The #MeToo movement is a horrific revelation about the prevalence of sexual abuse. As a pastor, it makes me wonder how many dark secrets are tucked away within my own church. For my own benefit, and hopefully for your benefit as well, here’s a quick 3-2-1 for consideration: 3 questions, 2 books, 1 prayer.
THREE QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
(1) “Where do I have power?”
Sexual abuse cannot succeed apart from power. The victimizer must possess, even momentarily, some measure of authority or control or influence or strength over the victim. Exhibit A: Harvey Weinstein. Exhibit B: anyone with power, which includes every one of us, at least in some of our relationships. It would serve us well to be aware of the power we hold in various contexts. Whether through the position we occupy, our credentials or reputation, our gender, age, physical size, bank account, or intellect, we need to steward the power we have over others for their good rather than for their exploitation. In what relationships do you have power? How do you wish to use your power?
(2) “What perceived gain would entice me to turn a blind eye toward sexual abuse?”
Honoring a friendship? Protecting authority? Keeping my job? Maintaining my income? Advancing the greater good? Of all I’ve read to-date, Joe Carter hits the hardest on this point. The whole article is worth reading. Here’s a relevant excerpt:
Would you be willing to turn a blind eye to accusations of sexual assault and abuse if it might benefit you in some way, either directly or indirectly?
Of course not. Unlike the denizens of Hollywood, we Christians have stringent moral standards. As servants of Christ we recognize it is our duty to protect the powerless and vulnerable from harm.
And yet . . . in the last election we had a choice between two candidates who have both contributed to the systemic abuse of women. One major party candidate had more than a dozen credible accusations of sexual misconduct against him, and had even been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. The other candidate had spent years aggressively covering up credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment against her husband, a former U.S. president. In both cases, the candidates attempted to shame the alleged victim into silence. Despite these actions, millions of Christians were willing to not only overlook the misdeeds of these politicians but were even willing to reward them by giving them the most powerful job in the world.
But that’s different, right? We had no choice but to cast a vote to support our preferred candidate, because otherwise our political enemies would have gained power. We had Supreme Court nominations on the line. We had important political concerns that could be set back for decades if the other party won. And, after all, the other side was as complicit in sexual abuse as our candidate was. We therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for making the best of a bad situation.
(3) “What steps might the church take to prevent abuse?”
From a satellite view, this question is relatively easy to answer: the church needs to speak up. It is good that we have child protection policies in place, but we also need to talk about sexual abuse, and not just on social media. We need to talk about it:
FROM OUR PULPITS — teaching the need to have new hearts in Christ; to fear the Lord; to value the image of God in others; to appropriate the promises of God in faith; to love the light more than the darkness; to bear the fruit of self-control; to love our neighbors as we love ourselves;
AROUND THE TABLE — among a band of brothers or a small group of sisters, engaging in down-to-earth, nitty-gritty, rubber-meets-the-road conversation in which we help each other keep in step with the gospel;
IN OUR HOMES — equipping our children to protect themselves and to be protectors of others;
ON OUR KNEES — asking the Father to uncover abusive situations in our church; to agitate the consciences of the guilty; to bring healing and restoration to the wounded; and to purify the hearts of us all;
WITH THE AUTHORITIES — reporting abusive situations to law enforcement without hesitation.
Admittedly, this list is pitched at a satellite view. It needs to be zoomed in and explored at the street level. Which is to say, it needs much more detail. But I believe it’s a good start at prevention.
TWO BOOKS TO READ
One book I would recommend is Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken. David Powlinson’s counsel extends not only to those who are broken due to their own sins but to those who have been broken by the sins of others. His book is uniquely beautiful in applying the gospel to both people: “Jesus, the merciful, steadily intervenes. To the indulgent, he brings forgiveness, covering perverse pleasures with new innocence. To the frightened, he brings refuge, the name that calms our fears and bids our sorrows cease. There is pleasure and protection in Christ, God’s inexpressible gift.”
Another book I would recommend is Rid of My Disgrace by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. This book is most helpful for the abused and those who care for them.
ONE PRAYER TO PRAY
Heavenly Father, our shameful record of sexual abuse shows our desperate need for you. Please bring it about that your name is honored as holy, that your kingdom in Christ explodes into our mess, and that your will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Do this especially in your church, Father. Expose our hidden sins, bring us into your light, wound us that we might be healed.
Give us today all the resources we need to live sexually faithful lives unto you.
Forgive us for our lusts, for our sinful sexual advances toward others, and for those times that we have exploited others for our own physical gratification. And, Father, with all the empowering grace of your resurrected Son and indwelling Spirit, enable us to forgive those who have harmed us sexually. Whether victims or victimizers — or both — we want to be made whole in you.
You are powerful, Father. Please use your power to keep us out of any situation in which we will be sexually tempted. Deliver us from the Evil One, who would love to see our lives ruined as sexual abusers.
Thank you for the hope you’ve given us in the gospel. We can’t wait to be in your presence, completely and gloriously renewed in your image. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. In the name of Jesus, Amen.