This is the second of a two part post that addresses how the Christian community must address the sin of child sexual abuse. There are five essentials stops if we are to ever succeed in confronting and removing this cancer from our churches and communities. We must stop denying the sin, stop excusing the sin, stop minimizing the sin, stop breaking the law, and stop hurting the victims. The initial post addressed the first two stops. This post will address the last three stops.
Stop Minimizing the Sin
When an offender or church is confronted with the evidence of this sin, and when the sin can no longer be denied or excused, the abuser may attempt to minimize his sin and convince others that it is not really as bad as it appears. Abusers will often say things like: "We had an affair" or "We had an incestuous relationship," as if their abhorrent desires were shared mutually between offender and victim. In their perverted minds, they somehow convince themselves that this is not rape or molestation, but rather a mutual relationship. No! Sexually abusing a child is sin — it is the rape and molestation of children, it is filthy and vile, and the church needs to recognize it as such.
Every week our ministry receives new reports from victims that are harmed by this sin. One such report was from a woman who, as a fifteen-year-old pastor's daughter, was raped by a guest speaker who was staying in their home. He threatened her, telling her that terrible things would happen to her parents if she told, so she kept her secret. But for years she thought she would go to hell because of what her abuser had done to her. Another victim shared that as a young child she was raped and molested for many years by her father. In her heart-wrenching testimony, she tried to describe her feelings of guilt and pain and how she thought others could smell the dirt on her. It's odd that victims seem to feel the guilt and the shame while the offenders seem to go on with their lives as if nothing is wrong.
What these criminals are doing to the victims destroys them emotionally, inflicting emotional injury that will last the rest of their lives. It not only devastates the lives of the victims, it does untold harm to the victims' relationships with their future spouses and children. There is nothing that could ever be presented that should allow an abuser — or the church — to minimize this sin.
Notice that Saul not only tried to deny and excuse his disobedience but also tried to minimize the sinfulness of it by reasoning with Samuel that the animals were saved to sacrifice to the Lord (I Samuel 15:15).
Proverbs 21:3 says: To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice (NASB).
There is no conscionable way we can minimize this sin, yet because it is so troubling to believe that it is happening in the Body of Christ, many are willing to deny, excuse, and minimize it ... whatever it takes to ease their consciences.
Stop Breaking the Law
Churches need to realize and remember that this sin is also a criminal offense — therefore, we have a moral, biblical, and legal obligation to treat it as such.
Consider what God says to the church in Romans 13:3-5: For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil, do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise of the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake (NKJV, emphasis added).
When it comes to addressing this sin, churches too often are reluctant to turn the offenders over to the law. They often have a misunderstanding of grace and justice, believing that it is unloving or unforgiving to hold an offender accountable before the law. For some reason, many conclude that somehow justice is wrong.
Proverbs 18:5 says: It is not good to be partial to the wicked or deprive the innocent of justice, and Proverbs 17:15 says: Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent — the Lord detests them both (NIV).
The Lord is clear in His expectations. Yes, we need to offer offenders love and forgiveness, but we must realize that forgiveness and love do not eliminate the consequences of the sin. The devastation that is heaped upon the victims of this sin is not erased merely by a simple "I am sorry," nor are the legal and personal debts of an offender satisfied with an apology.
We recognize this with other criminal activities such as murder, assault, or theft, but for some reason many are willing to simply overlook this specific criminal behavior. Some may think it is too harsh for offenders to face the consequences of their choices, because they may lose their reputation, social standing, family, or freedom. And when the abuse is brought to light, innocent people are heavily impacted; the family members of the offender, as well as the victims, face shame and loss. While it is true that the process will bring pain to the guilty as well as the innocent (and we must remember to be loving and supportive to all those who are victimized), we are not relieved of our legal obligation — we must hold offenders accountable before God and the law.
Stop Hurting the Victims
One of the things we have personally experienced, and have seen many others go through, is that when victims come forward, they do not find love and support from their church and family members. Many will respond with disbelief or assert that the victim needs to "forgive and forget." While it is true that we need to be able to forgive, much of the time when victims are told to forgive and forget, what is being said is: "You need to be quiet." Because the church and the family do not want to be embarrassed, inconvenienced, or forced to deal with a situation that makes them uncomfortable, the easiest thing to do is to pressure the victim to be quiet. This causes unimaginable damage and pain to the victim.
In the book Invisible Girls, Dr. Patti Feuereisen states that the most important factor in victims' healing is telling their story. When we tell a victim of sexual abuse to be quiet or we encourage them to suppress their story, essentially what we are telling them is that they do not matter, and what they have gone through is not serious enough for us to deal with. We devalue them as a person and as a child of God. When we do this, in effect we are reinforcing the abuse that they experienced at the hands of their offenders.
Often victims are told that if they are struggling with the emotional and spiritual wounds of their abuse, it is a sign that they are unforgiving. How ridiculous! We do not accuse someone who has suffered physical abuse of being unforgiving if his broken bones are not healed immediately, but we judge a person who has been ravaged spiritually and emotionally by how quickly or slowly the healing comes.
Luke 17:1-2 says: He said to His disciples, "Offenses will certainly come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble." In light of what Christ says in this passage about offenders, we must remember that our role as the Body of Christ in these situations is to both help and comfort the victims, and firmly confront offenders in a biblically-consistent manner.
In conclusion, there are a number of things we need to consider when facing the issue of sexual abuse and how we need to deal with it in our church. Although we may never completely eradicate the sin, there are biblical guidelines that need to be followed in an effort to prevent this sin from happening in our churches and homes.
We must realize first and foremost that we need to seek God's face in our time of need. Second Chronicles 7:14 reminds us: If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. We must humble ourselves and admit there is a problem, which means that we no longer deny, excuse, or minimize the sin. We must hold offenders accountable before the law and God. And we must be supportive of the victims and provide love and healing.
Dale Ingraham is a pastor and co-founded Speaking in Truth Ministries with his wife, Faith. Together they work to educate and provide guidance to churches and individuals dealing with issues of sexual abuse.