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Sexual Abuse, by Any Other Name?


We begin to trust only a person who can share our pain. The sympathy of those who recognize our hurt and wish to help is not sufficient. Those who are vulnerable at the level of their own pain create access to our pain and thus to the very core of our being, without requiring a commitment or promise. Without the existence of shared pain, those who have had trust shattered cannot find a point of beginning.


  1. We cannot redeem what we prefer to redefine.

There is a growing trend to redefine wounds that are “too messy” for refined faith. Healing abuse can be like recouping a battlefield—some ordinances can be repurposed, but none can be ignored. Unfortunately, identity politics has metastasized into “Victim Olympics.” Society is far more committed to democratizing trauma than finding healing for the ancient evil of sexual victimization.

Society is far more committed to democratizing trauma than finding healing for the ancient evil of sexual victimization.

Now that anyone can attain victim status, real victims are more than muted, and the ethical compass of responsibility has been ditched for a weaponized PC culture. Moral North no longer exists. Sadly, the Church wants to play too, when it redefines incest as a “sad situation,” a “family matter” or mentions nothing at all. One must recall Paul’s words to the Corinthian church about an incidence of incest—“not found even among pagans…Should you not rather have mourned?” (2 Cor. 5:1, 2). The Apostle draws on language from Lev. 18:6-8. Paradoxically, relational wounds actually need relational healing, not professionalized obscurity.

Image: Mark Cruz

Redefining sexual abuse sabotages healing. The right words are insistent and face reality. According to Stanley Fish, “Language is not a handmaiden to perception, it is perception; it gives shape to what would otherwise be inert or dead.” The Church can bring a healing vocabulary to its abused people, among whom “no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” (1 Thess. 4:6).

The Church helps redeem the travesty of sexual abuse when, for example, lament becomes a Christian exhale and believers cry out for their wounded. Because evil is always stronger than isolated individuals, believers are called to remember as a community. Let them cry with their family. These are some practices that healing needs. But redeeming (i.e., sanctifying) a survivor’s experiences is rebuilding their boundaries, helping them not to waste profound suffering, and restoring their true identity in the life of faith. This is the toolshed of the Church.

Redeeming a survivor’s experiences is rebuilding their boundaries, helping them not to waste profound suffering, and restoring their true identity in the life of faith.

Naming is dignifying and mending, not isolating. But a culture of trauma craves identity without closure and protest without nurture. So the Church must declare, in advance of its next victim, that they are ready with the full care of Christ, expressed through his Body. The practice of lament, for example, brings fresh metaphors for the frightened and helps heal an evil that is word-shattering. Lament is the language of suffering, and without it, warns Patrick Miller, “Both the lowly and the powerful will be tempted to conclude that the status is quo, that possibilities unseen are inauthentic and unlikely, that the world’s power to define reality is ultimate and unchallenged.”

It is a precious thing to name our most sacred hatreds to God, for our scared Lamb (Rev. 5:6) takes wounds seriously. In our time, abuse requires a “new mourning.” The King who hung naked on a cross, is more offended by sexual abuse than we are. Maybe we should lament that, too.


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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

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