Sexual Abuse and the Church: 21 ways to help and not harm

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You’ve undoubtedly read many stories concerning sexual abuse in the church, but you’ve probably read a lot less about sexual abuse and the church. The only difference between the two phrases is a single word.

Sexual abuse IN the Church refers to predators within the church who harm the vulnerable. And that is an important topic that we will explore in the future.

Sexual Abuse AND the Church focuses on the Church’s response to sexual abuse. So that is what we will focus on in this article.

Our interactions with victims can harm or help the victim or survivor. 

One of the best ways to help someone is to refrain from harming them. But, unfortunately, here are six examples of how we have unintentionally hurt the survivor (and their remedies). 

Sexual Abuse and the Church: 6 Ways We Have Unintentionally Harmed The Victim.

We have been silent and made excuses for not speaking up. Instead of acting on behalf of the vulnerable, the Church has maintained a deadly silence. (1) We can speak up on their behalf.

We have subtly pushed victims to prematurely forgive their offenders before they have had a chance to grieve over the harm they experienced. (2) We can allow time for healing.

We have minimized the sinful and predatory behavior of individuals in the Bible while emphasizing the opportunity for spiritual growth in response to the harm done to the victim. (3) We can quit saying, “God works all things together for good,” in response to every tragedy. God may work all things for good, but not all things or events are good.

We have not grieved over the damage done to Tamar, Bethsheba, and Esther, who men in power sexually victimized, as much as we worried about the inability of a victim to move forward in the healing process. (4) We can identify and correct abuses of power within our congregations.

We have made those experiencing deep sadness over their abuse feel defective because they are not embracing joy amid their suffering. (5) We can sit with them in their grief.

We have neglected to implement a written policy that explains to all potential volunteers that all incidents, without exception, of possible abuse will be immediately reported to civil authorities. Without a documented procedure, a potential predator will assume that we are not watching, and the temptation to act out will increase. (6) We can implement a written policy concerning sexual abuse and the Church and diligently enforce it.

There are several steps we can intentionally take to help the victim and survivor.

Sexual Abuse and the Church: 15 Ways We Can Purposefully Help The Survivor

(7) We can acknowledge the severity of the issue within our communities. 

Whether at the airport, the store, a school, a church, a concert, a sporting event, or even a family gathering, one in three women and one in six men you encounter are survivors of sexual assault or sexual abuse.

(8) We can recognize that we are already interacting and having conversations with survivors and be alert for opportunities to help and not harm them.

(9) We can recognize the harm we have done to victims of sexual abuse and express a sincere apology. Whether intentional or not, wounds still hurt, and a genuine apology for our behavior, tone, and attitude are needed.

(10) We can engage our congregation in the healing power of the lament. The book of Psalm includes lament as well as songs of worship. Let people know that it is okay to grieve and lament the harm done by the trauma. That grief is not a sign of spiritual immaturity or a lack of faith.

(11) We can teach our congregations and ministry leaders to use the word we instead of me when discussing trauma. 

(12) We can recognize that The Holy Spirit’s giftings are not dependent on genders. We can hire qualified women for the ministry. We can help sponsor and pay for the education of gifted girls of character that are equipped to address the topic of sexual abuse and the church.

(13) We can help male abuse survivors understand what constitutes sexual abuse, facilitate an honest assessment and inventory of their sexual experiences, and then convince them of the benefit of disclosing the abuse in a safe community.

(14) We can enlist professionals to assess our vulnerabilities and develop best practices to protect our congregations.  

(15) We can develop partnerships with those that serve the victims and survivors of abuse without abdicating our responsibility for their spiritual welfare.   

(16) We can make the safety of our guests a priority. However, creating a safe environment to meet and share vulnerability is not just a priority but a necessity if you want them to come back.

(17) We can encourage ministers to be courageous enough to talk about their experiences with suffering.  

(18) We can adjust expectations for when healing will occur; it may happen suddenly or be a long process with numerous ups and downs. It may involve professional help or medication. It may not happen in this life, but the next for the believer.

(19) We can develop a holistic approach to treating sexual abuse that recognizes that sometimes Jesus, Counseling, Medication, and Community are all a part of the healing process. 

(20) We can create a safe place where honest questions are honored and not dismissed. For example, where was God when the abuse occurred, and where is He now?

I am grateful for those who helped me to address some deep and challenging questions. They assured me that God was present with me at the time of the assault. That He would ultimately punish evil, that broken and sinful people made bad choices, and I suffered because of them. 

Of course, I still have questions, even on the best of days. But knowing God was present in my suffering gave me a toehold to establish my footing in this issue. It gave me a place to begin to heal.

(21) We can advocate for the rights of victims and their pursuit of justice. But, unfortunately, the legal system’s pursuit of justice and the Church’s emphasis on forgiveness can cause them both sometimes to neglect the rights of victims. As Christ-followers, we have preached mercy and forgiveness but have often neglected the necessity and pursuit of justice.

Call To Action: 

Would you consider taking that first proactive step and share this article through your social media accounts and leadership in your church or organization? You can make a difference.

*Please understand that I love the Church. Whether it is a group of people who meet in a home, a store-front, a brick and mortar building, or a multi-site location, it is the method in which God interacts with the world. 

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