Women who have abused physically, or sexually or emotionally as children have great difficulties with relationships. And it makes them act in aberrant ways, often sinful ways. It makes them weak.
In my ministry I have had to deal a lot with abused women. Already early in my ministry I was confronted with the problem when I was in my first congregation. In the neighbouring church there had been quite a bit of sexual abuse over many years. I was immediately confronted with a woman from my own congregation who had been sexually abused by a member in the neighbouring congregation. Because I trained as a social worker, I recognized her symptoms, and she admitted to have been abused. She told me that all her many other sisters were abused by him as well.
At that time, I also had to deal with other cases of sexual abuse in that same neighbouring congregation. I was told that a teacher had been caught sexually abusing some of the boys in his classroom. He did it right in the classroom behind a partition.
The board initially dealt with that by telling him to teach with the class doors open. But when they realized that that was not enough, they suspended him. However, they did not do anything else and did not inform the police or the Teachers Federation, or Social Services. This they were obliged to do because it is a criminal offense to sexually abuse a child.
A few months later I found out that another teacher had also been sexually involved with several students. He did it with little girls. Later it came out that he had also done that in Ontario. All these men were charged and convicted, and had to serve jail time.
I also found out that another man of the same congregation, who had died in the meantime, had sexually abused many of the young girls in that congregation over many, many years. A lot of this abuse had been covered up. And for me to bring that out into the open, and to have the authorities involved, did not make me a popular person.
I was new to the ministry and was afraid that I will be deposed as a minister before my ministry had hardly begun. Thankfully my own consistory was fully behind me, and supported me in my actions in exposing this kind of abuse. The Lord was with me throughout this, and protected me. It was very helpful that more experienced ministers who came in as church visitors, backed me up and supported me.
Paul says in Ephesians 5:3, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” And further in the vss. 11-12, he says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”
There are many aspects to sexual abuse. Too many to get into for a speech like this. It would need a separate treatment. But, I heartily recommend the book by Dr. Dan B Allender, entitled “The wounded heart: Hope for adult victims of child sexual abuse.” Navpress. It also has a workbook.
There are also many other books on the market. I firmly believe that we as church have to protect those women who have been abused. Most people don’t understand how the life of a woman has been ruined by sexual abuse. Physical and emotional abuse is also devastating.
Women who have been abused in their childhood have great difficulty establishing relationships. They have been deeply hurt, and as adults they will do everything they can to avoid being hurt like that again. And therefore they will avoid any situation wherein they feel they might be abused. In this way they believe that they will protect themselves from the abuse.
They’re always looking to see who or in what way someone could take advantage of them. They have a skewed sense of men for they see them all as potential abusers. And therefore they are always seeing danger even when there is no danger.
Sadly, this works into the generations. Daughters of victims of abuse display many of the same symptoms as their mothers, not because they have been abused, but because they are taught to behave like their mothers.
One of the worst things we can do is to protect the abusers. And yet, this often does happen. For often the abusers are men of good standing in the church community, men of leadership.
For example, the one teacher I spoke to you about who was convicted both in BC and Ontario of sexually abusing little girls, became an elder not so long ago in another church of our federation. In spite of the fact that I know of at least one letter that was sent to the consistory telling them of his history, they nevertheless did ordain him. Subsequently his picture was even on the front page of the Clarion.
Can you imagine how the victims of his abuse felt about him being an elder, and even being on a prominent magazine such as Clarion? This will have made them despair, and lonely, and re-victimized.
This is not the only case I am aware of. There are more cases like that. According to me, someone who has been convicted of sexual abuse, should not be an office bearer again. And they have to fully repent. This man who became an elder did not really repent. I know that is a fact. For I know the victims. He sent the letter of apology, but it was meaningless. It was very self-serving, and he did not really deal with the pain that he caused.
Not only that, there are many more victims who never came forward. I know some of those victims. He never admitted to sexually abusing these women. He never really came clean. For you can be sure of one thing that if they have abused one person, they also abused others. It is very rare that someone will abuse only one person. He has more victims.
Abused women need to be respected and protected. We need to be sensitive to them. We may not tell them that they had better get over it and to get their lives together. It’s true that that has to happen, but that takes time. Dr. Larry Crabb in his book, Men & Women, Enjoying the Difference, says,
“Responding to people’s pain with an expectation to live properly sometimes reflects an uncaring heart and a shallow view of sin. People who deeply care and who richly understand sin as more than wrong actions will compassionately but relentlessly expose the problem in such a way that forgiveness, not moral commitment, is seen as a necessary beginning of a solution.”
In other words, the victims of abuse who behaves improperly should not be told to smarten up, and to act as if nothing has happened. If that is the advice you give to them may you have a wrong view of sin. There are many things that they have to work out. This takes time and understanding. They first have to come to the point that they can’t forgive.
It is true that they do have to get on with their lives, and no longer try to live as victims. They have to realize that as children of God they share in the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over sin and evil, including the evil of sexual and other abuse.
It is difficult to use those women who have not fully dealt with their abuse to that extent to counsel others. They view all men, especially men in authority, with suspicion. They are very sincere. But they have a skewed sense of relationships. In order to be able to help others deal with their past, they have to come to understand what the victory of Christ over sin and evil means for themselves and others.
Anyone counselling them, including us as office bearers, should do everything we can to help victims of abuse to come to that point in their life.
But we do have to be aware that dealing with them we have to be careful because they are oversensitive to the possibility of abuse, and therefore they easily feel betrayed and can easily accuse you. Any kind of rejection that they may feel from you will be overblown. You set yourself up for accusations.
Hence I try not to see them alone. If they are married, I try to see them with their husbands. If not, I try to see them with an elder present. In the case when this cannot be arranged, I will make sure that the door in my study is open and that my wife is home.
In ministering to women of abuse the office bearer has to set clear goals. The first session I will use for evaluation. I will need time to think about what the problem is, and how to handle it. On that basis I will set certain objectives. And I will try to obtain that in the following sessions. And so there is a beginning session, middle sessions and an end. It may not be a long drawn out process. If the problems are too great, then professional counsellors may be sought out.
The way I use professional counsellors is that I become familiar with them myself by interviewing them to see what their approach is, and whether or not we can use him for our purposes. I would find out whether or not he or she presents any obstacle to a Christian worldview.
Victims of abuse cry out for justice. Often they do not get it in the church. We tend to look more at the rules than at the person. As I said, victims of abuse have difficulties with relationships. That is because they have lost their ability to evaluate others. They are not able to have an overall view of the person. They will highlight certain good qualities because of their desire to be loved and understood, but ignore other qualities. Therefore, in their desire to avoid partners who abuse them, they often take partners who are the opposite, who are like those who have abused them. Consequently, they have broken relationships.
Because of that they frequently come into difficulties with consistories. Do they find justice there? These are very difficult situations, and the victims need to be carefully listened to. Both sides need to be listened to carefully. Often office bearers from other congregations also become involved, and so does classis at times. I really question whether or not people receive justice in this way. For consider how it goes at classis. You make your judgment on whoever can best present this case on paper. The victims themselves are not heard.