Rachel was a bright and spirited 15-year-old and when she became a Christian earlier in the year, she found a home in a local church. She had a gift for singing and when she was approached by the music minister for an opportunity to join the worship team, she was beyond elated.
Little did she know that what would happen would be years of sexual abuse by this minister. Finally, after building enough courage to approach the leadership about the abuse, the church did little to help. Instead, they quietly urged the minister to resign and remained silent on what happened.
The truth is “Rachel” could be anyone. It could be you, me, your son or daughter. Victims of sexual abuse do not come from one specific demographic. To be sure, most reported incidents are from women but anyone can tell you, there are scores of incidents that are unreported because of shame and embarrassment and many victims are men.
In our recent day, thousands of reports of individuals who have suffered sexual abuse within the church are finally coming to light. Tragically, in almost every instance the church and its leadership were unwilling or incapable of handling the situation appropriately which left these victims feeling deeply betrayed.
The feeling of betrayal is understandable. The church is meant to be a sanctuary and haven for the downtrodden and abused, but instead it has become a place where we are silent about sexual abuse and are unwilling to minister to its victims. Why? Because it is uncomfortable to do so and may give the church a bad reputation.
In my opinion, that is absolutely abominable.
Things have to change and in my own denomination (Southern Baptist Convention), things are changing in regards to handling incidents of sexual abuse.
A couple of days ago, I attended the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting where we voted on to make an unprecedented change in our denomination’s governing documents. The changes include the condemnation of all acts of sexual abuse and harassment and procedures to ensure that all SBC churches are proactive in making sure they are safe.
Please understand this isn’t just talk or a publicity stunt. This is a clear sign of repentance for our denomination—a willingness to say we were wrong—and a massive step forward to minister the gospel to the people who need it most: the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.
Sexual misconduct and abuse are never okay and neither is being silent about it. The Church should and must be the most vocal about this issue and most committed to advocacy and safety of those suffering.
I want to stop here and speak pastorally for a moment, because undoubtedly if the statistics are true, there are some reading this that have been victims of some type of sexual abuse. What happened to you was not your fault nor does it mean that there is something wrong with you.
Whatever the incident, what happened to you was evil perpetrated by a sinful human being and will be made right by a good God.
How? By giving you hope and showing you His love.
That incident of abuse does not define who you are, God does. God has defined you by creating you in His own image and loving you so much that he sent His own Son to purchase, by his own blood, healing and grace.
He has given you a benefit of the gospel which acknowledges the past and its evil but says to you there can be a brighter day presently and an even more glorious future.
Lastly, God moves very near to those who are hurting and provides not only His Spirit which comforts but also a community that does actually care.
Although the visible church and some of its leaders have grossly failed in this area, the people of God who have experienced the very compassion of Christ are there to weep with and walk through the journey of recovery with anyone who has been hurt.
As a pastor I want to say you are not alone and nor will your voice be silent. Your pain is our pain and your tears are our tears and because of the love of Christ, we are compelled toward mercy and understanding.
A lot has been said of the failure within the church in recent days but I believe that the church is still a sanctuary and those who are hurting are welcome there.