Growing up in SGM (by Hännah Ettinger)

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Hännah Ettinger is a copyeditor at a social policy research organization in DC. She blogs at Wine & Marble and worships at All Saints Church. After living in California, her family moved to Virginia in 2000 to join a Sovereign Grace Ministries church, where they experienced and participated in 10 years of cult-like spiritual abuse. Hännah writes about growing up in a large homeschooling family, her experiences with Christian patriarchy and SGM, and the freedom she's found in the intersection of feminist discourse and grace-centered Christianity.  Be sure to check out Hännah’s blog or follow her on Twitter.

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“How are you doing?” they would ask.

C.J.  Mahaney would crow his response: Better than I deserve!”

This became the standard greeting in Sovereign Grace Ministries, trickling down from the “mothership” church in Maryland to the other churches across the US and to mine, in Richmond, Virginia. 

“How are you doing?” someone would ask me.

Internally, I’d say, “Terrible. Mom threw a fit at us on the way to church and Dad’s giving me the silent treatment because apparently it’s all my fault.”  But my verbal response would always be the correct one,  “Oh, you know, better than I deserve!”

I learned how to fit in at our church, hoping it would let me find close friends like the other girls had. I had to tone myself down (emotional modesty), not ask too much (selflessness), not attract too much attention (humility). I had to give up my hobbies and interests to “serve” my family. I had to dress in a way that didn’t show my body too much (physical modesty). I had to not be wild, unusual, forward, outspoken. Biblical femininity was a state of passive openness to receiving—suffering, male attention, the Holy Spirit. Though it was never said in so many words, being a biblical woman in SGM was the emotional equivalent of lying back, closing one’s eyes, and taking one for Jesus.  Doing all of this was worth it, of course, because any suffering that resulted would be better than I deserved. 

Everything in SGM was based on authority structures. Once I heard the analogy in a sermon about how the pastor was a “spiritual covering” over the congregation, a God-ordained role. Under him were the fathers, like little umbrellas/coverings over their families under the big umbrella of the pastor’s covering. Under the fathers were the mothers, and under them both were the children, but the fathers had the final say on questions of authority within the family. 

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Within this hierarchy is built the marital structure of complementarianism, where the man and his wife are valued as equals before God, but when it comes to questions of authority, the man is the head and the woman is his support and follower. On the bottom of the spiritual food chain are the children, who are told to submit to their fathers in the annual Father’s Day sermon, in Sunday School, in Care Group, in the home during “corrections” (spankings). I don’t think I ever heard the verse about fathers not aggravating their children referenced in any sort of church teaching in SGM. 

Good children in SGM are docile, obedient, pliable, respectful, quiet. You are told to be “a blessing” to your brothers and sisters. If you interrupt mom while she’s talking to a friend at church, you’re spanked at home later, because that was dishonoring to her and you should know to wait for her to notice you before interrupting her conversation. If you talk back to dad after he spanks you for not sharing, or argue that it was really your brother’s fault, you get spanked again (because obviously you’re still in rebellion or lying). If you cry too long when you’re sent to bed, you’re spanked for being in rebellion, not asked what you need.  You’re told to shake hands with strangers your parents meet, and if you refuse, you’re probably going to be spanked for being rude and disobedient. 

I remember  wanting desperately to grow up so I could stay with friends as long as I wanted without getting lectured for being disloyal to my family, for not wanting to serve them at home. So I could like things (secular music, popular movies, drawing nudes, blogging) without being afraid of being a bad example for my younger siblings. I remember wanting to be free from the discomfort of being told that my apologies weren’t good enough, that I needed to detail my sin more clearly before I’d be believed as sincere.

After SGM, I’ve had to learn boundaries, how to say no, how to like things because I like them, not because I ought to. 

I’ve learned, for example, that I am allowed to be uncomfortable with hugs from my family’s pastor. I don’t have any “reason” for it, but it makes me feel panicky because I have no relationship with him (I live in a different state and visit that church only about twice a year), and that’s not wrong. I am allowed to evade a hug I don’t want and instead extend my hand.

Did you catch that? “Allowed.” I’m still having to relearn language, too. “Allowed” is a big word from my time in SGM, because everything is based on authority structures. Of course I’m “allowed” to refuse an unwanted hug. It shouldn’t be a matter of permission.

I try to avoid using the word "deserve," now, because I don't know what I deserve. And I don't know what I think of Reformed theology anymore. Everything in that world is balanced on merit, absence of merit, and grace overpowering both. (Yet we'll talk a lot about being Sinners and needing Justification, like a debt-forgiveness transaction). And I just...don't know. "Deserve" is a dirty word. 

But I think about what I'm worth a lot these days. After my husband left me, telling me he never loved me and shattering the trust I thought we had and stealing my confidence in myself because of his affection for me. And so every time I'm told that I'm worth more than what I was given from him, from my family, from SGM, I store it up in my heart, a worry stone that I touch in my pocket when I can't see clearly. I'm worth loving. Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus offers that to me. I'm held.

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We talk about spiritual abuse a lot, this tribe of former SGM members I’ve found. We’re the survivors of legalism, of manipulation, of codependency, of religious addiction. 

Eleven plaintiffs came forward with a lawsuit alleging SGM church leaders covered up the abuse of children by discouraging parents from reporting abuse to authorities and requiring victims to forgive their abusers in person. 

The details of the lawsuit are horrific, enough to take your breath away, as is the continued defense of Sovereign Grace Ministries from The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel, Al Mohler, Tim Challies and other evangelical leaders, which was amplified when a judge dismissed much of the lawsuit because several of the plaintiffs did not sue in time before the statute of limitations had expired. (See Boz Tchividjian's response to the continued culture of silence and protection in American evangelicalism.) They have told us to pray, to be patient, to believe the best of those whom God placed in authority. Discussing the case in public is labeled “gossip,” and whistleblowers are characterized as troublemakers. 

We get angry because we know that children very rarely have the courage or motivation to fabricate abuse allegations. And we get angry because we know several of the defendants have already been prosecuted and served time for similar crimes. And we get angry because we know the culture; we see how this could happen. There has to be some truth to the stories. 

But the stranger ones? The masks and Celebration, the spankings in a row on a desk? The boa and the cameras? Could these too be true? They’re so far fetched.  So detailed. So exotic. 

But I sit here and wonder about things I remember. How the pastors could call a secret gathering of young children at Celebration for a surprise skit for the parents and then tell the kids to keep it a secret. How we would go and rehearse and never tell our parents and never be questioned if we said we were helping the pastors with something. 

How the Valentine’s Day dinners they did with the couples were elaborate, prom-like. How the pastors made videos, made skits about the specifics of a good date night. How CJ bragged that his wife was so self-sacrificing and never turned him down when he initiated intimacy. 

How women, abused by their husbands or neglected because of affairs, would try to go to the pastors for counseling, for advice, for help. How they would be told to “be more sexy, be more submissive” and not to come back until the husband initiated the request for pastoral help (being the head of the household and all). 

How women with post-partum depression were told they were suffering from a sinful lack of faith and if they really loved God, they could change their attitudes and recover. 

How parents gave me permission to spank their kids if I needed to when I babysat, how other parents promised to come straight home from their prescribed weekly date night and spank their kids if they gave me any trouble. How they made the kids call me in tears the next morning if I reported any sassiness at bedtime or “delayed” obedience. 

“Do you think the allegations are true?” asks an outsider friend, and I hear myself saying, “Yes, yes, I think they are.”

I’ve watched my friends leave SGM for good and deal with obvious culture shock of attending churches where grace is preached. I’ve listened to them struggle to unlearn the name Sinner and try to grow comfortable with the taste of the word Saint. I’ve listened to my sisters grieve over how they never knew how to say no when they were approached by sexual predators, because they didn’t know they had the basic human right to do so after being taught things like first-time obedience and assuming the best about those in authority no matter what (because God put them in authority, so they have inside info on God’s will).  

The mindset you get into when you’re in a SGM church—when you’re really immersed in the culture—is like a limp hand, waiting to be met by a stronger one and taught how to shake hands properly.  You’re the follower, the passive complement to leadership. Your life is like that of a stay-at-home mom in a patriarchal family: you submit, you respect, you respond, you serve, you give, give, give. 

This is why it’s such a huge thing for the victims to speak out. They’re doing everything they were trained not to do.

And so I stand with the abused. I believe the victims. SGM’s culture of believe-the-best-so-don’t-gossip, the mindset of I’m-the-worst-sinner-I-know, the assumption that the leaders were God-ordained and righteous? These things worked together to hide a lot of abuse that I did see myself or heard from close friends who suffered it in silence, alone and ashamed. 

That day is over now. The story’s not finished, and the pastors who feed their egos on authority will reap what they sow. 

If you've believed the lie that your worst day is better than you, the sinner, deserve, if you've identified yourself with the name of Sinner for so long it's inseparable from your self-confidence, let me dare you to believe that you are worth more than that. The New Testament overwhelmingly refers to those who love and follow Jesus as "believers" or "brethren" or "saints." Not sinners. Saints.

We are living in the communion, the fellowship of the Church universal and historical. We are communing with the saints who have gone before every time we gather together in Jesus' name, taking the sacraments together, saying the creeds.  You and I are no longer under that old name, and your worst day is not one that the Father of lights would wish upon you. You are bound up with Christ, a new creation, and you deserve so much more than this guilt- and sorrow-ridden world offers you. 

Survivors of spiritual abuse, of sexual abuse, of manipulation and codependence: there's more to the Body than what you've walked through. And we're here to hold you up while you heal.

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To learn more about abuse in the church, check out our series, “Into the Light.” See also G.R.A.C.E—a fantastic organization working hard to address abuse in Christian environments. And don’t forget to check out Hännah’s blog. 

 

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Proper Treatment for Sexual Abuse: 7 Questions to Consider

This is the fourth post of our weeklong series, Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church, which features the stories of abuse survivors, along with insights from professional counselors, legal experts, and church leaders about how to better prepare Christians to prevent and respond to abuse. (Previous posts include: The Scar of Sexual Abuse by Mary DeMuthNo More Silence: An Interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E.; and “Today’s Journey”: Thoughts on Healing from Grace Biskie.) Through the course of the series, we will be discussing child abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual violence and abuse, and domestic violence. In addition, my friends Hannah, Joy, Shaney, and Elora will be hosting a synchroblog focused specifically on spiritual abuse, which you can learn more about here.

Today we will be focusing on the winding road to healing. This afternoon’s post comes to us from Dr. Philip Monroe. Dr. Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA. He also directs the newly formed Global Trauma Recovery Institute with Dr. Diane Langberg. To read more of his thoughts, check out his blog

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Are you getting proper treatment for your sexual abuse? 7 questions to consider

by Dr. Philip Monroe 

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You will find the theme of sexual abuse all over the news these days, from clergy sexual abuse to teacher-student improprieties. This level of public discussion allows some victims to feel empowered to speak about past abuse. Hopefully these same individuals find the courage to seek out a counselor to address ongoing struggles with memories, shame, and self-doubt.

But will just any counselor do?

How can you know if the counselor you’ve picked is the right one? Are there questions you can ask to determine whether you are getting good care? Consider the following questions:

How does my counselor handle my disclosure of sexual abuse?

It takes great courage to tell another person about violations of body and soul. Victims fear not being believed, blamed, or worse, having their secret told to others. Thus, when a person sets aside those fears and speaks of what has been hidden, it is a great honor to be blessed with that story. Consider these questions to see how your counselor rates:

Does my counselor show evidence of great care for my story? Do they treat it as precious?

Once you have told the story, what do they do next? While we counselors hear many tales of woe, it can be tempting to ignore sexual trauma, especially if it happened many years ago or is especially horrific. Some counselors think that past experiences should remain there. They choose to focus only on present problems. Or, counselors can dive into the story and unintentionally force the client to talk too much about the abuse before trust has been fully established.

Does my counselor seem in a rush to “get beyond” my abuse to forgiveness, confrontation or reconciliation?

There is a place and time to talk about these matters. However, if you have just started telling your story and these topics are their prime focus, then you know that they are most interested in getting to the end of the story, the happily ever after part. The impulse to get to the end will inevitably make you feel like your abuse was a mere trifle.

Does my counselor seem to have an unhealthy interest in all the details of my abuse?

Counselors who ignore your abuse story are not the only danger. Counselors who dive into your story with great relish may cause you to feel re-victimized. There is a time and place for telling the story in greater detail (so as to process what you have come to believe about yourself and others). Those who rush in to the gory details seem to think that all story-telling is beneficial (see this link for the difference between bad and good trauma storytelling). By the way, a counselor who offers you private access (texting, emailing, late-night phone calls, house visits) without limits and boundaries may be offering you something that is for them and NOT you.

Does my counselor let me set the pace of counseling?

The heart of abuse is oppression and stealing voice and power (I’ve written more about that in my chapter in this book). A good therapist may unintentionally re-enact abuse when they use their position to coerce clients to meet their own agenda. A benign dictator is still an oppressor! A common question I have received from beginning counselors goes something like this, “How can I make [name] tell me about her abuse?” My answer? You should not try to force her. What happened to her was coercion. You can provide a small modicum of healing by allowing her to decide when and if she will tell you anything. “But, won’t that mean that [name] will not get better?” Yes, it means her recovery will take longer. But consider this: you are undoing her abuse experience by giving her power to decide what she does with her body, including her mouth. It is true that there will be some pushing and prodding, but it should be gentle with the client feeling that he or she has the power to say no or to slow down the process.

Does my counselor educate me about trauma symptoms and typical treatments?

Trauma symptoms (intrusive memories, hypervigilance, attempts to avoid triggers, numbing, etc.) are not just a psychological phenomenon. The whole body has been traumatized. Your counselor should be able to talk about the effect of trauma on the brain at a lay person level. Further, your counselor should be able to tell you what we *think* we know about the biology of trauma and what we still do not know. (By the way, if they are too enamored with one particular theory or cure-all treatment…RUN).

A quality counselor will also talk to you about the typical 3 phase model of trauma recovery. They will educate you why it is important to develop good self-care strategies and to eliminate harmful behaviors (addictions, cutting, risky behaviors) before entering into the work of processing memories. They will tell you that safety and stabilization phase (first and ongoing) is about finding ways to stay in the present and to reduce dissociation. When you do tell your story in greater detail, the effective counselor always leaves room in each session to help you leave the office well.

When my memories are fuzzy, does my counselor urge me to try to remember?

The very nature of talking about past events (whether happy or horrific) brings old memories to the surface. Inevitably, a client will recall some feature of their abuse they had not remembered for some period of time. Or, they will recall something in a very different light and as a result it will feel like a brand new memory. However, your counselor should not be intent on finding lost memories. There are two reasons for this. First, memories can be constructed. When details are vague, our minds may have ways of filling in the blanks with false ideas (However, the likelihood of constructing an entire memory of abuse ex nihilo is rather rare. In my 24 years of counseling, no abuse victims in my office ever reported having NO lasting memory of abuse. All recalled many details even if some details were not). Second, God may have a reason for keeping certain memories from you. Not everything needs to be remembered to get well.

What goal does my counselor seek?

Counseling works best when counselee and counselor agree on goals and the means to get to those goals. Do the goals your counselor seeks make sense to you? Some goals are unrealistic and even dangerous. “Completely healed” or “as if it never happened” are unlikely and could even be dangerous in that they would make you vulnerable to re-victimization. Goals to confront, cut-off, or reconcile may be legitimate but expectations and safety plans must be reviewed ahead of time. Consider also that reconciliation may not be a good idea.

I have just touched the surface on a few questions. You might have many other questions you’d like answered. Feel free to suggest questions here and I will attempt to answer some over the next few days.

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Be sure to check out Dr. Monroe's blog. There are also a whole bunch of resources over at the Global Trauma Recovery Institute. 

Recommended Resources: 

"3 Signs of Repentance Every Church Leader Should Know" by Dr. Philip Monroe

Abuse in the Church DVD Curriculum 

Video: Dr. Langberg on the Impact of Child Sexual Abuse

Trauma and Trafficking: Resources for The Church

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"Today's Journey": Thoughts on Healing from Grace Biskie

'The steep path to the summit' photo (c) 2009, Steve & Jem Copley - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This is the third post of our weeklong series, Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church, which features the stories of abuse survivors, along with insights from professional counselors, legal experts, and church leaders about how to better prepare Christians to prevent and respond to abuse. (Previous posts include: The Scar of Sexual Abuse by Mary DeMuth and No More Silence: An Interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E.) Through the course of the series, we will be discussing child abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual violence and abuse, and domestic violence. In addition, my friends Hannah, Joy, Shaney, and Elora will be hosting a synchroblog focused specifically on spiritual abuse, which you can learn more about here.

Today we will be focusing on the winding road to healing. This morning’s post comes to us from Grace Biskie.  Grace is a high-school-student-wrangler for a non-profit foundation, a speaker, and a writer for Prodigal Magazine and A Deeper Story.  Grace is working on her first book, Detroit's Daughter, a memoir about surviving her father, her brother, abuse, racism, Christians, boys, and poverty, while growing up in Detroit. She is married to Dave, and raising two handsome little Lego lovers, Ransom, 7, and Rhys, 3. She loves photography, fashion & swiss cake rolls. She hates horcruxes and human trafficking. You can follow her adventures in trying to lead a purposeful, grace-filled, beautiful life on her blog, Gabbing With Grace, or on Twitter.  

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse by a father

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I gave my life fully, completely to Jesus at 19.  That same December I went off to a large student conference where 500 of us gathered for a Hope & Healing seminar for abuse victims.  Since I knew Jesus now, I thought it might be nice to explore the idea of how to help other women who had been through something similar. I, of course, had no healing left to do, because I, Gracie Green had met Jesus in early April.

I ended up hunched over on the floor, violently weeping, shaking uncontrollably while my InterVarsity staff worker, York prayed over me and soon called others over to help.  Total train wreck.

Months later, I began counseling to finally address the beast in my life: as a kid my father had sexually abused me for several years.  It took every ounce of my emotional, spiritual and physical being to continue to address the abuse, the consequences, the ramifications for three very long years.  I continued in counseling while I was violent with suicidal desires, deep in depression, and addicted to shopping, masturbation, sleep and powdered doughnuts, all the while my Ma became very ill and poverty had encroached it's claws onto my bare back.  I could barely move my neck.  All that grief rose up and landed right on my shoulders, a constant reminder that everything was painful, everything a disgrace.

But, Jesus...

From the shame of the abuse, the shame of the depression (which was still largely a stigma for me), the shame of the masturbation alone for crying out loud, I would have buried myself and wrote "unworthy" on the tombstone if I could have. None of that looked like healing.  I often wondered, 'How the hell is this healing?  How am I anything remotely resembling God's healing so full of mercy?'

What I see now, I couldn't see then.

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I remember telling someone for the first time that I'd officially forgiven my father.  I was young.  Seventh grade young.   It had been less than a year since I'd testified against my Dad & watched him carted off to prison.  I sat in a small group of six girls at Rhonda Duke's pre-tween birthday party and told them what happened.  To quote myself, I said I was "like, sooo over it."  Jodi Pennington looked at me and said, "It's so awesome that you told someone and that you forgive him!"  I adored that gold star of affirmation.

I wish I could scoop up that naive' little babygirl and tell her she don't know the half.

The thing is, that same thing kept happening.  At fourteen, I started a ridiculously unhealthy sexual relationship.  Our tender ages should have been indication enough there would be trouble, but once I'd chosen sex for myself, I knew.  I knew.   Something was very, very wrong about sex.  Not only was it painful and disgusting but that the act itself made me want to throw myself in front of the closest moving vehicle.  Like most teenaged girls, I assumed that the something was wrong with me.  I was the unworthy slut who got what was coming to her. 

Again with the naivete, I thought if I visited my Dad in prison I'd be better, his repentance would soothe my problems away, but the the visit left me in absolute ruins.

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After three years of married life, a Daddy-like dude came into my life which brought every single Daddy issue I had right back up to surface level.  I went to a conference called "Guilt & Shame: Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse." Absolute hell on earth.  It was misery.  In my small group were eight people in their 50's, 60's & 70's.  The oldest member was 87.  We spent hours creating a Trauma Egg where we detailed every trauma in our lives and each took an hour to share.  Every member of my group cried -some hysterically- through my egg presentation.  It was their feedback that popped on a bright light bulb for me: they were jealous, full of holy envy that I had suffered the worst part of my healing journey while I was young, before I was married and before I had kids to worry over.  All but one in our group of misfits hadn't lost their marriage over the consequences of the abuse:  me.

I didn't realize at nineteen that I'd begun a long journey where often the first leg is the worse.  I imagine it's a lot like that first step in Alcoholics Anonymous, just admitting the problem.  I thought I was going in for the recommended twelve weeks, and it continued to surprise me, month-after-month for three years, that I was still in the thick of it.

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 I had such a riot at the Guilt & Shame Conference, I signed up for more counseling.  Again.  The Daddy-like dude issue only got worse.  The next year, my father died.  My husband and I attended his funeral because I wanted to tangibly extend grace –again—in a way I knew he couldn't shit on, being dead and all.  But I learned at the funeral that he'd told his entire family that I'd lied about the abuse and that he was wrongfully imprisoned.  That was a blow.  And it was back to counseling.

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I could go on with stories about this Daddy-like dude who I didn't end up evicting from my life until nine months ago (I know, I know), or more of the shameful choices I've made (plenty), or more of the counseling I've had (recently), or the weight these issues have put on my marriage (almost to its demise), but you probably get the point by now:

My healing, our healing, is a long journey like a trek up a steep, winding and dangerous mountain.

For this journey, you need camping gear. You need to stop and rest.  You need water because it's taxing and flashlights because it's dark.  You need correct expectations because no one climbs a strenuous mountain unprepared.  But most of all, you need to know that you won't see the top, the very top until you pass from this life to the next.  That mountain top experience of 100%  healing from abuse is not for us in this not-yet-fully-here Kingdom of God in which we currently reside.

Call me a Negative Nancy, but I'm looking to heaven for my complete healing.  I don't sugar coat, ya'll.  My father broke my heart. 

When I decided to stop trying to fix what is irrevocably broken, my hope soared.

One day I will see Him face to face, when all things will be made new for this tattered heart of mine.  Until then, I press on in my messy-as-hell journey toward healing.  Yes, this healing journey of mine has been as FUGLY as the day is long, but I'm still on it. I've watched others get off and shrivel into...well, a Jerry Springer episode.  

The minute you climb down, the minute you back out of active healing and forgiveness, that's when you succumb.  And as people so tightly held in God's hands, I want to encourage you not to give up. Don't be discouraged when the coping looks worse then a Housewives episode.  This is not a one-stop shop.  This is not a pastor who pushes you over and claims, "HEALED, in name of Jesus!"  This is a less-than-reality-t.v.-worthy, day after day, messy journey of faith draggin' its triflin' self back to the cross where Jesus offers peace and blessing to the broken-hearted.  I don't have a Dad, but peace and blessing I have in abundance.

With hope in Jesus, professional counseling, godly counsel, trusted books, anti-depressants, accountability, repentance within loving community and regular workouts I'm convinced every little thing is going to be alright... 

...at least for today's journey.

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Be sure to check out Grace’s blog. For abuse survivors, Grace recommends The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender.

For additional information on how churches can prevent and respond to abuse, check out yesterday’s interview with Boz Tchividjian.

Other Resources:

The Allender Center at the Seattle School

Diane Langberg on The Spiritual Impact of Abuse

Diane Langberg on Sexual Abuse Within Christian Organizations 

Child Sexual Abuse: Startling Statistics

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Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church

'Catch Light' photo (c) 2012, Sodanie Chea - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them…Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” (Ephesians 5:8-13)

I’ve been wanting to do a series on abuse awareness for a while now, and since the news surrounding the Sovereign Grace Ministries lawsuit has brought the issue to the forefront, I thought it would be wise to seize the moment to talk about how Christians can better respond to abuse and abuse survivors. 

Pastor Tim Challies has argued that “thinking biblically” about the SGM lawsuit—which alleges that the leadership of SGM covered up the abuse of children by discouraging parents from reporting abuse to authorities and requiring victims to forgive their abusers in person— means keeping quiet about it in order to avoid “gossip.” He encouraged his readers not to ask too many questions about the situation, and to give SGM leadership the benefit of the doubt. Even after SGM has appealed to the First Amendment to avoid an investigation into the matter, Challies and many evangelical leaders with ties to SGM have either remained silent about the lawsuit or defended SGM, often characterizing those who have come forward with concerns about abuse as “divisive" or "sowing disunity and strife" in the Church. 

This response to the SGM lawsuit speaks volumes about some of the harmful narratives that tend to emerge in Christian circles around abuse, narratives I’ve only recently learned to identify with the help of abuse survivors.  Thinking “biblically” (…or perhaps, more accurately, thinking Christianly…) about abuse doesn’t mean keeping abuse in the shadows or shaming those who would come forward as troublemakers. Thinking Christianly about abuse means bringing it to light, confronting it as evil, rallying around the exploited and marginalized, and calling out the powerful. And it means listening to the stories of survivors, identifying our blind spots, learning from our mistakes, and vowing to do everything in our power to make our churches and faith communities safer places to worship and grow together.

So in this spirit, I am pleased to announce that next week I’ll be hosting a series of posts on the topic of abuse. For the series, I’ve enlisted the help of professional counselors, lawyers, abuse survivors, church leaders, and advocates, from a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise. The series is meant to be instructive, not merely a critique, and a combination of powerful storytelling and practical advice. (Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E. has graciously agreed to an interview, and folks like Mary DeMuth, Elizabeth Esther, and Sarah Moon will be sharing their stories.)  We will touch on sexual abuse and violence, child abuse, domestic violence, spiritual abuse, and bullying. 

In addition, my friends Hannah, Joy, Shaney, and Elora will be hosting a spiritual abuse awareness synchroblog, which you can learn more about here. 

I hope you will participate. There’s no way we can cover every angle of this important issue in a week, so your comments, questions, and posts will be critical in bringing more depth and insight to the conversation. 

As we prepare, what are some pitfalls to avoid? What angles are most important to hit? And do you have suggestions for resources I can share? 

[Note: I’ll be speaking/ travelling for the next 24 hours, so if I don’t respond to your comment, it’s because I’m stuck in an airplane.]

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If you have suffered, or are suffering, abuse...

My heart is heavy as I have received multiple messages today from women and daughters who say they have just now found the courage to confront the fact that they are (or have been) in physically or emotionally abusive relationships, justified by religious teachings.  I am responding to each one personally, but for those who have yet to find the words, or who cannot reach me, I offer these resources: 

National Domestic Abuse Hotline - 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)

Signs of Abuse and Abusive Relationships

Abuse Counseling & Treatment

Peace and Safety in the Christian Home

Quivering Daughters

CBE - Abuse Resources

Elizabeth Esther: 

Top 10 Signs of a Spiritually Abusive Church – Part 1 & Part 2

Tips for Recovering from a Spiritually Abusive Church

Tips for “Moving On” from an abusive church experience

Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center

Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend(recommended by Elizabeth)

If you are in an abusive situation, please seek help immediately. No act of abuse is justified by the Bible or desired by God. If you are struggling to process abuse in your past, please seek counseling. (Note: It may be important to seek counseling outside of your current church if its leaders are perpetuating or covering up the abuse.) 

In the near future, I will host a series on spiritual abuse to increase awareness regarding this troubling phenomenon whose existence is more prevalent than I ever knew.

Please limit comment responses to additional resources. This is not an issue to debate, but one that most complementarians and egalitarians would condemn as reprehensible.

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http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/abuse

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.