On the evening of Wednesday, September 24, 2008, I was sexually assaulted by a professor from my Christian undergraduate university. After reporting it to the university, I sought out my church family and other Christian friends for guidance and comfort. What I often received, though, were pointed questions and veiled accusations about my behavior and about my decisions. Already covered with the confusion and the shame that comes with sexual abuse, I resorted to calling my pastor. Still though, there was that chiding tone, even in my shepherd’s voice.
After Pastor Willis* fired off a couple of sentences, I interrupted him and in a battle-weary, shaky voice, I said, “Pastor Willis, I really don’t need anyone else telling me this was all my fault.” I heard Pastor Willis take a brief inhale, as his tone changed. The once absent warmth came into his voice, as he now began to counsel me, rather than correcting me. Since that time, I have come to witness other ways in which the residue of abuse can continue, far beyond the actual incident.
My friend, Ryan*, shared this account of a traumatic experience from his home church. Ryan’s father, an on-staff church elder, was caught looking at pornography on the church’s computer. As a condition of his father’s repentance, Ryan’s father had to stand before the entire church congregation, confess his addiction to pornography, and ask the congregation for forgiveness.
On the day that happened, Ryan shared that he, his mother, and his sisters had to stand alongside his father, too, in front of the entire congregation. Thankfully, Ryan’s father received help for this addiction and currently supervises another program that helps other men break the addiction of pornography. While Ryan’s story has a positive ending, what Ryan said he found the most painful about the occurrence, was that he began to notice that people in the church were shunning him, for what his father had done. Ryan said, “People started to shun me, and, I didn’t do anything.”
Stories like my own and Ryan’s remind me that, discipleship should not only reach its culmination at preaching/teaching the Gospel and at leading people to Christ. If we call ourselves the Body of Christ, we also have to walk with one another, even through the painful times. When I think about discipleship, I remember that passage in Romans 15:1 that talks about "...letting the strong bear the infirmities of the weak". Furthermore, Galatians 6:1 also tells us that, “...if we see someone overcome in a fault, those who are spiritual should restore such a one with a spirit of meekness, lest we also be overtaken in that fault”. So now, the question becomes this: How does the church follow its call to discipleship to truly love those who have been marginalized by abuse? How will those who have suffered abuse, and those who have perpetrated abuse, be brought to full fellowship and discipleship? Both are in our churches. How are we responding? How are we helping to bring healing?