An interview with Andrew Schmutzer about The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused, and part 1 of the chapter, “A Charge for Church Leadership: Speaking Out Against Sexual Abuse and Ministering to Survivors” as appearing in Pneuma Review Winter 2014.
Note from the Editors: Beginning a conversation about sexual abuse is uncomfortable, but we feel strongly that this topic is something the church needs to address. We believe the testimonies of authentic recovery can help us embrace the pain of the hurting and make openings for God to bring healing.
Pneuma Review: Do you appreciate how Nason-Clark and McMullin invite church leaders to speak out against sexual abuse as an opportunity and not as an obligation?
Andrew Schmutzer: To their credit, I think they were trying to cast a positive vision for making change, rather than framing the needs negatively or sternly. When there’s so much education to do to train church leaders, adopt appropriate policies for survivors, and then actively address their needs in church services—I think they put these tasks in a more positive light.
The reality is that “opportunity” sounds socially welcoming to pastoral leaders and those interested in social justice, whereas “obligation” sounds impersonal today, adding to the “deadweight” of unachievable tasks. That said, the role church leaders have—as first-responders—is an ethical and ecclesiastical responsibility to speak for those who’ve been denied a voice. I see their message being an opportunity to have an impact of a dynamic relational and spiritual kind…obligations per se, belong on check lists. Opportunities exist for those willing to be relationally vulnerable.
PR: Please share with us a testimony of speaking out against sexual abuse.
Andrew Schmutzer: It’s understood when working with abuse survivors, your story is your story and their story is their own. So while I’m aware of many abuse stories, and have a growing army of friends learning to live on the other side of abuse, I’m not comfortable speaking of others’ personal stories.
What I can say is that I’ve conducted some very meaningful chapels at Moody, where I teach. Several weeks out, I have students submit their personal abuse stories to me by email. They know their story will be used anonymously. Having collected around 20 individual stories, I have two students volunteer to read portions of these stories, which the survivors knew would be done. With mics located in the back of the auditorium, the male student reads the other male stories submitted, and he alternates with a female reader reading portions of women’s stories. This testimony part is one of the most powerful parts of these chapels, as students hear some very painful stories from their own peers! Written prayers of lament, responsive readings, prayer circles, candles, oil, and other meaningful rituals can be woven into these student chapels. Would you believe, they can’t wait for the next one the following semester!