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In Conversation with Andrew Schmutzer, Part 2

Therapy for abuse victims helps reconnect the matrix of body, mind, and community. There is paradox in healing from sexual abuse: as more pieces are found and reattached, the pain actually increases, since there is more of the person to hurt now. Unless these pieces are reattached, healthy orientation to self, others, and God is stunted at best and remains twisted at worst.

Abusers act out from their own distorted theological anthropologies. It is hard to respect another’s body when one’s own sense of the physical and relational world is skewed. Again, here is where the victimizer and victim meet. Inadequately accountable to community, the victimizer can move easily from “my salvation” and “my Jesus” to the displaced notion of “my home” and “my sex life”—an ethical oxymoron. But an abridged view of personhood actually drives both. Intoxicated by their narcissism, the victimizer has already spurned accountability. This connection is important: in part, what allows the victimizer to victimize—lack of community intimacy—in turn, deprives the victim of the same.

How one views the human being determines how one will address the trauma of sexual abuse, the tenacity of evil, the role of counseling, the reality of depression, the relationship to addictions, the tendency of victims to abuse their own children, the complexity of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), the fear of the “crime scene,” and the use of medication. In other words, dualistic thinking goes to dangerous extremes when it isolates the spirit from the body, romanticizes heaven, minimizes social ethics, and excludes the broader creation from God’s redemptive plan (e.g., escapist theologies). In the end, these dualisms actually shred the social-spiritual-physical bindings of people.

PR: What are some ways you have seen churches acknowledge the sexually abused, and how has this given an opening for survivors to lay aside shame and begin to heal?

Andrew Schmutzer:

In truth, I’ve not seen churches do much at all. As I’ve said before, peanut allergies are addressed with greater consistency and honesty. The chapter entitled “Healing the Wounded Heart through Ritual and Liturgy,” in The Long Journey Home (pp. 293-313), may be the best discussion in print of incorporating creative ideas for survivors’ healing. Don’t think merely in terms of what your style or worship tradition can handle. The goal of healing the abused must be willing to work outside the constraints of any given tradition. It’s about the needs of the sexually broken. If we took this more seriously, maybe more abused would still be in the church—about 20% of a congregation! Try something new for the sake of the abused, the sick and broken that Jesus came to heal.

I love our Lord’s church and I have a deep burden to see the ancient sin of sexual abuse normalized in teaching, preaching, and healing services of all kinds. Sadly, there’s very little I’ve witnessed from churches that are trying to proactively address abuse. For this reason, I’ve written extensively about ideas, needs, and opportunities churches have to creatively minister to their sexually broken. Let me recap a few ideas.

  • For education: host a conference on sexual abuse working with several local churches. Bring in a keynote speaker who can powerfully address sexual abuse. In addition, include several other counselors, social workers, and support group leaders from the community who regularly work with the abused. They can offer break out sessions to tackle particular issues. Invite pastors, elders, youth group leaders, and survivors to come. Let a drama team act out Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) or Joseph constantly turning down the sexual offers of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) or waking up Jesus in the boat (Mark 4:35-41)—something many survivors have tried to do! Sell books, offer literature, highlight community services, and quality examples of church policy to address both survivors and offenders. Churches desperately need their leaders to cast a vision for this.
  • For worship: start incorporating meaningful, non-triumphalistic elements in worship designed to acknowledge and enact corporate grief on behalf of the sexually broken. Keep in mind, most victims have suffered in silence their entire lives, while others around them have been singing: “God you are healer…” Please don’t ask them to shout in praise until you’ve held them while they weep. Use testimonies, songs about how our God also weeps for his children, written prayers of survivors struggling to find this protective God. This is why I wrote prayers for survivors in The Long Journey Home (pp. 375-401; see example below). Unfortunately, contemporary worship is no longer educational, but imagine hearing a testimony from a missionary in Cambodia or India who works with abused children. Hebrews speaks of praying “as though you yourselves were also [in chains].” We need more of this empathetic involvement from people. Dedicate April, national abuse and sexual violence month, to intensive naming of abuse and starting support groups for female and male victims. Most churches have one for “divorce care” but never one for male survivors and 1 in 6 men are abused. Include survivors in healing services, with responsive readings, prayers circles, Bible readings, anointing with oil, and white flowers distributed to those who want one.
  • For support: along with a standard support group for survivors, offer even a modest library of quality literature on abuse from a Christian world view. There are books that speak to survivors and leaders, from basic to intermediate, and advanced levels. Small cards identifying counselors, pastors, and support ministries can be offered alongside other church literature. Church leadership should have some wounded leaders, those who understand the painful code words (e.g., “someone took advantage of me”) that survivors use. Wounded leaders aren’t threatened by victims’ trust issues, because they see behind the angry outbursts to a child frozen in fear. For a discussion of some myths that must be broken in order to adequately shepherd survivors, see my brief article at: http://www.efcatoday.org/site/article/shepherding-survivors-of-sexual-abuse
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Category: Fall 2013, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Andrew J. Schmutzer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). He regularly writes and speaks about sexual abuse from a theological perspective, to help equip churches to care for the abused in their midst. Andrew is the editor of the collaborative book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), a contributor to numerous books including Finding Our Way Through the Traffick: Exploring the Complexities of a Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Regnum Books, 2017), The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody, 2008), Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016), Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 2016), and Genesis: See Our Story Begin (NLT Study Series). He is one of the editors of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Moody, 2013), and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf & Stock, 2009). He can be reached at aschmutz@moody.edu.

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