Understanding in the Unthinkable: A Call to Action for the Body of Christ

My heart is breaking as I type right now. There is actual, physical pain...the kind of pain you have when you've been punched in the stomach and you aren't sure you're going to be able to take another breath.

Just a few weeks ago, during a brief discussion with some other moms about child sexual abuse, I said, "It seems crazy, but you have no idea how many Christian families out there are dealing with this in some manner or another. I really think this is one of Satan's great weapons against families seeking after Christ."

I'm hearing it more and more often these days, and today heard yet another story of a family reeling from this trauma, bringing tears and a literal ache as always.  A family dealing with the anguish of a child being violated by someone close to them, someone they trusted, someone who claimed the name of Christ.

That trauma in and of itself is bad enough.  Anyone who has been there knows that.  But as so often happens, the original trauma is compounded by inappropriate responses on the part of the body that should be offering the most support: the church.

When a family is in crisis, particularly when that family is part of the Body of Christ, the church should be a haven for them, a place of safety.  Corporate worship and fellowship and prayer should be a comfort and a hope.

And yet again and again, there is additional, albeit generally unintentional, pain from the very Body that should be providing love and care. 

Churches simply must learn how to appropriately minister to families in this type of pain and crisis.  No longer can we excuse ourselves with "we don't know how".  No longer can we pretend it doesn't happen in our churches, to people we know.

Here are some things we can do:

1. Realize that this is not something that happens to "other people".  It can happen to anyone.  ANYONE.  If it can happen to a family in which both parents worked in child protective services, in which one parent taught prospective foster and adoptive parents how to identify and prevent abuse, it can happen to ANYONE. 

2. Realize that perpetrators are not creepy scary people.  Perpetrators come from all walks of life.  There is no way to identify a perpetrator by sight.  A perpetrator may be well-educated, well-dressed, and hold a professional job.  They may be active in church.  They may be leaders in the community. In all likelihood, they are well-liked and charming.

3.  Realize the only time you can be sure your child is safe is when they are in your sight.  That sounds dramatic, but it's true.  We cannot guarantee the protection of our children.  We simply can't.  This was a hard, hard lesson for me to learn. 

4. Realize that children and families who have experienced this type of abuse are in deep, deep pain.  Abuse = trauma.  Children who've experienced this type of abuse are dealing with extreme physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual trauma.  Parents of children who've experienced trauma are dealing with a whole new world of worries and concerns. They may be experiencing a new and disturbing distrust of pretty much the entire human race.  They may very well not be sleeping, either due to their own stress, or sleep issues in their traumatized child.  If the perpetrator was someone the family was close to, they are dealing with betrayal issues on top of all the rest.  

5.  Realize that forgiveness and restoration do NOT equal "everything going back to the way it was before".  Even when a perpetrator expresses true repentance, that does NOT mean that contact with the victim or victims is in any way appropriate.  In rare instances it may be, but generally only after much time and healing have occurred.  Victims (particularly child victims) and their families should not be expected to have contact with the perpetrator, even (or especially) in the setting of the church. 

(For more on this subject, see the book linked below, Rid of My Disgrace.)
6. Realize that if abuse hasn't already impacted your church (and you might be surprised), it almost certainly will at some point.  Be prepared.  Be educated.  Here are some resources to get you started:

Rid of My Disgrace,
by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb ~ This is the best resource I have found on this issue. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb deal with this subject Biblically and gracefully.  I firmly believe that every pastor, every staff member, every Sunday School teacher, every Christian should read this book.

Thin Places,
by Mary DeMuth ~ Mary DeMuth's writing has ministered to me greatly.  Her story is one of hope and healing through God's grace.  
From Awareness to Understanding to Ministry...Abuse and the Body of Christ ~  *
"We can't all go outside our city, state, or country to do missions...and we don't have to.  There are so many people right around us...even sitting by us in church...who are hurting and who need to be ministered to.  Children and families affected by abuse are among those.  There is a huge mission/ministry field ripe for harvest that doesn't require travelling a mile or spending a dime.  Hurting children and families need to know that there is hope...that there is healing and comfort in the Father who holds us close to His heart as a Shepherd cradles a baby lamb.  We need to share the Gospel with those who are unsaved, and we need to minister to the injured members of the Body of Christ.  We need to let God's love flow through us to them; we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  Church needs to be a haven for those affected by abuse...a place where they can feel the safety they need to heal and grow.  "

We All Hurt ~ This doesn't deal with abuse per se, but is a good, short reminder about hurting people in general.

Desiring God: Interview with Justin Holcomb, author of Rid of My Disgrace. (EXCELLENT interview) 
Bugs Bunny, Facebook, and Stewarding the Story *

Protecting Children, Part 1*

Protecting Children, Part 2*

Protecting Children, Part 3*

(Resources marked with an asterisk * are  posts here at Ponderings of an Elect Exile.) 
For more information on child protection resources and hope for those dealing with abuse trauma, see the complete list of Child Protection Resources here.  
If you or someone you love has been affected by child sexual abuse, please know that there is hope.  For more information or prayer, please contact me through the contact box in the sidebar on the right. 

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