Anytime people in power take advantage of those under them it is sinful and wrong. In 2017 as the “Me Too” movement bean moving into full-swing I wrote a series of articles about abuse from those with power, public opinion, repentance, and Christian responsibility.
Then in February 2019 the Houston Chronicle published a series of articles about abuse in Southern Baptist churches.
The article highlighted a culture in Baptist churches that allows predators to abuse people and often move away with few consequences only to do it again in another church.
Even when the element of power or influence is not involved, it is difficult and scary for someone to confront an abuser or even to share their abuse with others
In cases that involve people being abused in churches there is an added element of concern. The church is a place for the broken to find healing. It is a place for the hurt to find comfort. It is a place for the neglected and forgotten to find acceptance. The church is a place where people go to draw closer to the God and to find spiritual encouragement.
Typically, church leaders are viewed as trusted individuals. These leaders should be people that can listen to struggles, offer guidance, prayer, and support. They are intended to help the community. These leaders are viewed as SAFE.
When someone is abused in a church not only are they often ashamed of what happened, they are ashamed of where it happened, and even more so that God allowed it to happen.
The Houston Article shows why it is so important to have guides and procedures in place to help prevent this kind of abuse from happening.
As Christians, we believe that one abuse is one abuse too many. When people who are supposedly Christian leaders abuse people, it creates a negative image of the church and of the God we serve.
Responding to Sexual Abuse in a Church
Churches must do a better job of protecting parishioners. This means that churches must not only act to prevent abuse from happening, but they must also respond appropriately when abuse does happen.
Appropriate responses to sexual abuse in the church never include victim shaming. Appropriate response should always include informing local law enforcement especially when a crime has been committed. Response should include removing the leader from his or her position while any investigation is going on. It also means permanently removing the leader from the position if the investigation proves guilt. Response should provide the victim with the resources to receive counseling, and other emotional health care as needed. Response should always involve apology and an attempt to make things right in-so-far as the church can do it. The church should never try and cover up what happened. The church must own up to the offense.
If a perpetrator confesses that his or her actions were wrong and wants to seek help, the church should support getting that individual help. But the person may need to be removed from the specific church at least for a while and sometimes permanently. Churches should also apologize and have confession for what occurred.
Ben Tinker at CNN wrote an article about the right and wrong way to apologize. In it he quotes Karina Schumann who has published an article stating that “there are three “core” elements of a good apology.” These three elements include:
- Expressing remorse (saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”) and expressing regret (saying “I feel awful” or “I regret…”)
- Accepting responsibility
- Offering to repair the problem (state what you will do to fix the problem or what steps you will take to be better moving forward)
Schumann states that an apology may “require additional elements:
- An explanation of your words or actions.
- A promise that you will behave better in the future.
- Acknowledgment that you understand how your victim has suffered.
- Admission of wrongdoing, such as “It was wrong of me to say the things I said” or “I shouldn’t have spoken poorly about you.”
- A request for forgiveness.”
When apologizing, the person should never shift blame to the victim.
If a church leader is accused of a sexual abuse or assault and is found guilty. That person should no longer be allowed to serve in a leadership role in a church.
If the person is found to be innocent, further investigation may be warranted to determine why the person’s character and actions would have brought about an accusation in the first place.
If the person is truly innocent, he or she can continue serving.
If a guilty leader repents, he may be able to serve again, but not before first proving that he or she will not continue making the same kinds of choices. The repentance must be observed to be real, truthful, and permanent.
It may be difficult for victims to continue in the same congregation. If they choose to leave and find another church, they should receive support in that decision. Some may find it difficult to trust God or even continue going to church at all. The church should continue to provide them support, encouragement, and aid in healing.
If you are a victim and you are hurt, angry, ashamed, etc. Know that God still loves you and that he hurts alongside you. What happened was not your fault. God desires justice and the one who abused you will have to answer to God. Justice will come from God before all is said and done.
It can be difficult to trust God when bad things happen, especially when they happen in the one place meant to aid in the healing of our souls. In the New Testament, Jesus kicks the money changers out of the temple. Today God still desires to remove the false teachers and hypocrites from the community. Not everyone in the church or in church leadership is evil.
God also redeems evil circumstances. He can use our bad experiences to bring about good things. This is no way downplays the importance of your experiences. It in no way negates what you went through. What happened was evil and wrong. It should not have ever happened to you are anyone else. But it did. You can either let what happened eat away at you, hold you back, and prevent you from becoming who God wants you to be. Or you can trust God to make something beautiful from something that never should have been.
Don’t rush your healing. Take your time. Slowly move forward. But in your time of healing, cling to God. He is good. Bad things happen, but his love is real. He is not ashamed of you. He wants to heal you.
- Sexual abuse and harassment are not beneficial or healthy for our culture.
- Sexual abuse and harassment damage emotional well-being and negatively impact interpersonal relationships.
- Sexual abuse and harassment imprison victims in a way that prevents authentic freedoms that all should have in our country.
To learn more about the negative impacts of abuse, read Developing and Implementing a Christian Sexual Ethic: Making a Theoretical Practical by Wade Berry.
For Christians, providing safe havens is a way of sharing God’s Kingdom now. In order to share God’s Kingdom in this way, we must ensure that our churches are not participants in the culture of abuse and harassment.
To read the article from the Houston Chronicle: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/investigations/article/Southern-Baptist-sexual-abuse-spreads-as-leaders-13588038.php
To read my blogs on the “Me Too Movement”:
Since writing these, I have taken the position that one can still enjoy the art created by people in Hollywood who have been accused or convicted of sexual abuse. However, we must be aware of separating the person from the art and we must be willing to condemn the actions/behavior of the person.