By / Dec 13

Most people look at me and see a cliché soccer mom from the suburbs trying to keep all the plates spinning: raising five kids, looking for that perfect Pinterest Instant Pot recipe that everyone will enjoy, racing to basketball games while practicing spelling words in the car, all while trying to squeeze in a weekly — OK, let’s be honest, monthly — date night with my husband. It’s the daily grind filled with small moments of joy, stress, pain, grief, and celebrations that many American families experience.  

What people would be surprised to learn is that my life didn’t always look so idyllic. I grew up in the 80s, amid the divorce boom. Every parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle I knew was divorced. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad, and overall, in addition to divorce, I experienced addiction, abandonment, abuse, and general dysfunction throughout my childhood. These experiences gave me the desire to break the generational cycle of dysfunction in my own life.  

My childhood also gave me great empathy for those who have endured similar struggles. It opened my eyes to ways in which the church supports its flock — like the way Jesus ministered to the woman at the well. Unfortunately, my experience of growing up with great instability and dysfunction has also shown me ways in which the church has room for growth. I have seen the church respond with both empathy and judgment, and it has caused me to pause and ask myself, “In what ways are we doing well, and in what ways can we do better?”

Growing and thriving

There are many ways in which the church is caring well for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction. In past generations, some in the church perpetuated the notion that Christians must “have it all together.” Believers succumbed to an underlying pressure to look, act, and be perfect. This perfection drove many believers to live secret lives of sin and shame — to hide their addictions to pornography, drugs, sex, food, and alcohol, among others. And struggles with pride, anger, depression, mental illness, and more were pushed below the surface. When they perceived they could not confront their sin in a safe and healthy place, they fed their sins until they were bloated with depravity and buried under a heap of guilt.

Today, I see a shift. The church is actively acknowledging that we — Christians included — are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Preachers used to preach it from the pulpit, but now local churches are putting Scripture into action by providing a welcome place where people can process their sin, pain, and grief through programs like Celebrate Recovery, GriefShare, DivorceCare, and other local, faith-based recovery groups.  

I also see a shedding of the stoic exterior once worn by the baby boomers and Generation X. And I believe we have the millennials and Generation Z to thank for that. While the older generations tend to conceal their emotions, the younger generations revel in vulnerability and authenticity. They view openness and sharing their feelings as a strength, not a weakness. They are creating a culture of open dialogue through life groups, discipleship, and mentors, which is helping everyone within the church feel less ashamed and more apt to confess their emotional struggles, familial baggage, mental health issues, and spiritual doubts and confusion. This mentality of vulnerability — along with the ability to acknowledge one’s sin—cultivates a field ripe for more authentic relationships with Jesus and with each other.

Room for improvement

But there is still so much the church can do to improve how it cares for people who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and overall dysfunction.  

First, we must realize that those in church leadership are not above these issues. We must provide safeguards and accountability for our staff, elders, deacons, teachers, and the entire church body (because anyone who steps foot in the church building becomes a leader in some form or fashion). These safety measures can come in the form of accountability partners, prayer partners, and life groups, all of which must be shrouded with truth and grace.

We also need to shake off the attitude of “that would never happen to me.” We think dysfunction occurs in someone else’s family and life until our spouse has an affair, our teenager becomes addicted to drugs, we get addicted to prescription pain killers, our daughter struggles with an eating disorder, or our husband looks at pornography on his work computer. We believe these things only happen to other people until we are sitting on our counselor’s couch asking, “How did I get here? Where did it all go wrong?” The truth is, we are all one bad decision away from living a completely different life.

Next, we need to embrace the sinners among us with truth and grace. Instead of having the Pharisees’ hypocritical attitude of judgment (Luke 6), we should have the attitude of Paul who realized he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  Fred Rogers once said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” Wrong judgment ends when listening begins. When we hear someone’s story, we understand them a little more. When we understand, we empathize. When we empathize, we can offer them the help they need.  

Instead compartmentalizing our faith — consciously or unconsciously — to Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights — we must follow Jesus into the messiness of other people’s lives. We need to listen to the hurting, weep with the broken, hurt with the sick, and cry with the grieving. Due to my family’s circumstances, I lived with a friend’s family during my sophomore year in high school. Later, during my senior year in high school, I lived with a different friend’s family. These families saw a need, and they met it. This is the church — seeing the messy and the broken and putting it back together. Not just when it’s convenient, but when it’s needed. 

So, what can the church do to help those who have experienced abuse, addiction, abandonment, divorce, and general dysfunction?  We can listen and empathize. We can get involved for the long haul. We can point people to Scripture instead of offering pithy, empty clichés. We can be on guard and accept that these traumas can happen to us, even though we live in middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, we have a college education, or sit in the front row at church every Sunday. We can intentionally focus on connection and discipleship, and we can do all of this while offering authenticity and vulnerability along the way. 

By / Oct 8

Clergy and laypersons within the Catholic Church in France sexually abused hundreds of thousands of minors over the past seven decades, according to a report published on Tuesday by an independent commission. The commission concluded the problem in the French church was far more pervasive and systematic than previously known. According to their findings, “The Catholic Church is the place where the prevalence of sexual violence is at its highest, other than in family and friend circles.”

How many victims were uncovered by the report?

The commission that produced the report identified around 2,700 victims through a call for testimony, and thousands more were found in the Church archives.

But the report estimates a total of 330,000 victims. Out of that number, an estimated 216,000 people (65%) were abused by priests and other clerics. The remaining 35% of victims — an estimated 114,000 — were abused by other church figures, such as scout leaders or camp counselors.

The estimates are based on a broader research by France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research into sexual abuse of children in the country.

What is the period the abuses occurred?

The report covered a span of 70 years, from 1950 to around 2018. The height of the abuse was 1950–1970; 1970-1990 was a period in which the abuse appeared to decline, and the early 1990s marked an apparent resurgence.

Who were the perpetrators of the abuse?

According to the commission, there have been around 2,900–3,200 suspected pedophiles in the French church over the last 70 years. This group included priests, nuns, monks, deacons, Boy Scout leaders, and parochial school staff. 

Cases of abuse occurred primarily in areas of low religious practice, where there was less oversight of the clergy.

Who were the victims of the abuse?

Most of the victims were boys between the ages of 10 and 13. The study’s authors estimate 80% of the church’s victims were boys, while the broader study of sexual abuse found that 75% of the overall victims were girls.

Based on previous studies of French society, about 14.5 % of women and 6.4% of men suffered from sexual violence in their childhood. Acts of sexual violence committed by clerics, monks, or nuns represent just under 4% of this total. Those committed by persons connected to the Catholic Church (including laypersons) represents 6% of the total. 

Who produced the report?

The report was produced by the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE), a 21-member commission established by Catholic bishops in France at the end of 2018. The commission worked independently from the church in conducting their investigation and creating the report. No clergy from the Catholic Church served on the commission. 

Data collection was organized by three research teams, and hearings and interviews were conducted by the members of the CIASE.

What was recommended that the Catholic Church do in response?

Over the greater part of the period studied by the CIASE, its observations show that the Catholic Church’s attitude could be summarized as “one of concealment, relativization or even denial, with only a very recent recognition, dating from 2015, and even then, unequally accepted by dioceses and religious institutions.”

The CIASE presented 45 recommendations in their report, which cover a broad spectrum ranging from listening to victims, reforming canon law, recognizing crimes committed, and providing reparations for the harms inflicted. It also makes suggestions regarding church governance, the training of clergy, the prevention of sex abuse, and dealing with the perpetrators. 

The report also encouraged French bishops to consider the ordination of married men and to give “a far greater presence of laypersons in general, and women in particular” in the church’s deciding bodies.

Earlier this year Pope Francis issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults. 

By / Sep 24

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent recap the SBC Executive Committee trustee meeting, the FDA approval of Pfizer booster, Morman churches requiring masks, the United States special envoy to Haiti, how a woman with Down syndrom lost a court case against abortion, how marines rescued a woman trapped in flood, and why Chick-Fil-A was removed from the Kansas City airport. They also give a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Brad Hambrick with “What Joseph’s story teaches us about abuse, forgiveness, power differentials, and wisdom,” Daniel Patterson with “How to approach parenting with wisdom, grit, and gospel focus: 4 helpful features of Full Circle Parenting,” and Jason Thacker with “What online pornography debates teach us about morality and governance.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. SBC EC responds to task force
  2. EC members grieved by recent meeting; optimistic about path ahead
  3. FDA gives approval to Pfizer’s booster shot
  4. Mormon Church to require masks
  5. US Special Envoy to Haiti resigns amid deportations
  6. Woman with Down syndrome losts court case against abortion law
  7. Chick-fil-A removed from KCI Airport

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By / Sep 24

This month two SBC committees, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Board of Trustees of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), held meetings in which they addressed concerns related to sexual abuse. 

During the recent 2021 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting, a motion was made calling for an “audit and assessment of sexual abuse within the SBC.” That motion was referred to the ERLC. Acting ERLC president, Brent Leatherwood, said the ERLC was the appropriate entity to initiate the assessment, and that the staff were eager to begin work on the project

The trustees voted unanimously to move forward on the motion by saying, “We wholeheartedly support the intent of this motion and are committed to taking the necessary steps to secure the best oversight team and funding required to complete a comprehensive and thorough assessment, including the allocation of ERLC reserve funds to help offset the costs as needed.”

The ERLC board allocated $250,000 as a “first commitment” toward the project and assigned the ERLC staff with three tasks: 

  1. Present for approval by the full board an advisory committee with broad representation to help oversee and execute the study process;
  2. Begin working with other SBC entities and organizations to develop partnerships and funding for the study; and 
  3. Develop a scope of work, for approval by the full board, and gather proposals from qualified independent firms to complete the study.

At the Annual Meeting, the messengers of the SBC also called for an investigation into sexual abuse responses by and coverup within the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (EC). Although the EC had commissioned its own independent inquiry through Guidepost Solutions, the messengers made a motion to transfer oversight of that investigation or launch an additional one to a new task force. On Sept. 9, 2021, the task force announced that Guidepost Solutions was retained to conduct the independent assessment and investigation regarding the EC. 

The mandate, as directed by the SBC motion, is that Guidepost will investigate:

  • Allegations of abuse by Executive Committee members
  • Mishandling of abuse allegations by Executive Committee members between Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Allegations of mistreatment of sexual abuse victims by Executive Committee members from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Patterns of intimidation of sexual abuse victims or advocates from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021
  • Resistance to sexual abuse reform initiatives from Jan. 1, 2000, to June 14, 2021


The messengers at the 2021 Annual Meeting instructed the EC to abide by the recommendations of Guidepost, up to and including the waiver of attorney-client privilege.

This week, the EC held its first meeting since the Annual Meeting in June. The EC is tasked with carrying out the work of the Convention and promoting the general work of Southern Baptists in the interim between the annual meetings. 

Although the EC does not control or direct the activities of Convention agencies, such as the ERLC or IMB, it reviews their financial statements and recommends the Convention’s annual operating budget. In addition, the EC receives and distributes the monies given in support of denominational ministries, acts as the recipient and trust agency for all Convention properties, and provides public relations and news services. 

The EC is composed of 86 representatives chosen from qualified states and regions. Officers of the EC are elected from these representatives. To carry out these duties, the EC also employs an executive and professional staff in its Nashville offices.

In this week’s meeting, following hours of deliberations, several significant actions occurred. A vote to waive attorney-client privilege failed 55-20, raising concerns the board had undermined the “will of the messengers.” The EC eventually authorized funding the Guidepost budget of $1.6 million. A request by the EC was also made for the Task Force and EC officers to agree on a contract in seven days, which will be September 28th. The motion said this was to be done “without waiving complete attorney-client privilege at this time” but is “being fleshed out through negotiation.”  

A motion was approved to get an outside legal option to look into the conflict of interest regarding the Convention and EC lawyers. The law firm Friday, Eldredge & Clark was retained to study these potential conflicts of interest in relation to the SBC’s legal counsel. Another law firm, Locke Lord, was also hired to aid with the forthcoming independent review. Additionally, the EC approved a motion to fund the SBC Executive Committee legal fees related to the independent investigation from the committee’s operating reserves. The approval was for up to $500,000 with the requirement that the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development must be notified when half the funds have been expended.

By / Sep 22

Let’s start this chapter by admitting that we like to use hyperbole — extreme examples to clarify our points. We Christians may be particularly fond of it when we’re illustrating an important theme of the gospel, such as forgiveness.

Is hyperbole bad? No, Jesus used it (Matthew 5:27–30). Can it be used poorly? Yes. But before we get to the problem, let’s consider the purpose of illustrations. We use illustrations to make points clearer. If illustrations don’t make our point clearer, then they’re not good illustrations — they’re distractions. Sometimes this just results in ineffective teaching. Other times, it can be harmful to those being taught.

Imagine a father explaining forgiveness to his son. He uses the illustration of when his wife (the child’s mother) forgave him for having an affair. The dad may be making theologically rich, well-articulated, and skillfully applied points about forgiveness. But the illustration is a distraction. All the kid can think is, “Are my parents getting a divorce? Are we going to have to move?”

This is what we frequently do when we use criminal or traumatic offenses1Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses. as illustrations of what it means to forgive. When we recount the testimony of someone who has been raped, beaten, or similarly offended forgiving the person who abused them, we are putting every survivor who hears us in a comparable position as the son in the illustration above.

When, in a ministry context, we talk about someone forgiving their rapist, we are not providing legal or counseling advice on how to respond to the experience of rape. When we give an example of someone forgiving an abusive spouse or parent, we don’t explain what happens when you call Child Protective Services (CPS) or how to make a safety plan.2For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com But because survivors only hear their experience discussed in church as an illustration of forgiveness, they begin to think “just forgive” is the only guidance God has for them.

A good rule of thumb is don’t use these kinds of illustrations if you do not have the training or time in your sermon/lesson to provide substantive guidance on how to respond to a criminal or traumatic experience. If we are going to use illustrations of this emotional weight, we must be willing to devote the time the subject matter requires. It is pastorally irresponsible to do otherwise.

Illustrations with criminal offenses

When using an illustration or testimony involving a criminal offense, the following points would need to be made (this list is representative, not exhaustive):

  • It is right and God-honoring to report such an offense to the authorities (Romans 13), that is, the police.3If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • If children are not involved and the thought of reporting is hard, it is wise for a survivor to talk to a counselor experienced in working with abuse/rape survivors because these are legitimately difficult decisions.
  • Choosing to pursue legal action against criminal activity is not an expression of bitterness or unforgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is one part, and usually not the first part, of the healing journey after the experience of abuse or rape.
  • When you reach the point that forgiveness is the next part of God’s healing process for you, forgiveness does not mean trusting or placing yourself in the position to be vulnerable again. If the person who hurt you demands trust or leverages the Bible against you, they are continuing to be abusive.

These points take time in a sermon or lesson. Admittedly, they steal the thunder from a point about forgiveness. But realize, without these clarifications, the “thunder” of your message will be haunting to someone who has not had the opportunity to process their experience.

Illustrations with traumatic experiences

When using an illustration or testimony involving an offense that is traumatic, the following points would need to be made (this list is also representative, not exhaustive):

  • Painful memories are not the same thing as bitterness.
  • Hypervigilance after a traumatic experience is not the same thing as a lack of faith.
  • Flat emotions after a traumatic experience does not mean you’re unloving, apathetic, or not worshipping.4If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • Seeing a counselor experienced in working with trauma survivors can help a survivor learn to manage the emotional fluctuations that often occur after a trauma.
  • Forgiveness does not erase memory. For offenses that are disruptive when remembered, Miroslav Volf’s book The End of Memory can be a helpful discussion of forgiveness.

Again, these kinds of points do break the momentum of your sermon or lesson. But to the person who has experienced the kind of things you are using as an illustration, that “momentum” feels like an avalanche. To the person who is learning to manage their trauma, slower is safer. If we are going to speak of their life experience, then we should do so with the tenderness that experience requires.

This chapter forces us to consider again where we began this book — forgiveness means someone has been hurt. Criminal and traumatic offenses mean that there are more consequences to this person’s pain.5If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.  We need to take this into account when we teach on or talk about forgiveness.

Considering these things, take a moment to read Psalm 23:1-4:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (emphasis added)

Why did I choose to emphasize the word walk? It is a pacing verb. It reveals the pace at which the Good Shepherd is willing to go. The Good Shepherd moves at the pace that is best for the sheep. The scary setting — the valley of the shadow of death — does not rush the pace. The health and ability of the sheep set the pace. Sheep with a limp traverse the valley more slowly.

If we are going to be accurate ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, we must prioritize our ministry efforts the same way. We cannot let our zeal for the destination cause us to harm the sheep who have been entrusted to our care. That is what this chapter has been about: helping us pace our illustrations about forgiveness to the needs of those who have been hurt.

Questions for reflection

1. When have you seen an illustration become a distraction? If it was around a sensitive subject, how did it detract from the care agenda of the person teaching?

2. How does the pacing verb “walk” of the Good Shepherd help you understand the pastoral significance in discussing criminal and traumatic offenses in the holistic manner recommended in this chapter?

Excerpted from Making Sense of Forgiveness © 2021 by Brad Hambrick. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

  • 1
    Most offenses that are criminal are traumatic, but not every offense that is traumatic is criminal. What needs to be understood here is that criminality (legal process) and traumatic nature (healing process) of recovery from hurts of these kinds are different from normal day-to-day offenses.
  • 2
    For guidance on how to pastorally care in these situations, consider lessons 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7 at https://churchcares.com
  • 3
    If you want to understand more about how Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 6 harmonize with each other, consider reading “Why Is It Inappropriate (and Dangerous) to Alert an Alleged Offender of Abuse before Calling CPS and/or the Police?,” bradhambrick.com, April 16, 2019. 
  • 4
    If you are unfamiliar with the common symptom clusters that frequently emerge after a traumatic experience, consider watching step 2 in this resource on trauma: “Post-Traumatic Stress (Seminar Videos),” bradhambrick.com, September 25, 2015
  • 5
    If you are prone to the rebuttal, “But aren’t we all equally sinful? Criminal sin doesn’t need to be double-dipped in the blood of Jesus, does it?” I encourage you to read “We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic,” bradhambrick.com, October 13, 2017, http://bradhambrick.com/we-are-equally-sinful-we-are-not-all-equally-broken-or-toxic/.
By / Sep 20

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Joseph as a powerful example of forgiveness and restoration. It is that. But it is not a simple, flat story. It is a complex story that spans a lifetime. It involves family drama, multiple betrayals, and political theatre. It is not a story we can apply as simply as Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Grapes. The story of Joseph is no simple children’s story.

Tracing the theme of power

Maybe one of the most dangerous misapplications in the story of Joseph occurs when it’s cart-blanche applied to how an abuse victim should respond to their abuser; as if it is a simple one-to-one application. What needs to be understood in order to apply Joseph’s story wisely to cases of abuse? We need to begin by tracing the theme of power throughout the story.

Initially, Joseph has the power. He is his father’s favorite son (Gen. 37:1-11). This means he doesn’t have to do the worst family chores, and he gets nicer clothes than his brothers. Joseph does not steward his power well. He flaunts his power and chides his brothers. By modern, American legal standards, Joseph’s actions were interpersonally offensive (i.e., rude). We would say he needed to repent, but we would not call the police.

Later, Joseph’s brothers have the power. They out-number Joseph and they are older and, therefore, physically stronger than Joseph. Joseph’s brothers do not steward their power well. They beat their brother, throw him in a well, and sell him as a slave (Gen. 37:12-36). By modern, American legal standards, Joseph’s brothers’ actions were criminal — kidnapping and human trafficking. We would say they needed to repent, and we should call the police if we learned of comparable actions.

In the final scene, Joseph has the power again. He is second in command to pharaoh and controls the distribution of grain during a famine (Gen. 42-50). We applaud Joseph because he is the first person in this sequence who uses his power to bless and redeem instead of abuse and demean. Reading this part of the story, we want to be like Joseph and want everyone else to be like Joseph, too. When we hear from someone who has been through hard times, like Joseph went through hard times, Joseph comes to mind as a great example to follow.

Forgiveness and restoration in Joseph’s story

Let’s make another distinction before we try to make wise application of Joseph’s story. When Joseph famously says to his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good” (paraphrase of Gen. 50:20), two interpersonal activities are occurring: forgiveness and restoration. Because these two responses so frequently travel together, we can easily view them as two sides of the same coin, rather than independent actions.

Forgiveness is the removal of relational debt. Restoration is engaging a relationship as if the relational debt did not occur. To illustrate the difference, if you allowed a friend to borrow your car and they wrecked it by driving carelessly, forgiveness would mean not requiring them to pay for damages, but restoration would mean letting them borrow your next car. You might do one without the other.

In Genesis 50, Joseph is both forgiving his brothers (not throwing them into prison) and being restored to his brothers (inviting them back into family relationship). If we cavalierly use the story of Joseph as an example for abuse survivors to follow, we are communicating that it is good and safe for survivors to do both. Implying their life will turn out like Joseph’s life if they do.

Is restoration wise for an abuse victim? 

So, why was it wise for Joseph to do this, but maybe not for an abuse victim? The answer has to do with power.

It was good for Joseph’s soul to forgive his brothers. It honored God and gave Joseph freedom from bitterness. We can say with confidence that this is what God wanted for Joseph. We can also say with confidence that God was patient with the journey. It took Joseph 13 chapters (Gen. 37-50) and approximately 24 years (best guess from Bible scholars) to come to this place of forgiveness. We should be equally patient in advising survivors to forgive.

But what about restoration? Why was restoration wise for Joseph, and when would it be wise for us? Notice that the power differential that allowed for abuse had been balanced. Joseph was no longer “little brother.” Joseph was no longer outnumbered 11 to 1.

When we are caring for an abused friend considering restoration, a question we should ask is, “Has the power differential been balanced in this relationship?” If repentant, an abusive person who has leveraged power to harm someone will diffuse those power dynamics. An invitation back into an imbalanced relationship is an unwise offer to accept.

This means we must understand the kinds of things that create power in relationships: positional authority, access and control of money, age, social standing, education, etc. A near universal prerequisite for abuse is power differential, and the abuse of power makes other sin more consequential.

For example, if your accountant embezzled money from your bank account, this is more consequential than your child’s friend stealing the same amount of money left on your kitchen counter. The accountant used their position, authority, education, and social standing to get privileged access to your bank account. Even if you forgave the accountant (which would be good for your soul), you would not restore them with the pin number to your checking account.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of power, I would highly recommend Diane Langberg’s presentation at the ERLC Caring Well Conference. But, with even a basic understanding of power and abuse, we can better understand why a tearful and articulate abuser who insists on maintaining factors that gave them power is most likely not repentant. There is strong reason to believe they are like an emotional accountant wanting your social security number. They are not doing what is within their power to debunk this concern.

This is what makes Joseph’s actions in Genesis 45 an example to follow. Do you notice what Joseph did? He broke the cycle of power. He did not relate to his brothers as the VP of Egypt who had temporary guests. That would have maintained his power. He invited them into a family (power balanced) relationship.

Yet, even in this story, we notice that before Joseph restored relationship with his brothers, he took steps to vet whether greed, power, or fear would cause them to relapse into their old pattern (Gen. 44). He wanted to be restored, but he also wanted to be wise.

So, what are our takeaways from this reflection?

  • Don’t rush a survivor to forgive. Rushing godly responses is not good pastoring.
  • Do understand the power differentials in an abuse case. Unless we do, we will make sloppy application of Scripture.
  • Do set the expectation that power balancing is necessary to make restoration wise. Anything less is not addressing what made the abuse possible.
  • Marvel with a new perspective at what Jesus did to allow restoration with us.

This article originally appeared here

By / Jun 11

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss how many messengers are registered for SBC 2021, Rick Warren’s retirement, Joe Biden’t trip to the UK, the birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s daughter, and cicadas causing chaos. They also cover new ERLC content including Darby Strickland with “4 reasons why women stay in abusive relationships,” Catherine Parks with “What are the ethical concerns with noninvasive prenatal testing?,” and Jordan Wootten with “Why the fear of the Lord is good news.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Over 16,000 pre-registered messengers for #SBC21
  2. Rick Warren announces retirement from Saddleback
  3. Joe Biden heads to UK for his debut overseas trip as President
  4. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce the birth of their daughter
  5. But is the name controversial?
  6. Cicadas causing chaos
  7. CIcadas ground White House press plane

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By / Jun 9

When we encounter abuse and grapple with the evil it perpetrates, many people often wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes the question comes with the judgment “It’s her fault if she doesn’t” The question is better framed as “Why is she choosing to stay?” There are 4 reasons why I have seen women remain in abusive marriages. As we consider each, I will suggest things Christians can do to support victims.

1. Victims can struggle to see the severity of the abuse or the danger they are in. 

This is very common since oppressors use a cloud of confusion, blame-shifting, and manipulative tactics to maintain control. The result is that victims believe the abuse is their fault, isn’t that bad, or doubt their own memories. Or sometimes, victims wrongly attribute their husband’s behavior to stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors. Discerning the presence of abuse is hard for everyone- harder for those living amidst it.1Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.

Victims need our help to understand both the dynamics of abuse and the specifics of how they are playing out in their marriage. Here are a few ideas on how to patiently and gently share these critical insights. 

  • You might help a victim track incidents of abuse by keeping a log or encouraging her to journal. 
  • Lead her to see that the abuse always serves a purpose for her spouse- like when he flashes anger, he gets his way. 
  • Show her where scripture calls abusive behaviors sinful and speaks to how oppression violates God’s design for marriage.
  • Complete a safety assessment with her to discern her level of danger.2https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf

It can take months, even years, for her to see what you see, so continue to find creative ways to guide her to make an accurate assessment of her situation. 

2. The victim lacks family, community, and church support

They have likely floated the idea of leaving to their trusted circle or have heard teachings frowning upon divorce. The result is that many victims fear that if they separate from their spouse, their faith community or friends and family will judge them. Not only is it difficult for victims to lose friends and familial relationships, but the disapproval of others often results in paralyzing shame. Sometimes victims already find themselves alone since abusers work to isolate their victims. Being devoid of community means she will not have the support she needs to meet future challenges like single motherhood, income loss, divorce, and healing from trauma. Or worse, suppose her faith community has imprinted on her heart that seeking a divorce is sinful. In that case, she will fear that leaving means even God will not come to her aid.  

This is where faithful friends and church leadership can step in. They can help her search God’s word for what it says about his hate of oppression, his promises to rescue his people from oppressors, examples of godly people (David, Abigail, Paul, and Jesus) fleeing danger or teaching on when divorce is biblical. 

Not only is the church equipped to help her answer her spiritual questions they are also able to bless her with the needed resources and personal support. Diaconal funds are one way a church can help. But they can also provide things like babysitting, prayer support, intentional friendships, or needed guidance with surprises like car repairs. When churches lovingly participate in the rescue of a victim, it showcases the Lord’s heart for her. It also puts it on display for her children and other victims who are similarly wrestling with staying or leaving. 

3. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman

Victims instinctively know that if their abuser senses he is losing control, there is the potential for him to go to extremes, which can even mean killing her. In one study, researchers interviewed men who murdered their wives. It found that threats of separation or the act of separation were the precipitating event. Moreover, victims might not just fear for themselves. Many abusers have threatened to kill themselves, the children, or a beloved pet if she leaves. Find out what she is afraid of by asking her directly what she thinks will happen if she goes. You can help connect her to a Domestic Violence expert or shelter.3Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse? They can develop a plan to remain safe both while she remains in the home and if she flees abuse. When there is the potential for danger, leaving can mean going into hiding or taking months to plan. All of this is daunting; hence some women choose not to take risks and remain with their abuser. If she decides to stay, continue to care for her, keep reviewing her safety plan and remind her you are willing to help if there is a day she wants to make the choice to flee. 

4. Leaving abuse is extremely difficult and costly. 

Usually, victims agonize and pray over what to do for weeks, if not months and years. Fleeing abuse brings victims new and intensified challenges with their income, children, stability, and other relationships. So, after thinking over the potential costs to them and their children, they choose to stay. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Financial challenges (Their abuser might control the finances, provide the only income, or have destroyed her credit.)
  • Many women fear leaving their children alone with an abuser as joint custody is usually awarded. Additionally, they may fear of losing custody or anticipation parental alienation
  • The belief that two-parent households are best for children
  • They feel that the good times outweigh the bad times. 
  • They have nowhere to go or lack resources. 
  • The effects of trauma on a victim (depression, anxiety, PTSD) might be overwhelming.
  • They have hope that their spouse will change.
  • They believe that divorce is not an option.
  • Fear of not being believed or that the justice system will not rule in their favor

Seek to understand why a victim is choosing to stay. It is easy to think, “I would never put up with that!” or “I’d be out of there.” But until you live under the crushing terrorizing reality of abuse, you really do not know what you would do. Every choice comes at a steep cost. In some cases, you might be able to help ease the suffering, for instance by helping her find a job or housing. If a victim chooses to stay based upon her convictions or children, she will continue to need your support. 

While these are the four main challenges that impact a women’s decision to stay, they are not exhaustive. But they help us see that any step a woman takes to address her abuse will, at least temporarily, make her and her children’s lives more difficult. The very act of sharing her story with you is a tremendous act of courage. It signals progress is being made as evil is brought into the light. This allows you to connect a victim in her anguish to God regardless of whether she stays or goes. 

I know how hard it is when walking with a victim to fear for her. Pray, and patiently persist with a victim until God grants her clarity. Seek to extend her the same patience that God has extended to you (Ex 34:6, 1Tim 1:16), but also entrust her to God. He is always on the move rescuing his people from oppression (Ps 9:9; 72:4; 103:6; 147:7-9).  

  • 1
    Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.
  • 2
    https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf
  • 3
    Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse?
By / Mar 4

As an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, we are privileged to come alongside Southern Baptist churches in various ways. From Capitol Hill to the pew, we engage with SBC churches as they live on mission in their local communities, displaying the Kingdom of God to a watching world. 

One of the most important initiatives we have worked on in the past two years is the Caring Well Challenge. As we’ve said many times, churches should do everything they can to be a refuge for those who have experienced abuse and to protect the vulnerable among them. Which is why over the last two years, we have come alongside the many Southern Baptist churches who have taken the Caring Well Challenge and why we will continue our efforts to resource and equip churches to care well. So many church leaders have recognized their need to protect their children and vulnerable from the sin of sexual abuse. Whether it’s how they screen volunteers, or set up classrooms for VBS, we’ve heard from churches large and small that the free resources at CaringWell.com have helped them better understand abuse dynamics and prevent abuse. 

As we’ve all seen, pastoring in a pandemic has created untold stress and fatigue for our church leaders. Some are unable to meet in person at all, while many are meeting with various restrictions like multiple services to allow for smaller gatherings. Because of these factors, some churches aren’t able to have a kids ministry right now.

We are thankful that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, even if a “return to normalcy” is still several months away. So as we prepare for churches returning to normal, the ERLC is honored to be able to come alongside these SBC churches who are making great strides to prevent abuse at their churches. To the church leaders who are taking the issue of sexual abuse seriously, we are grateful for you and offer our help in any way that we can.

Learn more about the free Caring Well Challenge and how your church can be safe for survivors and safe from abuse at CaringWell.com.

By / Dec 23

The ERLC, together with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group of the SBC, has continued working to try to prevent more terrible instances of abuse from happening in the future and to care well for victims. That’s why we wanted to focus this issue of Light Magazine on educating and equipping Christians to stand against sexual abuse and advocate for the safety and care of those within our churches.

Too many have been hidden in plain sight as victims of abuse, and it is our prayer that our powerful and compassionate Father would use efforts like this magazine to bring hope, help, and healing to the ones who should have received the dignity and respect they deserve as those made in God’s image.