By / Mar 19

“I’ve never shared this with anyone.” 

“My husband thinks I’m crazy because I can’t seem to get past this. It affects our communication, our intimacy, how we parent.” 

“Every time I walk into church, I feel like I’m going to throw up.” 

“I don’t know where to begin.” 

These represent common responses from women who participated in support groups for survivors of abuse and trauma.

In recent years, we have seen the light of truth and justice shining into dark corners where unspeakable things have gone unchecked. Sometimes the light shines brightly, exposing whole systems of oppression. Other times, it breaks through the night slowly and quietly, one story at a time.

We can affirm the many ways churches are seeking to equip themselves for greater understanding and compassion toward the abused and traumatized. And yet, as we are confronted with statistics of abuse and trauma survivors, we can acknowledge the reality of the work before us.   

As a woman in the church with a masters degree in counseling, I sensed a call from God several years ago to come alongside those recovering from abuse and trauma. I long for people to experience healing from whatever suffering plagues them. 

Over the past two years, I facilitated five women’s groups to process the experience of abuse and trauma. Each group of 12 women met weekly, spending 90 minutes at each session for six weeks. Two of the groups met in local churches, and the other three were conducted in an online format with women from across the country. I’ve been able to observe and learn several things during time with these incredible women. 

Healing in story

A few weeks ago, a new friend asked me to tell him my story. He had heard a small piece of my personal background, and it prompted him to want to know more. With warm eyes, he inquired of me, and I found myself comfortable sharing with him. As I finished, he looked directly at me and said, “It’s not supposed to be that way. Our God is grieved by that, and I am very sorry you experienced that.” The offender has never acknowledged it, and likely never will this side of eternity. But something was restored in my heart that afternoon by one person being willing to listen empathetically and acknowledge the wrong done to me. 

While telling our stories does not absolve the offender of responsibility, it can serve as a reminder that God hears us and cares deeply about our stories. His own Son spent a great deal of time listening to the stories of those who had been mistreated, abandoned, and abused. One account we find in Mark 9 of a father bringing his son for healing serves as a vivid example of Jesus inviting the man to share his story. He offered dignity and restored hope to those who felt alone. 

One way of being ambassadors of light is by providing a context for hope and healing through engaging with survivors’ stories and helping them find meaning in the larger narrative of God’s story. That’s what the support groups seek to do, honoring each person’s story and cracking the window just enough so that light can start shining into the darkness. 

Healing in community

The groups I facilitate take a whole-person approach, giving consideration to the intricate ways the body, mind, and soul have experienced abuse or trauma of various kinds. My hope is that they offer a compassionate and safe space to begin processing what recovery might look like. The groups are not intended to be a substitute for individual counseling or other specialized forms of trauma care. The primary aim is to provide a Christ-centered perspective on healing in the context of a supportive community. 

Standing by a survivor requires empathetic people who can feel their feelings, absorb their pain, and walk alongside them for the long haul.

Many of the women who participate in these groups have never opened up to anyone about their abuse and trauma. They have pressed on with life while greatly affected by how their bodies and minds respond to the trauma. Shame becomes a recurring theme. Some have found themselves unable to hold jobs or maintain intimate relationships because they never processed their experience. Some have faced compounded or secondary trauma after sharing their story with someone who diminished them with a quick platitude like “forgive and forget,” or worse, abusive statements like “move on!” or “keep quiet . . . don’t stir up trouble.” We must offer a community that builds trust and listens well.

Important elements to remember

Understanding several critical elements will prove helpful for anyone seeking to care for abuse and trauma survivors.

Oppression and abuse reach far wider and deeper than we can imagine. The power structures in place within our churches can often create an atmosphere where abuse can be miscategorized or hidden as “anger issues” or a “marriage problem.”

Survivors need a multi-pronged approach to healing. They need a support system including trauma-informed therapists, counselors, doctors, friends, advocates—a community who will speak hope and truth back to them when the voices of darkness whisper doubts and accusations.

Each experience of abuse or trauma is full of nuances. There is no one-size-fits-all model for healing. Approaching the survivor with a canned format for counseling or support creates the potential for retraumatization. Continuing education and training, growing in empathy, and being an active listener are critical to the helper’s ability to adapt to the unique needs of each survivor. Two resources that are helpful for learning more at an individual and church level are and

A survivor doesn’t always know exactly how he or she feels or what he or she wants. Their identity has been so skewed and silenced by oppressors that the survivor may not have a vocabulary for processing the experience. Acknowledging this helps us approach he or she with greater patience and compassion, particularly because it reminds us that there may be confusion as they share their story. Indecision or fluctuating emotions are common responses from survivors. As they encounter someone who remains steady and committed to patiently listening to them, they may begin to gain clarity about their feelings and be empowered to make decisions about next steps.

Walking alongside a survivor requires patience. We should only engage someone in their story if we are prepared to offer the care necessary to walk through it with them. Standing by a survivor requires empathetic people who can feel their feelings, absorb their pain, and walk alongside them for the long haul. We should not sign up to care for a predetermined length of time, but must be willing to be there for the long haul.


I share what I have heard and learned and continue to learn from survivors so that when a survivor chooses to share his or her story with a friend, there is a deeper awareness out of which the friend can listen, support, and help provide a context for healing. Survivors will need a multipronged support system in the healing process. One person cannot play all those roles, but if we are invited into the support system by a survivor who shares their story, may we bring hope.

By / Aug 13

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Aug. 13, 2019—More than 40 abuse survivors, experts, pastors and abuse prevention advocates will address participants at the ERLC’s fifth annual National Conference: “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis,” Oct. 3-5 at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas. 

Throughout the conference, speakers will participate in keynotes, panel discussions and breakout sessions to provide helpful information and practical steps for ways churches can confront abuse and defend the vulnerable within churches and communities. 

Members of the national press are invited to attend the event. Please email Elizabeth Bristow at [email protected] for a FREE registration promotional code.

2019 National Conference confirmed speakers include: 

  • Russell Moore, president, ERLC;
  • Gary Haugen, CEO and founder, International Justice Mission; 
  • J.D. Greear, president, Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor, Summit Church;
  • Beth Moore, author, Bible teacher, founder of Living Proof Ministries;
  • Rachael Denhollander, attorney, advocate and educator;
  • Diane Langberg, psychologist and international speaker focused on trauma survivors;
  • Jennifer Michelle Greenberg, speaker and author of “Not Forsaken;” and
  • Jackie Hill Perry, writer, poet and artist with Humble Beast Records.

The conference will address a variety of topics, including how churches should receive and respond to accounts of abuse, information on key partners such as law enforcement and social services, how churches out to guard against abuse and care for those who have experienced abuse and many other areas as well.

The conference will be presented in partnership with the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. The Advisory Group was formed in July 2018 and tasked with considering how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernible action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as foster safe environments within churches and institutions. 

By / Feb 27

A Pennsylvania Catholic priest raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and arranged an abortion. Bishop James Timlin wrote a letter of sympathy after this traumatic situation, saying,

“This is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.”

But the bishop’s letter was not directed to the traumatized girl. It was actually sent to the priest.

This and many other horrific stories have recently emerged in the wake of a wide-ranging 884-page grand jury report that documents hundreds of cases of sexual assault and abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. Not only that, but the latest news stories seem to be filled with example after example of prominent leaders, actors, or politicians who have been accused of sexual abuse or sexual assault.

Unfortunately, this issue has also escalated amongst Southern Baptists, as has been seen in the recent Houston Chronicle report on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. The #MeToo moment has drawn significant attention to an issue that has flown under the radar too often for many churches. That’s why I am thankful that Southern Baptist Convention president J.D. Greear announced 10 calls to action for Southern Baptists on sexual abuse.

The national statistics on sexual abuse are overwhelming.

  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • One in three women and one in six men experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.[1]

The most common places sexual predators search for victims is in youth activities such as school, sports, and church. This is not just a problem “out there” in the culture. It has impacted people in our pews and people we are trying to reach with the gospel.

The need to address sexual abuse in the church

In 2018, J.D. Greear announced the formation of a Sexual Abuse Presidential Advisory Group. The purpose of the study group, according to Greear, is “to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.” As I have led this effort for the ERLC, we have discovered eye-opening insights from survivors, advocates, pastors, and churches. What is clear from this study group is that churches desire to get this issue right but often don’t because they lack confidence or competence.

Furthermore, churches lack confidence to address sexual abuse because they don’t feel equipped to address it. While 58 percent of pastors say the #MeToo movement has made their congregation more aware of how common domestic and sexual violence is, only about 55 percent of pastors say they are familiar or very familiar with domestic violence resources in their community. And half say they don’t have sufficient training to address sexual or domestic abuse.[2]

If a predator came to your church in hopes of grooming a child to sexually abuse, how confident are you that your church’s policies, procedures, and personnel would successfully deter him? If an incident of sexual abuse or assault occurred in your congregation, how positive are you that your church would be able to respond and minister well in the aftermath?

If a woman from your community came forward to a staff member or lay leader in your church and confided that she still faces trauma from the rape she experienced in college, how sure are you that he or she would be ready to minister well to her?

How can the #MeToo moment that the culture is facing be turned into a movement that results in lasting change in the church? It is important for churches to review policies, improve procedures, train personnel, and minister to people. But the need is more foundational: Churches need to understand why this issue matters in light of the gospel and how this issue should be addressed in light of the gospel. Specifically, we need to embrace a clear understanding of how the gospel shapes our approach to sexual abuse in five significant ways.

First, churches must care for survivors. Sexuality was created by God for our good. When it is practiced within the boundaries of marriage, it leads to true human flourishing. Understanding the beauty of what God designed should lead us to understand the devastating effects of sexual abuse on victims. For example, one victim abused as a child by a priest “was so violently raped when he was [seven] years old that he suffered injuries to his spine. [He] became addicted to pain medication, and eventually overdosed and died.”[3]

The lingering effects of sexual abuse cannot be overlooked or minimized. The trauma experienced by a survivor of sexual abuse should drive us to compassionate ministry. Many survivors have never told anyone before, so when they do, they need to be met with support and care that assures them they are not alone. Because it is often hard to share, we must be sensitive to vague, delayed, or partial disclosures.

When a victim does share, we should listen to a victim’s story and respond calmly, while avoiding questions that might shame the victim. There is no quick fix to trauma, so we will need to walk patiently with him or her, allowing time for grief. Failing to appropriately respond can bring greater pain to a traumatized individual. Unless we approach issues of assault and abuse by prioritizing the care of victims in our churches, we will not be able to effectively address the issue.

Second, churches must confront sin. We must call sexual abuse sin. Since we understand God’s design for sexuality, it would be sad if the world were more willing than the church to name and address the atrocity and brokenness of sexual abuse. Because of the Fall, we should not be naïve or shocked by sexual abuse. Moreover, the original intent in creation and the hope of redemption should keep us from ignoring or covering sexual abuse. Instead, both should allow us to confront it.

Our testimony is at stake: properly dealing with sin reflects our theology of God and the gospel. Sexual abuse is not just an issue related to sexuality; it is fundamentally rooted in the misuse of power. Authority for selfish gain is never appropriate in the eyes of God, especially when it comes to sex. When leaders or celebrities offer remorseful, half-hearted, non-apologies for their actions, it provides a backdrop for churches to discuss what genuine repentance and sincere apologies should look like.

Confronting sin also means being honest when something goes wrong in the church. A church must evaluate what went wrong when abuse occurs in order to make appropriate changes, report the abuse, own their errors, and apologize appropriately. Even if the incident occurred years before, it is never too late to do the right thing.

Third, churches must seek justice. Abuse is not just sin. It is also a crime. Consider these startling statistics I heard at a Ministry Safe Summit:

  • A child on average has to tell seven adults before one actually makes a report to authorities.
  • Only two to five percent of allegations are false.
  • Only three percent of abusers are ever prosecuted.

The comprehensive report on child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania demonstrates the injustice of a systematic cover up by church leaders of the extensive abuses. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”[4] The main concern was with avoiding scandal. The problem included a broken system that empowered and protected predators. And children suffered grievously as a result.

Churches need to be more concerned about dealing with sexual abuse in a way that demonstrates justice and care for victims than with lawsuits or the damage that scandal might produce. We should not wait to investigate allegations as a condition of reporting. When in doubt, report. Reflecting the God of justice, the church must seek justice for victims of sexual abuse. We must take sin seriously and recognize sexual abuse is a sin issue and a crime that needs to be dealt with in the legal system.

Fourth, churches must protect the vulnerable. As we embark on our efforts to address this issue, we must have an unwavering commitment to protect the vulnerable and never tolerate any form of abuse. Many churches now require criminal background checks and have a child-check-in system. These are great first steps in addressing the problem, but more needs to be done.

Churches can protect the vulnerable by requiring sexual abuse awareness training, thoroughly screening church staff and volunteers, considering the specific context of the church, continuing to monitor and give oversight to their programs in this regard, and by improving strategies and ministry for future incidents. These steps may make it harder to give volunteers a name tag, but even if it deters some volunteers from serving, protecting the vulnerable is worth a small inconvenience. The call for church leaders to shepherd the church certainly entails protecting the children from the potential of sexual predators.

Fifth, churches must equip the saints. The previous four steps take sexual abuse seriously and also demonstrates to a congregation that the church is a safe place—both in preventing abuse and in getting help for those abused. In addition to this, the church should teach members how to respond when a friend from small group or a child in AWANA shares they were abused. An individual traumatized by sexual abuse will likely tell someone close to them who is trusted. That may be a counselor or a pastor, but it will often be a friend.

As a result, we need to train the people in the pews who will likely have the first conversation with a victim. They need to know how to care well for each survivor. Help first responders know how to model empathy and action. Their first instinct should be to take the stories of victims seriously. We have a God who cares for the most vulnerable and hears their cries; his people should be characterized by this as well. The church should be the place where victims of sexual assault find help and hope in their time of desperation. Training on how to identify sexual abuse and respond to survivors will help church members navigate a difficult topic in a Christ-centered and compassionate way.

Churches need to actively address sexual abuse by caring for survivors, confronting the sin of sexual abuse, seeking justice, protecting the vulnerable, and equipping the saints. One church recently made a bold move in addressing sexual abuse in their congregation. Although there were no known instances of abuse in their church, they hired an independent investigator to see if there were abuses they were unaware of. They knew that the church had to respond to this #MeToo moment in a way that brings about lasting change.

The pastor of the church stated in an interview, “The Church in America has been so afraid of ‘being attacked’ by our culture that we cover up anything that doesn’t make us look good.”[5] He continued, saying, “We want to be a safe place for people, both a place for those who have experienced abuse, but also a system that prevents it in our context.” This pastor understands that the church doesn’t need to cover up sexual abuse to maintain God’s reputation. In fact, addressing sexual abuse gives us the opportunity to proclaim we are great sinners in need of a great Savior and demonstrates the character of our God to a watching world that is taking the brokenness of sexual abuse seriously.

This article originally appeared in Light Magazine.


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By / Dec 11

The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault. In fact, biblical law shows how the Lord takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 safeguarded the survivor of sexual assault from being unjustly blamed or ignored. In ancient Israel, this law established a pattern, an ethical framework by which God’s people could discern specific situations that it didn’t specifically address. And, like all of God’s laws, it reveals his character.

Isolated and overpowered

Deuteronomy 22:25-27 presumed the innocence of the unbetrothed woman who was sexually assaulted. This law notes that she was found in a field, a contrast to the previous law in vv. 23-24, which occured in a (presumably) populated city. The scenario describes a woman who was isolated from help.

Along with the location described in this law, the language is also significant. Unlike either of its two surrounding laws—both of which address the category of a woman’s guilt or innocence in sexual integrity (vv. 23-24; 28-29)—Deut 22:25-27 includes the Hebrew verb chazaq, which, in this form, implies violence.[1] Chazaq can refer to the violent overpowering of another person,[2] and, in the context of this text, describes coercive force, i.e. rape.[3] The two accounts of rape in the Bible that occurred after the Law was given—The Unnamed Concubine in Judges 19, and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13—both include this word, chazaq.[4]

Biblical law was revolutionary for the dignity of women.[5] Scripture recognized rape as a violent crime. In fact, biblical law  considers rape on par with murder. She was the non-consenting victim of premeditated violence.[6] The attacker alone is held guilty. Because she was overpowered and did not consent, the victim is considered blameless.[7]

Consent is the key factor here. Many women who have been assaulted share how they froze during the attack. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t even scream. And they didn’t even understand why. In the aftermath, they wonder if they did something wrong. I believe this passage of Scripture comes to their defense. The issue was not how the woman expressed her lack of consent. The issue was that she did not consent. She was overpowered, exploited, and unwilling. And, according to the principle expressed in this law, she was innocent.

Another aspect of this law rivals our modern Western culture: The woman was believed on the basis of her testimony. Biblical law sides with and defends her, despite the lack of witnesses. This law not only found her blameless, but also allowed no inference that she was at fault for the attack. In other words, the problem was not that she had done something to be assaulted; the problem was that someone assaulted her.

Our responsibility

For the Israelite woman who was raped, this text ensured that she was heard. She was believed. These laws created an environment in which a survivor of assault already knew that she would be safe and protected by the community. In our own communities, this should reinforce our responsibility to treat accusations of rape as credible.[8]

After analyzing reported cases of sexual assault over a 10-year period, a 2010 study found that between 2 and 10 percent of accusations were false.[9] Yet, even this fails to represent the rarity of false accusations, since it only includes reported cases. This same study also found that many victims of sexual violence did not report the crime because they “did not think anything would be done about it.”[10]

Biblical law sets a different precedent. When the survivor of assault revealed what happened to her, she would be believed. The people of God came to her defense. The severity of sexual assault in biblical law compels us to hear, protect, and defend the dignity of every woman, especially the one who breaks her silence about rape.

God was not silent about rape. He defended the woman who had been sexually assaulted. He believed and protected her. And so must we.


  1. ^ Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament [HALOT] vol. 2, ed. and trans. M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994), s.v. “qzx.” seize, grasp, catch with violence. This action that is amplified by the verb’s root meaning (i.e., seize or grasp with strength, or make/become strong [against]) Francis Brown, Samuel R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [BDB] (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), s.v. “qzx.”
  2. ^ Other appearances of qzx in the Hiphil stem also signify violent force. qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which describes a woman who, in an attempt to help her brawling husband, seizes the genitals of the man with whom her husband is fighting. This verb is also used to describe David’s attack and seizure of a lion or a bear that had taken one of his lambs (1 Sam 17:35) and the battle in which David’s men seized their opponents and stabbed them (2 Sam 2:16). Perhaps most notably, qzx in the Hiphil stem appears in the narrative describing Tamar’s sexual assault (2 Sam 13:11). Incidentally, the 2 Samuel 13 passage does not use the terms bkv (v. 23-24) and fpt (v. 28-29) to describe the rape.
  3. ^ Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, New American Commentary, vol. 4 (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1994), 305. This point is also noted in Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 295.
  4. ^ Concerning the Unnamed Concubine (Judg 19), qzx appears in reference to the Levite, perhaps a device employed by the narrator to convey his guilt. And, describing the rape of Tamar, qzx ((2 Sam 13:11, 14) appears twice, conveying the incident’s forceful nature. In light of this, one may reasonably conclude that subsequent biblical narrators understood this contextual use of qzx to mean sexual violence, and therefore, coercion.
  5. ^ Compare biblical law with the Codex of Ur-Nammu from Sippar, which determined the attacker’s punishment according to the woman’s social status [James R. Baker, Women’s Rights in Old Testament Times (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1992), 4.]; or Middle Assyrian Law, which allowed the father of an unbetrothed rape victim to abuse the wife of his daughter’s attacker [Milestone Documents, “Middle Assyrian Laws,” A55, accessed April 23, 2016,
  6. ^ Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 249-50. “Like the victim of homicide who is forcibly overcome in a premeditated hostile act, a woman raped in the field is also a victim of force and premeditated hostility. Such a victim cannot, therefore, be considered a consenting party to the act.” Craigie: “As in a murder case, the woman was an unwilling victim of an attack; she suffered as a result of that attack, but was in no sense culpable.” Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
  7. ^ In the interest of space, I won’t address Deut 22:28-29 here, except to say that the Hebrew describes an entirely different scenario than a sexual assault. Most of our English translations mistakenly say verses 28-29 depict a rape. The Hebrew tells a different story. For a full treatment of this law, please read chapter 5 of my dissertation, “Old Testament Laws Concerning Particular Female Personhood and Their Implications for Women’s Dignity.” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, 2016).
  8. ^ This is not to imply any endorsement of mob-rule, or the eschewal of the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. Rather, it is to affirm that, statistically, most reports of sexual assault are indeed credible. False accusations do occur, yet, as criminologist Freda Adler has noted, “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.”
  9. ^ David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote, “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318, accessed April 23, 2016,
  10. ^ David Cantor, et al. “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct,” 21 September 2015 (Rockville, MD: Westat, 2015), iv, accessed April 24, 2016,
By / Dec 6

Recently, I sat with a client who experienced repeated sexual abuse and rape by high school peers. The tragedy is not only that this was part of her past, but that PTSD symptoms still haunt her adult life some 20+ years later.

You see, unlike riding the roller coaster at the amusement park, where the gut-wrenching twists and turns stop when the ride comes to an end, trauma has no defined stopping point for haunting its victim. Sometimes, the trauma prowls about for many years and wells up after a hairline trigger is induced (e.g. loud noise, tone of voice, certain touches, location in the city). Despite the victim being a survivor, she is still a victim. I believe this is where the real hurt is experienced: the body can endure many things, but trauma can continue to torment the mind and soul.

However, there is real hope for being able to take back control of one’s own life and live in light of one’s dignity. This usually begins to happen when one is able to appropriately reflect upon the heinous act and is best done in a professional counseling environment.

Sadly, we regularly see tragedy and trauma all around us. And, as we realistically look to the future, the only safe thing is to assume there will be more of the same in our culture and personal lives. Jesus told us that we’d have trouble in this world (John 16:33). And Peter warns that “the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Despite the passage emphasizing one’s faith in Christ, I have not known a greater adversary to a person’s faith than experienced physical trauma. There are usually questions of, “How could God allow this?” or, “If God is good, then why did I experience this?”

There is hope, and there are means for transforming victims from survivors to thrivers. Jesus Christ wants to restore, not continually shame a person.

But, there is hope, and there are means for transforming victims from survivors to thrivers. Jesus Christ wants to restore, not continually shame a person. We see this in various conversations, including with the woman at the well (John 4). He is empathetic and desires all to find rest in him. A victim must realize that she is worth redeeming because she is made in God’s image. As seen in the physical examples of a paralytic man (John 5) and a blind man (John 9), Jesus is willing to bring healing and restoration.

As a professional counselor, my heart breaks for the trauma many people endure in this fallen world. Through my experience in walking with counselees through their struggles, here are several things I’d like you to consider if you’re dealing with your own mental and emotional pain:

  1. It’s okay to cry, mourn, and be angry with the atrocity (Eccl. 3:4-8). Often the way one resolves the emotional pain of trauma is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. This may sound irrational, but our brains are quite intricate and capable of complicated, self-preserving tasks—by God’s design. Whether cognitively or subconsciously, our brains can actually “block” harmful memories so that we are not emotionally heightened in negative ways. In extreme form, this coping manifests itself in Multiple Personality Disorder. In lesser, more common ways of coping, one denies himself the opportunity to reflect on the trauma and face the fears it has created. The victim often will believe that if he doesn’t display the emotions attached to the trauma, then it “wasn’t that bad.” Other times, a victim will compare himself to others who experienced “similar” trauma, feeling like he should be able to “suck it up” too. Our world is broken, and we await the day that Christ will come and make all things news. Until then, you should use your emotions to react to situations in the way God has designed.
  2. It’s not your fault! This is a tough thought to process emotionally because self-induced shame is often the only way we can rationalize random trauma. We innately want to believe the good in others, even though we acknowledge that we are fallen. So, when something wrong or bad happens, a person will often justify the circumstance by accepting the responsibility and blame upon herself. This is easy to do because most trauma results from vulnerable situations that already lead the victim to the conclusion that she “is not capable of being right/strong/good.” Therefore, she is more willing to accept unmerited responsibility for trauma she experienced. But the key to remember is that you are never guilty by association alone.
  3. The experienced symptoms are all normal and common (i.e. anxiety, depression, nightmares, digestion issues). You don’t have to feel weird or embarrassed for having mysterious side effects. The residual pain of trauma, resulting in physical symptoms, are reminders of the haunting experience. If a victim suffers PTSD symptoms, that is not a loss of control, but evidence of how trauma negatively impacts that person. If a you notice any changes in health, you can compare the symptom onset with the occurrence of the trauma. If those correlate, then it is comforting to know that by reducing the distress, you can likely alleviate ailing symptoms.
  4. You are a survivor, not just a victim. You are not defined by your crisis. It is important to remember that we are fragile beings with the supernatural strength of the Lord available to us. Each living victim of past trauma should view herself as a survivor. Sometimes it is easy to be fixated on what happened, rather than what can be. As a Christian, your identity is found in Christ. No future growth and prognosis is too hard for him.
  5. Seek counseling. Find a competent counselor who will delicately speak and display Christ-like compassion and truth during your recovery process. This is an important step for two reasons: 1) It’s worth the professionalism to deal with trauma, and 2) If one avoids competent counseling, there is a risk of further damage. (Note: avoiding counseling altogether does not aid the healing process.) Time does not heal all wounds. If I saw someone had fallen into a giant pit and could not get out, I would not yell down in vain, “Don’t worry, eventually you’ll figure something out, or you’ll die trying.” Immediate action is required. Likewise, it is necessary to consider one’s emotional health with immediacy and care. I believe the client is best served when the counselor is professionally trained, with the fortitude and compassion of a Christ-like emulation.
  6. There is hope! Jesus proves this through his ministry of always healing, restoring, redeeming, and renewing lives that he encounters. Remember, there is nothing new under the sun. I have seen the power of his redemption and restoration firsthand. Jesus, who defeated sin, death, and the grave is capable of transforming lives and will one day fully heal and restore when he returns.

Healing may be a short or long journey for recovery, but it cannot begin until one confronts the reality of the past. I pray that God gives you courage to seek that out with the safety of a competent counselor. If you are the listening helper in someone’s trauma recovery, then I pray you will be discerning in how you convey your compassion through your counsel and your conduct with the trauma survivor who sits with you. May God use the hurts we’ve encountered to make us conduits of his compassion and care.

By / Dec 19

About a month ago, I put a pot of water to boil on the stove and, while waiting, opened Facebook. As I scrolled, I saw the same article posted by friend after friend, and the headline screamed out below each one: “A Rape on Campus” and then, to my shock, “at UVA”. Trembling, I clicked through and read the article about my community, Charlottesville, Va., with incredulity.

We are all now familiar with the fallout. Outrage. Details in doubt. Editorial notes. Journalists in question. As a whole, the story and its aftermath have become convoluted and confused.

But here in Charlottesville, the foundational issue at the heart of the article—sexual assault—lives on. There have been hushed conversations, confessions of long-held trauma, and confusion regarding the university administration. All of it has been enveloped in a heavy air of sadness. The fraternity house brought to focus in the article has been vandalized and picketed. Professors have staged protests. At my hair appointment, my stylist said the allegations are all anyone wants to talk about.

Church on the Sunday following the publication of the article was somber, just as it was the day the state law enforcement used the school we meet in as the staging area to search for a missing UVA student named Hannah. We have many students who attend our church, and they sat muted and somewhat dejected at the thought of another nationally-seen and nationally-commented-on situation involving their own. What is happening in our city? First Hannah Graham. Now this. The university and Charlottesville and—let us not forget—individual lives have been traumatized this year.

How do believers think about sexual assault?

I wondered that morning what I've wondered each day since: how do I think about all of this as a believer? Not only that, but as the wife of a church planter trying to reach this city, when do I speak instead of listen, and how do I speak into the issues facing our community?

Regarding the rape allegations on Grounds–what UVA calls its campus–and how suddenly the darkness seemed to rip open before the world's eyes, I heard someone say to believers, “This is God's grace to us in this city. It is not God's grace that evil would be perpetrated against women on Grounds, but it is God's grace to us that it is coming to light, because light drives out darkness, and because we can speak to it, and we can point to a God who offers healing, redemption, and an unmarred identity through Jesus.”

There is so much more to sexual assault than one story and one woman and one journalist and one magazine. Responding to sexual assault is about justice for those who thumb their nose at a God they think doesn't see what is done in secret. It is about systemic, cultural sin issues and the far-reaching effects of that sin. But mostly, sexual assault is an affront to the Imago Dei, the “Image of God.” As believers, we must not only respond with Imago Dei in mind but live with Imago Dei in mind.

What does this mean exactly?

Men and the Imago Dei

It means that the men among us must recognize all women as image-bearers of God. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely bodies to lust for, overpower, abuse, or degrade. They cannot be merely images to use for self-gratification. They can't be considered inferior or valuable for only some things. For a man to recognize a woman as an image-bearer, he will never attempt to empty her of mind, personality, heart or soul. Instead, he sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. This has a thousand different implications for the Christian man. Can he both see a woman as an image-bearer of God and as a visual object in pornography? Can he see God has created woman for his glory and never consider how her spiritual gifts can be used in the church? Can he value biblical womanhood and not protect and defend women in harm's way? Christian men, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in women!

Women and the Imago Dei

Imago Dei has a thousand implications for Christian women as well. When stories appear about sexual brutality, men often are lumped into a stereotyped mass of lustful, unfeeling beasts who only care about fulfilling their physical desires. If image-bearers, and they are, they cannot also be merely lusting bodies or domineering personalities. For a woman to recognize a man as an image-bearer, she will never attempt to empty him of mind, personality, heart, or soul. Instead, she sees each one as created by God to bring him glory. Can she see a man as both an image-bearer of God and respond condescendingly to him? Can she see a man as created for God's glory and then speak of him with bitterness? Can she value biblical manhood and not value the specific men in her life? Christian women, fight in your own hearts and lives to recognize the Imago Dei in men!

I am not saying that women can affect or prevent sexual assault by how they treat men, as if victims are somehow responsible. I am simply saying that this is how we think about the root issues when things like sexual assault are brought to light. And this is how we respond: living as if we and others are made in the image of God.

Bringing light into the darkness

If there is one thing the Rolling Stone article got right, it's that Charlottesville cultivates a genteel image. It is a beautiful place, and it's full of fascinating, bright, well-educated, ambitious people. From a spiritual perspective, however, there is a darkness difficult to describe that lurks beneath its external beauty. There is a culture at work, one that seems to speak loudly on Grounds, that is wholly contrary to a biblical framework. It's why my family is here, why we're preaching and teaching the gospel, and why many biblically minded believers in the churches scattered across this region are working to bring Light into the darkness.

This fall has been traumatic, but it is God's grace to us that we can now respond to the sin that's come to the surface. This is the very reason we're here in this city. The university, we trust, will do everything in their power to address the situation properly, but it is the Church who must hold out the truth of Imago Dei, who must live Imago Dei. Please pray for us in this.

Though it may not be playing out on the national stage, every community hides its darkness. The Church can play games and congratulate itself on being among the saved and pretend that the wounded, the victim, and the victimizers do not sit among us, or the Church can go to the darkness with the Light. Let us be a people who are willing to enter in the hardest situations, and let us be a people who fight for and live the Imago Dei.