Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Two out of three times, the crime is committed by a friend or family member. 44% of the victims are under age 18. Over 6 million American children were claimed as victims of child abuse last year. One in four women faces physical abuse from her partner. Even though these are just statistics, these numbers indicate an abhorrent level of life-destroying sin.
The tragedy is, the church is sometimes part of the problem.
An Abusive Church?
There has been plenty of media coverage regarding sex scandals in church. Whether a Catholic priest, an evangelical leader, or a Fundamentalist preacher, we’ve all heard about the big fall and the ugly fallout from someone’s sin. We hear far less about what goes on far more — an angry father beating his wife, a live-in partner raping his girlfriend, a demented dad sexually abusing his children, and a sickening list of other atrocities.
Christian Ministry Resources (CMR) reports that they will receive reports of child-abuse at a pace of ten every day! The most disturbing aspect of this number is that each of these are allegations of crimes committed by church staff or volunteers. Most likely, these numbers are simply the tip of the iceberg since the vast majority of child abuse victims remain silent.
Thank God, there are churches actively involved in rejecting this sin and rooting it out. Thank God, there are assemblies with a passion for purity and a mission of justice. Thank God, not every church is a place of coverup and abuse. Nonetheless, we’re facing a problem of epic proportions.
Whether we believe the statistics or not, we must own up to the fact that it is likely that this sin is lurking within the walls of our church, or within the homes of people who attend your church. At the very least, we must recognize this malady, and do something about it.
Call It What It Is
There are all kinds of names for what goes on. Sex abuse. Physical abuse. Sexual assault. Child abuse. Domestic violence. Sexual misconduct. Spouse abuse. Incest. God has a name for all of it.
It is all flat-out sin. Disturbingly, such sin is 1) often kept secret by both abuser and victim, 2) is life-destroying, and 3) is desperately difficult to deal with. Nonetheless, calling it by its raw, punchy, biblical term is one way of seeing it through God’s eyes. It can be forgiven, but it is still sin.
This Should Make You Angry
God designed the church and family as a place of refuge, nurturing, redemption, and protection. Tragically, these are the very places where children are victimized and lives are wrecked. Children live with the scars of their abuse for a lifetime. Abused spouses live in paralyzing fear — joyless, and afraid of the next session of abusiveness. They are afraid to ask for help for fear of being found out, and the repercussions that could arise. Abused children, often suffering at the hands of family members, have nowhere to turn.
In one family, an abusive man regularly beat his wife and children. The family members were afraid to seek help, knowing that if their father found out, his violence against them would reach extreme measures. Finally, after several years of abuse, the mother went to her pastor for help. Fearing the backlash of the angry man and the disruption that he would create in the church, the pastor did nothing. Nothing. The abusiveness went on and on. The man’s sin grew more and more intense. Finally, the woman sought protection from another source.
It is likely that this story has been repeated in countless churches across the country. It’s probably being repeated right now.
Justice is Mercy
Although the church is a place where sinners can find mercy and healing, it ought not be a place of permissiveness and coverups. Bringing justice to bear upon criminals is not harsh or judgmental. It is merciful. By allowing an abuser to continue abusing, you are a complicit partner in his sin. Justice for the abuser is mercy for the victims. The church is a place where both justice and mercy should be held forth.
How to Stop the Abuse
If you’re willing to allow abuse to continue unabated within your church and within the lives of your churchgoers, do nothing. If, however, you want to pursue justice and mercy, consider the following:
- Implement policies in your church and enforce them. Nothing says “we care” better than actually doing something about it. If your church wants to be a place of healing and refuge, be tough about your screening policies and background checks for people who work with children.
- Disciple the men in your congregation. 99% of the abusers are men. Take an active role in holding accountability and discipleship programs for men. Potential abusers shouldn’t be kicked and spat upon. They should be lovingly discipled before abuse has a chance to take place.
- Encourage the victims to speak up. Church should be a safe place. As much as possible, assure your people, even children, that they can confidentially confide in a pastor or counselor. Things will get messy, but things will also get better.
- Actively pursue counseling with families who are experiencing abusive situations. Nearly all marriages and families where abuse has occurred require counseling. Problems aren’t corrected in a day. A mere slap on the hand or single counseling session can’t reverse the tragedy of years of abuse. Counsel the victims and/or abusers, or seek professional help for them.
- Report. For some reason, many Christians are hesitant to report abuse situations to the authorities. There might be occasions when outside organizations have done more harm than good. However, in the majority of cases, such organizations are equipped to deal with abuse situations and put a stop to them. Often, civil authorities will do the very thing that needs to be done — place the criminal in jail. As mentioned above, justice is mercy in this situation. By reporting the crimes, you are pursuing justice and creating an environment of healing for those who desperately need it.
Stop at nothing to protect the weak and defenseless. Scripture tells us, “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute” (Psalm 82:3). As Christians, we have a divine mandate to oppose abuse in every way we can. Let us pursue justice with passion and energy. Let us show God’s mercy to those in need.
Let’s stop the abuse.