Most of the problems people had, in the churches I pastored, could be traced back to the misuse of sex. Abuse was one of the mayor culprits.
Avance: A Vision for a New Manana, a book that came out several years ago on Hispanic Adventists in North America, stated that 67% of Hispanic Adventists had been abused. Think about that statistic for a moment. If you were a Hispanic pastor that stood up to preach in church last Sabbath, you can safely assume that almost ¾ of the people staring at you, have gone or are going through an abusive situation be it mental, physical or sexual.
I believe this statistic is not very different from other skin colors or nations of origin. While all abuse is damaging, I am thinking especially of sexual abuse as I write today. Here are three recommendations for leaders:
1. Silence is not working.
Its mind boggling to me the deafening silence in many congregations of such a pervasive malady. If tomorrow I told you that ¾ of you congregation had contracted a disease, any disease, the action would be swift and intentional. Why is there so much silence in this topic? Honest, frequent conversations need to happen, from pulpit and classroom about it. The devil loves silence, secrecy and cover-up. Silence is the petri dish where dysfunction is cultured.
2. Anyone can be an abuser. Anyone can be a victim.
Many victims and predators looked like perfectly normal, even outstanding, members of the community and church. The truth is, that usually, predators don’t look the part, only play it. I learned long ago, not to assume anything, discount anything or believe anyone is above being a victim or a perpetrator. Experts in the field tell us, one of the most common mistakes people make is not believing the victim, because the perpetrator is such an outstanding member of society.
3. There is healing in Jesus. There is help available. There is hope for you.
In the last church I pastored, I once preached on the very difficult passage of Tamar and her brother, a story that highlights the pain and consequences of abuse. We offered prayer and help for people in the congregation that had experienced abuse in their lives, following the service in a private section of the church. I thought a handful of folks would search out the professional counselor and ministry staff that would intercede and guide the process. Truth is I was surprised. Men and women. Young and old. Leaders and newcomers. We prayed for them into the night. The healing that took place was not instantaneous, nor was it only a spiritual component to it, yet the fact that the pastor mentioned and started the conversation, helped people begin to deal with an issue long repressed. Referrals were made. Lives, I believe, were saved.
A note to pastors:
Before my wife and I got married, we went to a Christian counselor to deal with painful childhood experiences that would have threatened our union, had they been left unchecked. The healing that took place, combined with our faith in God and our desire to grow from that experience, made a huge difference. Repression, avoidance, ignoring, didn’t work. Identifying, working through it, and moving past it in a healthy way did. I encourage you, pastor and leader, to deal with this issue.
What can your church do? What places, times and venues can foster discussion on this topic? What practical suggestions can you give concerning this topic?
PS: Check out this resource brought to us by Dee Knight:
I recommend the Darkness to Light, Stewards of Children training. It’s the only evidence-based program for PREVENTING child sexual abuse. The training is available online, but much better when facilitated in person, in my opinion. Here’s a link to their site: http://www.d2l.org/site/c.