Shattering a Culture of Silence

There’s an old saying that goes like this: “Silence is golden.”  But is it always?  Is there ever a time when silence is not a good option?

Silence may be golden in some cases.  But I question whether our silence on sexual abuse in our Anabaptist churches has done anything other than cultivate more abuse. Most of us would like to think that we are pretty good – that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen all that often.  Yet many of us personally know people who’ve either been abused or who have abused.

Though abuse is often gossiped about in our communities, we hear very little about it over the pulpit.  Anabaptist periodicals rarely publish articles concerning it.  It’s almost like there’s an unspoken rule that claims we “shouldn’t talk about such things.”

female-child-with-hand-over-her-mouth

That sentence highlights a major part of the problem and also part of the solution.

By failing to bring sexual sin and abuse to light, we as Anabaptists have become bound in generational strongholds.  For the most part, the older generation thought it wrong to “talk about such things.”  But refusing to open up about the issues in their generation has only caused the sin and abuse to be passed on to their children and grandchildren.  Today, the younger generation faces an enormous epidemic of sexual abuse.

Thankfully, there are some people who are finally realizing that “not going there” has only multiplied the problem.  Our eyes are being opened by Jesus, Who loves children.

Of course, when anyone starts messing with the devil’s agenda to take back the ground that sexual abuse destroyed, they are in for some serious spiritual battles.  The people who are hiding behind the culture of secrets suddenly become wolves in sheep’s clothing.  People you thought highly of, suddenly “turn and rend you.”  All hell breaks loose, trying to distract you from the work God has given you to do – exposing the sin, helping the sinner, and bringing healing to the weak and hurting.

And yet, in the midst of the chaos and flying darts meant to forever shut you up, Jesus gives His blessing.  His Voice guides you through the battle.  He comforts.  He gives confirmation after confirmation.  His Hand in the battle to expose sexual sin in the conservative church is unmistakable.

Everywhere in His Word, I find His heart.  From Genesis to Revelation, His heart is the same.  He cares about the broken. (Ps. 147:3) His ear is tuned to the weak, the vulnerable, and the hurting.  (Ps. 10:17-18) He hears the cries of the children. (Gen. 21:17)  He defends the innocent.  (Ps. 82:3) He sets the captives free.  He binds up the brokenhearted.  He gives them beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

If we are honest, we as Anabaptists have failed miserably when it comes to hearing the cries of the children.  Instead of listening, we have been “shutting them up.”  Instead of caring, we’ve been stomping out the last little bit of life they had.   And the sick thing is, we do in the name of “forgive and forget”.  We take Scripture out of context to “prove” that “talking about such things” is sin.  Sometimes we tell them to “get over it.”

Worse yet, we blame the hurting for leaving our church.  We talk about them behind their backs.  We think they are rebellious, not realizing that WE might be to blame for their distrust and disgust for God and His Word.

Judgement is coming.  God does not deal kindly with those who trample the weak and needy.  (Ps. 109:16) He has little mercy for people who claim to know Him and offend children. (Matt. 18:6) To God, this is serious stuff.

What should we do and where do we start? How can we shatter the silence and shed the Light on the sin?

I beg you to start by reading the Word of God with an open heart.  Put all your preconceived ideas aside and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what God’s Word means.  Ask God to show you what He thinks about sexual sin and sexual abuse.  Seek His face.  He has the answers.

About a year ago, my husband and I began to ask God those same questions.  We started studying His Word, specifically paying attention to passages that pertained to sexual sin and sexual abuse.  We prayed a lot, and asked Him to guide us into all Truth.  Our view and perspective on what God thinks of abuse and how we should deal with it changed dramatically.

I can talk and write all I want, but I cannot change the hearts of “my people”.  But I know Someone Who can.   In fact, He already is, and I believe He will continue to do so.

If each of us would seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways, it would be the start of a great Revival in our communities and churches.  It starts with you.  It starts with me.  Together with God, we can change our children and grandchildren’s destiny, so that they can be free from the generational strongholds that have plagued us.

To My Dear Mother

Dear Mom,

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.  I wanted to get you a special card, or flowers, or something….anything to let you know how much you mean to me.  But honestly, flowers and cards really don’t express it well enough.  Since writing happens to be my gift, I decided that might be a better option.

Mom, thank you.  Thank you for carrying me for nine long months.  Thank you for laboring all day and birthing my little body.  Thank you for holding me in your arms and weeping as you thought about the responsibility of guiding my soul.  Thank you for all those sleepless nights, diaper changes, laundry, and baths.

mother and child

Thank you for singing to me, for sharing your love of music with me, and for taking me for piano lessons.  Thank you for letting me sing all the different parts while I “sang” soprano in my head.  Thank you for the good memories of reciting a Psalm before nap time, and for the afternoons on the porch swing eagerly waiting for Daddy to arrive home from work.

I remember one time when you had a picnic lunch with us under the pine trees.  Thank you for taking time out of your day to do that.  Thank you for giving me special care when I was sick.  Thank you for praying with me when I had nightmares.  Thank you for answering my many questions and listening to my many stories. Thank you for your patience with me.

Very faintly I remember that before I’d go to sleep, you and Dad would pray with me and the rest of the children.  Thank you.  Thank you for teaching me of Jesus by your word and example.  Thank you for your vibrant spirit and for showing me how to love my husband by the way you love Dad.

Mom, I’m so blessed to have you as my mom.  I admire how you mothered.  I want to memorize scripture with my children and pray with them.  I want to sing with them.  I want them to have memories of watching the road for their daddy to arrive home from work.  I want them to know without a shadow of doubt that “Mommy loves Daddy”, just like I knew when I was growing up.

I’ve taken you for granted so many times.  But I want to change that.  Now I’m the one with a toddler pulling at my skirt and a baby who needs nursed.  Now I have little voices who call me “Mommy.”  It’s my turn to deal with the messy diapers, mountains of dirty laundry and dishes, the fingerprints on the window panes, and the short nights.

And my desire is to do my part as a mama to plant seeds in my children’s hearts just like you did with me.  So that someday, they too will rise up and do the same for their children, for God’s glory alone.

Thank you Mom!  I’m so glad God choose you to be my mom.  May God bless you this Mother’s Day and always.

I love you,

Ann

*Written the day before Mother’s Day 2016

 

Cried Dry

Have you ever experienced the kind of gut-wrenching pain that leaves you completely breathless and weak?  You know what I mean –  when your heart literally feels like it is being cut into hundreds of pieces?

I have.  I’ve even wondered if I was going to physically survive the emotional pain.  Death looked like a welcome relief.

I was given the following poem by a friend of mine who is quite familiar with emotional pain.  I am still in awe at the beauty and simplicity of the words.  My friend so graciously granted me permission to share it with you.

 

“It seems to me that sometime

The world must be

Cried dry.

 

That tears cannot flow forever

Even from humans

Like I.

 

But tears have a way of passing on-

Recycled by generations gone.

 

But someday God will wipe away

All the tears from

Our eyes.” *

 

cute-little-girl-crying
Photo credit: myria.com

 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for that day.

 

*The author wishes to be anonymous.  Please do not copy this poem without contacting me first so that I can get permission for you from the author.  Thank you for understanding.

Sometimes

Sometimes I wonder who I was

Before my heart was crushed

By selfish men who stole from me

And bade me to be hushed.

Sometimes I wonder how it’d feel

To remember growing up.

To have never felt like I’m no good

Or just a dirty cup.

sunset-midfulness

Sometimes I wonder why it happened –

Was I born “bad?”

Does Jesus really love me?

And did this make Him sad?

Sometimes I wonder if it’s safe to trust

ANYONE – how can I know for sure

That I will never again be

A little girl on a cold, hard floor?

Sometimes I wonder why I survived

The terror, pain, and grief

I tried hard to simply forget

But my soul found no relief.

Sometimes I wonder who I’d be today

If I had never known

How it feels to be powerless

And utterly alone.

Sometimes I wonder if they are

Still hurting girls today

I wish I really knew for sure

That everything’s okay.

Sometimes I wish that I could

Look them in the eye

And tell them “I forgive; Please –

Repent before you die.”

Sometimes I wish that I would

Have never been abused.

But then I remember-

My pain, by God, is being used.

                                                                                                       Written by Ann Detweiler

                                                                                          January 24, 2017

* This poem is dedicated to all the little girls and boys who can relate first-hand to the inner turmoil and conflicting emotions that abuse brings.  May God heal you and give you a purpose for your pain.

A Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in the Anabaptist Church – Part 2

Relating to Victims

This is Part 2 in a series of posts on a Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities.  Please take time to read Part 1 here.

So now that we have established a biblical response to the perpetrators of sexual abuse, let’s think about how we should be relating to the victims.

Statistics tell us that 20.5%* of the people in our churches are sexual abuse survivors.  If you have a church of 200 people, approximately 41 of those people are struggling to heal from sexual abuse.

That is over 1 in 5 church members.  Yet, we hear almost nothing about sexual abuse.  We don’t talk about “such things.”  Often, we don’t even know who the victims are or how to help them.  And sometimes, if we do know the victims, we shame them instead of believing them.  We betray their trust instead of helping them heal.

And then, we wonder why “some people” suddenly want nothing to do with church or God.  We wonder why there is rebellion among youth.  We wonder why people leave.

If we understood abuse, these things would suddenly make sense.

That’s why I will continue to speak up.  I will not be silent.  We need to start digging into this mess, because many lives are at stake.

Victims of sexual abuse are some of “least of these.”  They’ve been torn apart by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Not only have their hearts been ripped apart by “good” church members who’ve abused them, they’ve also been ripped apart by church members who believe the perpetrators.

I believe that the Anabaptist church has the potential to be a good place to heal from sexual abuse.  But first, we need admit that we have a problem.  We need to understand what sexual abuse does to a victim, and what we should be doing for that victim.

What the church needs to understand about the effects of sexual abuse:

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person spiritually.

When God created us, He made us sexual beings.  God designed the sexual relationship to be a beautiful picture of how He loves us, His bride.  He wanted it to be in the context of marriage only. But the enemy loves to distort that beautiful image.  His goal is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Sexual abuse does just that – it steals a person’s innocence, kills their spirit, and has the potential to completely destroy a person if not dealt with properly.  As a result, the victim’s view of God is severely damaged, particularly if the abuse happened by someone they trusted or someone who claims to be a Christian.  Sexual abuse opens the door for all kinds of spiritual bondage.  Countless lies and addictions stem from abuse.

Sexual abuse has the potential to turn a Christian into an atheist.  I believe that sexual abuse is one of the ways the devil is snatching the souls of our children. Whether we realize it or not, we are in a battle for their souls.  And we need to start fighting instead of pretending there isn’t a problem.

crying-girl

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person emotionally.

When a person becomes a victim of sexual abuse, a part of them “dies” inside.  They may laugh a lot or be the class clown but if you were to see inside their heart, you’d be staring at a bloody mess.  Some victims “stuff the pain” as a way to survive.  It looks good on the outside, but sooner or later, it will come out.  They may hardly ever cry or show emotion.  Others cry all the time and have trouble functioning in daily life.  Either way, the abuse they experienced is affecting them, and they need help.

Anxiety and depression are very common among victims.  They fear everything and everyone.  They don’t trust anyone, even safe people.  They view themselves as dirty, ugly, and worthless.  They don’t think they are worth your time or love. They push love away because to them, love hurts.

  1. Sexual abuse affects a person physically.

It should be no surprise to us that emotional and spiritual problems sometimes affect people in physical ways.  This is very true in sexual abuse victims.

The constant fear and anxiety that victims live in sometimes produce unexplainable headaches, back aches, and stomach aches.  Bowel and bladder issues and frequent UTIs are common. Nightmares and vivid dreams of entrapment are part of life for many victims.

There is so much more that could be said about the effects of sexual abuse.  I only skimmed the surface to help us realize how it wrecks relationships in the lives of its victims – relationships with God, the church, their family and their friends.

So, what should the church’s response be to the victims of sexual abuse?

  1. Believe them instead of blaming them.

Besides helping a victim find healing in Jesus Christ, this is, hands down, the most important thing we must do for victims.

When a victim discloses sexual abuse, believe them.  I am horrified by some of the things that are said about victims in some of our Anabaptist churches.  “They are just making that up because they want attention. Besides, abuse doesn’t happen to Christians!”  Worse yet, sometimes similar statements are made to the victim’s face.

And then, to top it all off, we blame them. “Why didn’t you yell?” we ask the victim incredulously.  Or “You should’ve tried to fight!”  To a victim, these kinds of responses shout one thing: “It’s all your fault.”  The problem is, we don’t talk about abuse.  Therefore, we don’t teach people what to do in a bad situation.  How are they suppose to know what to do if we don’t talk about it?

Be assured of one thing:  Responses like the ones I mentioned above do serious damage to an already wounded heart, to the point of suicide in some cases.

“But people sometimes lie about sexual abuse, don’t they?” you ask.  Yes, it happens.  But it’s actually not as much as we think.  Most sources agree that the percentage of false allegations is around 2-8%** of reported abuse.  There are people who feel it’s much lower than that in our Anabaptist circles due to two things: (1.) The 2-8% was based on reported abuse; studies indicate that only 40% of rapes and abuse are reported.  Thus, the 2-8% is not a very accurate number. (2). Anabaptist people are taught from little up to be honest and tell the truth.  Therefore, the true number of false allegations in our churches is probably less than 2%.

Another reason why we struggle to believe victims is because their stories are vague and the details “change.”  Instead of writing them off as liars, we need to understand what trauma does to the brain.

All abuse is traumatic.  But the younger a child is when abuse happens, and the worse the abuse is, the more a victim will tend to disassociate from the experience.  They may not remember what happened to them for years.  They may remember a little but not many details.  They might know something happened, but have no idea who abused them.

Have you ever been in a traumatic car accident?  Do you remember all the details of the accident?  Do you remember the car coming toward you and the crashing sound of the metal?  In the case of a very bad car accident, a person sometimes doesn’t remember anything for a few hours, days, or weeks surrounding the accident.  It is much the same way with abuse.  Just because a person can’t tell you exactly where they were at, who abused them, the severity of the abuse, or how many times they were abused, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. 

There was a rather sickening study where a perpetrator filmed his abuse encounters with children.  The authorities confiscated the abuse videos and asked each of the victims to tell them what the perpetrator had done to them.  They were amazed at the response of these children.  The majority of them downplayed the severity of the abuse.

Often, when abuse allegations surface, the preachers or the child’s parents go to the perpetrator and ask them if they abused the victim.  Sometimes, the abuse is confessed. (I admire those people!) But too often, the perpetrator says, “No.  I would never do something like that!” And so, the matter is dropped.

Let me ask you this:  What else is the perpetrator supposed to say?  Folks, if he/she has the ability to somehow defy their conscience and abuse an innocent person, then they definitely can lie about it too.

I say all that to say this: When someone (child or adult) admits that they were abused, believe them.  There is a 2% chance or less that the allegations are false.  If you do have any qualms about believing a person’s story, seek the face of God and ask Him to bring the truth to light.

  1. Protect them.

After we believe them, we must do everything we can to protect them.  Remember, their world is no longer a safe place.  The incident must be reported. (See Romans 13:1-5; Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 2:13-15).

But protect them in little ways too.  People who’ve been victimized once walk around with a “target on their back”.  They often are victimized again.

I’ve seen far too many victims leaving the church because the church is not a safe place for them.  The perpetrator still sits in the pew, Sunday after Sunday.  Maybe he/she even teaches Sunday school.  Or maybe the perpetrator is one of the preachers.  At any rate, being in the presence of one’s abuser is not a “safe place” to a victim.

I know of no place that is more safe than the lap of Jesus Himself.  If we are going to be the hands and feet of Jesus, then church is going to have to be a safe place.

  1. Grieve with them.

Take time to grieve with the victim.  Grieving is hard.  No one should have to grieve alone.  A sexual abuse victim often grieves alone simply because abuse tends to be such a “hush hush” subject in our circles.

Grieving the loss of innocence is a little like grieving for a loved one who walked away from God.  Once it is gone, it’s gone forever.

Think about the things that you wish someone would do for you if you were grieving.  Maybe they just need a card or a journal, or a listening ear.  Maybe they need a few hours of silence at a coffee shop, or a weekend get-away.  There is so much we can do for people who are grieving.

      4. Love and affirm them.

Sexual abuse victims need someone to show them what true love looks like.  They need to be showered with affirmation.

They need to hear things such as “I believe you.” “What happened to you was not your fault.”  “You are loved.”  “You are clean and pure.”  “I will walk with you.”  “I will protect you.”  “I will do everything I can to help you heal.”  “You are brave and full of courage.”

When someone in church has a bad car accident or has an extensive surgery of some kind, we do very well at caring for their physical needs.  We take a meal, babysit their children, help them financially, visit them, etc.  We all “pitch in” and help them in their physical affliction.

How much more we should be doing this for sexual abuse victims.  Think about it: They may be “fine” physically, but emotionally they are bruised and broken. We need to be doing all we can to make their load easier.  We need to care for them and their families.  We need to love them well.

      5.  Help them find healing.

But how?  Is there hope?

YES!  A thousand times yes!

Jesus is the Master Healer. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Is. 53:5)

In my own journey, I’ve found that forgiveness is the key to healing. (Read more about my journey here.)

Now please, I beg you to keep reading.  Please, victims, “don’t write me off” yet.  And the rest of you, please don’t “run away” with “forgiveness.”  Let me explain what I mean.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  Forgiveness is not trust.  Forgiveness is not forcing the victim to “forgive” so that there are no legal consequences for the perpetrator.  Forgiveness is not “shutting the victim up” to protect a family, church, or business image.

That is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is making a conscious choice to be okay with the struggles I have today because the of the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to take responsibility for my reaction to the abuse.  Forgiveness is choosing to forgive every time I feel bitterness rising in my heart when I think about the abuse or the person who abused me.

That, brothers and sisters, is forgiveness.

Healing and forgiveness are so intertwined in the healing process that it is hard to separate them.  You cannot forgive without some measure of healing.  And yet, you cannot heal without forgiveness. They go hand-in-hand.

Though I am of the firm belief that healing comes when we forgive, I believe that every victim needs to make that decision for themselves: “Am I going to continue being a victim or am I going to let God make something beautiful out the ashes?”

God doesn’t force us to do anything.  He doesn’t force us forgive.  We shouldn’t force anyone else to forgive either.

       6.  Remember that healing is a journey. 

We tend to forget that.  Healing from sexual abuse takes time.  Years.  Sometimes even decades.  Some people may never fully recover.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t forgive or that they haven’t found true healing.

Some people never fully recover from car accidents either.  Does that mean they haven’t healed? No.

If you feel incompetent of leading someone to Jesus and helping them forgive, there are Biblical Christian counselors who lead people to Jesus every day in their offices.***

In conclusion, the consequences of doing little or nothing to help sexual abuse victims are huge.  Victims who haven’t dealt with their abuse often end up becoming perpetrators.  They sometimes become atheists.  They have a much higher chance of becoming prostitutes.  They are at risk for committing suicide.

Jesus has some sobering words for us in Mark 9 verse 42: “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.”

I can’t think of a better way to offend a child than to (1) sexually abuse them and (2) to refuse to believe and protect them.  It is serious stuff, brothers and sisters.  God does not deal kindly with those who hurt the innocent and vulnerable.

The church doesn’t have a very good track record when it comes to dealing with sexual abuse – both on a perpetrator level and victim level.   I shudder when I think of what God must think of the stories I hear nearly every week about the church’s response to victims.

We, as the body of Christ, have a responsibility to help the lambs whose spirits have been murdered by “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  After all, we are His hands and feet.

And if we truly know Jesus, we will reach out to sexual abuse victims. We will believe them.  We will love them.  We will care for their broken hearts and spirits.

May God give us wisdom and courage to relate to them the way He would.

 

*https://lmpgnetwork.wistia.com/medias/nu6djwfyob

**Statistics from http://www.nationalreview.com

***Freedom Hills Ministries (Ohio), Grace Haven Ministries (Indiana), LIFE Ministries (Pennsylvania), Door of Hope Ministries (North Carolina).

A Biblical Response to Sexual Abuse in the Anabaptist Church – Part 1

Relating to Perpetrators

I am shocked at the manner in which many Anabaptist churches are dealing with sexual abuse and the perpetrators.

I do not wish to point fingers at any particular church or church group.  I do not wish to stir up strife.  I do not wish to see divisions among people and church groups.  I do not wish to make people angry at God or the church.

But I am saddened and concerned.  Very concerned. Concerned enough to write this.

We need to start paying attention to what is actually going on in our churches.  We need to understand what sexual abuse is, and then act on Biblical principles with a compassionate and loving spirit.

What the church needs to understand about sexual abuse:

  1. Sexual abuse is a sin.

This is obvious to most people.  Yet, some churches aren’t calling it that.  Why do I say that?  Because they aren’t dealing with it on a sin level.  In the case of sexual sin, excommunication is commanded (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).   How churches and their leaders can somehow get around this explicit command is something I simply do not understand.

There is something terribly wrong when a church cares more about what color of cars they drive or whether or not the beard is worn than it does about sexual sin in the lives of its members.  Even the world calls sexual abuse evil and wicked.  Why can’t we?

  1. Sexual abuse is, in most cases, an addiction.

Most people don’t realize that a perpetrator rarely stops with “just one” victim.  Often, it becomes a lifelong spiral of sin and shame that starts because of pornography or childhood abuse that was never dealt with.  If the church would realize that sexual abuse often stems from sexual addiction, it would change the way abuse is dealt with.

Too many times, the perpetrator is told to “apologize” for their sin.  Supposedly, an apology is all that is needed to redeem the situation.  It is supposed to “take care of it.”

rope-bondage-hands
Photo: http://www.goodfon.su

Think about it:  It’s like telling an alcoholic to stand up in church and apologize for drinking.  Do you really think that man won’t touch another drink again?  Probably not.  Not unless he has had a true heart change and has been healed from his addiction by Jesus.

What the alcoholic really needs is a community of people to rise up and help him work through whatever is driving his addiction.  He needs time away from alcohol.  He needs Jesus.

In the same way, sexual addicts who abuse children need to be away from children.  If they are raping women, they need to be away from women. If they are abusing boys, they need to be away from boys.  They need time to work through the pain that is driving their addiction.  I’m sorry; but an apology for sexual abuse is not the only thing that is needed.  Sexual addicts need Jesus and a community of believers who want to help them overcome by the power of Jesus Christ.

  1. Sexual abuse is a crime.

Yes, it is.  Sexual abuse is a violent crime, and it needs to be treated as such.  If a person we loved was murdered, we would report it in a heartbeat.  But if a person’s spirit is murdered (and yes, it really is that serious), we somehow think it doesn’t call for such drastic measures.

I don’t know of any place in the Bible that indicates that we are not supposed to report evil such as sexual abuse. According to 1 Corinthians 6, suing and taking our brother to court is unscriptural. But the Bible is clear: a brother or sister in Christ will not be sexual predator (Eph. 5:5).  True, they might be a “brother or sister in the church” but they are not a brother or sister in the Church of Jesus Christ.

Repeatedly throughout the New Testament, we are told to obey the government. They’re actually called “ministers of God”.  Their calling is to execute judgement on the evildoers (Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-15).  If we do evil, we are to expect judgement.

Ephesians 5 gives us instruction concerning sexual abuse: “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God…Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him.  Don’t participate in the things these people do. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” (vs.3, 5-7, and 11) NLT

Some people use Matthew 18 as an excuse to “hide” sexual abuse from the authorities.  They say, “I can’t report abuse because I believe in forgiveness.”  Or, worse yet, sometimes “forgiveness” gets pushed on the victims by the church or perpetrator in order to keep the abuse hidden.  “You just need to forgive,” they say.

I’m all for forgiveness.  Seriously.  I know of no other way to heal from sexual abuse.  

But forgiveness does not erase physical consequences for sin.  The Bible is clear: we reap what we sow.

Think about David, the man after God’s own heart.  He committed sexual sin, and though God forgave him, he still paid dearly for it.  The child that was born to David and Bathsheba died.  And his sons became involved in all kinds of immorality including rape and incest.

Another example to think about is the thief who was crucified beside Jesus.  Jesus forgave him, but Jesus’ forgiveness didn’t erase the consequences of the thief’s sin.  The thief still died for his crimes.  When Jesus forgave him, the eternal consequences were forgiven, but not the physical consequences.

I believe that you can forgive and still report abuse.  I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all. But, reporting sexual abuse should NEVER be done as a way to get revenge.  Rather, it should be done because (1) the Bible commands us to obey the government and (2) to protect the vulnerable and innocent among us.  

So what should the church’s response be to sexual abuse?

  1. Excommunication

The Bible is very clear that no sexual sin will enter the kingdom of heaven (Eph. 5:5, Heb. 13:4, Rev. 21:8). Excommunication for sexual sin is commanded in 1 Corinthians 5.  In a sense, when a person commits sexual sin, they are “excommunicating” themselves from the fellowship of the church and of God.  Why?  Because sin separates us from God.

Excommunication should be carried out with the purpose of saving the person’s soul from eternal punishment.  The goal of excommunication is restoration to Christ and the church.  Therefore, it must be done with love.

  1. The incident must be reported.

The Bible commands obedience to the laws the government has set up (Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-15).  Reporting abuse is the law of the country in which we live. According to Romans 13:1-2, disobedience to the government laws results in damnation. That is strong language.  God does not deal kindly with those who “cover” sexual abuse.  Refusing to report evil is taking part in that evil (Eph. 5:11).

The epidemic that we are facing today, is, in part, a result of refusing to admit and report for the sake of business, church, or family image.  I ask you to honestly check your motives for refusing to expose evil.  Most of the time it is because we care more about “looking good” than we do about obeying God.

  1. Rally around the perpetrator and the perpetrator’s family.

What do I mean by this?  Don’t let the perpetrator “rot” in jail.  Visit them often.  Make sure their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs are being met.  They need time to process life.  They need a counselor or someone who is willingly to lead them to Jesus.  They need accountability in prison.  They need people who will care about their heart.  They need to know that they is loved in spite of their actions.

The perpetrator’s family also needs the same kind of loving care.  We must not “leave them in the dust.”  Likely, they’ll need financial help.  Be involved in their lives.  Take the little boys fishing or hunting.  Make them “family.”  Don’t push them away because of their family member’s sin.  Speak life to them.  Genuinely care about the spouse that is “caught in the middle.”  Tell them it’s okay to miss their spouse.  Don’t let the situation change your friendship. Take the family to visit their loved one in prison.  Be there for them.  Be Jesus to them.

  1. The focus needs to be on repentance and restoration of relationship with God.

Excommunication without love will do no good.  Reporting crimes without compassion for a perpetrator’s soul will do no good.

We must remember: the goal is repentance and healing in Jesus Christ – repentance for sin and healing from sexual addiction and the pain that is driving it.  Any other goal will not be successful in helping reduce the abuse rates in our circles and protecting the vulnerable and innocent.

A community who is the hands and feet of Jesus is key to these sticky situations.  A community of believers who, like Jesus, is passionate about caring for the hearts of the hurting.

What if the church would operate like this?  What if sexual abuse would be dealt with on a sin level?  What if it would be dealt with on an addiction level?  What if it would be dealt with on a crime level?  What if, in all of this, the perpetrator would experience the love of God through the response of the church community? 

Do you want to know what I think?

I think it would change everything.

I think we’d have people knocking on our doors, wanting freedom from the sexual bondage that is driving them to abuse children.  I think they’d even turn themselves in to the police.  Why? Because they would know they’d be loved in spite of what they did.

Pushing abuse “under the rug” as many Anabaptist churches have been doing for the past century is anything but love.  Love doesn’t refuse to help someone find freedom and healing from sin and shame.  Love doesn’t refuse to expose sin because of an image or reputation it wants to protect.  Love doesn’t stand around and let a person go to hell.

What scares me the most about all of this is that there are “good” church members who are going straight to hell because of other “good” church members refusing to love them enough to excommunicate, report, and help them find healing. 

I ask you: Is the blood of the perpetrators and the victims on our hands?

Only God knows.

But one thing I am sure of.  Jesus is the answer to this mess. 

And you and I are His hands and feet.  Let’s start working.  Because we have a lot of work to do.

 

 

The Question That Changed My Life

I remember it like yesterday.

It was the day I “spilled the beans.”

There I sat in the gazebo.  It was late afternoon.  The warm sunshine brightened the landscape around me.  The birds were singing cheerfully.  But I didn’t notice.

I was dead on the inside.  I had died years before.

How I got to this place in my life where I wanted freedom is still a mystery to me.  But, in God’s time, I saw a ray of hope.  I clung to it.  I wanted to be free so badly.  I realized that I needed to tell someone.  Someone who could help me.  Mysteriously, a loving Father steered this broken little girl to people who pointed her to Him.

I proceeded to rid myself of everything I could think of that made me feel dirty, unlovable and used.  Though there was much about the abuse that I didn’t remember at that point, there was still plenty of junk that needed to be released.  Things that had been done to me.  Things that I had done.

There was no emotion as I hauntingly told of the fantasies and masturbation.  The magazines.  The cursing.  The pictures I took.  The attention men had given me that I both hated and craved.  I couldn’t make eye contact with my dorm mom.  I tried, but it was impossible.  I was too ashamed.

It wasn’t pretty.  Rather, the things I disclosed that day were ugly, evil, and vile.  I felt like I wasn’t worth fighting for.  In a way, this was my last hope.

The dorm mom listened with rapt attention.

Finally, all the ugly was out.  Out of the dark and into the Light.

There was a moment of silence.

And then came the question that changed my life: “Ann, do you believe that God loves you?”

My mind instantly kicked in.  “Of course!  I was taught that before I went to Sunday School!”, I was about to say.  But I stopped.

Did I?  Did I really believe that Jesus loves me?

Suddenly, the realization swept over me.

“No,” I managed to stammer shamefully.

How could He?  I was ugly. Dirty.  Worthless.  Besides, I had done terrible things!

A wave of emotion caught me off guard.  I began to weep in earnest.

In that moment, I met Jesus.

jesus-hug

I felt His arms go around me.  I saw His tears mingle with mine.  I heard the compassion and love in His voice as He gently whispered, “Ann, it doesn’t matter.  I love you.  I always have, and I always will.”

I’ve never been the same since.

Instead of pushing God’s love away, I began to choose to receive it.  What a difference it made!  It changed everything for me.

Oh, I’ve had plenty of ups and downs.  I still do. (Just ask my husband!)  It hasn’t been an easy road.  But the answer to that important question marks the beginning of my journey to freedom and healing from sexual abuse.

I don’t know where you’re at in your life.  Maybe you too, feel emotionally dead.  Maybe you are the little girl or the little boy who feels worthless and dirty.  Or maybe you feel like you’ve done too much evil and that there’s no hope for you.

Let me tell you:  There is hope in Jesus Christ.  Not only hope, but also healing.   He loves you more than you know.  He loves you no matter what you’ve done or what others have done to you.  I beg you to believe that with all your heart.

It’s safe to come to Him.  He won’t turn you away.  He does not despise a broken, contrite heart.  Tell Him everything.  Spill it all.  Get rid of all the filth.

Maybe you want to meet Jesus, but you feel incapable of coming to Jesus.  If so, find someone whom you trust who knows Jesus and has experienced His love in a personal way.  Then, spill the dirt and grime.  Don’t hold anything back from the Light.  Choose to begin your journey of healing today.

And so, I ask you: “Do you really believe that Jesus loves you?”

Your answer to this question could change everything for you.  Just as it did for me.

 

 

 

My “Why”

If you’ve been following my last few posts, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been writing a lot about sexual abuse.  Maybe you’re wondering why.

A few weeks ago, I found myself asking “Why?” What is the real motive behind my writing about sexual abuse? Suddenly, I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to write. So I sat down at the computer.  Within a few minutes, a poem was formed.

little girl in white dress

The Little Girl*

 

Once there was a little girl,

With pure and childlike trust.

But one day this girl became

An object of one’s lust.

He told her she was pretty;

That what he did was love.

How that must have hurt the heart

Of God in heaven above.

The little girl believed him.

Even though this “love” hurt.

It made her feel so yucky,

And like a piece of dirt.

The pain became unbearable.

She blocked it from her mind.

It lay there many years until

Jesus she did find.

He beckoned her to come to Him.

She came with shame and fears.

Her dress was dirty and torn

Her eyes were filled with tears.

“May I carry all your pain?”

His voice so gently said.

“I’ve been waiting all these years.

It was for you I bled.”

She began to cry great heaving sobs.

Her chest hurt with the pain.

She lifted her eyes to His

And saw they held no blame.

“Yes, I’ll give it all to you,”

She uttered in reply.

And so He lifted all the pain.

She felt like she could fly.

“This is for you,” He said with love.

And handed her a dress.

“This is what I think of you-

Pure, clean and spotless.”

And so the little girl did dance

While Jesus held her hand.

And happy circles they did make

Their feet upon the sand.

I know this little girl quite well.

This little girl is me.

Redeemer, Saviour, Healer, Friend –

For you, He’ll gladly be.

This is my “why”. 

I cannot be silent about the redemption my Saviour has brought me.  I refuse to stifle His glory by being quiet when He, in His mercy, touched my shattered heart and literally healed my broken body, soul and spirit.

I realize that sexual abuse is a subject that is not culturally acceptable to talk about in some Anabaptist circles.  This saddens me, because there are so many people, who, like me, carry horrible secrets with them for years and have no idea how to rid themselves of them.  So they struggle.  They cover them up and try to forget.  But it doesn’t work.

It never does.  I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun place to be.

Just a few short years ago, I felt like no one knew how to help me find peace and healing.  I wondered if I was just a hopeless case.

And then, I met Jesus.  He changed everything.  Not in one day, because He is still healing me.  Has the journey been easy?  No.  Is it worth the pain?  YES.  A thousand times, yes.

Do I understand or know why I was abused and raped?  No.  God never answered Job’s questions of “why” either.

But there’s one thing I am choosing to believe:  God has a purpose for everything.  Even for a little girl who was brutally abused at the hands of men who professed to be sons of God.

I don’t know exactly why it happened to me.  My husband reminds me often: “Ann, God doesn’t waste pain.” Sometimes God uses pain to help others find healing.

And so, I want to be a voice for those little boys and girls who find themselves wondering if they are a hopeless case.  My heart aches for them.  I long to take their hand and lead them to the foot of the cross to meet my Friend, Jesus.

The truth is, no one is exempt from needing Jesus and His redemption in their lives.

Brothers and sisters, this, and this only, is my “why.”

 

*This poem is dedicated to my dear husband, Ben.  Thank you, Sweetheart, for leading me to Jesus, helping me forgive, and showing me over and over what love really is. I love you and I trust you.

**Photo credit: Ali Brown Photography

10 Myths about Sexual Abuse in Anabaptist Communities

In my last post, I wrote about Jesus being the answer to the horrific abuse that goes on in our Anabaptist communities.  While I firmly believe that, I also believe that there is much ignorance and silence about it.  This is not helping the situation.  In fact, I would say that the secrecy, silence, and ignorance is only compounding sexual abuse in conservative communities.

If we are going to stand up and fight for our children, we are going to have to ditch some misconceptions about sexual abuse that are widely believed in our culture.  Here are a few of them:

  1. “Sexual abuse doesn’t happen in our community.”

I’ll admit that when I hear this one, I usually chalk that community up as being infested with sexual abuse.  Some Anabaptist communities don’t have as many cases, but it’s safe to say that those communities are in the minority.  When people refuse to talk about abuse, (its effects, the symptoms, etc.), it thrives.

  1. “I was abused as a girl, but it didn’t affect me.”

My heart drops to the floor when someone tells me this or something similar. It is the equivalent of saying “I was run over by a train, but it didn’t hurt me.”  The person who makes this statement is in a lot of pain, but doesn’t know it or doesn’t want to acknowledge it.  It is hard to say, “I was abused and it hurt.”  But we really won’t find healing until we choose to acknowledge the pain.

  1. “My children will tell me if something like that ever happens to them.”

Really?  I hope so.  I really do.  It’s just that it doesn’t often happen right after the incident.  Sometimes it takes years until the incident is disclosed. There are many reasons for this.  Often, a perpetrator will use threats to get a child to be silent. (“If you tell anybody about this, I’ll hurt your mom.” Or “It’ll be worse for you next time if you tell anybody what happened.”)  Sometimes the child simply blocks the memory.  This is especially true in young children but does happen to adults too.  If you have a bad car accident, you may not remember it at all for years.  It’s the same way with abuse.  That is why it is so important for parents, school teachers, ministers, etc., to know the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse.

  1. “But that was just curiosity.”

Children are curious.  They explore themselves.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about performing sexual acts on themselves or with dolls, playmates, etc.  Children imitate what they’ve seen or experienced.  They do not come up with sexual acts on their own.

  1. “My children are safe because they don’t have contact with registered sex offenders or kidnappers.”

Teaching your children about “stranger danger” is good.  But the problem is that 90% of children who’ve been abused know and at one time trusted their abusers.  Only 10% were kidnapped or did not know their perpetrator previous to the abuse.

  1. “Children lose their innocence when they learn about their bodies and reproduction.”

May I be blunt?  Ignorance is not innocence.  Ignorant children are a perpetrator’s dream.  “Innocence” has more to with how the child finds out what they know about the “facts of life” than with what they know. Parents, if you don’t teach your children about their bodies when they are young, they will find out in other ways.  Knowing appropriate names for their body parts at two years old is not too young.  Teach them what to do in a bad situation.  Simply saying “Keep your dress down,” does no good when the girl is forced to.  Do you want to be in charge of your child’s sex education or would you rather hand that responsibility to an older cousin?

  1. “I want to protect my girls.”

Dear mama, I admire you for this.  But please don’t protect only your girls.  Many, many little boys are being used and abused in horrible ways.  Watch and protect them too, please.

  1. “But…women and children don’t abuse children, do they?”

I wish I could say, “No.” The truth is, not only men/boys abuse children.  Anyone who has been abused has the potential to become a perpetrator. This is true for men and women of all ages.  Children who’ve been abused themselves will often abuse other children without realizing what they are doing.  Hurt people hurt other people.  And so the abuse cycle continues to wreck lives.

  1. “Children lie about sexual abuse sometimes.”

No.  Don’t go there.  Children do not have the sexual knowledge needed to fabricate a false story involving sexual abuse.  They may not get all the details right (place, person, etc.) due to mind blocks or disassociation when they disclose an experience.  But that does not mean that their story isn’t true or shouldn’t be believed.

  1. “She/He says they liked it. So it wasn’t abuse.”

Wrong.  God made our bodies to respond sexually.  A child’s is no exception.  Just because a child “liked” it doesn’t mean it wasn’t abuse.  ANYTHING that is done to a minor or person who cannot/does not consent for the sake of another’s sexual pleasure is considered abuse.  This includes much more than “just” rape.  Touching over and under clothes, exposing a child’s body, exposing a child to porn or adult nakedness, forcing a child to perform sexual acts such as oral sex, making sexual comments to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration all falls under sexual abuse.

In conclusion, if we as Conservative Anabaptists want to make a dent in the horrific epidemic of sexual abuse that plagues our communities, we are going to have to dig our heads out of the sand.  We are going to have to talk about hard things with our children.  The silence and ignorance only cultivates a culture of secrets.  We are going to have to do things differently than they’ve been done previously.

Let’s start by dispelling these myths that are engrained in our culture. Not only for our sake, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren.  May God help us.

Guilty of Murder?

Conservative Anabaptists know where they stand on the abortion issue.  We are not afraid to stand up for those innocent little babies who’ve never seen the light of day.

But what we fail to realize is this: In a sense, we are taking part in the murder of the innocent when we sweep sexual abuse “under the rug”.

We have a problem.  A big problem.

Go to any counseling center in our circles and they will tell you that Childhood Sexual Abuse is rampant in conservative communities across the world.  The numbers of sexually abused children in our churches are no different than that of the world.  Somewhere between 30-50% of girls will be abused by age eighteen, and 1 in 10 boys are being abused.

Brothers and Sisters, we are killing the spirits of our children.  They are being crushed.  Their innocence stolen.  In their eyes, they are worthless.

In God’s eyes, they are worth fighting for.

Will we keep trying to cover up?  Will we continue to treat this epidemic as if it isn’t there?  Or will we begin taking necessary steps to protect and guard our children’s purity?

Matthew 18:6 has some sobering words for us: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Sexual abuse effects a person on every level of their being: body, soul, and spirit.  The implications are huge; it’s like putting on a pair of sunglasses and seeing the world in a completely new way.  The child’s view of God is severely damaged, especially if the abuser was someone they trusted.  Sexual abuse is a really good way to offend a child.

We wonder why our young people are leaving.  May I suggest that it might be related to this?  They see the inconsistencies.  They see their abuser in church every Sunday.  He is sitting piously on the front pew, “drinking” in the message.  Or maybe he’s the Superintendent or the Sunday School teacher.

What would happen if the people of God actually loved God enough to hate what God hates?  What would happen if the secrets that have been hidden for decades would be brought to the Cross?  What would happen if the many little boys and girls were believed and understood and cared for?  What would happen if both the victims and the perpetrators would meet Jesus?

Maybe our light for Jesus would shine brighter.  Maybe we’d actually have people knocking on our doors, wanting Jesus too.  Maybe, just maybe, our children would want what we have.

We have become good at putting on an “holy” front.  But Brothers and Sisters, it’s time for the darkness to meet the Light.

It’s time to expose our sin.

It’s time to get rid of our guilt and shame.

It’s time to meet Jesus.