what I want you to know: how the church handles sexual abuse

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. (If you are new to this blog, regularly schedule programming will resume after the holidays, but you can check out the “Best Of” section in the meantime). If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by Danielle.


What I want you to know is that the way the church views sexual abuse and teaches (or lack thereof) its congregation about how to handle sexual abuse is often misguided and misconstrued. I want you to know that our lack of understanding as Christians fills me with an unholy rage. Childhoods are being ripped away.

Every 2 minutes (in the United States alone) someone is sexually assaulted.  I have visited well over 15 churches throughout the course of my lifetime. Of all my visits, only 2 churches have discussed the ramifications of sexual abuse and how we, as Christians, should react. Unfortunately, I know more women who have been sexually abused than I can count on one hand. Does anyone else sense just how devastating that is? Of all the women I know who were sexually abused, all but one experienced the sexual abuse during childhood. Two of them had perpetrators were well-revered members of their church communities. Two of these brave women told me that the abuse they suffered is the reason they don't believe in God. After all, what kind of a loving Creator would allow such atrocities to happen to such innocence?

The most angering experience I had in a church was when I visited one in Chicago while an undergrad. One of the first sermons I attended discussed sexual abuse. At first it was pretty on-par with what I believe. By the conclusion, he entirely lost me: "Both the sexual abuser and the abused need to ask for God's forgiveness for their sins. The victim's body is a temple and by being abused they have desecrated their temple. Therefore they need to seek God's forgiveness for the sins against their body." I think I was in shock. I didn't know how to process it. It tore my heart in two.

If I could go back, the things I would say to this man. Is the body a temple? Yes. Do you honestly believe God would expect a victim of sexual abuse to ask for forgiveness for "their role in the act"? No way. I can assure you that no sexual abuse victim was a willing participant. That's why it's called abuse. This pastor was so ignorant of the ramifications of abuse. I will forever regret not speaking out because I truly believe his words were not God's. I've witnessed the heartbreak. I've cried with the victims. The pain is insurmountable. Sexual abuse is devastating.

So, as a church, what can we do? We need to discuss it. Silence just reaffirms the victim's mentality that it was somehow their fault when it so clearly wasn't. We need to develop a deeper understanding of it so that when we do discuss it we do not speak damaging, unholy words. We need to provide sexual abuse victims resources to cope with their trauma. But most importantly, we need to love the victims and support them unconditionally: we need to show them Christ's love. It's not our job to make anyone believe in God. However, I truly believe that if we personify Christ's love that so many more will want to seek Him out. I also believe that true and total healing can only be found in Christ. And sexual abuse victims need total healing more than just about anyone I've ever met.

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