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.

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A Teaspoon of Honey and the Goodness of God

I am one of those people who’ve battled with questions such as this: If God is really good, then why does He let bad things happen to innocent?  Or to the righteous?

I went through a time in my life where I really questioned God’s goodness.  I questioned His love.

But what I was really asking was, “Where was God when I was a terrified little girl on the hard barn floor?  Where was He as I stared at the rafters, trying to distance myself from the man who towered over me?  Where was He in all the pain and confusion?”

Then one day, God began to help me process those questions in a unique way.

My husband came home from work to find his very emotional wife greet him at the door.  (Yes, I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened.)  His eyes were full of compassion, as always. He asked me what was wrong.

“Sweetheart,” I began, “where was God when that happened to me?”  He knew right away what I was talking about.  Back then, it was hard for me to talk about the rape.

He looked at me as he washed his hands in the sink.  I watched his face light up with sudden inspiration.

“Just a minute,” he said, walking into the kitchen.

I waited, wondering what in the world he was doing.

He soon returned, carefully balancing a spoon in his hand.

“Open your mouth,” he said.

“But what do you have on that spoon?” I questioned.  I pinched my lips tightly together.  I wasn’t going to try anything without knowing what it was. I figured it was probably vinegar or red pepper or something awful like that.

“Honey, open your mouth, please,” he said again.

I stubbornly obeyed.

“This is what God tastes like.”  He lifted the spoon to my mouth.

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PHOTO BY CATHY SCOLA VIA GETTY IMAGES

As soon as the honey hit my mouth, I began to cry.  A still, small voice inside of me said, “Ann, taste and see that I am good.  Blessed are those who trust in Me.”

Ben’s eyes were bright as he watched the Light dawn on me.

Then he quietly said, “You know what?  God is even sweeter than the honey you just tasted.  He is good, all of the time.  He is making something beautiful out of the ugly.  Remember, He loves you.”

I nodded as the tears trickled down my cheeks.

For a minute, all was silent.

“Sweetheart, where did you get that idea?” I asked, wiping the tears from my cheeks.

“What idea?  The honey on your tongue?”

“Yes.”

“At work today.  We were talking about Jewish traditions.  One of the ways that the Jews teach their children about the goodness of God and the sweetness of His Word is by giving them a teaspoon of honey on their tongue.”

I’d be lying if I’d say that this was the last time I ever struggled to believe that God is good.  I am so human.  Sometimes when things aren’t going well and life feels like it’s about to fall apart, I look up into my husband’s eyes and ask, “Ben, is God good?”

And without hesitation, he replies, “Yes, He is.  All the time.”

Though I have those times when I need to choose to believe the truth that God is good, I am beginning to feel it in my spirit.  To me, that is exciting.

Believing that God is good and choosing to trust Him go hand-in-hand; for you cannot trust God without a strong confidence and belief that He is good – no matter what.

I’m convinced that if we have a strong core belief in the goodness and sovereignty of God, we will be able to rest in that belief even when our lives “fall apart” overnight. When we wade through the question of “where was God when this happened” we will not become bitter because we have that assurance in our spirit that He is good.  When life leaves us feeling completely powerless, our faith will not be crushed.

You see, we don’t have to understand “why” when we believe that He is good all the time.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but if you’re like me, sometimes I just need a little reminder that God loves me and that He is good all the time – no matter what happens. And because He is good, I can trust His heart even when I don’t understand the “why”.

“O taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed is the man who trusts in him.” Ps. 34:8

Stripped of Control

Some things are impossible to forget.

I can still hear the sound of his boots on the wood as he raced up the stairs after me.  I can hear the door slam.  But the loud beats of my heart nearly stopped when he grabbed me and I looked into his eyes.

They were the eyes of evil.

There are very few words to describe the horror that followed.  I was stripped of all dignity and control.   I couldn’t get away.  I was trapped.

In the semi-darkness, I instinctively cried out to the only One I, in my little girl heart, believed could rescue me.  To this day, I’m not sure if the words were audible or not, but my spirit cried, “Help me, Jesus! Help me!”

As my body was being ravished and my spirit broken, I begged Jesus to save me.

But He didn’t come.

I was completely alone.  Alone with evil.

For years, I didn’t have any words for the terror I felt.  I just knew I was scared.  Very, very, very scared.  I lived in fear – fear that that terrible feeling of terror would eat me alive…next time.

Recently, I was able to name it.  Its name is Powerlessness.

In those horrific minutes as a little girl on the cold, hard floor, I experienced complete loss of control.  I could not get away.  I could not make it stop.  I could not even control my body.  I was completely powerless.

And, to top it all off, I felt abandoned by God.  Because He didn’t answer my prayer in the way I was expecting, it felt like He too, was powerless against that kind of evil.

I blamed myself for years.  I deceived myself into thinking that everything bad that happens is my fault.  I knew in my head that what happened to me as a little girl wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t seem to shake the blame and guilt I subjected myself to on a daily basis.

It got worse as the years went by.  I blamed myself for the wreck my family had when I was thirteen.  I blamed myself when the alarm clock failed to go off and my husband was late for work.  I blamed myself every time the children were disobedient.  I blamed myself for anything and everything.  I apologized frequently for the stupidest stuff.

Why?

Because if I could convince myself in powerless situations that “it is my fault”, I didn’t have to experience the awful feelings of terror that reminded me of the little girl at the hands of evil.  It was my self-defense against feeling powerless.

It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the reality of the scope of the powerlessness I faced as a child that I was able to truly believe in my heart that the abuse was not my fault.

Does Jesus understand powerlessness?  Does He know what it feel like to be stripped of control?

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Yes.  He chose to experience powerlessness.  He wouldn’t have had to subject Himself to the limitations of a human body and allow His creation to crucify Him on the cross.  He could have stepped off of that cross at any point.  But He didn’t.

He loved you and I too much to do that.

It is not wrong to feel powerless.  It’s part of being created.  After all, we are, in and of ourselves, powerless.

God is in control; not you, not me.  Do I understand why He sometimes allows evil things to happen?  No, I don’t.  I can’t – because I’m not God.

But if Jesus loved me enough to choose powerlessness over powerfulness, then I believe I can trust Him with my life.  And I can rest in the fact that He is good, even when I don’t understand His ways.

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.

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.