Domestic Sexual Abuse
Season 2: Bonus
Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I'm the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God's redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.
It is my privilege to introduce to you today Brad Hambrick. Brad serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He's a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He's authored several books, including God's Attributes: Rest For Life's Struggles, and served as General Editor for the Becoming A Church That Cares Well For The Abused; churchcares.com. project.
Brad, one of the things that our storyteller, Michelle was just so passionate about - and I could hear in her questions and in her evaluation of this particular cue that I'm going to share in a moment - that this, this is probably where God's leading or drawing her in her heart and in her ministry going forward, and that is, you know, the injustices of how abuse is being handled, and sometimes in some churches, not in all situations. And I was hoping that you could interact with us on on some of this. But anyway, let me play the queue. And I think that'll make a little bit more sense what I just said.
I felt as if I was making progress. I was in counseling with a biblical trauma informed counselor. Despite all my years in the church, and Christian College, and even in ministry, I was actually learning so many things about how God viewed me, that was really transformative in my life. But that healing process was dramatically interrupted several months later, through events that transpired both in my place of employment and my church. I think I mentioned before they were closely associated. And in a series of public blogs, it came to light that the college administrator at the school I taught at had hired a man with known sexual predatory behavior as a faculty member. As more information was released, it also came to light that the head pastor and an elder at the church I attended, who, by the way, have been very supportive of me. And I want to make that clear, in my situation, but he also had been involved and knowledgeable of the issues regarding this faculty member and yet, had invited the man to speak to our youth group, including my youngest daughter attended that youth group, and even preach and in a morning service.
I hate to say this, but I hear this often, often in church and institutions on the mission field. So I'm going to put you on the spot here. Why is it so common or give me your opinion. Why is it so common that when someone has been credibly abused, that they are simply re-shuffled into another potentially tempting position?
And that's a real question. It. I don't know how anybody pays attention to the world around us and doesn't realize the reality of that. I think we need to be able to say that those who bring this to the attention to the church, they're serving a prophetic role. They are giving a needed warning. That should be heeded. They're not troublemakers. They're not subversive. They're not perfect. They may not even be Christians, but they are drawing our attention to something that even when they're not Christians, we shouldn't dismiss the message for the messenger. We should be able to hear truth from whoever speaks it. As we explore this a little bit together, I always chew my tongue a little bit, because I don't want us to confuse explanations with excuses. As we look at the dynamics that contribute to the prevalence of this, even as we explain it, we're not saying any of it's okay. But if we don't articulate some of what's going on, then it makes us more powerless to interact with it. You know, you've got one group that is just your nefarious actors. It is the good ol boy club. There is us and them. And if you're one of us, you can't be bad. And we are blinded by relational allegiances. And because the people who bring the concern to us are not one of us, they are they, and the ‘us-them’ness that so polarizes our culture in so many areas, infiltrates the church in just really, really unfortunate and wrong ways. I'm going to kind of - for this discussion - set aside the nefarious actors, because I don't think that many of them are going to listen to this podcast. And those that do are going to listen to debate rather than listen to learn. And so on the other side for those who would go, and ‘I hope this would never be us, like what kinds of things would take us in that direction?’ I think there's a few things. One is churches are volunteered organizations. There is a need for a lot of people to serve. Another is churches love redemption stories. We have a bias towards anything that seems gracious, and on one, in one sense, both of those things are good. We do not want to professionalize church. And we should love redemption stories. But those things can't become mindless and blind litmus test. And one of the things that is an area of like things becoming blind, is I think Jesus’ category for what we're talking about here, are wolves in the church. And He told us, ‘be on guard, there are going to be those who will be wolves and they will come in, they have bad intent.’ I mean, Paul, and Peter had no problem calling these people out by name and saying look out for them like they are. They're nasty. Again, it's a very paraphrase New Living Translation kind of word there. But but you get my idea. Well, I think in our modern day, at least in the church traditions that I am most frequently a part of, we tend to think of wolves as theological heretics. As if they are only false teachers. Okay, well, you know, they're logical heretics, they are wolves. False teachers do fit in the category. But we need to have a category for those who have the intent to do physical, emotional or sexual harm. I mean, Jesus, I mean, I'm slightly embellishing the term here, but a wolf is a predator, Jesus used a predatory term, to describe the kind of person that we’re to be on the lookout for. And I think one of the things that we need to see as churches - that when somebody abuses power, that to give them power, again, is a disservice to that person. And so when somebody has used their position, to gain advantage and do damaging things, like this is where Scripture says, church leaders are to be held to a higher standard. They are to be seen as a good reputation as having a good reputation in the community. They are to be representatives of God's character for us to look at someone - and this is another one of those areas where I think we just we miss some things - And I know these words can be used interchangeably. I would invite the audience to hear the the emphasis I'm putting on each one. We often confuse talents for gifts. Really talented people, that even if they weren't Christians, they would be good and successful at whatever it is that they did. And praise God for the natural talents that He weaves into each one. of us when He's knitting us together in our mother's womb. And gifts, those kinds of things that God has given to do a work of ministry. And so many times we look at somebody and they are talented. Most of the stuff we're looking at they were doing before they ever got saved. And we think, ‘it would be such a poor stewardship of all of their talents and gifts and as their things then get put together, if if there just wasn't a way for them to use them.’ Most every church I've ever known is talked about when it comes to financial giving. God doesn't need our money, then He's got a cattle on 1000 hills that He is not in a money deficit. He is not coming to us poor and begging. What if we thought the same way about leadership? That God's got a church full of people. And that same mindset that if we really do believe it about money, what if we really did believe that about talent. And this person didn't have to hold a microphone, simply because they had so much charisma. But like that mindset, that is so not a church leadership mindset.
I don't know if this is something that - I don't think you would disagree with, I don't want to put words in your mouth - I know church leaders can feel that pressure and feel like they can't do anything right that they have to be perfect. And I don't think that's what either of us would be talking about. I know for myself, I'm just looking for humility. I'm looking for an ability to, you know, have a conversation, and both people being heard. So I just don't I don't want to emphasize anything that sounds like we're expecting our church leaders to even handle abuse perfectly.
And that's one where if we can talk about one of the elephants in the room, is that as abuse becomes more well known, it's a word that's begun to describe everything we don't like. And so for that pastor who goes, ‘Look I've had, I've had people call me abusive, because there was a ministry that somebody wanted to start, and we just didn't have the budget or facility to do it. And I got told I didn't care about that. And I was a controlling, abusive leader.’ And then as those things come to me, then I start to identify with the person who I'm hearing a comparable accusation about. And when abuse starts to mean everything, then it actually does a disservice to those who are in an abusive relationship. Because the cultural crying of wolf - and again, I'm not talking about any particular case, if somebody wants to quote me, and then put it up against some other case, and go is Brad talking about this? No, I'm not talking about any particular case - But when, when that word begins to mean, anytime I get hurt, then that's the kind of thing that leads to pastors to mistrust the word. And then when they mistrust the word, they actually downplay the more legitimate cases because of that identification that is felt. And so this is one where patient conversations like this, where we hear a case study for we're trying to do some nuanced differentiation, where those kinds of things it, it's a part about, it gives the word abuse substance and meaning and texture that allows those in leadership to get their mind around it, so that they don't become defensive like that.
We don't have time for this, but leads us to a different … not a different but an additional discussion, perhaps about how people perceive things that are happening to them. And getting to know each - like we talked about in the last episode - getting to know each person uniquely, individually, how they've experienced what's happened because trauma responds differently in different situations, different people, and just really desiring to get to know how that person experienced what happened to them. And we talked about that a lot, even with our storytellers, is don't just give me a term. Even like abuse, spell that out for me, you know, describe that for me. Tell me what that looks like telling you what that feels like. Anyway.
Yeah. If I can come back and give a quick word to pastors there. That when somebody's been through trauma, it does make them more sensitive. Like trigger response is just one manifestation of that. Don't dismiss real hurt. Just because trauma may initially, from your perspective, overextend the term that used on it. Like this, what I just said a moment ago, should never be used to be dismissive, to be condescending, to give less weight to somebody. Part of our responsibility is to have the durability that okay I, at the very least, I hear that I hurt you. I want to understand that better. Again, in a day for all hurt can mean abuse like, like, initially, I just, I, even if I'm going to disappoint someone, I want them to leave being disappointed me having felt sincerely heard that my initial responses were not rebuttals and caveats, but honest, genuine questions. Because again, if we just go to the example of like, ‘This ministry couldn't be started. That means you don't care at all about this right here. And that's just…’ I want them to feel heard and cared for. That's part of shepherding their soul, even if they decide they can't be a part of our church. I serve the next pastor and their life better, by the way that I listen, and don't become a caricature of the person that this person fears that I was. And so yes, – all of that to say this is kind of a summative statement not to get lost in the example - even when somebody's past trauma, amplifies their present hurt, that reality should not be used to dismiss their pain, we should still be patient shepherd listeners.
Perfect. Yep. With all that in mind, though, too not diminishing anyone's experience whatsoever, but getting at the heart of it. I don't know that we accurately or sufficiently comprehend how many people in the pew have in their history, not just in the particular church they're in, but in their history been harmed. At any given moment, someone in our church or institution is in a process of healing. Somewhere in that process. But then something like what Michelle describes happens, and they find themselves spiraling inside and losing ground in their healing process. What types of actions might we witness in our churches and institutions, if the women and men so deeply wounded by sexual sin, any sin committed against them, were cared for as much if not more than those that are in power?
I think one place that we start with that it's just an awareness of the prevalence. If we just take one form of abuse, sexual abuse, and we take one age segment of human experience, before the age of 18, it's daunting to realize that the best available statistics indicate that one in four women and one in five men have been sexually abused before the age of 18. That's 20% of any given church. We can't talk as if like, ‘oh, that's just an out there outlier thing.’ Because again, that's one form of abuse in one age segment. Now, some actions here, you can hear numbers like that, and it blows your mind and you go, ‘What in the world can we do?’ Here's some things that I think are highly achievable. One, abuse should make our list in sermons and teaching times. Like pastor types, they hear a talk like this, and they're like, ‘I'm going to preach the best abuse sermon ever.’ And you know, whatever the time for a sermon is in your church, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes. If we just stop and think if somebody wasn't expecting to hear about abuse, and they come in, and let's assume we say everything right. We don't trip over our tongue and say something insensitive. But we just waterboard them with discussion of abuse, unexpected ambush, for that period of time, it can be overwhelming. And then they've got to hold it together, not come forward in some kind of response way crying in a way that over disclose this, the situation that they're in. This is where like, if I could give the recommendation of in your sermons or lessons, whenever you give a list, you know, you're like, ‘Hey, we're talking through this. And examples would be…’ Does abuse ever make the list? Because for people in the congregation, if my struggle doesn't make the list, this church has nothing for me. I'm not wanted here. If you periodically, again, the number of lists that preacher teachers put in their sermons and lessons, you could easily do this 20-25 times in a year. You don't have to, that's not a goal or a number, but like it, it would be easy, it would take less than seven seconds in any given message. And it's not gonna break rhythm with anything that you are already saying. But it does communicate, ‘There's a good chance that I could be heard here. This church does care. They do know that I exist. I'm not invisible.’ And just hearing, you know, that would be something for any pastor type going through this podcast to go, ‘who doesn't make the list and my sermons.’ That is a powerful time for people to see, feel seen and heard and cared for. So that's one thing. Make sure abuse in its various forms, makes your list. Second thing, start now before a crisis comes to you to build relationships with your community partners. Get to know CPS, get to know an attorney that works with domestic violence related law, get to know a police officer that issues restraining orders. They're probably already in your church. They would love for you to come up and say, ‘Hey, I value what you do. You are a salt and light influence in our community that doesn't get the degree of affirmation, of encouragement, of honor, that you should, can I ask you some questions?’ You are going to build up that church member even as you're getting equipped to care for others. And if you're like, ‘who would those people be?’ Again, go to Church Cares (churchcares.com). Look at the representative sample of voices. Listen to the I mean, they're like 12, 20 minute videos. Yes, they are preacher minutes you go over on your sermons, we went over on our videos. But it will give you a sense of like, ‘oh, this is what these people have to say. Here's some questions I would like to ask.’ It will give you a more informed curiosity. And if you get to know them before the crisis, it will build an authentic relationship where you're a person of trust, and they're a person of trust for you. And because when you come into a new relationship, mid-crisis, it changes it. And then another thing and this is, this should be a question you can like if you're a pastor type, and you're saying, ‘What do I ask a social worker?’ This third one, we won't do it justice, I'll just throw it out there. We need to learn how to help without usurping somebody's personal agency. Because in my perspective, that is one of the most prominent mistakes from well intentioned people. As the rescuer, we come in and we start to take all of the directive role that the abusive person did. And instead of this person learning to make those decisions, that they're the ones that have to live with the consequences and our desire to rescue, we start to usurp their personal agency. And so when you're talking with a social worker, if you want to get huge bonus points, you just say, ‘How do you care without rescuing? How do you for somebody who's so tentative to make decisions and so many big decisions are there to be made in their life? How do you help without overstepping your bounds?’ That social worker may hug you. So again, make the list, build the relationships, figure out how to care without usurping personal agency.
Amen. One last question for you. And I appreciate everything I've heard so far. So considering how Jesus talked about truth, about integrity, and about dealing with sexual sin, what should our response to this evil look like?
When someone is in danger, sexual abuse is a form of physical abuse. That's one that I think we often just miss. Sexual abuse is a form of physical violence. It's actually a, and oftentimes deeper and more personal, more injurious form of physical violence. When somebody is coming to entrust us with the story that they are in danger. Our first ministerial function is to embody the refuge that God wants to be for this person. And so we we start with the priority of safety. Now, what's frustrating and disorienting is rarely are we going to know everything that we need to know, when we first start getting information. But pastorally, I'm comfortable saying that as a church, we're going to err on the side of safety. And so when when I hear a story, that it is, the content of that story is legitimate danger. I can't tell this person what to do, I can say it is right and God honoring for you to consider safety. You look at the number of times you go through the Proverbs and when you get that malicious, violent fool. Just did a presentation where we went through the different types of fools in the book of Proverbs, you got some that are like sweet, innocent, bless your heart kind of fools that they're just like young and don't know any better. And you got some malicious ones. The verbs for those malicious ones are, do not engage, avoid, pull back. They are cautionary things for the fatherly heart of God who is talking to this young son in the book of Proverbs. When you're interacting with somebody who means you harm, you create distance. It's not unredemptive to err in that direction. That when we're getting into these areas of assault, this is where morality bridges into criminality. That the church has, has jurisdiction over things that are immoral. The governing authorities have jurisdiction over things that are criminal. Sometimes we can dispute what goes in each category. But when we're talking about violence, there's not a dispute. And Paul tells us that the government holds the sword for a reason. Like there's things that they can do. Now sometimes pastor types will get into like, ‘I'll but first Corinthians 6 says we're not supposed to take another believer to court.’ In American law, that has much more to do with civil suits, would be the equivalent there, not criminal suits. Like if you're mad at your neighbor, because they cut the bushes that were on your side of the yard and like you're bent out of shape, and you're both believers that doesn't need to go to civil court. That's 1 Corinthians 6 kind of things. Same Paul wrote Romans 13, and 1 Corinthians 6 that Romans 13 says, when it's that criminal stuff, we need to invite those that have that jurisdiction. You know, as pastors, if the person being accused is a friend, we need to recognize we're not going to be objective. As soon as we think I know them better than that. We may be right, we may be wrong, we're not objective enough to make that assessment. If we were the one on the side of the victim, and somebody was coming, and we were the one who had been harmed, and we came to someone, they go, ‘I know that person, they wouldn't do that.’ Can you imagine the deflated sense of defeat, that you would feel? And so when we go, ‘I know this person,’ we need to have some more objective involved. And so those would be kind of the initial thoughts that I would give there.
Brad this is so helpful. Some of the hardest parts of Michelle’s story for her were around how the church and Christian institutions responded to abuse. In fact, I can say that dynamic is precisely what MOST victims and survivors struggle most to understand. There’s something so very disorienting when those entrusted with your care (and dare I say what we as women often hear, our protection) when they do and say things that are the very opposite of what is considered common sense care. Having your voice speak to these issues informs and educates us (counselors) and church leadership well. So again, thank you for being with us.
If you want to know more about domestic abuse, we suggest going to Called to Peace.org. Several of Brad's resources will be listed in our show notes, including the Church Cares program, and Making Sense of Forgiveness: Moving from Hurt toward Hope. We will also provide links for the resources Brad listed in his episode. Darby Strickland's book, Is It Abuse?, is excellent for both victims and church leaders for finding and identifying the patterns of abuse. In addition, Dr. Jeremy Pierre and Dr. Greg Wilson's book, When Home Hurts is particularly helpful for church leaders.
Safe to Hope is a production of HelpHer. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.
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