“For The Time Is Come…”

I have been vocal about sexual abuse in the Anabaptist church for over two years now.  Maybe you’re wondering why I don’t talk about abuse in the public-school system, the foster care system, or the Catholic Church.  Why do I focus so much on sexual abuse in the Anabaptist church?  Does abuse in other institutions not matter to me?  Am I trying to make the church look bad?

Contrary to what you may think, I love “my people.”  I love the Anabaptist church.  And that is why I will not stop talking about sexual abuse.  You may think I’m exaggerating by referring to sexual abuse as an “epidemic”. But Anabaptist counseling centers across the country tell me I’m not.  They put the stats even higher than the regular sexual abuse statistics, which say that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. (See those statistics here.)

The abuse that happens in other institutions and cultures does matter to me.  However, the biggest reason for my targeting of the Anabaptist church has to do with our commitment to follow the Word of God. We say we take the Bible literally and that we follow it.  But when it comes to sexual abuse, we have greatly misrepresented God and His heart.

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Photo credits and website

I fear we have separated the Bible and the Holy Spirit. To understand the Bible, we must have the Holy Spirit.  Because we shy away from the doctrine and work of the Holy Spirit, we are not able to identify the hypocrisy in the lives of perpetrators whom we called “brothers and sisters” in our church.  They look good on the outside, but on the inside, there is nothing but “dead man’s bones”.  Jesus said we will know if a person is right with God by their fruit.  But according to us, if someone obeys the church rules, they’re okay.

Our hearts can be full of sin and we can still “look good” on the outside.  “Looking good” does us no good if our heart is not right before God.  You see, “hypocrisy” is not saying one thing and doing something different.  The Greek meaning of the word “hypocrite” as Jesus used it, is actor.  An actor plays a part.  In other words, a hypocrite acts like a Christian, but the “Christian” part is only skin deep.  Hypocrites are super good actors.  They know how to create and maintain a “good name”.  They are smooth talkers who know all the right stuff to say in devotions and Sunday School.

But underneath the facade of godliness, is a heart full of deceit and evil.  And that façade has caught up with us.

If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ve heard about the abuse in the Catholic Church.  The PA Attorney General was instrumental in releasing a report from the Catholic Church’s own records that details the horrific abuse of over 1,000 children by 301 priests – and the whole epidemic was covered up by the church.

The Anabaptist church is next.  The amount of abuse and its cover-up by the church is far worse than the Catholic Church.  It is going to shake the entire Anabaptist community, and it should.  We have been good actors.  We’ve covered up abuse, because no one was watching – or so we thought.

But there was Someone watching.  He is watching. These are His words: “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.” Mark 4:22

All through the Bible, God promises the exposure of sin.  He sees it, and in His time, He exposes it. He told the children of Israel to be blameless, then added: “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.”

In Eph. 5:11, God comes down hard on people who know of evil, but choose to hide it.  “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  In other words, we take part in the unfruitful works of darkness when we do not expose evil.

If we had any idea what God thinks of abuse, we would fall on our faces and beg for His mercy.  If we understood how God fights for the weak and the hurting, we would be shaking with fear.

Jesus is coming soon, and He is not coming for a beat up, unclean Bride.  The exposure of sexual abuse we are about to witness is nothing other than God cleansing His church of evil.  He is judging the house of God.  We must not fight it. “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” 2 Peter 4:17

We must repent.  We must acknowledge our iniquity without excuse and without minimization.  Part of repentance includes accepting the consequences of our sin, even if it means going to jail.  What is a jail sentence compared to eternal Hell?  It’s nothing.  And by the way, going to jail for covering up abuse is not suffering for Christ.  It is God’s judgement for not following His Word. 

Don’t talk to me about the fall-out.  The fall-out happened when innocent children were overpowered and used for the unnatural, evil desires of the perpetrators.  The fall-out deepened when we, the church, chose not to get the civil authorities, also known as the “ministers of God” in Romans 13, involved in the punishment of evildoers.  By resisting their God-ordained authority to punish evil doers, we have resisted God.

No one, not even the Anabaptist church, is above the law of the civil government.   When we obstruct the justice of God, we will face that same judgement. If we do good, we have nothing to fear.  If we do evil, we will be afraid, for the sword is not carried in vain. (Romans 13:1-5)

Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 23: 23-28: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

I can’t help but wonder if that is what Jesus would say to us today.  We deserve to be punished.  We deserve to be “brought low.”  We have sinned.

We can choose to fight God by fighting the civil authority He has set in place.  Or, we can cooperate with God by cooperating with them.   We can repent.  We can change our culture from being church authority based to being rooted on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.  We can change our culture from an emphasis on “looking right” to “being right” with God.

But it starts with you. It starts with me.

May God open our blind eyes and clean our hard, dirty hearts.

 

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A Jesus With Skin On

“Why can’t you get over it?”

It’s one of the most hurtful statements you and I can utter to a person who has experienced abuse.

There are other ways of saying the same thing that seem a little more spiritual.  “You just need to forgive.”  “That happened a long time ago, and you need to stop letting it bother you.”  “Just stop believing the lies.”  “When are you going to choose to be a victor instead of a victim?” Or “But I thought you already worked through that.”

If there’s one thing I wish people would understand about sexual abuse, it would be this:  Sexual abuse is physically, spiritually, and emotionally damaging.  It affects every aspect of a person’s life – without exception.  It is a traumatic event that literally alters one’s brain.  (Check out this article about trauma and brain development here.)

I am very blessed to have a husband that has never made me feel like I should “get over it”.  I could not ask for a more supportive church and family.  Without a doubt, I would not be as far in my healing journey if it weren’t for my husband, church, and family.  I am not writing this because I feel unsupported in my journey.  I am writing this for the many victims in the Anabaptist culture and beyond who do not have a strong support system like I do.

I wish that we as Anabaptists understood abuse and trauma better. We tend to force or pressure people to be “normal”, which only further victimizes them.  We push them to forgive before they are ready and then expect them to never utter anything about it ever again.

It’s crazy. It’s like expecting a person with a traumatic brain injury to get out of the hospital bed and walk, or telling someone with a broken bone that the pain is all in their head.

Do you want someone to “get over it?”  Do you want them to heal?  Do you want them to be “okay”?

It’s really pretty simple.

Be Jesus to them. Show them what unconditional love really looks like.  Unconditional love is never forceful or pushy.  It doesn’t demand forgiveness, though forgiveness is important.  Instead, unconditional love loves at all times and in every circumstance.  Jesus is the ultimate example of Unconditional Love – because He is love.

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Photo credit

Jesus understands abuse much better than you and I do.  He understands the effects and He cares.  I think we could learn a few things from Him.  I wish we’d do better at giving grace to abuse victims.  Jesus does – why don’t we?

Helping the wounded takes time. It takes sacrifice. It means getting dirty. Too often we are like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We walk around the bleeding, broken person lying in the ditch.

Sometimes the reason we don’t stop to help is not because we do not care, but rather, because we do not know how.

There are many abuse victims in our churches who are dying because no one stops to help them.  They don’t feel safe, protected, or cared for.  And then we wonder why they leave the church or suddenly want nothing to do with God.

If you know someone who has been abused, you have an amazing opportunity to show them what true love is. Validate their pain and their feelings. Be a good listener. Do some research on abuse to help you better understand them.*  Care about them and love them well.

Don’t compare their journey with someone else’s. And most of all, don’t try to fix them.

You can’t.

But Jesus can. So show them Jesus.

One of my survivor friends summed it up like this: “Sometimes all we need is a Jesus with skin on.”

 

 

*I highly recommend the book “The Wounded Heart” by Dan Allender.  It is not light reading, but it lays out the damage abuse does and, most importantly, offers hope.

Why I Value Modesty

There was a day, nearly eight years ago, that I came to a startling realization: I no longer cared about being modest.

I was tired of trying to camouflage my body. I was tired of trying to be Miss Invisible. I wondered what the point of modesty was because it certainly hadn’t provided protection.  No matter how plain I was dressed, there still were wandering eyes…and sometimes hands.  The only logical explanation I could come up with was that the female body was inheritantly evil, and therefore, needed to be covered.

I shudder now.  I was so close to throwing modesty out the window.  Honestly, it’s only the mercy of God that kept me from doing so.

Though I am not sure how I got the idea, I grew up thinking that modesty was to protect me from evil.  I thought that modesty was to, more or less, “keep men from lusting.”  If something bad happened to me, it was my fault – I must have dressed provocatively.

Thank God, I was wrong.

I began looking into what the Bible says about modesty and lust, and what I found unnerved me.  The verses that speak on modesty and sobriety say nothing about the need to do so because of a lustful eye.  On the contrary, when Jesus spoke about lust, He said “that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) Funny how the clothing of the woman (or lack thereof) is not mentioned.

Why is that?

It’s because lust is a matter of the heart. “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  Mark 7:20-23

Because lust is a heart issue, my modesty does not solve a man’s lust problem.

The idea that modesty is the cure for lust degrades both men and women.  Think about it: it gives the connotation that men are sexual beasts who have no control over themselves.  That’s a very warped view of male sexuality.

Likewise, it portrays women as sexual objects, created for the pleasure of men and to be used at male discretion.  How perverse!  If the female body is the problem, why is the book of Song of Solomon in the Bible?

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Please hear me clearly.  Ladies, I am not suggesting that it’s okay for us to flaunt our bodies.  Immodesty is always wrong.

However, I am suggesting we take a step back and ask ourselves why modesty is important to us.

I value modesty because God clearly commands it – not because it protects me or because it keeps a man from lusting after my body.  I could wear a “tent” and there’d still be a few perverted-minded men who’d want what’s underneath.  And while I strive to be modest, I now understand that my modesty doesn’t cure a lustful heart.

You see, the value I place on modesty hasn’t changed.  But why I do it, has changed.

So, ask yourself: “Why is modesty important to me?”

Sometimes why you do what you do is just as important as what you do.

 

From Broken to Beautiful

Note: This article was written for the Winter Issue of Daughters of Promise (a magazine for Anabaptist women) and was published in December 2016.  Since the DOP Winter Issue 2016 is no longer available, I am sharing it here for those of you who’d like to read it.  The article is rather lengthy, but I hope it can be blessing to someone.  It contains a small part of my own story and though I feel quite vulnerable in publishing it here on my blog, it’s time to speak out and bless God for His continued healing in my life.  I am fully aware that part of my story contains a “taboo” subject in our conservative Anabaptist culture, hence the hestitation.  But I feel I’m stifling the glory of God by doing the “normal” thing and shutting up about the ugly stuff when there are so many hurting people who need to hear that there is hope and healing through Jesus Christ.  I may share more in the future as the Spirit leads.  May God receive all the glory, for this isn’t really “my story” – it’s His story.  A story of redemptive beauty emerging from brokenness and pain.

 

Pain.

We are familiar with that word.  Most of us have experienced it at one time or another in our lives.  There are many kinds of pain – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional.  We talk about emotional pain like grief because we know what it’s like to lose someone close to us.

But I’d like to draw your attention to a different kind of pain.  Most of us know of people who’ve experienced it.  Some of us have experienced it first-hand.  But few people talk about it.  Few people know what to do with it. Most people don’t know how to find healing for themselves, or how to help someone else find healing. Sometimes, it isn’t even acknowledged as pain.

I’m talking about sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse is a full-blown epidemic in most Anabaptist communities across the globe.  The numbers of victims in our churches are not much different from the general population. According to statistics, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be abused by age eighteen. (These numbers are on the conservative side.  Most conservative counselors say the statistics are much higher in some communities.)

If you have experienced this kind of pain, you are not alone.  You are not crazy.  It was not your fault.  No matter what the voices in your head tell you, the truth is you are not trash. You are not ugly.  You are not worthless. You are not beyond hope.

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I once was a little girl who felt broken, ugly, worthless and dirty.  I felt like a rosebud that someone tried to pry open before it was time to bloom.  My innocent childhood was snatched away from me.  I wondered if I was normal.  I even asked my mom if I was a virgin.

Subconsciously, I knew something had happened to me.  But I had no memories of the abuse.  In fact, I remember very little of anything before I was ten years old.

When I was 21, I married a wonderful man who is better than my wildest dreams, Ben.  It was on our wedding night that I realized I had been raped years before.  It was physically impossible for me to have a sexual relationship.  I was devastated.  Hurt.  Here I was, a young bride who wanted to give everything to my husband, but I couldn’t.  My body was remembering the trauma, even though my mind had blocked the memories.

Ben and I contacted our premarital counselor who suggested that we see a doctor to make sure that I was physically healthy and able to have a sexual relationship.  A few days after our honeymoon, I was examined by a kind doctor. The invasiveness of the pelvic exam was like experiencing the rape all over again.  Everything inside of me screamed, “Stop!  Let me go! Why are you doing this?”   The pain was so unbearable I thought I would pass out. Then came the dreaded question, “Have you ever been raped?”  The doctor explained that I had vaginismus, which is when the body remembers trauma and causes muscles spasms to occur as a way to protect itself.

For nearly twelve weeks, I faithfully performed the exercises the doctor had prescribed.  I cried.  I prayed.  I was an emotional train wreck.  My husband never made me feel like I should just “brace up” or “get over it”.  One day, as I was reading the Bible, I came across the story of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  Hmm, I mused. Jesus healed people instantly back then.  Maybe we should ask Him to heal me.

So I asked my dear husband if he thinks God cares about sex.

“Of course,” he replied.  “I think He does.”

“Do you think He cares enough to heal me?”  I asked timidly.

“Why don’t we ask Him?”

So we prayed.  It was just a simple prayer.  I didn’t “feel” any different, except I had peace.  But in that instant, God healed my vaginismus! It was gone!   (Thank you Jesus from the bottom of my heart!)

The next year was a difficult one for me.  Though I had experienced physical healing, emotionally my heart was an open wound.  I began to have flashbacks of the abuse.  My first flashback happened in a dingy cabin while we were camping with our church.

I had just laid down for a nap.  As I stared up at the rafters, I suddenly became a little girl again as I tried to distance myself from a man.  His eyes reminded me a vulture eyeing his prey.  I immediately curled myself into a fetal position and began to heave deep sobs that had never been released before.  I shook, moaned and writhed on the floor for a few minutes. My mind screamed with sheer horror at what had happened many years before.  The mental anguish was just as painful as the actual rape.  My husband held me as I wept.  I was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.  I felt like I had been run over by a train.  In a way, I had.

Flashbacks are hard to describe. Usually something triggers them. Sometimes they are more of a body memory than an actual mental memory.  They leave you weak and vulnerable.  In those moments, I felt like a little girl who needed someone to protect me.  I wanted to hide.  At first, it was hard for me to realize that I was having a flashback, simply because I couldn’t “feel” anything.  But Ben learned to read my eyes.  He’d say, “Ann, are you okay?”  And I would burst into terrified tears.

“So,” I hear you asking, “how did you find healing?”

In some ways, the answer is simple. Jesus.  In other ways, the answer is complicated. Healing is a journey that takes time.  Sometimes years.

First of all, we have to acknowledge and accept what happened. This is an important step.  You simply cannot find healing for pain you refuse to acknowledge.   Childhood sexual abuse involves much more than “just” rape.  It includes inappropriate touching over and under clothes, the exposure of a child’s body, exposure to porn or adult nakedness, using force or trickery to make a child to perform sexual acts, inappropriate sexual comments made to young children and any kind of vaginal, oral, or anal penetration.

In my case, my mind had blocked those memories as a way to survive the horror.  They simply didn’t re-surface until I was at a safe place in my life.  If you suspect that you have repressed memories of abuse in your past, I would strongly encourage you to commit it to God.  He doesn’t hide things from us that we would be better off knowing.  If He thinks you are ready to deal with things, you will remember enough to work through what happened.

Not everyone blocks memories.  Maybe you remember everything, but you don’t want to deal with it.  It is hard to face the pain.  It hurts.  But you really can’t have true joy or peace by stuffing pain. Pushing away pain only works for so long.  Eventually, it will stick its ugly head up and scream for your attention until you choose to deal with it.  It doesn’t go away on its own.

It isn’t fun to face pain.  But let me tell you: It’s worth it.  It’s worth every tear.  It’s worth every flashback.  Please don’t fight it any longer.

Grieve. Grieving is another step in the healing process.  After you acknowledge the pain, you will likely be very emotional.  After all, your innocence was stolen from you.  In some ways, grieving your innocence is like grieving a loved one who walked away from God.  Innocence can never be returned after it is gone.

Everyone responds differently to grief.  Some people need to talk about what happened.  Others need to write or journal.  You will have days that you do more crying than smiling.  You will feel really good one minute and the next you will burst into tears.  And sometimes you won’t even know why you’re crying.

During those time of intense grief, bring your pain to Jesus.  Climb up onto His lap.  Rest your head against His shoulder.  Tell Him exactly how you feel.  He wants to carry your pain.  Let Him do that for you.  Spend time in His Word.  Mediate on it.  Talk audibly with God.  Ask Him hard questions.  Read good, wholesome books.  Take walks.  Find someone you can trust who is willing to listen to your heart anytime of the day or night.  Your heart is an open wound, so give yourself a lot of grace during this time.  Take care of yourself.  And don’t rush the process.  Take time to grieve.

Renounce the Lies.  Women who have experienced sexual abuse often face many lies that are deeply rooted in their soul due to the abuse they experienced as children. Some common lies are: “I’m worthless.”  “I’m ugly.”  “It’s my fault.”  “God doesn’t love me.”  And so on.  Identify the lies you are believing.

Once you have identified these lies, renounce them.  Use the Word of God to fight them. There is great Power in the Word! (Hebrews 4:12).  Stand in front of the mirror and speak Truth to yourself.  The devil cannot stand the Truth.  Share your struggle to believe truth with people who will stand and fight with you.  Write the Truth (opposite of the lie) on a paper and stick it on your closet door where you will see it every day.  Or write the lie on the bottom of your socks, and then “tramp on that lie” all day long.  Visuals like this have helped me to break the bondage of lies in my life.

And now for the most important step in healing from sexual abuse: Forgiveness.  I have no idea what comes to your mind when you here this word, but I’d like to explain what forgiveness means to me.

I’m not talking about forgetting what happened to you.  I’m not talking about giving the person who abused you a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  I’m not talking about trusting the person who broke your trust.

It makes me sad to hear of churches and individuals pushing “forgiveness” on the victim in order to protect and hide the sin of the perpetrator.  That is not true forgiveness.  I’m sorry if that kind of emotional and spiritual abuse is part of your experience.  You probably want to scream when you hear this word, and I don’t blame you.  But please, keep reading.

True forgiveness is something that is impossible without Jesus.  In order to forgive, you need to realize your own sinfulness and accept God’s love and forgiveness for you.  Without this, it is totally impossible to truly forgive your perpetrator. When you realize that your sin is really no less sinful in Gods eyes than theirs, it makes it easier to choose forgiveness.

Forgiveness means that I accept what happened.  It means I choose to deal with the consequences of my abuser’s sin with a cheerful heart.  It’s saying, “Ok God, I choose to be okay with the flashbacks.  I can’t help what happened to me, but I can choose my reaction to it.”

Another aspect of forgiveness is taking responsibility for my reaction to the pain.  Because we are human, we respond to pain by becoming selfish and bitter.  Forgiveness means that we repent of bitterness.  It means that we choose to say “Yes, what he/she did was terrible, but my bitterness is hurting others too; so I choose to repent of it.”

Forgiveness is not a one-time deal.  You may need to forgive your perpetrator 100 times a day.  That’s fine.  When Peter asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive my brother?”, Jesus said, “Until seventy times seven.” (Matt. 18:21-35) Let me translate that in terms of working through sexual abuse.  Every time you think about what happened and you feel that familiar bitter spirit begin to rise within you, FORGIVE.  Don’t wait.  Do it right away.

If you struggle with flashbacks, forgive the minute the flashback is over.  You don’t even have to remember who it was that abused you.  You can still forgive them.  Do it every time you remember.  I will be honest with you: Forgiveness is the only way to deal with flashbacks. They are horrible experiences.  But I have found so much healing in forgiveness.  The prayer I often pray is as follows:

“Jesus, today I choose to forgive (name) for the pain he/she caused me when he/she (what they did to you).  I choose to forgive him/her and release him/her.  I don’t want to hold this against him/her any longer.  Please have mercy on him/her!  I will accept the consequences of his/her sin. Will you forgive me, Jesus, for being so focused on myself and bitter toward him/her?”

If you want to find healing, but feel powerless to choose to forgive, ask God to help you.  He doesn’t want to see you stuck in bitterness.  He is more than willing to give you the power you need to make that hard, but important, choice.

No, forgiveness is not easy.  But it is necessary if you want to find healing and peace.

And finally, don’t waste your pain by keeping silent about the healing that God is doing in your shattered heart.  Tell someone.  Look for opportunities to help someone else find healing from sexual abuse.  Don’t forget how it felt to be the little girl with a battered, bleeding heart.  There are so many people who need to hear about the redemption Jesus brings to broken little girls and boys.

I have asked God, “Why?  Why me?”  I think it’s okay to ask questions.  But don’t demand an answer.  Job asked God “why” too.  But God never answered his question.  It’s not that God didn’t care or didn’t hear.  Believe me, He does!  He cares about what happened to you.  But because His ways are so much higher than ours, our minds cannot always grasp the plans He has for us. (Is. 55:9)

So do I know why I was raped and abused? No.  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 by men who professed to know God.

Has the healing journey been easy?  No.  Is it worth the pain?  YES.  A thousand times, yes.

Dear sister, if you’ve experienced this type of pain, please don’t try to stuff it in or pretend it’s not there.  There is hope, healing and redemption in Jesus Christ.  You don’t need to stay a victim to your past.  Remember, He loves you.  He wants to carry your pain.  He specializes in giving “beauty for ashes”. (Is 61:3) “…And with His stripes, we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

 

*statistics are from “11 Facts about Child Abuse” by dosomething.org.

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.”

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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.

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.

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  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.”

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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.

 

 

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.