Friday, March 18, 2011

sexual abuse & the church

I haven't been sleeping well since we moved. I think it's because my body can sense a difference in the room layout and it hasn't adjusted yet. Last night's restlessness, though, can be attributed to the fact that as I was thinking about this topic I was filled with an overwhelming rage. My thoughts wouldn't rest. I could not find peace. There is no peace in this topic.

Sexual abuse is running rampant in this world, especially sexual abuse of minors. Childhoods are being ripped away. Every 2 minutes (in the United States alone) someone is sexually assaulted. This is not going away.

I have visited well over 15 churches throughout the course of my lifetime. Of all my visits, 2 churches have discussed the ramifications of sexual abuse and how we, as Christians, should react. 1 of those 2 churches fills me with a rage to this day (and not a Godly rage). You see, it is with the most devastated heart that I can say I know more women who have been sexually abused than can be counted on one hand. Of all these women, all but one experienced sexual abuse as a child. Of all these perpetrators, 2 were well-revered members of their church communities. Two of these brave women told me that the abuse they suffered is why they don't believe in God. After all, what kind of a loving Creator would allow such atrocities to happen to such innocence? My heart breaks. And I understand exactly why they feel that way. And I don't find these feelings unjustified in the least. This is why we need to discuss this in our churches!

Before I begin to discuss the church that makes me so mad, I need to be clear: I am feeling a rage that I am sure Christ also feels towards their teaching, but I am not displaying it in a way Christ would. The church that fills me with my unChristlike rage ( was a church I had visited in Chicago when I was going to school. One of the first sermons I attended there the pastor was discussing sexual abuse. At first it was pretty on-par with what I believe. By the conclusion, he entirely lost me: "Both the sexual abuser and the abused need to ask for God's forgiveness for their sins. The victim's body is a temple and by being abused they have desecrated their temple. So they need to seek God's forgiveness for the sins against their body." *Insert stunned look and massive jaw drop here*

There are only a handful of moments in my personal history that I would willingly return to right if given the opportunity. This easily bottoms out at #3. I sat quietly, entirely stunned by the words I had just heard. I made it through closing worship and didn't speak of it again until months later. I think I was in shock. I didn't know how to process it.

If I could go back, the things I would say to this man. Is the body a temple? Yes. Do you honestly believe God would expect a victim of sexual abuse to ask for forgiveness for "their role in the act"? No way. To make it more clear, I have recently read stories about children under the age of 3 being sexually assaulted. How could one even rationalize that a 3-year-old child would be expected to ask for forgiveness for the sins perpetrated against them? I can assure you that no sexual abuse victim was a willing participant. That's why it's called abuse. Another example: someone who has been physically assaulted, shot for example. Does God expect them to ask for forgiveness for injuring their temple? It's absurd. This pastor's view was so jaded and ignorant of the ramifications of abuse. I will forever regret not speaking out and rebuking him because I truly believe his words were not God's.

So, as a church, what can we do? We need to discuss it. Silence just reaffirms the victim's mentality that it was somehow their fault when it so clearly wasn't. We need to have a deeper understanding of it so that when we do discuss it we do not speak damaging, unholy words. We need to provide sexual abuse victims resources to cope with their trauma. But most importantly, we need to love the victims and support them unconditionally: we need to show them Christ's love. It's not our job to make anyone believe in God. However, I truly believe that if we personify Christ's love and support that so many more will want to seek Him out. I also believe that true and total healing can only be found in Christ. And sexual abuse victims need total healing more than just about anyone I've ever met.

I encourage you to talk to your church leaders if you can't recall the last time (if ever) your community focused on sexual abuse. This topic needs to be discussed and discussed righteously.

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