The most difficult thing to find when you have been a victim of anything, abuse, rape, etc, is a safe church. By safe church I mean a place where 1) You are wholeheartedly believed 2) You have 100% support against your aggressor 3) The emphasis of the church is your healing not the restoration of the person who destroyed you. It’s that last one that does in almost every church.
I have tried for a while now to fully comprehend why it’s more important to hold out a hand to help those who have caused pain than to those who have suffered it. I suspect the church would answer they do it so the person will stop hurting others. I suppose they might even believe that. I’ll be generous.
The truth is, programs that help the abuser, the addict, etc, inflict great emotional and spiritual damage on the victims. A church where the emphasis is on the aggressor is a church where the victim will be revictimized.
See, most programs that are supposedly about recovery have a belief that the aggressor is a victim. Some even go so far as to enforce a teaching of mutual blame. The aggressor can say “I wouldn’t do this if you hadn’t…” Kind of like the belief about rape I was raised with…”If women would dress modestly there wouldn’t be rape.” Of course, this flies in the face of the facts that the majority of females who are raped are older women and young children. Rape is about power, it has nothing to do with sex.
Abuse is also about power. It has little to do with what the victim does, everything to do with how the abuser wishes to wield power over the powerless. Unfortunately, many programs for aggressors refuse to acknowledge that. There might be a hat tip toward personal responsibility, but in the end, the aggressor gets the feeling that he’s not really at fault, that the reason he’s cruel is his addiction or his parents or his unemployment or some other causative agent. He may be told he must take responsibility, but many times he’s also told it’s not his fault.
In most churches, both conservative and liberal, the aggressor is offered the right hand of fellowship. He’s offered a chance at repentance. He’s offered restoration.
In most churches, both conservative and liberal, the victims are offered indifference, or maybe a little pity. They are forced to spiritually release their aggressor from any harm he’s done to them by forgiving them (under the false threat that if they don’t the root of bitterness will spring up in them thereby making them somehow worse than the aggressor in God’s eyes). They are forced to reconcile with a supposedly repentant aggressor and oftentimes sit alongside them in church (and god forbid they try to divorce their abusive husband).
Sadly, I can almost guarantee that if you attend church, these things are happening there. I’ve watched them occur over and over during my lifetime. And I’m still watching them. I’ve personally experienced many of the painful things pastors say and do to guilt the victims. All the while I’ve watched my aggressors stroked and petted as if they were the injured party.
I used to think it was me. There was some sort of spiritual or personal deformity in myself that caused most Christians to shy away from offering me comfort and understanding. Over the last two years I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how holy you are, if you don’t submit yourself to your aggressor, if you become vocal about what happened to you, the church, conservative or liberal, has no place for you. You are labeled unforgiving or told that you are holding onto bitterness because you won’t shut up.
The church, conservative and liberal, does not want to hear about actual evil that is going on, especially inside its own doors. If it did hear about it, it might have to do something about it and that would be tremendously uncomfortable for people who quite honestly do not believe they are called to bear the burdens of others. It’s easier to listen to a sermon about how if you do what Jesus says you will have a peaceful spirit than it is to hear that Jesus has called us to help victims of life’s horrors. Well, with more than 10% and the occasional special offering.
Churches whose emphasis is on reconciliation with the aggressor over tangible help for the victim, more than just “Here’s a list of MFCC counselors outside our church for you to choose from,” more than just “Here’s a number for the local abuse center,” more than, well anything I’ve ever seen the church provide, are not safe places for victims. A victim cannot be fully healed in such a place. I’m pretty sure churches think they are helping, I’m pretty sure they are staying intentionally clueless. The information is out there. We live in the digital age. And you pastors know of victims in your churches, but you never ask them what they need. It’s easier to preach to those people than actually carry their burdens, or to actually stand with them against the person who destroyed them.
In the coming weeks (OK, as my few days off a week allow) I will add a few other things to my list of what makes a safe church. This is number one, though. If a church personally gives more care to the aggressor while farming out the victims it can never be a safe place. I also hope to explore the way we’ve twisted Scripture to make victims feel guilt and aggressors feel relief, and to place heavy burdens on the weak and wounded. And, no, it’s not what any of you think. By the end of my discussion I’m afraid most conservatives will believe me a heretic, and more than a few liberals.