7 Reasons Evangelicals Struggle to Respond Properly to Allegations of Abuse and Rape

Editor’s Note: contains references to rape, sexual harassment, and abuse.

In light of the Paige Patterson situation (read Rod Dreher’s description of and comments on it here), I’ve been reflecting on why time and time again evangelicals fail to respond properly to allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, or rape.

It looks like pastors telling abuse victims to return home and submit. Urging rape victims not to report crimes to the police. Sharing objectifying comments about young girls met with laughter rather than rebuke. Assuming alleged victims are lying or exaggerating. Handling allegations internally rather than reporting to the authorities and bringing in experts. Being unwilling to examine the evidence. Dismissing those who do as gossips or slanderers.

On the one hand, it blows my mind that people can be so ignorant and/or evil. And on the other hand, I recall that it’s only been in the last few years that I myself have learned about such things. But now that I do know, I see it everywhere—including in the church!

But why is this? Why do people, and particularly conservative Christians, repeatedly fail in these ways? Why the aversion to truth? Why so slow in the ways of justice? Why the failure to love neighbor? Why the disbelief that such evil could be in our midst?

One reason Christians fail is because people fail, and Christians are people. Other reasons relate to beliefs and fears that are specific to evangelical culture. In this second category, I’ve come up with seven reasons why Christians may tend to fail to respond properly to allegations of abuse or rape (or why they cannot tolerate the idea of those they respect having responded poorly). At the end of this article, I’ve included some suggestions for how Christians can respond better—in a manner befitting our commitment to love for one’s neighbor and love for God—and some resources for further study.

  1. A distorted view of authority. God is the ultimate authority and has created earthly authorities. He has given authority to governments, church elders, parents, and others. Christians are right to believe in and properly submit to such authority. The problem comes, however, when an earthly authority is made ultimate and unaccountable, above all critique or criticism. (Behind this is perhaps of fear of anarchy, of the dissolution of rightful authority, as well as a fear of losing control of those under authority.)
  2. Viewing specific churches, denominations, or organizations as ultimate and necessary. Sometimes Christians place too high an importance on specific churches or organizations which can lead to obsession about reputation and appearance over truth and justice. One might call this an idolization of power. This relates to a conflation of the success of a church or denomination with the success of the church or the gospel. People worry that if their organization falls because of “scandal,” the gospel itself will fall.
  3. Ignorance about harassment, abuse, and rape. Some Christians don’t understand abuse dynamics, reasons for delayed reporting, or even the basic definitions of harassment, rape, and abuse. Thus they fail to respond appropriately. Part of this may be because many Christians cannot fathom what it would be like to perpetrate abuse or rape, and they impose their “goodness” on those around them, failing to take into account the depth of evil possible even by professing Christians.
  4. Failure to understand the seriousness of sex crimes. Sometimes Christians engage in “sin leveling” when it comes to sexual sins, failing to recognize that sexual assault is much more grievous than lustful thoughts; in such cases, the result tends to being minimizing of sex crimes. Similarly, some fail to understand that some things are “merely” sinful while other things are both sinful and criminal.
  5. Misplaced opposition to liberalism. In American culture at present, liberals–whether political, cultural, or theological–tend to talk more about rape, harassment, and abuse than conservatives (who talk more about chastity, pornography, and adultery). This has led some conservatives to wrongly conflate opposition to sex crimes with liberalism. Perhaps it is difficult to accept truth when it comes from “the other side.” In my opinion, liberals have much they could learn about sexuality from conservatives; however, a proper understanding of and response to abuse and rape are some of the issues in which conservatives could learn from liberals.
  6. Fear of heroes falling. Humans like to have people to look up to. We love our heroes. The mere suggestion that those whom we respect could be guilty of grossly mishandling allegations of sex crimes (or of the sex crimes themselves!) can be extremely disconcerting. We wonder what will happen to us, and what it says about us, if our heroes are deeply flawed. And so it is easier not to entertain such thoughts, rejecting such accusations as being from “the haters.”
  7. Faulty theology of repentance and reconciliation. At the heart of Christianity are repentance and reconciliation. God, through Christ, reconciles sinful humanity to himself when they repent and believe. This reconciliation is echoed in relationships between people. Reconciliation, however, can be misapplied when victims of abuse are urged to “forgive and forget” at the expense of truth, justice, or healing. Or when the perpetrator feeling bad for being caught is mistaken for genuine repentance. Or when even genuine repentance is seen as necessitating the alleviation of consequences.

In summary, Christians may respond poorly to allegations of abuse due to ignorance, idolatry, fear, or flawed theology. The call, then, is: to embrace truth even when it’s difficult; to trust that Christ will build his church (even if our local churches or denominations fail); and to believe that doing justly on behalf of victims of abuse or rape is right and is actually a better testimony to the watching world than excusing or covering it up.

What Should Christians and Churches Do?

  • Learn about power dynamics and abuse dynamics.
  • Learn to recognize tactics abusers use to cover up their crimes and the likely responses to exposure.
  • Evaluate doctrines of authority, repentance, the church, and reconciliation to see if they are in line with truth.
  • Listen to and support (emotionally and practically) people leaving abusive relationships.
  • Speak up when you witness harassment and objectification.
  • Teach respect, chastity, and consent in your families and communities.
  • Support legislation based on best practices for dealing with harassment, abuse, and rape.
  • Advocate for good policies in churches, organizations, and denominations.
  • Be humble–willing to learn.
  • Admit when you’ve acted or believed wrongly, and seek to make it right.

Sample Resources

This concludes my current ponderings on the way Christians deal with abuse. Thank you for reading—especially as this is a serious and grieving topic. But friends, it is so important!

What about you? How have you seen Christians respond to abuse? What are some other factors that could contribute to poor responses? And what resources do you recommend for those wanting to learn more?

Until next time,

~Hannah 🌸

Check out some of my previous articles:

Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

When you hear the phrase “Prosperity Gospel,” you might imagine the luxurious mansions and perfect health supposedly promised to any person with faith enough to claim it. The term “Fundamentalism,” on the other hand, may conjure images of stern people in conservative clothing threatening others into good behavior. What could these possibly have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

Both Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel see good things as a reward for good people who make good choices. For the Prosperity Gospel, faith and positivity unlock wealth and health. For Fundamentalism, holiness and submission lead to happiness and success. In essence, the Prosperity Gospel says, “If you have enough faith, then you will be happy and successful,” while Fundamentalism says, “If you make good choices, then you will be happy and successful.” But God doesn’t work that way, and nowhere does he promise health in exchange for faith or happiness in exchange for holiness.

There are some unsettling and heartbreaking implications to this way of thinking. For one, trials in life are seen as the result of personal failure, whether failure of faith or of holiness. Success, on the other hand, is a reward for those who do enough or believe enough. If a person struggles, it is because they are inadequate. And if a person is happy and life is going great, it is because they are great. Those who experience difficulty, therefore, can be judged and should be fixed. And those who are successful can be honored and should be followed.

Let’s look at some examples. In the case of sickness, the Prosperity Gospel urges people to “just have faith” that a reversal of fortunes is just around the corner. A person who believes such nonsense will tell the sufferer to believe better so they can get better, rather than compassionately sitting with the sufferer in the midst of the mess. In fact, when people with this view encounter suffering, they must either believe that the sufferer lacks sufficient faith or reexamine their entire worldview!

In another example, Rachel Joy Welcher recently spoke on Twitter (@racheljwelcher) about Fundamentalism’s view that abstinence guarantees a happy and problem-free marriage. The idea is that abstaining from sexual activity before marriage earns you the reward of blissful marital intimacy and lack of relational conflict. In other words, do good to earn happiness. One problem with this is that when these rewards do not manifest, people feel confused and guilty. Here’s what Rachel says:

Common in Christian dating and purity books from my teen years was the promise that waiting until marriage for sex guaranteed a good marriage. Included in this promise was the idea that the greatest trial your relationship would endure was this waiting. The expectations this creates. The turmoil and fear and false-guilt when marriage is difficult – more difficult than abstinence. One book I read last night promised that “if you wait…you’ll make babies with great celebration” and that sex will be “a blast.” What happens when starting a family is full of loss and pain? When your sex-life is not “a blast”? When those who did all the “right things” and wrote the “lists” are getting divorced?

There are other commonalities between the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism besides false if-then promises. These include the idealization of leaders and a theology that is too enmeshed with a specific cultural context. However, these are topics for another time. For now, let’s look at what the Bible actually teaches and how it challenges these faulty beliefs. 

First of all, the Bible teaches that all people, including good Christians, will experience difficult times (take a look at the book of Job!) and the full range of emotions (see the book of Psalms or Jesus in the Gospels). It does not promise that we will see happy resolutions to our suffering in this lifetime or that we will be successful if we work hard enough. To teach otherwise is inconsistent with what is true.

Second, life’s challenges–ill health, marital strife, or other difficulties–are sometimes the result of our own sin or foolishness. But other times they are because of the brokenness of this world, another person’s sin, a corrupt society, or the Devil. Most often, difficulties occur because of some combination of these reasons. To assume the cause of suffering is always just one of these is not fair to the teaching of Scripture.

Third, the Bible urges us to have faith, to trust in God’s character and God’s promises. However, it is not our faith that unlocks God’s character or allows him to keep his promises. He is who he is regardless of our belief or unbelief; our faith does not create reality. The very fact that God’s character and promises are not dependant on us is the one of the reasons he is worthy of our trust!

Fourth, God does call us to holiness in all areas of life, both as individuals and as communities (see Romans 12-16, Ephesians 4-6). The Book of Proverbs even enumerates the ways that living according to goodness and wisdom may lead to blessings! But our right choices do not guarantee blessings and may even lead to more difficulties (again, see Job).

And finally, regarding motivations for holiness, the Bible provides several motivations beyond the potential happy outcomes. There is the hope of reward in heaven, the call to live according to our new life in Christ (Romans 12:2-2), and the desire to bring God glory. Again, Rachel Joy Welcher has some excellent thoughts on this specifically as relates to sexual purity.

Lovers of God, do we need more motivation (great marriage, lots of babies, great sex, easy-sailing after the alter, etc.) to obey our Savior, than His glory? These books. So full of promises. Dangled carrots. Cultural references. There are lots of reasons people practice abstinence before marriage. Christians should not pursue purity to ensure a trial-free future (this is never a promise in Scripture) or their own personal fulfillment. Christians pursue purity for the glory of God. Because He is our King. And we fail & fumble at this. Some endure theft & rape. Purity isn’t virginity, fitting into a white dress or having the same story, history or future as everyone else. It’s about loving God so much that obeying Him is worship, failing Him is repentance & accepting grace is daily.

Rather than promising escape from earthly trials either through faith or through holy living, the Bible promises that God is with his people in the midst of difficult times. Christians may or may not see success and happiness on this Earth, and we do a disservice when we promise otherwise. Instead we can walk in faith and obedience, coming alongside those who are hurting in order to be a tangible reminder of God’s presence with them in their troubles.

So let us not fall prey to the lies of if-then religiosity in any of its forms. Instead may we embrace the whole counsel of Scripture, walking in holiness and putting our faith in God, not because we believe we are guaranteed happy results, but in order to live as those who are in Christ and whose destination is heaven, where all things will be made whole. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out Rachel Joy Welcher (@racheljwelcher): https://twitter.com/racheljwelcher?s=09 A big thank you to her for her insights and inspiration! 

I’m With Jane

ImWithJane

Just as a word of introduction, before you continue, I implore you to read this article by author and co-host of Fundy Sees Red, Marci Preheim. Then, I want you to read this article by one of my partners here at LNT, Hannah Conroy. Otherwise, none of what I am about to say will make sense.

Allow to say two more things before I allow my fingers to dance with anger across the keyboard:

  1. I’m not going to recall many details of the events because Marci Preheim has already documented the events fairly well in her post.
  2. I do not know the people involved in this incident, and for all I know everything that’s being said could be a boldfaced lie. I have no proof whatsoever that these events unfolded the way Marci Preheim’s article said that they did, but I have reason to believe that the events of this story actually occurred for three reasons: (1) I’ve followed Marci long enough that I’m confident that she wouldn’t post BS. (2) Marci Preheim attended John MacArthur’s church for a while and she can tell you all about the in’s and out’s of it. (3) I don’t know “Jane” personally, but I’ve known and heard of way too many Jane’s to remain silent.

As I read Preheim’s article and Hannah’s response to said article, I’m left feeling very angry and very tired. It makes me angry for all of the obvious reasons. A woman has her voice taken from her simply because the culture of the church community that she’s getting an education from devalues the voice of women, and because once again, this is a situation where the abused powerless aren’t receiving justice and the powerful abusers are covering up their crimes. Unfortunately, this is what people who are not complimentarians think of when they hear about complimentarianism.

Let’s be honest, the Reformed community does a crappy job of showing sympathy to women like Jane. Now, to a degree, I understand where they’re coming from. Accusations of rape against someone who didn’t do it can ruin their life, but according to what I’m reading, he openly admitted that there was no consent. This is unacceptable. And if everything that I’m reading is true, then this man needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent and John MacArthur and anyone else involved with this case needs to resign immediately and repent.

Like I said earlier, this whole thing left me feeling tired. I’m tired because I hear about stories like this all the time. A leader hurts people in his church here, a leader hurts people in his church there, etc. The list goes on and on. I’m tired of hearing about it. Something needs to change.

Personally, I am not a complimentarian, but I think if complimentarians are to be taken seriously then they need to stand up against people like MacArthur and say, “He does not represent me.” But this isn’t just the time for talk, this is also the time for action. Complimentarians need to show that a woman’s worth is not determined by her ability to marry or bear children, but her value is determined by her belonging to Christ and being made in the image of God.

As for me, I am with all the Janes. I believe that they have a voice, and I believe that they deserve equality within the body of Christ, and if you don’t believe that then you are no better than Jane’s oppressors.

 

 

Redneck Buddhism

redneckbuddhism

I’ve been reading “Evil and the Justice of God” by N.T. Wright, and as N.T. Wright’s books usually go, so far I’ve not been disappointed. Once or twice I’ve raised my eyebrows in hesitation, but so far he’s not said anything that I just overtly disagree with. However, he did make a statement that has inspired this post.

Wright is talking about the end of the book of Job and he brings up how it is easy for us to dismiss the trouble that Job is going through because eventually Job is going to Heaven and joys of Heaven will be so tremendous that it will practically (if not literally) make Job forget that he ever went through anything bad.

“It might have been easy for the author… to say that after Job’s death the angels carried him to a paradise where everything was so wonderful that he forgot what a terrible time he’d had one earth. But that is emphatically not the point. The question is about God’s moral government of this world, not about the way in which we should leave this world behind and find consolation in a different one. That is the high road to Buddhism, not biblical theology.”
– N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, pg. 70

This statement struck a chord with me because I come from a culture where the idea of Heaven and escaping from the world was practically worshiped right alongside the Triune God Himself. We would fervently sing lyrics like ” Laying up my treasures in that home above/Trusting, fully trusting in the Savior’s love;/Doing what I can for heaven’s Holy Dove/I’m a getting ready to leave this world.” and I still remember pecking out the chorus on the piano and singing, “I’m getting ready to leave this world,/Getting ready for gates of pearl;/Keeping my record bright/Watching, both day and night/I’m getting ready to leave this world.”

There was no concern for the world and the culture in which we lived only about escaping it. This seemed to fly in the face of Jesus’ high priestly prayer to His Father in John 17.

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” – John 17:15-16, 18, NRSV

So, you have a group of people who understand that they belong to Jesus so you would think that they would want what Jesus wants as far as the mission of God is concerned, but all they cared about escaping and if they were evangelistic at all, they wanted to proselytize people into their escapist ideology. For them, there was no living in the world to make it a better place for the glory of God. There was either living for the sake of the world or living for the sake of their idea of God. And their idea of God involved a God who would take them out of the world so He could completely do away with it.

As I contemplated the words of N.T. Wright, I thought about how this unhealthy obsession with escapism has affected so much of Christianity and a lot of it comes from fundamentalist ideology. You don’t really see a lot of progressives that want to hurry up and get to Heaven so they can escape the conservatives, but you have a lot of conservative fundamentalist Christians who want to hurry up and go to Heaven not because they want to be with Jesus, but because they think they can finally get away from ‘those damn liberals.’ I think they’re going to be surprised. I think the 30 minutes of silence we see in Heaven (Revelation 8:1) is going to be everyone dropping their jaws at the sight of everyone that they thought for sure wouldn’t be there.

So, how do I know that there’s an unhealthy obsession with escapism in fundamental Christianity? Look at the sale of books about people that have allegedly been to Heaven and back. Christians are buying into this crap and they’re celebrating it as if it’s these works should be added to the Bible as canon.

Let me just preface what about to say with this: I believe people can have dreams and visions about the afterlife, but I don’t believe we should treat these dreams and visions as applicable to all of us. Maybe these dreams and visions are meant to bring personal comfort to the particular person that received them no so they can make millions of dollars off of them, and that’s assuming that the dreams and/or someone might have are true depictions that reflect what we already learn in Scripture, but if you read these books, then you have got to understand that the dreams and/or visions given these best-selling books do not in any way reflect Scripture, if anything they contradict it.

One review of ‘Heaven is For Real’ says the following, Heaven Is for Real… insists that the fantasy elements of this story are “true” — that this is a story that really happened and that this is “for real,” what “Heaven” is all about.

That means we can’t simply respond to this story as a story. It means we have to respond to this lie as a lie — as a mawkish, melodramatic, manipulative, sappy, shallow, schmaltzy, anti-biblical, anti-rational lie.

Christians who care about Christianity ought to be upset about a lie like that. But they won’t be, because this lie is embedded in a movie festooned with all the tribal signifiers that delight white evangelicals — praying firefighters, miracles that prove scientists are stupid, talking embryos in Heaven, etc. Include enough of the totems and talismans of their tribe, and white evangelicals will embrace this movie as their own.”

Pay attention to the last part of that review – “Include enough of the totems and talismans of their tribe, and white evangelicals will embrace this movie as their own.” WHERE IS THE LIE? All anyone has to do to attract Christians to their movie is have an Atheist antagonist that whitewashes all atheists as angry people who want to make the lives of Christians miserable. Oh wait! They’ve done that – it’s called ‘God’s Not Dead’! I’ve seen God’s Not Dead, and I refuse to watch God’s Not Dead 2, God’s Not Dead 3, and God’s Not Dead 76.
Christians, I mean this out of love and great frustration, embracing things like “90 Minutes in Heaven,” “Heaven is For Real,” and “To Heaven and Back” as real events that add to our theology of Heaven is exactly the reason why no one takes us seriously as intellectuals. We used to have geniuses in our camp that the whole world respected as intellectuals like Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal, Francis Bacon. Now who is the most well known name in science that represents Christianity now? Ken Ham. A pseudo-scientist that can’t admit when he’s wrong. Is this is the best we can do?
Back to my original thought, this escapist ideology that has infected our religion like an annoying boil on our backside is nothing more than a redneck form of Buddhism because it leaves it’s adherents obsessed with “the other side” while ignoring our goal here on this side. Here’s the thing, it is apparent that we were not made to permanently reside here on earth. Ultimately, at the end of our Christian life we go to Heaven and we get to see Jesus and rejoice in His presence, but the Bible (intentionally, I believe) doesn’t give us that much detail about Heaven. Here’s what we know: Jesus is there, and sin and Satan are not there. That’s good enough for me.  The Bible has a lot more say about who are becoming and what we should be doing here.
So, until God calls us home and we see Jesus, we should follow Wesley’s words of wisdom and “Do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.”

This world, as it stands, may not be our home, but are not just passin’ through. There will come a day when Jesus will make all things new including the earth and what we do here until then matters.

Also, I highly recommend this video by David Platt (just watch it, it’s less than 5 minutes) taken from his Secret Church seminar where he covered Heaven, Hell, and the End of the World. He brings up the notion that a lot of these best-selling books about Heaven are being devoured by people who would describe themselves as being born again which tells nothing more than that the discernment within the Body of Christ concerning this topic is embarrassingly low.