(…) The Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 2)

Don’t come to Church!
There comes a time when an individual can be asked not to come to church. But it is not the right answer every time.

The identity of a teenager who offends, in many countries if not most, is protected. While there should be vigilance–always, always–public exposure is not usually an option, by law. The teen needs help and guidance and whatever ‘judgment the courts determine to be appropriate, but banning from church is not one of them. At least not most times, though there may be an exception.

The adult who has victimized people in church, people who must face their offender and be continually traumatized, is a different story. In my opinion, an offender ought to have enough remorse to choose to go somewhere else, to protect the child. It’s easy math. And every now and then they do.

But, as it stands, more victims leave churches than abusers, based on the people I deal with, because the ongoing trauma becomes overwhelming. They forgive, they try to move on, but Sunday morning, when they should be hearing the truth of the Gospel, they are confronted with the trauma of flashbacks to naked genitals or breasts, or some other sexual exploitation in the past. A wife goes home with her spouse after church, and struggles all week with intimacy because the flashbacks make her feel gross and disgusting. The husband how remembers being molested, goes home and withholds himself, and possibly turning to pornography, feeling completely inadequate. (Let me inject that, surely we can try to understand that this is not about a lack of forgiveness–as is often the accusation–but about post-trauma anxiety and flashbacks.)

Why would an adult who has molested someone choose to impose such a thing on a victim, Sunday after Sunday, robbing couples of intimacy and forcing them to relive the violation? Is it not reasonable, in such a situation, to encourage the offender to find a church family elsewhere?

Instead, it seems victims are the ones who eventually uproot and find some other church family, or simply stop attending, spiritually stripped, having endured accusations of being unforgiving or making things up. The lack of healthy care and understanding for victims, combined with religious demands to ‘forgive and forget’ has done it’s share of damage, and has in essence told victims to either ‘shape up or get out’, while offering little in the way of healing.

Get Out!

I spoke recently with yet another victim of a now-church-leader; the third that I am aware of, who eventually just left, while the offender went on to become a leader. The victimizations ranged from coercing a peer in early teens to reaching under skirts, yanking down panties to molest–something I recently discovered is/was a very common occurrence with hired ‘maids’ in some homes–and grabbing and groping… well into his twenties. And in every case the victims ended up paying the price, while the offender managed to fly under the radar, with nothing more than a mild slap on the wrist for ‘sexual immorality’. That should not be. And yet it happens repeatedly.

If an offender refuses to take ownership, and comply with the laws of the land and church-imposed boundaries, or if there is any indication they are causing ongoing trauma, it is not asking too much to tell them not to show up. There is no repentance in self-preservation and rebelling against those boundaries, and that person should be deemed unsafe in every way.

Feel Free to Attend, but with Supervision and Boundaries
In the case of the church I worked with in 2014, a team of people met with the intent of creating accountability. There was no agenda to cover up or protect the offender, but neither was there any agenda to destroy. In all my life I’ve never seen such a healthy approach as I saw in that meeting, and in the  months that ensued.

A recommendation was put up for discussion, to allow the offender to attend church, but to always have someone supervise. Every trip to the bathroom, every exit from the auditorium, every event, someone would be assigned to watch over the offender. There would be zero opportunity for offending again. There would be guidelines of not working with children, or being involved in any way that would compromise their safety. Had his presence made victims vulnerable, I might have felt differently, but as it was I thought it was brilliant.

The thought of being ‘babysat’ was offensive to the perpetrator, saying he felt the church was not proving forgiveness. As a result, and of his own free will, he chose to leave the church and find a new church family. If my memory is reliable, the pastor felt it his responsibility to contact leadership at the new church to inform them of the situation, not out of spite, but for the protection of the children there.

All in all, the situation was handled responsibly, and in the best interest of the victims and church family.

What About The Law?
The law was involved early on, in the case of the church I worked with; even before the church was made aware. So, for an example of law, I will share from a conversation I had with a police officer in the past month.

My conversation with the officer led me to believe that when it comes to religion, she is on the outside, looking in, and trying to make sense of it all, and she wondered at the driving force behind that behaviours of churches and Christians, as it pertains to obeying the laws of the land in regards to child abuse. I tried to explain–not justify–from my perspective, what I see; fear, pride, the belief that we Christians are subject only to God’s law and not the laws of the land, among other things. I’ve had the same conversation with 4 police officers since May, where they talk about the religious community covering up and not getting victims or offenders the help they need, and it leaves them shaking their heads. It should.

But what this last officer shared, didn’t stay there. After questioning, she mentioned how several years ago she had a case unlike any other. A pastor, she said, had walked in one morning, accompanied by an offender who had molested his daughter. Immediately after having done so, he went to his wife, and told her, packed his bags and left so his daughter would be safe. The pastor was drawn in, and that is where the man stayed until morning, when they stood in front of the officer saying they have a crime to report. The entire police staff was flabbergasted, she said. Not one had experienced such a thing before.

She told me how the man ended up doing jail time, getting counseling and was eventually reinstated in his home, but is not allowed to be with children unsupervised at any time. He is humbly compliant, and understands that this is to make 100% certain it never happens again. This situation, is the ideal, when it comes to handling abuse cases, she told me.

I wasn’t involved with that situation, and don’t know the people, but from where I stand looking on, I see redemption, while complying with the law and facing consequences. The church is aware of what he has done, and works to make it a safe place for children all around, while allowing him to be part of his family and the church.

A Tragedy Cannot be Undone, only Redeemed
There is no way to make a bad thing good. It can’t be done. There is only redemption of evil in the lives of God’s people, and in the working of society. What our enemy means for evil, God will use for good, but the wickedness can never be made good. We have to accept that, and call the wickedness what it is.

That said, we undermine the grace and mercy of God, when we refuse to extend the work of Jesus on the cross to all sinners… including those who molested a child, or children. There must always be forgiveness for them. While the practical working out of healing should be done with great wisdom and seeking God’s heart–and God always fights for the children and the vulnerable–to sentence offenders to hopeless judgment, doesn’t sit right in my spirit.

I’ve worshiped in prison with those who murdered someone. And I’ve hugged them if they wanted to be hugged. It makes zero difference to me, at the foot of the cross, what you have done; you are my brother and my sister. Besides, I remember that “but for the grace of God, there go I”. And I mean that. Coming out of the sexual confusion of my childhood, it is nothing short of the grace of God that kept me from growing up to be in prison with the murderers and pedophiles. When it comes praying ‘thank God I am not like the sinner beside me’, the words choke heavy in my throat and I cannot spit them out.

Instead, I thank God for His liberal grace and generous wisdom so that we might be forgiven, extend forgiveness, while still choosing to respond carefully in every situation. Bitterness and hate destroys lives, as does overlooking sin and neglecting to address and deal with abuse. Somewhere, in seeking the wisdom of God, there is a better way…

We were molested, many of us, and we inevitably hurt and grieve the loss of innocence. We need to be given space to do that, and to express that hurt without being judged. But, horrific as that moment was, or the thousand times over, none of us really want to stay stuck in that darkness. Advocating for other victims, fighting for the safety of children and creating awareness are some of the many ways to take back our freedom, our God-given voice, and to bring good out of evil, without empowering evil through bitterness.

Together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope, if we avoid the pit of bitterness, and a sense of being entitled to live in it and speak out of it. Our life purpose is not defined by what happened to us, but it can empower us for greater things. The choice is ours. Always.  And I, for one, want to care for the hearts of all, but I want only to partner with those who bring hope out of darkness…

Yes, together we are a powerful force for good, for redemption and for hope!

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger