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Sexual Abuse, by Any Other Name?

 

  1. We will not name what we are unwilling to grieve.

If honest naming dignifies the wound, collective grief is a needed salve. Like changing the stigma of depression, corporate acknowledgement helps overturn the profound isolation abuse victims feel. Unfortunately, unwanted experiences translate into unwelcome stories. Is there a will to listen to the abused? In spite of our rhetoric, there is a form of exploitation that happens “in here,” too. This trafficking needs our family care. Such collective grieving for our abused brothers and sisters is an ethic cultivated by leaders who have faced their own pain. Leaders can learn to speak of abuse in their own families—even their abuse—not just cancer, poverty, and racism. Do abused movie actors have a greater warrant to speak of abuse than ministers?

Abuse has an ugly attack-factor that can drain the will-to-help. It’s not a rare contracted illness. Abuse is an active plundering of a fellow image bearer. Add to this the power-plays, incest (80%), spiritual hypocrisy, addictions, and forms of re-victimization and you have a complex relational ecosystem that no single leader is equipped to address. The body of Christ is needed. Today, too many abused are merely “farmed out” to others. How many psychologists understand Paul’s theology of the new citizenship? In the market-driven church, abuse simply doesn’t sell. We’ve forgotten that healing a survivor restores a community.

All this scares even the non-abused. Victims desperately need their spiritual family. But theological healing is the hardest medicine to find. If victims are lost in narratives of anger and an absentee God, faith communities hide behind an aversion to ambiguity and family “cases” they’d rather not face. But the sacrifice of grieving is necessary for a ministry of presence that is willing to sit in the pain of our abused brothers and sisters. For abuse victims, silence is a deafening answer that is further damaging.

When the Church tactfully acknowledges the sexually abused, then healing can be extended beyond the sterile walls of a therapy office. In the Church, collective grief is a nourishing ethic that includes: healing services, anointing, prayer circles, biblical stories, specific liturgy, special sermons, biblical laments, testimonies, responsive readings, dramas, healing rituals, and prayers of healing written by survivors.

I’ve found that most people are willing to enter into the suffering of abuse pain when guided, but they need to be taught how to collectively value this pain within their spiritual family. When April is annually acknowledged as the National Sexual Assault Awareness month; when pastoral prayers name sexual abuse; when survivor testimonies admit their on-going struggles; when sermons unpack biblical texts on sexual violence; when survivors declare their desperate allegiance to God; when policies are updated and volunteers receive training; when support groups are offered for the abused, then a healing environment is activated. Wounded lives are now connected with open grief. Such public venues allow survivors to be seen and heard. Victims have endured enough damage in the dark.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2018

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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