In our first post on this topic, we made the case that sexual abuse is common in Christian communities. Now we’d like to dive a little deeper into what keeps honest justice from being carried out with people who claim Jesus as their King.
Occasionally a lid of silence is peeled back for a moment and a subculture of sexual abuse is revealed. We wonder, how did it take this long for the truth to be exposed? How could such darkness exist so close to us, without many people having a clue of its devastating impact?
One of the greatest factors is shame. Shame is not linear, so people experiencing shame often act in ways that don’t immediately connect with the events that created that shame. Think of this example of how shame is non-linear: Adam and Eve eat forbidden fruit, so they get anxious about being naked. Eating fruit = feeling a need to be covered. Their reaction doesn’t seem to correlate with what caused them to feel shame in the first place. (Keep in mind, this is only an example of how shame works itself out in surprising ways, not to say that victims of sexual abuse are somehow sinful like Adam and Eve were sinful in eating the fruit.) I have often heard, and even thought myself, that if a woman or girl were really abused that her first reaction would be to report the crime. Then she would, of course, want to testify to bring justice to those who violated her. But sexual shame cuts at the most intimate parts of our humanity. Most victims feel responsible and guilty for the sins committed against them. These are not easy barriers to overcome, even in the healthiest communities.
Shame in the victim is not the only shame. We also see the shame of the community in sexual abuse cases. Bystanders, witnesses, family members and friends often feel shame at having somebody they know experience sexual violation. Instead of reacting in a way that is linear and logical, they do not support the victim and root out the evil among them. In most cases, victims are told to shut up. This feeds into their own internal shame, as their parents, pastors, friends and coworkers all seem to want a rushed forgiveness, or a quiet way to handle the abuse. Instead of pursuing God given avenues for justice, sexual abusers are protected. A community would rather not face having their corporate shame exposed, so they selfishly allow the victim to carry the burden of the community. Abusers, often seeking perverted grace and perverted forgiveness, are protected, and typically never face effective opposition for their trails of destruction.
The final shame in these situations is perhaps the easiest to understand: the shame of the abuser. Sexual abusers have committed sins that most people are too embarrassed to even admit could happen to people they know. The sin of sexual abuse, especially of children, is one of the last elevated sins in our culture. Even the world sees this sin as heinous. Those who commit such sin have little help in overcoming it, such sinners are seen as sub-human. I think it is important grab hold of the truth that there is not a different hell for child molesters than for regular sinners. I do not want to equate the destructiveness of a sexual abuser with, say, a tax evader. Yet both sinners need the same thing: to repent and trust in Christ who took the sin of all who believe in Him. A great evidence of Jesus’ work would be for believers who have committed such evil to stand up, openly admit their sin and accept the consequences. This would show that they trust Christ enough to no longer hide their shame. Even the child molester is a human, made in the image of God, and a valuable person. This does not negate their need to confess and repent, but it does mean that we should care for people who have sinned in such a destructive way.
Only through the cross of Jesus can we deal with this great, present evil, in a balanced way that does not give way to passivity, victim-shaming, or bitterness. This shows the greatness of Christ, that in Him we can address the most shameful things in this life with hope. Sexual abuse is never easy, and we do not have silver bullets that make such situations simple. But we can have hope and boldness to face hard things. Our Father will help us, for we need to root this evil out from among us.