In April, Safe Church leaders from the U.S. and Canada came together for strategic planning. One priority rose to the top. “We need to be able to talk about abuse!” That means providing safe places where those who have experienced abuse can tell their stories. It also means we need to talk about power dynamics so that people can recognize and respond appropriately. The issue is so hidden that it’s difficult for some to even acknowledge the seriousness of the problem. The consensus was that no progress will be made until we can talk about abuse.
When I first took the position as director of Safe Church Ministry there was an announcement about it on the Safe Church Network page and in The Banner. Someone responded with a post that questioned the wisdom of having someone in this position who had experienced sexual abuse. I went through a rigorous process in my hiring, which included simulated responses to situations, a sample presentation, and a psychological evaluation. Yet my competence seemed to be questioned in this post because I had experienced sexual abuse. I was told years later about the post and that “of course” it had been quickly removed. Had I been given the opportunity to respond to that post at the time, I could have pointed out that to eliminate those who have experienced sexual abuse would severely limit the pool of candidates for this position. One in four women has experienced sexual abuse, and one in six men. People who have experienced sexual abuse are in almost every occupation; they are teachers, doctors, lawyers, farmers, parents, business owners, CEOs, judges, and pastors. To imply or suggest that those who have experienced sexual abuse are less able to be fair, or to think logically, is absurd. Are there impacts to sexual abuse that can last a lifetime? Absolutely! Can those impacts be overcome and confidence and competence restored? Absolutely!
Each person must walk his or her own healing journey. Some are able to be open about their experience; others are not. The Lord is close to those who suffer. A deep relationship with him can be born and grow through suffering. I’ve noticed this in myself and in many others. Some would say it’s an overall net gain; Scripture supports that view. In addition, understanding the impacts of abuse first-hand can be an asset. It not only allows listening with increased empathy, it also allows one to bring that voice to other places where it needs to be heard.
Those who gathered for our strategic planning meeting affirmed the need to be able to talk about abuse. Where are those safe places where experiences can be shared? How do we create them in our congregations? How often do we hear about abuse from the pulpit? How often are there educational opportunities in our congregations that discuss the dynamics and impacts of abuse? Can we talk? Please?