Churches: Ill Equipped to Help Survivors

Churches and Christians often seem ill equipped to help abuse survivors. This is because our religion has trained them to ask, “Is it right? Is it Biblical? Is it sinful? Will it harm our community?”

Whereas an abuse survivor needs to be asked, “Are you safe? Are you healthy? Are you speaking your own truth (and not just hiding behind a false self)? Are you taking steps that are right for you, (as opposed to living life to please everyone else)? What does your “gut”/heart say? Are you sure you are SAFE?

It’s not that most Christians are bad people. These are not even bad questions to ask: in certain contexts, these are exactly the questions to ask. For example, if a person is tempted to run off with his secretary, he aught to think long and hard about whether that would be right, or biblical, and what harm it would have in the larger community.

This is where our religion shines: in the black and white moments of average people tempted to sin. “The Bible says don’t do it.” That clarity has been helpful for many.

But these are not the right questions to ask survivors of abuse. In fact, they are exactly the wrong questions to ask. These questions will tend to re-trigger the deep shame that accompanies trauma. That shame will activate crippling self-doubt and brain fog, causing them to question themselves, doubt the survival instincts that are leading them out of a dangerous situation, and can cause them to robotically shut down and mechanically go back to their abuser.

And when the Christian community has these questions primarily in their minds, they will prevent them from caring adequately for an abuse survivor.

The more combative Christians will seek to silence or argue with the victim. The more thoughtful will withdraw to re-evaluate whether or not leaving is a sin. (This will take some time). Others will just not know what to say, since they lack the time or ability to render judgment on the matter, and they would not want to be caught aiding and abetting a sinner.

All this with the result that the simplest and most profound human gesture — simply being there, in a non-judgmental way, in a time of need — is precisely what many churches and Christians have such difficulty in giving.

Abusers & Victims in the Church

It seems to me that the church has a much better history of protecting abusers than it does in protecting victims.

Among other things, this comes down to the fundamental nature of our religion. Showing grace, forgiveness, and “one more chance” to sinners is at the core of the Christian message. But verses about protecting the vulnerable from attack, leaving a wicked person, refusing to forgive an unrepentant sinner, and calling attention to sin — while they exist — are not front and centre in the Gospel story. It takes significant work and thought to integrate these ideas into our theology. That work is rarely done.

In the mean time, victims are made to feel that they have no voice, that they aught to just put up with abuse, (“submit”) and shamed if they end abusives relationships. If they bring up the debilitating pain of trauma, the PTSD, the flashbacks, the triggers, the anger, the confusion, the intense shame, the loss of joy, the hyper-vigilance, the loss of hope, the lost sense of sense of security, and the loss of hope in humanity that comes with trauma, they are often told to “pray through it,” and forgive. If they find forgiveness hard (especially if “forgiveness” seems to mean reconciling with the abuser, and not holding them accountable for their actions, and being placed in harms way all over again), they are at risk of being called “bitter,” even a dangerous “root of bitterness” to infect others. 😳

Our commitment to show grace and love to everyone is commendable.

But many times, our support of survivors could use some work.

[I see you. I care. Keep holding on. You’ll get through this. One day at a time. ❤️]

Shaming Apostates?

I take serious issue with this meme. What it seems to imply is that if anyone leaves the faith, even due to legitimate harms caused by others, the guilt still lies conveniently on the victim. But there are victims of physical abuse that will never walk again. There are victims of sexual abuse that may never learn to love. There are victims of psychological abuse that have truly lost their minds. And those who have participated in spiritual abuse are not innocent in God’s eyes. In fact, Jesus said, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)
Spiritual abuse is a very serious cause of pain, and the damage can be life-long. I do not think that we should shame victims in this way.