Friday, May 22, 2015

Sex Abuse and the Church

So, by now we've all heard the horrific news that Josh Duggar sexually abused several young girls, including some of his sisters. Why is this news? This happens all over the place in all kinds of families. This is news because the Duggar family presents themselves on a reality show as model of how living in a large, close, purity-culture family can result in children who grow up without the problems of the culture at large. Information of sexual abuse within the family negates this kind of assertion. It's also news in our culture because we are watching how poorly local churches and the Church writ large handle sexual abuse among our brothers and sisters.

Thank God, I've never been sexually abused, assaulted, or traumatized. Unfortunately, I've been affected by it in churches with which I've been associated throughout my life - and it hasn't been pretty. Churches are screwed up when it comes to sin - likely more so than the rest of the culture.

Churches don't want to admit any kind of sexual abuse has happened among our own because we don't want to admit to sin. We use phrases like "protecting the name of Christ". Honestly, do we want to be associated with a God who can't protect his own name? We are afraid to admit that something sinful might have happened among our sinful members!!

But, yet, the church is the one place where we say we can handle sin! We know Jesus who offers grace! I'm not suggesting that we offer "cheap grace" and that as soon as a sex offender says "I'm sorry" that we let the person back in church leadership, but I am saying that the church needs to get over "making Jesus look bad" by trying to keep our sin secret.

Many churches have also decided that they can handle everything within their own walls and don't need help from outside sources. Ummmmm, this is actually illegal when we're talking about sexual assault and minors being sexually abused. Clergy are mandatory reporters and are required to report illegal acts to law enforcement. It is also important for victims to get appropriate counseling, from someone with adequate training. Most churches don't have these resources in-house.

I've seen at least one church almost fall apart over a sexual victimization case. It didn't have to be that way. In another case, the church leadership listened to the victim and took the person seriously. 

But you know what? It's not like one case ended happily and the other didn't. One ended a little better, but sexual abuse and assault are never pretty. They are sin. One person is using their sexual power over another person. How awful!! The perpetrator requires much work in their life to deal with the sin. The victim, even with adequate counseling, is going to be affected for the rest of their life.

What can I do about this? What can you do about this? It depends on who you are. I'm a mom of two young adults. I've tried to raise them in a loving, open, non-legalistic environment to be compassionate adults. I pray for them daily. Otherwise, I can pray for the church (local and global) and our response to sexual abuse. And, when I find out about abuse, I can stand up about it and not let it lie. Victims deserve to be heard. They must be loved and cared for. Perpetrators must be exposed and not allowed to hurt anyone else. They require care of a very different kind.

What you can do depends on where you are in life and what you do. If you work with kids, keep your eyes and ears open! And believe the children! If you work in a church environment, stay sane and remember that hiding sin is never the answer! And, pray. Always, pray!!

P.S. Here are a couple of the best articles I've seen on the topic so far:

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