How The CHURCH Can Better Support Victims of Sexual Abuse

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by Tom Stewart

Sexual abuse…molestation…sodomy…rape, ugly words that weigh so heavy with just the thought. But let’s stop and sever the ugly attached to it, and ponder the actual heaviness that the survivors bear – the ones left victim to these heinous acts of sin.

We, as the body of Christ, need to face this issue, realize the severity and embrace the violated left with the aftermath. The victims who cannot escape what replays over and over again in their minds.

Envision your church sanctuary filled to capacity. Amongst the congregation, the statistics are sitting anywhere from the front to the back and side to side. It’s unimaginable to think that, as many as one out of three females, and one out of five males have been victims of some sort of sexual abuse before they reached the age of 18; and those are just the reported cases. Yes, it’s staggering. And sadly, the statistics for males are more than likely much higher, but left undocumented due to the heightened dread of embarrassment.

Underneath their dressed-up, Sun-day-morning appearances, they hide their raw, secret wounds–sometimes muddled with their confusion of self-worth and value. Some have cried out, some have not, and some can’t. Some have blocked it, and some are stuck in denial. Worse yet, some have yet to be believed. And sadly, some may be experiencing it as you read this article. Awareness is imperative, and it can contribute to prevention of those who might fall victim to abuse in the future.

Hebrews 13:1-3 “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained an-gels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

The subject of sexual abuse has been silenced, but survivors continue to scream inside. The stigma of hushing it seems to have taken precedence. Why? Is it to protect the few who might be offended at the mention of it? Is it because the act itself comes to mind, implying that it’s too dirty of a subject to face? My own parents lived a similar view; and there-fore, they didn’t believe me when I told them about the decade of sexual abuse I suffered at the hands of my scout leader. It goes without saying why I never sought help from them while being enslaved in my nightmare. Please don’t let the topic of sexual abuse be as forbidden as it was for me.

Fortunately, my parents were avid church-goers, which allowed me the opportunity to build a relationship with Christ from a very young age. Thankfully, I had my faith to soothe my spiritual and inner emotions, comforting my hurting heart. But, unfortunately, my mind remained bound and gagged.

I was 40 years old before I realized the magnitude of what really happened to me. And that only came when my brother Matt was bold enough to open my eyes and speak out against the man who abused him the same way he did me. To this day, I doubt I would have come forward if it were not for my brother. Let us as brothers and sisters in Christ act with the same boldness that my brother Matt did. For that I will be forever grateful.

Boldness comes from our confidence in Christ. Jesus was radically bold. He sought out, included and blessed the outcast. This is the same bold we need to be!

There are times victims feel as ugly as the sin. Their entire being has been tainted by an unwelcome intrusion. Whether it happened once, or too many times to count, it lingers within them with little reprieve, resulting in feelings of anger, loneliness, depression and anxiety, self-destructive behavior, poor self-es-teem, difficulty trusting others, and even substance abuse leading to addiction to cope.

There is no better opportunity to provide a safe haven for the wounded than in the church

The church ought to be a destination where the broken come for solace and sanctuary. Are we providing this? We listen to sermons about what is expected of us, our obedience to Christ, repentance of sin, loving others, and forgiveness. Yet, does it provide the safe-haven for the tattered and torn to come as they are and feel comfortable enough to stay? Are we cultivating our fruits of the Spirit? Or, are we limiting ourselves to function only as far as our comfort zone allows us? Let us break away from what feels uncomfortable with the confidence of Christ, and lean into the ones who really do feel uncomfortable.

Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

There is no doubt how imperative it is to carry and hold each other ac-countable for sin, but, are we also carrying each other’s burdens of pain to lighten their sorrow? Or are the cries of the walking wounded a mere murmur in comparison?

Plain and simple, let us not pretend it does not exist. Pastors, you are the professors of God’s curriculum. Implement awareness of others’ wounds to be just as anticipated as the worship – expected as the offering – and relied upon as communion. Incorporate the realities of people’s pain (whether it be abuse, grief, or trauma) into the regimen so they can feel as viable as the highlights of the week. A support ministry needs to be considered just as important and necessary as men’s, women’s, worship, youth and children’s ministries, as well as bible studies, outreach and missions.

Coincidentally, my pastor recently spoke on such a topic. His sermon expressed the need of support for sufferers with mental illnesses, and those who are associated with them. I was blown away by God’s timing. This is exactly what is needed for those who suffer from sexual abuse, as well as grief and trauma. Together, my wife and I are encouraged, as she is also a survivor of sexual assault by a stranger, and we are thankful that our pastor has set our church into motion for what may come with our pastor’s boldness.

Please prayerfully consider – and if your church is willing to follow suit, your congregation will thank you.

Isaiah 61:1 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to pro-claim liberty to the captives, and re-lease to the prisoners.”

God has recruited me to do the same, prompting me to share my story in the form of a book. It is a memoir sharing how my endured afflictions are being used for God’s purposes. I pray it helps other survivors reach the same understanding.

As an immediate answer to prayer for the book, a female friend confided in me and my wife about the molestation she endured at the tender age of eight. She had never told anyone until she engaged with us on the subject matter of the book. She said it was my transparency and boldness that gave her the courage to finally speak out. Her personal suggestion for the church in helping victims is to have former abuse survivors that have al-ready overcome such tragedy come alongside those who are still suffering in silence to help free them like she was. What an amazing idea. April is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. However, please keep in mind that the suffering of sexual abuse survivors does not limit itself to a month on the calendar. So, what are we going to do about this? Let’s be bold—together—as the body of Christ. There is no better opportunity to provide a safe-haven for the wounded than in the church – a place of refuge rein-forced by fellowship, faith, focus and forgiveness, the components essential for their freedom.

Thomas Gregory Stewart is a survivor of sexual abuse and tells his story in The Broken Scout: A Story of Abuse and Redemption (April 4, 2017, Redemption Press).

RECOMMENDED LINKS

Book: www.thebrokenscout.comFacts: www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-child-abuse