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:
- 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?
- 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.”
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.
- 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?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.