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Andrew Schmutzer: A Theology of Sexual Abuse: A Reflection on Creation and Devastation

Schmutzer again accurately observes that sexual abuse carries a unique devastation factor precisely because sexual abuse distorts foundational realities of what it means to be human: embodied personhood is plundered, sexual expression is perverted, trust is shattered, and the metaphors for God are disfigured. I emphatically agree with Schmutzer here, in all accounts. Bringing a robust biblical understanding of sexual abuse to various ministry contexts will go a long way to create agents of healing, which is what survivors of this heinous act need most. Agents of healing are those who can come alongside, cry with the person, and show redeeming love to make the survivor understand that despite their former abuse, they are human, and are not their abuse. The abuse was merely something that happened to them, not precipitated by them, and does not constitute the sum of their being, even though the entirety of their being is impacted by it. Because sexual abuse fractures the unity of personhood, as Schmutzer recognizes, understanding and implementing healing ministries requires the cooperation of several domains. Sexual abuse victims do not often need “professional” help. Rather, they need and desire sincere understanding and agape love—an ear to hear, a shoulder to embrace, and words of consolation.

There is an all-too-common deception that abuse “does not happen here.”

Schmutzer rightly recognizes the startling research that shows that sexually traumatized children are 10% to 15% more likely to suffer from cancer, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, liver disease, and diabetes as adults. Although not noted by him, I will add that this is often due to behavior the abused person partakes of to proverbially dampen the pain. Moreover, survivors often become hyper-sexualized, acting out their sexual conditioning, thereby increasing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases. What is more, in acting-out their hypersexuality, the survivor only furthers their shame and hatred of themselves. Speaking from personal experience once more, I also recognize that if abuse was initially perpetrated upon them by a member of the same sex, the survivor often overcorrects to the opposite sex so as to “prove” to themselves and others that they are not homosexual—but this becomes a self-feeding loop of condemnation.

Sexual abuse dismembers its victim, it un-creates because it tears apart the wholeness of a person. It flays the person’s personality, and pieces of it seem to “split-off.” However, Schmutzer asserts that buried in the profound wreckage of sexual abuse lay the vestiges of a majestic plan that dignifies humankind. He recognizes that sexual abuse is alive in every city and that every church has survivors of sexual abuse within it. Unfortunately, however, a vast number of adult survivors of abuse have already abandoned the Church. I contend that this is often because their questions are not adequately addressed. Why do people prey upon the innocent? Why is abuse never mentioned in church? Why is sexuality—something created by God—never discussed by members of the clergy? Why do members of the clergy not address—at age appropriate levels—the sexual urge that is so pervasive in young adults? Clergy should say that it is normal to be sexually curious. Why do they avoid the subject? Survivors of abuse have endured silence long enough. The church needs a robust theology of personhood in general and the reality of embodiment in particular, because survivors somatize (from Greek “body”) their trauma.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2010

About the Author: Bradford L. McCall, B.S. in Biology (Georgia Southwestern St. University, 2000), M.Div. (Asbury Theological Seminary, 2005), grew up on a cotton farm in south Georgia. A graduate student at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, Bradford has particular interest in teleology, causation and early modern philosophy.

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