A year ago, I started a series of blog posts on my story about helping an abuse victim and before I was done, I had written 20 posts. If you have not read them and want to, you can start them here. A lot has happened over the past year and when I closed the series, I told you that I would perhaps return to the topic to give brief updates. I want to do that today, likely for the one and only time.
Those of you that followed the series probably noticed that I changed perspectives even over those 20 posts which spanned the year. I started with the perspective that my posts could possibly help the church (when I say church, I am referring to churches in general), but by the end of the series, I was more pessimistic that the church would get its act together anytime soon. In fact, you may recall that I wrote that if you end up as a victim of abuse, you should think long and hard about going to your church for help at all. Likely, they will do more harm than good.
Suffice it to say that I have not changed my mind. In fact, I was struck by this interview with the incredibly articulate Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who started the legal process that would eventually take down US Olympic doctor and child sexual predator Larry Nassar last week. Denhollander is a member of a Reformed Baptist church (her husband is getting his doctorate at Southern Theological Baptist Seminary) and she clearly has a very good grasp of the theological ramifications of sexual abuse. When you read her interview, you don’t sense that she has anything but a healthy perspective that is free of bitterness and yet, she says some things that should make all church members take note and wince. For example:
Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.
Some of you will be quick to discount her but I believe she is speaking truth. She would know; and not just because of her own experience. I personally have gotten hundreds of emails from victims who have recounted the horrors they experienced in their own churches and I have no doubt that Denhollander has received more stories than me.
She goes on in that interview to explain that she and her husband took a stand against abuse in her church (during the Sovereign Grace/C. J. Mahaney scandal) and ended up having to leave when the church labelled her divisive and actually used her abuse victim status against her. And then when asked what thoughts she wants to leave the readers with, she says this:
First, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not need your protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church. Jesus Christ does not need your protection; he needs your obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.
Second, that obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.
I can speak from experience and say that she is right about the cost too. We are happy and healthy and glad to be out of an abusive church; but there was a cost and there are scars.
Now, to give you a brief update:
The victim is doing well though the situation is still far from ideal. We see her often.
Within one year of the divorce, the abuser recently got engaged to be married again. That is disheartening because he is no different than he ever was and is about to ruin another life. I am proud to say that I have friends who have without even knowing her courageously reached out to his soon-to-be victim to warn her of what she is getting into. While there is not much chance that she will listen (who listens to much when they are in love?), she has at least been warned.
The abusive church has splintered. The patriarchal deacons that treated the victim so poorly ended up picking a pastor that would not go along with their absurdities. They could not even manage to get along with him for a year. They all packed up and left a few weeks ago, effectively creating a church split and at least from a financial perspective, probably ending the church’s ability to continue. The few remaining members are not blameless because some of them should have risen up against the abusive leadership in our situation; but when grading on a curve, they are clearly the good guys for the most part. Yet they are the ones that are ending up the most harmed, picking through the pieces of a shattered church.
With the abuser getting remarried without missing a beat and the patriarchs moving on to start their own church after wrecking another, I suppose this chapter ends like some movies where the good guys seem to lose and the bad guys never see justice. I guess I could feel depressed about that but I don’t. That is the way abuse plays out almost all of the time. I have finally learned that our situation was never destined to be some kind of special exception. I have also learned slowly over the last year to let it go.
And I have…