My Response to CREC Internal Inquiry Questions: Part III

In this post I'll answer another of the questions I was asked by members of the panel of the CREC Internal Inquiry. The first two posts in this series can be found here and here. There will be one final post after this one.

In light of your experience, what would you tell other churches to do when sexual abuse is discovered in their midst?

As a rule, every church should have a system in place in the event that sexual abuse is discovered in their midst. I've linked to the statistics before, but here they are again. Sexual abuse has taken place in your congregation, whether or not you are aware of it. 

When church leaders are made aware of sexual abuse in their midst, immediate action is required. In this post I am speaking specifically about cases in which it is discovered that one congregant has been abused by another congregant. 

It is my belief that a pastor's primary and immediate obligation is to inform the victim (or the victim's parents, if appropriate) to contact the local authorities right away. This ensures the safety of not only the victim from their abuser but other members of the church/community as well. There should not be a waiting period where this is concerned. Police first, everything else later. 

Once the police have been contacted and legal action is in motion, the church has an obligation to inform the rest of the congregation of the crimes that have been committed in their midst. (This should be done with utmost discretion if minor victims are involved or if any victim desires privacy, as it's extremely important to respect the victims and not unnecessarily expose them.) The rest of the congregation deserves to know what happened so they can take appropriate measures to protect themselves and their families. Additionally, if any other members of the congregation had previous contact with the criminal it may be necessary for them to make sure no one in their family was abused. 

Keep in mind - the abuser, the church leaders, and the victim may all desire privacy for very different reasons. The victim's desire for privacy should be protected, but this is not an excuse for a church to sweep things under the rug. It is a tricky task to inform a church of the dangers in their midst while also protecting the victim, but it is the church's duty to do this very thing. 

In conjunction with informing the congregation of the nature of the crimes committed and the name of the criminal, loving, judgement-free care for the victim is essential. 

While cases of sexual abuse vary from one situation to another, one thing is certain: the effects of sexual abuse are far-reaching and devastating. Professional help is required to ensure healing can begin, and therapy is often required for years after abuse. Churches should offer resources to local therapists who specialize in sexual trauma. If a victim compensation fund is not available or if the victim's family cannot afford to pay for therapy, the church should offer financial support to help the victim pay for therapy. 

Spiritual counseling may also be necessary for a victim, but there must be a focus on loving the victim and not offering judgement of any kind. The focus should in no way be on how the victim has "sinned" or what part the victim played in their abuse. Any victim of sexual abuse has likely spent a great deal of time buried in shame and guilt. Abusers use a systematic process of shame and de-humanizing to maintain an environment ideal for abuse to continue, once the abuse has ended the road to healing must be paved with empathy and acceptance. Offering judgement-free counseling does not imply that the victim is a perfect person, it shows an understanding of the nature of abuse and tells the victim they may begin healing, unfettered and without blame. 

The victim must feel safe. Every church should have vetted, trained victim advocates. A victim advocate is someone who offers information and resources, emotional support, and may even attend court with the victim, offer transportation, or help the victim find a safe living situation, if necessary. Just a small handful of caring, trained individuals can make the difference in whether or not a victim feels cared for and valued or rejected and shamed. (It's important to note: most sexual abusers are men, and it may take many years for a victim to trust a man again. While abuse advocates certainly may be male, a victim should be able to choose whether they work with a male or female advocate and every church should have a capable group of female advocates equipped to respond to abuse situations.)


Working with victims of abuse is not an easy or quick task. It takes a great deal of time, dedication, patience, sensitivity, and education. Churches must not be safe havens for abusers, and the well-being and healing of the victim should be the top priority. Trust should never be readily offered to the accused, instead church leaders should believe the victim by default and then put forth serious efforts to find out exactly what happened so they may understand how best to help the victim and the rest of the congregation. 

Where the criminal is concerned, applying guilt and punishment should be left to the state and this process should not be interfered with by church leaders. The church is neither jury nor judge, their focus should be on ministering to the wounded. Let the police do their job. A loud message is sent to victims when members of the church write letters of character recommendation for their abuser or otherwise defend their actions. It tells the victim this is not a safe place for them. Any actions taken toward aiding the victim are not likely to be trusted if the church is simultaneously defending the accused. 

Saying a church should stand with the victim is not to say the abuser is undeserving of grace and no longer belongs in a church, but serious protective measures must be put into place. I understand this is a sensitive part of the discussion and perhaps an issue for another post altogether. The issue lies in offering the abuser a chance to continue telling their story, something they've been doing all along by means of the abuse. Rehabilitation for abusers cannot mean that victims continue to be robbed of their voices and made to feel unsafe. I do think it's possible to offer grace to the abuser, though this may look different from case to case. 


This is a great article on how churches should respond to sexual abuse in their midst: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/scandal-silence?utm_source=hootsuite

http://www.netgrace.org is also an incredible, rich resource for handling & preventing sexual abuse in churches. 


As a victim of long-term childhood sexual abuse and as a former member of a church which made costly mistakes in the handling of my abuse, these issues are of utmost importance to me. As awareness is raised and voices are united, I believe changes will be evidenced and I am hopeful that more churches and communities will learn how to respond to sexual abuse in an appropriate way which promotes healing and safety for victims.  

Comments

  1. And let me be the first to say that you, Natalie Rose Greenfield, will be remembered as a key part of this systemic change in evangelical, fundamentalism. It is coming, steadily, clearly. Children and women will not be discarded in outmoded models of love. Of all Doug Wilson's posts on his blog regarding these matters, (all that is I have been able to read up to his recent banning me from connecting to his server) yours here reflects a love-your-neighbor-as-yourself Christianity, far and away beyond what Pastor (sic) Wilson defines as real Christianity with Wilson fangs.
    Well done. I have no concept of what you have suffered to achieve this, to endure this far but you have my deepest respect and support. You are a remarkable human being. As a survivor of IFB, I am so grateful you are here.

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    1. So the star of the nationwide blockbuster (ahem) movie "The Free Speech Apocalypse", the guy who is all about free speech, banned you. Apparently you are one of many. As with everything else, Mr. Wilson operates in a "well, it's different with me, I don't have to really practice what I preach" world. And I want to echo what Brian said, Natalie. Your eloquence and strength are an inspiration.

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  2. The focus should in no way be on how the victim has "sinned" or what part the victim played in their abuse.

    This is problematic. Those churches which follow the doctrine of Original Sin often can't work past the belief that sin is involved in everything that happens, and that sin is the cause of sin.

    While abuse advocates certainly may be male, a victim should be able to choose whether they work with a male or female advocate and every church should have a capable group of female advocates equipped to respond to abuse situations.

    Many churches do not believe in putting women in positions of authority, which could block the idea of using women, especially in such a sensitive position.

    To you and me your suggestions seem mere common sense. But I have a strong feeling that they won't be adopted by the churches that most need them.

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    1. Original sin affects perperator and victim equally, and both are atoned for by the work of the cross so it should be treated as a non-entity. Victims of abuse should, in no way, be held responsible for their perpetrators' actions.

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    2. I'd like to address the second issue you raised first. The assertion that having a woman as a victims' advocate might be unsuitable because of headship and male authority is absolutely appalling! Is the Kirk truly so backwards that such a statement need even be addressed? I personally hold the traditional Reformed view of male authority over the church (ie women cannot be pastor, elder, or deacon). I also agree that the husband is the spiritual head of the household.

      What I have never understood, nor have found any Biblical proof for, is that women are to have no voice in the Church. This certainly was NOT the case during Christ's ministry on earth. I am a member of of my congregation as is my husband, but we both have a voice & a vote in congregational meetings. (No, I have no delusions of grandeur that the CREC will come around on this in my lifetime.)

      However, women are teachers, help with Sunday School for little ones, and have careers outside the home. Training women of compassion and wisdom to become victims' advocates ought not be anymore of a challenge to the Kirk's patriarchy, than placing an R.N. on a disaster preparedness committee.

      The notion of male headship and authority should be kept to the spiritual leadership of the Church. Church leadership is tasked with providing for the best care of Christ's flock. The overall health of the congregation should be handled by the most qualified person, not the most male. Some examples: a female C.P.A. can give of her talents to the church a tax time, an R.N. her medical skills put to use for the physical safety of the church, a psychiatrist/psychologist to the emotional health of the flock for matters that are not related to salvation (grief, anxiety, depression, etc.).

      An advocate with specialized training in helping a victim of abuse ought to be encouraged by the church. There us no authority in such a position! Rather it is providing a safe harbor during a storm for a person who has been victimized and traumatized. When a child or woman is the victim (often at the hand of a man) that victim is more likely to find safe harbor with a woman. Church leadership should be most focused on what is the best for its sheep!

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    3. On the first point :

      "...there must be a focus on loving the victim and not offering judgement of any kind. The focus should in no way be on how the victim has "sinned" or what part the victim played in their abuse." ... "Offering judgement-free counseling does not imply that the victim is a perfect person, it shows an understanding of the nature of abuse"

      Natalie is NOT stating that a victim of abuse is perfect or without sin. She makes the distinction quite clear. Rather she is saying that those who would endeavor to counsel the victim should AT NO POINT cause the victim to feel as though the abuse occured in part because of something the victim said or did to "deserve" what happened. Original sin has no part to play in the couseling of a victim beyond stating that they are hurting because of a fallen world and not a malicious Creator.

      The church ought not engage in "victim-blaming" or "victim-shaming". This type of response happens more often than not, unfortunately. Comments like, "well if you hadn't allowed yourself to be alone with him" or "did you do or say anything that may have encouraged his attentions," only serves to further harm the person who has been abused! Particularly in a situation where an adult has abused a child. This goes back to my first lengthy point. The person counseling a victim of abuse ought to have specific training to do so.

      A pastor does not always have the requisite training to appropriately counsel congregants in every situation. A wise man knows when to seek outside help. The pastor may spiritually counsel a victim but probably (as is clearly evidenced in Natalie's case) does not possess the education, training, and expertise to provide help towards meaningful healing.

      As is made plain in Moscow, the leadership was only successful in causing MORE harm.

      Wilson did not understand the way these offenders get away with their sinful crimes. They do so by taking advantage of everyone around them and by emotionally and psychologically breaking down the victims of their abuse! They spend weeks, months, or years grooming/conditioning their victims to think that the abuse is normal and acceptable. The way they continue is by making their victim believe they have done something wrong and therfore deserve what is happening to them. This creates an environment of fear and anxiety that should the victim speak out about what is happening to them; a) no one will believe them, b) people will think it is the victim's fault, c) the vicim's family and friends will be ashamed of rhem and will abandon them, d) or all of the above!

      My prayer is that these men who proclaim tbe Gospel from the pulpit would be as concerned for the well being of their flocks as they are with the outward appearance of their dynasties.

      My prayers are most fervently for those, who like Natalie, have been wounded by not only their abusers, but also by the "ambassadors" of God's Word here in this temporal world. These men will have much to answer for when the LORD calls them to account, for their burden to be faithful stewads is tremendous

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  3. Great question to ask AFTER the "investigation" is completed. I mean, seriously that's the top concern of the "investigation."

    The question is such a nebulous query about some mythical maybe church where "sexual abuse is discovered in their midst."

    How about we step back a pace and realize that Randy Booth was appointed to his top position in the "investigation" by the guy he's "investigating."

    How about the guy "investigating" and the guy being "investigated" wrote a book together on justice?!?!

    How about the guy "investigating" had his son's pecadillos covered up and whisked out of town mid-way through his teaching stint by the guy being "investigated"?!?!"

    These were a few of my concerns when I wrote the "investigation" committee and Randy Booth assured me that:

    "Our committee does plan to make use of independent experts in order assuage concerns that this process is not thorough or free of interference from the parties requesting it. Our desire and plan is to follow the facts wherever they lead and to address them honestly and directly. We love Christ and His people."

    So, has that happened? Has Boz Tchividjian been called? Oh, no, that's right the guy being "investigated" tried excoriating Boz on his "personal- though-linked-to-his-church-website." And we all know that the guy being "investigated" always gets to call the shots in the fake justice system of the church as opposed to the real world.

    Natalie, once again you have answered questions with grace, wisdom and clarity. And now it's up to Randy Booth to pretend he cares.

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  4. Extremely well articulated-thank you for these posts.

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  5. I can't even find words to keep telling you how awesome you are. You're amazing and so strong. Stand tall and fight on.

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  6. 'As a victim of long-term childhood sexual abuse and as a former member of a church which made costly mistakes in the handling of my abuse, these issues are of utmost importance to me. As awareness is raised and voices are united, I believe changes will be evidenced and I am hopeful that more churches and communities will learn how to respond to sexual abuse in an appropriate way which promotes healing and safety for victims.'

    Amen! It is so sad to me that you ever went through this but I am so thankful for your perspective and care and concern for others facing your same circumstances. I hope and pray victims find your site and realize they are not alone and there are others willing to state the TRUTH about abuse!

    Much love to you and your family!

    Mary

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