How I found healing after abuse

March 6, 2019

It happened during a road trip to church summer camp. I was about 16 years old, and we stopped for the night at the home of a pastor who had a beautiful house in the country. After a lazy afternoon playing in the swimming pool and eating burgers on the patio, everyone went to bed. I was too excited to sleep and got up for a glass of water. On my way to the kitchen, there he was, reading on the couch.

“Oh Jennifer,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

In my mind I thought, “Oh good, a pastor. Perhaps I can tell him about my abusive dad. Perhaps he’ll understand and protect me. Perhaps I can even stay here.”

Those hopes were quickly dashed.

“When you were in the pool,” he said, “I noticed you acting very sexually. Boys your age are just starting to understand body language. When you tread water in the pool—your breasts protruding under your suit, your figure out there for everyone to see—it catches their attention. You make them think about sex.”

I felt that familiar awkwardness set in; the knowing that something was wrong, the confusion over how to make it stop. The pastor chattered on as if everything was normal. He explained that he’d had this conversation with his own daughters, and it was for my good. When we know our vulnerabilities, he said, we can protect ourselves against them.

“So,” he said, “what would it take to get you to spread your legs for a man?”

I was stunned. For a moment which felt very long, I said nothing, and he stared at me, smiling.

“I don’t feel comfortable with this conversation,” I finally said, and excused myself.

A few weeks later, when I returned home, I told my parents what had happened. “If the pastor won’t protect me from my dad,” I thought, “perhaps my dad will protect me from the pastor.”

Again, my hopes were dashed.

My dad invited the pastor to our home. They had a long talk by themselves. Then I was called to sing a song for the pastor. I played a hymn, and they clapped. It was never spoken of again.

Around this same time, I became friends with a good pastor. He was the kind of teacher you could email theology questions and get brilliant replies. He listened to my teenage problems and made me feel heard. “Perhaps,” I thought, “I should tell him about dad.”

I told him I wanted to discuss college and boys, so he suggested we go to lunch. After placing our orders and making small talk, I said, “My dad has anger issues. Last week, he threw an iron at my head.”

He sat there, stunned, over a bowl of Thai soup, apparently unable to register what I'd said. He knew my dad. They were friends. He said we should pray for my dad's temper.  So, I didn’t even bother trying to tell him what else was going on at home: The domestic violence, sexual abuse, and harassment. As far as I’m aware, he never questioned my dad or contacted authorities.

The fallout

Often when I tried to tell people I was being abused, I felt like I was speaking a different language. My family referred to my dad’s violence as “anger issues,” but when I used that phrase to outsiders, they thought I meant something trivial, not something chronic or dangerous. Nobody asked, “What do you mean?” Nobody dug deeper. My family’s coded language protected my dad from exposure.

But more than any pastor, more than any unseeing friend, my dad dealt the most damage to my spiritual state. He taught me that fathers were violent, apathetic, and perverse. He taught me that men were lustful, angry, and domineering. How could I understand what God meant when he called himself my Father? How could I feel comfortable with the fact that God the Son became a man?

A friend of mine who used to be a pastor experienced similar emotional fallout. After being raped by a professor in seminary, he battled alcoholism and depression, never once telling anyone what had been done to him. To this day, he struggles to remain sober, cannot attend college or trust ministers, and has severe anxiety that prevents romantic relationships. He’s stopped attending church, yet clings to threads of faith, knowing Jesus is faithful and able to heal.

As Jesus says in Matthew 18,

If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine and go look for the one that wandered off? And when he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander. In the same way your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of his little ones should perish.

Our Good Shepherd is faithful to rescue his lost lambs, whether they wander off or are frightened away.

What is a Christian anyway?

For years I struggled with my faith. I wrestled with God and found attending church to be anxiety-inducing. Sometimes, on Sunday mornings, I’d grow so apprehensive I’d throw up. Sometimes I’d make myself throw up, so my husband would think I was sick and suggest we stay home. People who should have exemplified Jesus’ love to me had betrayed my trust over and over, until they’d driven a wedge between me and God.

But abusers and false teachers are not representatives of Christ. As Jesus explains in Matthew 7:16-21, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit . . . Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

In other words, not everyone who calls himself “Christian” is a Christian. Not everyone who calls himself a pastor represents the ultimate Pastor. Not everyone who says he loves Jesus is loving. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing, and there are many wolves in shepherd’s clothes. Understanding this helped me overcome my anger at God and the church.

Because you see, it’s easy to get sick of the house when it’s infested with rats. It’s easy to fear the pasture when it’s haunted by wolves. But understanding that evil people—those who bear bad fruit—are not of God, and do not represent him, helped me see past their sin. Those who leverage his name to prey on his sheep enrage him. Realizing that he is even angrier than I am at those who abuse his children helped me relinquish my rage. I can trust God with vengeance, because he is just.

Every time my faith faded, he rekindled the embers. Every time I gave up hope, he sought me out like a wandering sheep and placed me on his shoulders. Every time I thought, “I can’t do this anymore,” his words held true: “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Deut. 31:6), “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

While abuse scandals rocking the church are harrowing, and demand action, they are no new thing. Long has Christ’s Bride been persecuted, infiltrated by evil men, corrupted, and slandered. Yet Christ will triumph over evil. He will gather up his children and judge the wicked righteously. There is no statute of limitations in his court. In that courtroom I will not be asked to prove that I was abused, because God was there, and God is my witness. While we strive and hope for justice now, we are assured of justice in the end.

In the mid 1800s, Samuel Stone wrote of the church, “Though with a scornful wonder, men see her sore oppressed; by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up, ‘How long?’ And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.”

Whether you are horrified by the revelation of abuses in the church, or are unsurprised because you have fallen victim yourself, you can rest in the knowledge that this present evil age is passing away. Our true home is Heaven. Justice in this world may never come, and will be elusive at best. Healing in this world will never be complete. But there is a day coming when justice will be full and fair, and healing will be total and eternal. My hope is not in the church, though I do still have hope for the church. Ultimately, my hope is in the Jesus who is Lord of the church, and who knows his true church. As Helen Lemmel wrote in 1922, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

You can pre-order Jennifer's book "Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor" here.

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg

Jennifer Michelle Greenberg lives in Texas with her husband and three daughters. She’s the author of the forthcoming book Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse (The Good Book Company), which is available for pre-order at Amazon and TheGoodBook.com. You can read more of her work and hear her music … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24