Into the Light: A Series on Abuse and the Church

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free
'Catch Light' photo (c) 2012, Sodanie Chea - license:

“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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