What do you say to someone who was abused in the church? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was talking with someone on Facebook recently who was making an argument about the Catholic Church and children being abused. I asked the question of if they condemn the public school system. After all, the case of abuse by teachers in the public school system is actually far worse statistically than it is in the church, be it Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox.
That being said, there is one way that it is definitely worse in the church. While all teachers should care for the welfare of children and put the children first, it is far worse when those who claim the name of Christ abuse children. That is directly contradictory not just to a job code, but also to the very faith they claim to represent.
Let’s face it with something I hope we can all agree on. Abuse is evil. Abuse of children is evil. Abuse of animals is evil. Abuse of adults is evil. Abuse is never okay no matter what kind it is.
Now normally, when I dialogue with someone who brings up the abuse scandal though, I often get the impression they’re wanting to just use it to bash Christianity. After all, if abused kids are the problem, then you should equally condemn the abuse in the public school system. As a Christian, I can equally say I condemn all of it. There are horrible people out there who should not be clergy. There are wonderful people out there who I am thankful are clergy. The same applies to teachers. The problem isn’t so much the worldview as it is, well, just people.
The person I was talking to told me they were abused by a youth pastor and prayed to Jesus every night for it to end. So what do you say then? There’s no real grounds upon which to question the story and I can say I can understand how if someone had that happen, they would have a hard time with Christianity.
Note I am not saying it is a rational reason to think Christianity is untrue, but if you are undergoing abuse and you pray and it doesn’t go away, one can understand why one has a hard time trusting God. It’s like people who grew up with abusive fathers and then hear that God is Father. There’s a whole lot to deal with.
So what do you say, especially if you’re not a licensed professional counselor?
Let’s start with one thing you don’t say. “I understand.” You don’t, and when people are grieving and you haven’t gone through a similar experience, you don’t say that. If I met someone going through the pain of divorce, I could tell them I understand how painful that is. If I met someone who had lost a child, I could not tell them I understand that.
One of the other things to do if you are in person is sometimes to not say anything. Just listen. Just be a comfort. Let the person cry or scream or do whatever they need.
I also try to not really answer the problem of evil there. Now on Facebook, this is a bit different since you have to say something. I did make sure to ask regularly if this person had gone to see a therapist. I never got that answered, but anyone who has gone through abuse needs to see a therapist.
I did try to point out that if Christianity is true, there is at least hope. Justice delayed is not justice denied. Someday, those evil people and all who defended them will get justice. Sometimes, the whole church can take part in the cover-up. It is better to them to admit there is evil in their midst and instead blame the, in their eyes, alleged victims.
By the way, this never happened to me, but having gone through divorce and talked to others who have, I know of too many stories where an innocent party was divorced and the church was hardly helpful to them. The church should always be willing to show the love of Christ to those who are suffering.
Ultimately, until a person gets past their emotional wounds, a rational argument really won’t make sense to them or be effective. Definitely pray for them. I have been praying for this person every night ever since hearing about this.
Also, you’re likely to not bring resolution by yourself. You’re a part of a longer chain of people working on an individual. Now it could be you’re the final link in that chain, but don’t presume that. You might be Paul or you might be Apollos. God will bring the growth either way. Play whatever part you have well.
Finally, let’s all do our part to end abuse wherever it may be. Definitely this is so in the church. I have no problem with thorough background checks being done on those who will work with our most precious resource, our children.
And of course, if you yourself are an abuse victim, get help for it. No shame in that. I hope eventually, you will find complete healing in the person of Jesus for what has happened to you.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)