Abuse: Rise Up, Church!

Today I have a guest writer whose story you need to hear: 

^ I'm not even sure if the Hebrew is correct.

But it doesn't matter.

It means something to me.

This is where girls would have scars from cutting themselves in attempts to escape the pain of abuse. But by the grace of God, and by His grace alone, my wrist doesn't have cuts. It says “Daughter of the King.”

There have been a few accounts and testimonies of abuse circling around social media lately, including the Larry Nassar case and sexual assault on campus in my hometown. And I want to help raise awareness for the sake of many victims and survivors of abuse who are being driven out of our churches.

My mom worked in the sex industry. I have seen, heard, and experienced just about every type of abuse. That kind of life was my norm. People who know me wouldn't be able to imagine my connection to abuse if I didn't talk about it, because my scars are invisible. It is a cycle that I was brought into and a cycle that my children are now fighting to escape from.

Why am I talking about abuse? Because 1 in every 3 women has experienced it. Just a few years ago, that number was 1 in every 4. In the church, if 60% are women, that means the statistic applies to 20% of the congregation. Standing on the pulpit, scan the room, section off 1/5 of the audience. There. That's how many. Yet, we don't talk about abuse.

(If it is difficult to grasp the concept, replace the word “abuse” with “bullying.”)

This sin is one of those that fester in darkness because nobody talks about it. Nobody wants to talk about it. Certainly not the perpetrators. And not the victims, because it feels shameful. And the bystanders? Their tendency is to sweep the issue under the rug, because it is simply too uncomfortable of a conversation. Some days, it is easier to put a Band-Aid on a gaping hole and call it a day, while the wounds turn into infections; and before long, you'd have to sever the entire limb. The victims are the ones walking around limbless. And sometimes, the church is the one holding the saw.

You may think for those in the church the incidence is a lot lower. Perhaps. However, abuse sees no socio-economic class, no race, no education level, no position or profession. It happens everywhere. Even at the seminary I attend. Even to the neighbors living next door or the people sitting next to us at church. The truth is, the more affluent a church is, the more likely it is to present a façade, and the easier it is to cover up abuse—or simply, minimize it.

I have been conditioned to always assess situations and environments by how safe I feel before I step into them. And I thought church was supposed to be safe.

You didn't get bloodied or bruised up, they'd say.

Sometimes, I wish that the wounds were more visible. At least in that way, something can be done. But the pain gnaws at my bones. Cutting marks are just minor surface scratches compared with what agonizes inside abused victims, so that they feel and see that pain. No medicine can heal the invisible wounds.

You must have done something to cause it, they'd say.

They put me on trial as the instigator for my own abuse. I learned to blame myself. I learned to suppress my pain. I leaned to avoid and distrust people. It affects every. single. relationship I have, and every. single. relationship that I will ever have, even my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

Forgive, turn the other cheek, and carry the cross, like Jesus did, they'd say.

The “peacemakers” who said such things also became my oppressors. They kept me from speaking up and getting help. I shrank until I was no more. They silenced my voice. Perhaps God wants me dead as well. Does He?

Now I serve at a safe house for women who have gone through all sorts of abuse. As I spent time with them, I was reminded of the verses in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3:

So I again considered all the oppression that continually occurs on earth.

This is what I saw:

The oppressed were in tears, but no one was comforting them;

no one delivers them from the power of their oppressors.

So I considered those who are dead and gone

more fortunate than those who are still alive.

But better than both is the one who has not been born

and has not seen the evil things that are done on earth.

Then the passage ends with this (v. 12):

Although an assailant may overpower one person,

two can withstand him.

Moreover, a three-stranded cord is not quickly broken.

Yet, we stand alone, facing our silent nightmares, with nowhere to turn, nobody to run to. Where are the “three-stranded cords?”

Coming to seminary had been the highlight of my life. Sitting there in chapel on preview day, as I scanned the room, I saw the future of ministry, of God's kingdom. I saw my comrades with whom I will be fighting, pushing back the perpetrating, oppressing evil. I saw leaders who can bring change into churches for people on the fringes of society.

Brothers and sisters, rise up and defend the body. When one part of the body is hurt, let’s rise to protect and nurture it. The church depends on you to stand as a wall of defense against the onslaught.  The church depends on you to speak life, wisdom, and compassion into the broken. The church depends on you to raise up a generation of men and women, boys and girls, who won't tolerate abuse and being abused, a generation that will take actions to prevent it.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself on the issue.
  • Bring in trained organizations to educate the congregation.
  • Learn the red flags.

What do you avoid?

  • Secrecy and cover-ups for the perpetrator
  • Being advisers and counselors without training on this issue
  • Trying to restore relationships using standard practices

Let's face it. Untrained church leaders trying to handle these situations are like those who would try to repair an engine without understanding how it works.

Genesis and The Family Place are Dallas agencies with trained staff and resources. They'd even send out advocates upon request to educate the public on the issue. Most cities have such organizations.

The legal system fails to protect the abused. Many cases are unreported or dismissed. Victims are trapped in this never-ending cycle.

Can we find true sanctuary with the church?

* * *

I was born in Taiwan, grew up in a boarding school in Singapore, and moved to Texas in middle school. My home life had always been very unstable. I was surrounded by all sorts of abuse imaginable. With no parental figures growing up, I started adulting before I was a teenager.

In high school, I lost my identity. I did not want to be associated with the abusive family I was born into. I did not want that blood to run in my body. I wanted to scrub myself clean. That was when a wise woman guided me to realize I can have a new life in Christ.

But my home life did not improve. In fact, I went from my abusive home into an abusive marriage; thus, the cycle continued. After two children, things got worse, and I found myself alone, hospitalized, facing a divorce and a shattered home. In my utter brokenness, God showed Himself to me, healed me, and began to put the broken pieces together. He began to shape my identity in Him.

Journeying with Him brought many abused women into my sphere of influence. From speaking engagements to magazine articles to Bible studies at the safe houses, I was led to become an advocate for women and children who are victims of abuse.

Currently, I am a student at Dallas Theological Seminary studying theology. I burn with a passion to use the story of God’s redemption through my life and experiences to inspire and empower other women through their situations, knowing that God gave us an identity, not as abused victims, but as Daughters of the King.  —Michelle

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.

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