Sexual Abuse and the Distortion of Worship, Part Two
By Andrew Schmutzer
And they were bringing children to Him that He might
touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.
But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them,
Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,
for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
This passage powerfully illustrates how often those who walk closest to Jesus actually prevent children from approaching Him. Similar to rebuke, these children were initially kept away from Jesus because of the silence of those standing around as the disciples rebuked.
Failure by Silence
Silence about abuse and silence about how an institution responds to abuse will inevitably facilitate an environment of abuse. Perhaps the most stark modern day example of this is the Penn State tragedy. Not only did those who know about the sexual abuse of young boys by Jerry Sandusky remain silent, but still others remained silent upon hearing of the institution’s failure to take prompt corrective action. The consequence of these silences was years of ongoing sexual abuse and the untold destruction of many young lives.[i] Tragically, such silence is common within the Christian environment. Second Samuel 13:1-22, provides the horrifying account of the rape of Tamar by her brother, Amnon, both children of King David. Next to the sexual assault, perhaps the most egregious aspect of this story is the utter silence that dominated those who learned of the offense. When Tamar disclosed the abuse to her brother Absalom, he responded, But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother, do not take this matter to heart.[ii] His instruction was apparently driven by the fact that the perpetrator was her brother. Even worse was the response of King David, who was the one responsible for sending his daughter to Amnon’s house. Scripture says, Now when King David heard of these matters, he was very angry.[iii] He was angry but remained silent and did nothing. These types of responses to child sexual abuse disclosures are still all too common within the modern Church. Whether it’s a notable pastor or staff member, an influential church member, or a well- respected member of the community, the identity of the alleged perpetrator still drives many in the church to remain silent about suspected abuse. In her book, This Little Light, Christa Brown recounts that after being repeatedly sexually victimized by her youth pastor, she finally gained enough courage to report the abuse to the church music minister. Upon hearing her disclosure, the music minister made young Christa promise that she would not tell anyone else of the abuse. Just a few short weeks later, the church announced that the offending youth pastor had accepted a “calling” to another church.[iv] Not only did the church’s silence allow the offender to escape legal responsibility and to move to a new church of unsuspecting victims, but it also loudly conveyed to Christa that she was worthless. Again, this was a silence premised upon the fact that the perpetrator was a youth minister and most likely rationalized with the lie that exposure of this offender would hurt the “cause of Christ”.
Like King David, many within the church respond with a righteous anger when hearing about sexual abuse. Sadly, also like King David, such anger all too often settles into a comfortable silence, resulting in minimal constructive responsive action. [v] Decades of addressing child sexual abuse within the faith community prompted attorney Jeff Anderson to remark, “Every institution protects the powerful among them and puts the institution above the well being of kids. It’s about power and preservation. The more powerful the institution is, the less child protection and harder for them to do the right thing[vi].”
A silence that covers abuse and the failed response of the church to abuse disclosures loudly communicates worthlessness to the one abused. Not only does such silence cause further harm to the survivor, but it also enables the continued victimization by perpetrators. Silence frees perpetrators to move between Christian environments, victimizing and destroying young worshippers along the way. Each of us has a God-given responsibility to love and protect His little ones by never accepting silence as a response to abuse.
Andrew Schmutzer teaches classes in Hebrew language and Old Testament Theology at Moody Bible Institute and is an adjunct instructor at Wheaton College. He is an associate member of the Trauma & Transformation project (McGill University), a contributing editor of Edification, and a co-founder of a support group for abuse survivors called CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation). He recently edited the book The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused. He desires an inter-faith dialogue to develop faith-based healing for survivors and (inter-)national policies against sexual abuse.
This article was previously published in Soul and Spirit. Used with permission.
[i] For a more discussion and analysis of the destruction caused by silence, see, Game Over – Jerry Sandusky, Penn State, and the Culture of Silence by Bill Moushey and Robert Dvorchak, (Harper Collins, 2012), and Lessons Learned from Penn State by Victor Vieth, et al. (Centerpiece, a publication of the National Child Protection Training Center, 2012).
[ii] II Samuel 13:20 (NASB)
[iii] II Samuel 13:21 (NASB)
[iv] Brown, pp. 22-24.
[v] Oftentimes, the only action taken is to blame the victim for disclosing the matter years later, for their “participation” in the sexual activity, or their “unwillingness” to forgive without consequences.
[vi] See, Amid the Penn State Outrage, Victims Have Been Forgotten, by Ruben Rosairo (Pioneer Press, 11/11/11) Available online at http://www.andersonadvocates.com/Posts/News-or-Event/980/Pioneer-Press-Ruben-Rosario-Amid-the-Penn-State-outrage-victims-have-been-forgotten.aspx