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Sexual Abuse, by Any Other Name?

Shared empathy address the disenfranchised grief of sexual abuse. Disenfranchised grief is not intentionally named, publically mourned, ritually incorporated or homiletically engaged. While sexual abuse is 75x more common than pediatric cancer, its lack of address is part of the reason most victims have left the Church. There are plenty of biblical passages leaders could use to validate the experience of survivors. Lament is also the language of victims’ grief, not just sin’s confession. If we are unwilling to lament, then we are unprepared to face the pain that needs it.

 

  1. We will not grieve what we are unprepared to redeem.

When it comes to sexual abuse, what is not transformed risks being transferred. It’s a sober reality. A deep form of redeeming is needed. And for the family of the survivor too, the cost of uninspected pain can be high. By redeeming, I’m referring to releasing the survivor from toxic shame, helping them exchange some core experiences, and restoring their dignity and purpose within the life of the Church. Shame is released when the survivor purges the social stereotypes and false messages they’ve carried. Significantly, the collective faith of the spiritual family can buoy the survivor, renewing healthy patterns of behavior, and restoring trust and relational vulnerability. Observe the restoring impact of “their faith” when Jesus responded with healing for the paralytic (Mark 2:5).

Shunned grief, however, is spiritual hypocrisy.

The victim’s pain—like the “crime scene”—can defy description: poor prevention measures, betrayed childhood, inadequate policies, transgenerational abuse, colluding family, complex PTSD, and the rhetoric of a sovereign heavenly Father to whom we owe our “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). Did you catch any painful ironies? Taken together, these create a gauntlet of obstacles, some of which survivors will struggle with throughout their lives. Yet the grief and care of brothers and sisters is redeeming. When we grieve, we may cry. But when we do “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15), we are grieving a loss. Shunned grief, however, is spiritual hypocrisy. The unhealed victim actually diminishes us all. But with help, a survivor realizes that their violation may have shaped them, but it does not define them.

Society often confuses advocacy for the abused with a vitriolic protest that cares little for the redemptive horizon of faith. With the loss of the transcendent Gospel, all that remains is politics. Without redeeming principles, anger easily morphs into hostile ideologies, and spiritual vitality is simply bartered for toxic blogs peddling more empowerment. Like the Hulk, one can remain angry and avoid commitment. But healing is more than the art of self-announcement. Whenever the script—inside or outside the Church—pushes the victim into center stage and pitches the faith as intolerant, then redemption is paralyzed and God has to walk! Clearly, there are extreme tensions that survivors of faith must navigate. For some, a notion of divine determinism or disembodied theology, is easier to accept. In reality, personal agency and accountability can feel like luxuries for survivors. Obviously, wounded healers are needed in the survivor’s healing journey. As Ray S. Anderson observed:

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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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