It seems like every couple of months we hear about another pillar of the Christian faith who has fallen. The latest in the long line is Ravi Zacharias and the atrocities he committed.
For the everyday Christian, it is a point of outrage and shame. Yet, for victims of sexual, emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse, the responses range widely. For those who have been personally abused by ministers, there is no shock or shame, but only the cold reality of what they already knew. Victims of abuse in the church are a different breed altogether. Their lives have been scorched by a flame of hell that should not exist within the church walls. For these individuals, the outing of the sins of a man like Ravi Zacharias can pull out old memories, episodes of PTSD, crying, outbursts, numbness, reckless behavior, rage, fear, depression, and pain. For many, there are no words left to say. Their horror, shock, and denial withered away long ago, and they are left with silence.
Many victims leave the church, and they have good reason to. They do not trust ministers. They have difficulty reconciling the message preached with the reality of their betrayal. Satan stalked the halls of the church in the guise of a holy suit. Satan was let loose to deceive, humiliate, control, dominate, devastate, and destroy individual lives while wearing the holy garb of the priesthood. These individuals are correct in their assessment: Satan truly did stalk the halls of the church. Nowhere is the divide seen so clearly between good and evil as when a minister, who should represent righteousness and Jesus, sexually abuses others.
The natural tendency in evangelical circles is to tighten sexual accountability. They look instinctively at sexuality instead of the manipulative and cognitive evil within psychology that has very little to do with sexual gratification. Even now, spurred on by the revelation on Ravi Zacharias, the evangelical church has focused on sexuality while excluding the premises of power and abuse that accompany it. As long as Christians see sexual abuse as a sexual need, they will never create a culture that changes the types of ministers they release into the pulpit. Abuse, especially sexual abuse, is not solely about sexuality. It is about abuse accompanying alongside sexuality. It is power-based in orientation. Every minister in the nation could have ten rings of sexual accountability circles, but the predators would still escape to abuse others just like Ravi Zacharias did. Accountability alone will never stop the predators who sexually abuse others.
As a female minister, I am tired of hearing the stories. We have allowed men to dominate the conversation while they continue to perpetuate the culture and vicious cycle that allows these situations to occur. I see men struggling to try to create even more safeguards, but there is no safeguard for evil within the heart. I also recognize that there are men who have been abused as well. These men are even more silent about their abuse than women, feeling a complicated masculine shame related to their sexuality and experience. No gender has been spared from sexual abuse within the church. There are victims of all ages, nationalities, and genders. All still carry the scars today. Some have made significant progress in recovery, yet many may never see that day. For the victims, they carry it with them everywhere they go. Even when they move on to a happier and healthier life, even walking the path of ministry themselves, these individuals carry something from their past.
It is time for abuse to stop in the church. It is time for a change of culture, a change of the way we lead, and a change toward many genders leading from pulpits. Men have contributed to this vicious cycle, and it will not change while they continue to do what they have always done. It is time for a change to come.
With tears in my eyes, I apologize to victims of sexual abuse in the church. If no minister has ever apologized, I apologize on their behalf. I am so sorry for what was done to you. You did not deserve it, and the shame and blame do not belong on you. The shame of what has occurred is the fault of that person. The minister is to blame, not you. I cannot erase the time, pain, tears, or devastation that they caused you. It was wrong, and I stand in their stead and repent on their behalf. I do not cleanse them of wrongdoing, but I am reaching out to you today. It was evil. It was wrong. It should not have happened. I am so sorry.
Perhaps no one knows what you went through. Maybe you never told anyone. Perhaps the name of the abuser is still on your lips. You deserve better. You deserve freedom to find a spirituality of health and wholeness, sexual fulfillment, and intimacy. You deserve to live a life where you can feel confident, wholly accepted, and live without fear. You deserve so much more than what was done to you.
I pray you find a place within you to overcome fear and shame. I pray that you recognize the beautiful man or woman you are, inside and out. I pray protection over you right now and in the future, that all abuse would stop and would never again descend on you. I pray that you learn to love in new-found ways.
I pray for peace inside, because you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I pray that you are healed and fully recover. I also pray that if you want to walk a spiritual path, you find those who would hold your hand as you walk it: in honor, respect, intimacy, safety, and godly love. I pray you overcome and are able to move on to live the life you richly deserve and desire.
Please accept my apology in their stead. I ask for forgiveness from you. I reach out to you on their behalf, because many of these individuals will never apologize. Forgive me. You don’t ever have to remember their name again, confront them, or bear their wounds if you do not want to. Forgive me for the wrong done to you. If you need this to move on, I give it to you. If you also want a relationship with Jesus, he is still available. Jesus loves you and cares so much about what has happened. If you want, you can reach out and talk to him today.
Reality Changing Observations:
- Is there someone you should reach out and talk to after reading this letter? Who? Please reach out to them.
- If you are a victim, where do you want to go from here?
- If you are a casual observer, how has your view changed in light of what you read?