that pricks my heart the most. Were you a victim of sexual abuse? I am so sorry that happened to you. I wish I could take that memory and the burden away. I am moved to tears by what you went through, yet I believe you are so strong for making it to the other side.

Now I want you to have what God always intended you to have — healthy sexual intimacy in your marriage.

Whatever that past abuse has done to make sex difficult in your marriage, those challenges can be addressed. You can seek mentoring, counseling, and resources that will help you process the pain. You can be honest with your husband about what happened and request his patience and compassion in rewriting the sex script in your head. You can re-learn what it feels like to be touched sexually and see your husband’s hands as protecting and pleasuring, not disrespectful and damaging.

It may be a long road, but step out on that road. Walk in the right direction. Your destination is healing and the health of your marriage.

And know that God is bigger than anything that happened to you. He will walk that road with you and heal your body and your heart.

That’s why I’ve chosen a verse this week that we should all learn, but it feels particularly relevant to victims of sexual abuse:He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Marriage Memory Verse 3-5-16God knows what you endured, and He mourned with you. (See Luke 7:13, John 11:35, Psalm 56:8, Psalm 23:4.) He will be there as you pursue healing and wholeness. You can trust Him, and those who represent Him in your life, to help you recover and find the beauty that He intended for you.

You can enjoy sex with your husband in marriage. Don’t let your abuser take that away from you. Let God bless you with healing instead.

Memory Verse Help

Today’s memorization idea is brief and to the point: Highlight or underline the memory verse in your Bible.

Yep, that’s it. But marking up the verse in your Bible sends a message to your brain about its significance. It plants it a little deeper in your mind.

Since I mostly use a Bible app now, I highlight on the screen. I can then access all the scriptures I’ve marked on one screen and scroll through what I deemed worth paying extra attention to and memorizing. But you could do this as well by flipping through your Bible.

However it works for you, emphasize that verse in your Bible.