It’s difficult trying to come out of abuse without getting wounded and scarred deeper. Abuse, in all of its many forms, aren’t topics that are comfortable. But, beyond that, abuse isn’t clear cut, it isn’t always easy to decipher, and it’s hard for outsiders to “pick a side” when both sound believable, yet they are so contradictory. The church, as a whole, has a huge gap here that needs to be filled. How do we bridge the gap of abuse as a church? Really, for now, we need to come to terms with the fact that the church itself may not be able to help or give us the resources we need to survive abuse in God’s way. But, that doesn’t mean that the church, as the body of Christ, doesn’t have people in it to surround and help victims and survivors.
Church Unity, Not Separation
It’s not a time to bash the church, but it is a time to be bold and speak up when it is necessary and appropriate. Our pastors and ministry leaders don’t need to get their degrees in psychology to understand the depth and tactics of abuse. But, when running a biblical counseling ministry within a church establishment, I believe it is crucial for the leaders of that ministry to understand abuse tactics, terms, and red flags in order to teach their counselors and mentors to spot them. This doesn’t mean that they get to “diagnose” abuse, but this helps in the discernment process. The Holy Spirit can come over us at any time to give us discernment (especially when He dwells in our hearts), but He also calls us to be good stewards of what He has given us. In this, I mean that we need to expand our knowledge, even in these hard and uncomfortable places.
There are so many terms, tactics, and red flags to understand surrounding the topic of abuse. It’s unrealistic to think that any one person (whose life isn’t devoted to learning such things) should know all of them. Many don’t realize how beneficial it would be just to know the “main” things that fall into this category, and then know where they can go to look up anything else as needed. It is a team effort. We are to work together, as a body, to protect God’s sheep, this is a job that falls specifically to pastors and ministry leaders, but not exclusively. This is when a team of trusted, Christian psychologists can volunteer to hear cases, and give their opinions, helping church and ministry teams better navigate these waters.
It’s Not Always Easy for Outsiders to See Abuse
Abuse is tricky because abusers make it very hard to detect. Christians and church goers are easy prey for them. It’s easy for them to gain the head knowledge of the Christian life. It’s pretty easy, actually. Even just knowing the surface stuff, and putting it into the right words – bam, super Christian. Abusers are very good at manipulating, and it isn’t easy to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for. But, if you hang out with one long enough, you will begin to see the slips that cause you to raise an eyebrow. The challenge, as Christians, is to not dismiss these slips. We don’t want to be judgmental, so we often tend to veer too far on the side of giving “too much” grace, that we give up our discernment in the process.
Judge the Fruit
We Christians are good at explaining away to find the best in everyone. That can be a sweet trait, but it is also a very harmful one. As we explain away someone’s actions, someone’s sin in order to remain what seems to be the gracious, non-judgmental Christian, we are giving allowance to things that God tells us to turn away from.
There are many fine lines in Christianity, which can become frustrating for those of us who often try in our own might. We don’t realize that we are accidentally slipping back into legalism. I feel like God designed it this way, so that if we ever rely on ourselves, as opposed to Him, we will fail because we can’t do what only He can.
Awareness, Education, and the Gospel
Bridging the gap through awareness is one of my passions. I have seen and heard and been “victim” of some of the well-meaning, yet harmful Christian responses to the life of being abuses. I am a pretty straight-forward person, and I like truth. I am a woman who desires justice, but I don’t (always) lack grace and mercy. I am a big believer of the Gospel being everything it is, not a watered down version, or one that favors grace or truth over the other. The Gospel is both, working together to produce God results.
But, somehow the victims and survivors of abuse are being left behind, specifically by the church. Since it is such a hard topic, it is often approached from the symptoms, but not the cause. Abuse is another symptom of a deeper heart issue, but abuse is often the way these sin issues are walked out. Abuse is one big reason for depression, anxiety, PTSD (and C-PTSD), suicide, and even many physical illnesses (especially chronic, auto-immune, and terminal). Abuse is bullying, racism, human trafficking, and it leads to things like homelessness, rape, war and murder. These are just the tip of the iceberg. We could bring up any issue that plagues the people in the world, and if it isn’t a natural disaster or some illnesses, it can most likely be linked to some type of abuse. And this is why I don’t understand why it isn’t addressed in the church more regularly (or at all).
It’s an intimidating road to walk, and it opens up things that many of us fear. But, God calls us to be bold for His name and for the sake of His people. Helping the abused falls right into His greatest commandments: Love God, love people.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
To reiterate, my message isn’t to bash the church. I believe many are well-meaning, and desire to please the Lord. My motto in learning and growing in everything I have been doing since being out of abuse is “You can’t know what you don’t know, but when you know better, do better.” This is my call for church and ministry leaders to begin to know better in this area, so we can begin to do better in an area that plagues about one-third of the world’s population, if not more. It’s not a call to take the focus off of ministries already doing well, it’s a call to approach many of these through the lens of new knowledge. Heartache comes in many forms, but one of the biggest wounds a person can receive is being made to believe by someone they love that they don’t possess value.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.”
- What is the Church’s Role in Our Suffering?
- What is God’s Opinion of Abuse?
- The One Thing an Abuse Victim Needs to Hear
- The Three Stages of Abuse
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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233