The failing of the church
This is the dark side to the humor of a Christian culture that operates like an ark. Christian culture that values a bubble atmosphere is missing the signals that there is widespread brokenness in the area of abuse. Pastors will say: I know of a couple people in my congregation that have been abused, but it is isolated. A meta analysis of 22 American studies show that more than 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys experience childhood sexual abuse. (Schmutzer) Why is there so many who are abused and so little emphasis in this area from the church? Well, when is the last time your church did a sermon series on abuse? I am a preaching coinsure, and I have heard 1 sermon in my entire life on abuse. Pastors say: If I preach on this it will only apply to a small part of my congregation, but they continue on preaching about how to be good parents. In many areas there are fewer parents in a congregation than abuse survivors. In 1987 Mary Koss found that over one quarter of girls in college had experienced rape or attempted rape since age 14. This is more prevalent than left handedness, heart attacks, and alcoholism. (Tracy) The reason these pastors only know about a few sporadic cases, is because they have not made a place in the church for survivors. For more on why pastors must connect to their congregations, check out Talk to Me Pastor. The problem is cyclical, the reason why there is little emphasis on abuse in the church is because it is is never addressed.
The church has not spoken well about abuse. By avoiding the topic the church has created a culture where victory is the only accepted emotion. There is no space for abuse survivors to express anger. In the victorious Christian culture we have cut out parts of the Bible dealing with laments and mourning. Even Job one of the most Godly men in the Bible challenged God in the middle of his suffering, yet we have no space or avenue for suffering people to be raw in our churches. What has happened to Lamentations? Psalms of morning? In our victorious Christian culture we have ignored the fact that some don’t come home, that some pain is lifelong. There are some wounds that band aid Bible verses don’t instantly fix. Some wounds require longer healing. Look here for a critique on contrived worship. We have communicated that it is not ok to express unresolved pain. This translates into a mandate to not be genuine, and so people show up Sunday after Sunday with their painted on smiles, while their rage settles into hopeless depression. No pastor has ever said you’re not allowed to express pain, but he has communicated it by never giving it a place in his sermons or the worship time. The priorities of the church are made clear through what is given a place. People have learned that they have to go elsewhere to express pain, “church is not the place for that.”
The church has failed in its representation of purity. Instead of running to a local book store and buying a purity ring, fathers need to find genuine ways to communicate value and purity to their kids through a life style. Our failure in this area communicates devastating messages to our youth. What do you do with the girl who looks at her purity ring sitting in her dresser drawer and is reminded of what was taken from her, knowing that she will never be able to wear it again. What do you do with the girl who goes to youth group and leaves sobbing, after the youth pastor says that chastity is the only way, confirming her worthlessness? It’s not that she made a mistake, it’s that her dreams were shattered and brutality taken from her. Have we communicated that innocents can be stolen in a moment but purity is a continual choice before God? Christians have made a big deal out of physical virginity. Possibly treating it in such a way that elevates it higher than purity its self, this is unbiblical. This way of thinking leaves survivors with sham and hopelessness, because it was not even their choice. In a youth group discussion on purity, where is the place for survivors to mourn? In an area of such intense heart break we need to lead with hope not tokens or speeches of ideals that leave people condemned because they can never erase what has been done to them.
The opportunity for healing, because of the resources the church has
The church already has the structure in place to effectively minister to survivors. This may be one of the single greatest opportunities for missions that the church in North America has. If you knew of a way to cut past the tough American dream armor, and hit the heart of people with the gospel wouldn’t you do everything you could to make that happen? I believe that abuse is one of the greatest open doors in our generation to see the gospel change people’s lives.
The church has an opportunity because:
Symbolism has a lot of significance to abuse victims. (Schmutzer) The church is unique because it is an existing venue where symbolism is accepted. The church largely has been creative in portraying the gospel through things like: writing out sins and pinning them on a cross in the front of a sanctuary, being baptized, even the act of communion has powerful symbolism. Can you imagine a group of people in a park or in a house having a ceremony with symbolism like you find in a church? It is completely plausible in a church to have services where survivors symbolically bury a picture, plant a tree or write a letter, giving them closure.
The church has an opportunity because:
In church emotional events are more accepted. Abuse is not something you talk about at the bar or at work, and defiantly not at Starbucks. Culturally the very venue of the church building allows for a sense of openness. Think of the top 3 places it is ok for a guy to cry. The hospital, a funeral, and probably a church. Culturally there is a slight plausibility structure in place communicating that openness is accepted in that geographical location.
The church has an opportunity because:
A community of loving people is critical for a survivor to learn how to trust again. Dr. Tracy is one of the leading scholars’ on sexual abuse and recovery, he teaches with Dr. Grudem at Phoenix seminary. I asked him what his ideal recovery environment for an abuse survivor would look like. He said that a small groups offers the best environment for healing. In this context lies can continually be dispelled with truth. Many of these lies are so engrained in the survivor that it takes multiple exposures to the truth before they can even consider the truth to be valid. There is incredible healing power for a survivor when many different people pour love on them. The broken sense of trust and community can be restored in the context of small group.
The call for creative’s
If the church has all this potential why are we not seeing results and needs being met? It goes back to the beginning; the church has chosen to be ignorant. It has chosen to focus exclusively on victorious praise songs and not allow laments to be part of worship. The church is not weighing in on how to help; in fact it does not even acknowledge the problem. People who are creative have an ability to start conversations through their craft about things that are culturally taboo. Creative’s are the key to opening the eyes of the church to the needs around it and the strengths within it.
The delima becomes who is mirroring who?
In a church are the problems that come up a mirror of the problems that we deal with? In other words because a certain category of problems (depression, divorce, homosexuality) are commonly talked about and dealt with, those are the problems that seem to arise. All the while sexual abuse is typically manifested in these ways, and due to the nature of abuse survivors greatest fear is opening up so silence ensues. Are we balanced or creating self fulfilling prophecies because some topics are too messy?
The hope is normalization
To see more about this feedback loop, watch this documentary. If we spark discussions about abuse it will began to “normalize” it, so that the gap of understanding is lessened between survivors and everybody else. As that gap shrinks the survivors feel like it is less risky to open up. When something is normalized it is open to common conversations. An example of this is the journey of homosexuality in the Christian community. Ten to twenty years ago there were no resources with in the christian community to offer hope and healing, while more could be done conversations about same sex attraction are fairly common now. Sexual abuse however, has yet to be normalized, there are precious few resources and ministries addressing the need. Normalizing the discussion would allow the body of Christ to begin to self heal. The current method is to say wow, that is messy, let me ship you off to counseling because I don’t know anything about that and therefore can’t be of any help. Normalizing something creates space for hurting people to reach out and find help. Normalization opens the door for grass roots discussions with in the local church on how to embody the gospel.
Examples on how to apply excellence
Creativity and art by far have the most influence on culture to normalize something. We need to speak well concerning topics of pain, so we turn to those most talented in creating and communicating. Would someone with creative ability please step up and breathe life for hurting people?
The art of drama provides an excellent way to portray the pain and brokenness of survivors. This can be an excellent way to help people wrestle with questions about the sovereignty of God and the presents of suffering. For some insight on how to do this go here. Theater has the ability to make unseen truths visible.
Videos can be a powerful way to introduce people to the stories of survivors. Video is powerful but can have little residual affect. Watching something may not change the way people think, but it will get them thinking. Here is a resource to help think this through.
Poetry and spoken word inspires hope and gives a voice to pain. Here is a good use of spoken word dealing with sexual abuse. Spoken word has a sub category of poetry slam which lends its self to laying out what is being done wrong, and what things should look like. This method of communication is highly motivational, but very limited in it’s ability to provide answers and sustainability.
Preaching has the ability to explain the path of hope. Preaching explains how to get from point A to point B. It lays out a strategies and road maps. Here is a complete church service media package including an outline for a sermon on sexual abuse.
Secular culture is failing to address issues of abuse. Christians are sick of “Christian” media being knock off driven. Like a cut and paste (ctrl+C, ctrl+V) operation from the secular world, with the only difference being a ctrl+U, and a yellow highlight so everybody knows it’s Holy. We have the opportunity to lead the way by authentically creating. (more on authenticity here) This is our mission field. We have the chance to lead our culture in this area. We need creative’s to lead the way, plowing new ground in the Christian community so that hurting people have avenues to express their pain.
Ideas of what this looks like
What if your church opened a room up as an art gallery for people to express their pain? The impact of this would be incredible. The body of believers surrounding these people and affirming them as they process what has been done to them. The believers not saying “get over it” but being blessed by the art, and through that beginning to communicate redemption to the survivor.
Dr. Tracy works with prostitutes and pimps. It goes without saying that the prostitutes have been sexually abused. He did research and found that 14 out of 15 had been involved to some extent in a church at the time of their abuse. These survivors received no help from the church. Many times abuse occurs within the context of the church. Quoting scripture can bring survivors back to the time of their abuse. He found that there were no “Christian” resources that were not chucked full of chapter and verse notes. So he wrote an allegorical story to communicate redemption found in the gospel. He turned it into a curriculum that introduced scripture to help survivors find healing and their savoir.
There is a distinct victorious taste in the worship music that is produced today. What if some one was able to write an authentic song that truly resonated with people’s pain? Something that would voice the pain that sin has caused. I believe that this would have greater potential for healing than many positive songs that are not able to verbalize the unspoken cries of hurt.
Creatives and their craft have a distinct ability to guide the church in helping abuse survivors through creative healing and normalizing abuse conversations.
Create avenues and space for expression
First, to implement avenues of creativity within the church so that survivors have safe places to express their story and their pain, through this receiving validation and healing from the body of Christ. (This is a great example)
Normalize the expression
Second, to utilize their craft to initiate education and conversation, using the feedback loop to create a normalized, culturally acceptable environment that invites survivors to open up and find healing and support with in the body of Christ.
Anonymous text message to the church 10:43am Sunday:
Your silence is not deafening: it is excruciating.
It screams at me that my pain does not matter, and because my pain is personal,
I don’t matter.