This article was written by Pauline Pearson and can be found here on the CCPAS website and has been copied with permission.
Did you know….
Did you know that within the group of people you rub shoulders with, shake hands with, exchange the peace with, that is to say – in your church – there are those who carry dark shadows from the past? Experiences suffered as children and young people still haunt them, inhibit them, prevent them from being all that God created them to be. You might not guess it from looking at them – some have become excellent actors, hiding the pain with a bright smile, a helping hand for others. Inside they struggle with the demands and commands of Christian and church teaching, reluctant to look at a God who might not have forgiven them, who couldn’t forgive those things. They’re not worth forgiving anyway. Feeling like rubbish, they assume that God sees them that way.
Perhaps you are one of those people to whom it has been said, “But that was years ago! Put it behind you – it’s all under the blood anyway! You shouldn’t feel that way now you’re a Christian. Come out for prayer tonight and let so and so pray for that spirit of ………..(whatever) to come out of you.”
So often such words bring the abused person further into defeat, feeling that they “should” and “ought” to do/feel/say something different. They cover up the pain, bury it, pretend it doesn’t matter – but it does!
Gradually the climate is changing. People are prepared to believe that larger numbers of boys, girls and young people are abused than previously thought. Such abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual and it includes neglect. There is also spiritual abuse where a leader presents scripture or teaching in a way that crushes the spirit, taking over someone’s thinking and actions in an abusive way. (This has been seen in some extreme situations where cult members have committed mass suicide, but can happen to a damaging, though lesser degree, in some church groups).
Given that we acknowledge that people have been abused, how is that likely to affect them as they grow into adulthood? That will depend on several factors.
- Did they tell anyone?
- Were they believed when they told?
- Did any adult take action to see that they were protected from further abuse?
- Was any help offered to the child/young person?
- Were they helped to develop personal safety skills?
If the answer to these is “yes” then the residual damage will be much less than for those whose voice was ignored or rubbished, who were not protected or helped in any way.
For those who were abused in Christian families, or in church by workers, ministers, priests, there may well be difficulties in developing a trusting relationship with a loving Father God. If their abuser was Father, dad or some other authority figure, they may “freeze” when people happily sing of “Father God”. “Father” is someone to be frightened of, who has ignored or failed to protect them, who may have abused them – a sexual figure, perhaps. Such people need help to untangle the confusion of a relationship with God. This is not how God sees us. His love is pure – not abusive. His love is unconditional – He loves us, no matter what. His love will protect us. His love never ends. (see 1 Corinthians 13 for more of what God’s true love is).
Someone who has suffered abuse may find it very hard to trust anybody – let alone God! They may believe that all adults are like their abuser. They may feel safer in same-sex relationships because their abuser was of the opposing gender. They may feel that because their abuser was of the same sex that they are now committed to a homosexual lifestyle.
Christians struggle with issues like anger because they feel that they shouldn’t be angry, forgetting that in the bible we read of occasions when God and Jesus displayed righteous anger at sin and injustice. Abuse of children, young people and adults is sin. The bible talks of us being “the temple of the Holy Spirit” and when God sees that violation by an abuser, he is justly angered. Jesus got quite violent when he saw the “house of prayer” being turned into a “den of thieves”. So, it’s OK to be angry but sometimes the abused person will need to feel safe enough to express it – perhaps within a counselling relationship.
It is really encouraging to see Christians getting trained and equipped to help those who have been so abused in the past. However we must endeavour to make our churches places where abuse does not happen any more. We need to have policies in place to protect our children and young people. We have to develop safer ways of appointing workers with the most vulnerable people in out church. We must help them to work safely with children, thereby reducing the risks to children and the possibilities of false allegations against workers.
Many churches are introducing policies that need understanding and commitment from all. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service offers training, advice and support across all denominations in the area of child protection.