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The Long Journey Home

PR: What is it about the church’s relational ecosystem that church leaders need to address to create a more safe and open environment for healing?

Andrew Schmutzer:

Great question. Well let’s be honest, church transparency has been more aggressive for those living with peanut allergies than offering proactive help and up-to-date literature for the sexually broken. With 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men being abused, which is the larger group?

When it comes to the church addressing its own relational ecosystem problems, we can take a key lesson from the PennState sexual abuse scandal: our understanding of motivated blindness. Multiple layers of leadership are not conducive to addressing authority-sensitive issues like sexual abuse. When churches view brokenness as weakness, when image is on the line, job performance is defined by more money, hierarchical structures “filter” all discussion, authority figures talk down to people, and power-plays are the norm—you have motivated blindness. The traumatized child doesn’t stand a chance when someone in the chain of command edits the reports. Let me put it this way: who will suffer more from silence, “command and control” or the abused person?

Both the corporate world and the church engage in motivated blindness. The church struggles as much with abuse of power (i.e., spiritual abuse) as the corporate sector, but faith communities handle it worse and often without the needed policies for follow-up. If information of sexual abuse has to climb numerous tiers of leadership—and it’s not spiritual to be in pain or question authority—it is not only a disincentive to honesty, but any lower tier can claim “I passed it up the chain!” I know several seminaries, for example, that now require allegations of abuse to go “outside” first (to police), then back through internal channels. This discussion is long overdue and you can see how cynical society is against authority and abuse victims against both church and structure. These groups have their reasons.

What would a more safe and open environment look like? If churches intentionally reached out to the sexually abused: April would be acknowledged as the national sexual abuse and violence month, Christian leaders would be just as concerned about the sexual “betrayal talk” for adult survivors as the sexual “purity talk” for teens, churches would incorporate written testimonies and prayers of survivors, pastors would equip the abused by teaching on a theology of the lament psalms, healing services for the abused would be as common as commissioning services for missionaries, support groups for survivors would be publicized in the bulletin right next to the conference on financial freedom, board rooms would always include some wounded leaders who actually “get it,” churches would hold seminars to train their leaders in abuse identification and care, a trained counselor would be available or on staff, crisis hotlines (for domestic violence, etc.) would be posted and available, the church or pastor’s library would have several substantive books addressing sexual abuse, different denominations would cooperate for the sake of the sexually abused in their communities, teaching and preaching on sexual violence would be as common as addressing same-sex issues, the full raft of policies and literature to address allegations and minister to pedophiles would be on record.

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2013

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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