When We Talk About Sexual Abuse

As usually happens after some sort of sexual abuse is revealed in our Christian communities, many take to social media and the internet in an attempt to separate the facts from fictions and to express their opinions and emotions in response. While this can be very helpful for those of us who have been comforted and affirmed by online communities, it can also be a nightmare. And, that’s what the last few weeks with all the Duggar family and Jordan Root coverage have been: a nightmare.

And like a nightmare, it all feels very surreal and yes, threatening, to those of us who have survived abusive relationships and communities. Now for me, these feelings are not evoked from the facts that abuse has occurred in Christian communities. God orchestrated my life ensuring that I received a thorough education on sex offenders, so I no longer naively expect churches to be immune to such horrors. What freaks me out are the responses to such abuse. My fear stems from the blatant ignorance and incompetence justified with biblical & manipulative rhetoric that is advanced by well intentioned Christians as well as Christians with darker motives.

So, let’s get a few things out in the open. Then perhaps we can finally move this conversation forward in some kind of helpful manner.


The Offender is Forgiven, Redeemed, and has Received God’s Grace

This is one of the most common refrains I hear when educating others about abuse and sex offenders. Many Christians rush to affirm that the “repentant” one has been forgiven. The majority of Christian victim advocates and I are not questioning whether God’s grace applies to Josh Duggar or Jordan Root or my ex-husband or any other sexual offender. In fact as Christians we assume God forgives.

Again, as Christians we explicitly affirm and believe in God’s radical forgiveness. I have no doubt God can, and/or has, forgiven my abusers. The question, at least for me, is not whether or not God forgives them. I know God forgives. Don’t waste my time, or others, trying to enter the conversation with something we all affirm as Christians: that God can forgive his creations the most reprehensible actions. We agree. Let’s move on.


“Jesus Really Does Transform Sinners”

The above quote is taken from Dr. Michael L. Brown’s article “Finding Redemption in the Josh Duggar story.” Once again, I – and others – have no doubt God transforms sinners. My concern is not on whether or not God can do it, but whether or not it has already occurred in this or that specific person. And, in the case of sexual offenders or abusers, how can we know who has been transformed to the degree that they would never again violate the vulnerable.

Dr. Brown states, “the fact is that while he did sin grievously, through repentance, faith and counseling, he became a new man.” Regardless of Dr. Brown’s certainty he does not “in fact” know that Josh Duggar is not at risk to repeat his earlier behavior. Now I agree with Dr. Brown concerning “repentance, faith and counseling” being effective methods sex offenders need to commit to in order to transform. However, these do not guarantee
recovery any more than surgery, chemotherapy, and prayer guarantee that someone suffering from cancer will be healed.

According to Boz Tchividjian, “the new man” argument is a common tactic used by sex offenders to manipulate and separate themselves from their past behaviors and therefore their responsibility. When we affirm this “new man” stuff in reference to known sex offenders we are misapplying Scripture in ways that create a dangerous environment for the vulnerable. Also, when we affirm a sex offender’s distorted thinking and/or beliefs we hinder the sex offender from becoming healthier. Sex offenders need to be surrounded by people who will commit to speaking the truth regarding their abuses and criminal activities. Among other things, sex offenders need people who will not minimize their actions, devalue the victims, shift blame to victims, and who will recognize their victim-stancing.


The Victims/Survivors are Angry, Bitter, Unforgiving, Merciless, Sinful, Self Righteous, Etc.

Within the online community of victims/survivors and advocates it has become a joke whenever another Christian refers to one of us as “bitter” because it happens so often. The irony, of course, is being accused of being unmerciful by those who refuse to show the slightest empathy or mercy towards victims/survivors.

All of the above are nothing more than character assassinations. They are attacks that are designed to shame and silence those who refuse to accept the abusers’ perceptions of reality and of the abuse itself.

Recovering from such brutal wounding is complex even with God’s compassionate interventions.

If you engage with victims/survivors and find yourself saying – or writing – or tweeting -any of the above to victims/survivors, then you are the one who needs to repent. Doing so echoes and reinforces the lies and manipulation the abuser has communicated to the victim both in word and deed. These accusations are salt in the wounds of our violated sisters and brothers.


But They Misunderstood Me!

Many well meaning Christians enter conversations about sexual abuse thinking they are being helpful and are shocked, angry, and even hurt when victims/survivors challenge them. Often these Christians will respond with defensiveness, trying to explain that they want to help, and that they are being misunderstood, and that, after all, they are only repeating what the Bible says about forgiveness, redemption, transformation, and the victim’s sinfulness.

Here’s the problem with this: when abusers groom their victims they shape the perspective that their victims have of reality. In other words, they present their distorted perspectives and beliefs to the victim as reality and coercively and subtly enforce the victim’s agreement. When we argue defensively with a victim/survivor and refuse to listen to them and their perspective we are behaving exactly like their abuser. We are trying to make them agree with our perceptions, with our reality, instead of listening to their perspective. We are devaluing them, reinforcing the lie communicated by their abuser that they are worthless, while also insisting that we are the valuable ones.

So, before engaging with victims/survivors make sure you are emotionally and spiritually mature enough to experience any negative responses you receive, meaning make sure you can refrain from retaliating or responding defensively, argumentatively, dismissively, patronizingly, or by attacking, shaming, or silencing.



So, let’s agree to grow up or shut up. If you believe you have something to add to the conversation, something that does not further harm victims/survivors, create a culture sex offenders can thrive in, or affirm the distorted thoughts and beliefs sex offenders use to justify their abuse, then feel free to share it. However, if you feel like pontificating about stuff we all agree on, such as God being forgiving, well then, perhaps you should go watch Netflix, or make a sandwich instead.


Photo by (Flickr CC) Global Panorama