Responding to abuse in the Christian community: Part 1 of 2

We have been reflecting on the tragic report on Ravi Zacharias published by the International Board of RZIM. It’s sad beyond words for all who are affected. It’s deeply humbling for the church. And we believe it’s a fresh alert to watch over our flocks and own souls, especially as leaders. We’d like to highlight two responses we believe are crucial, in relation to victims and in relation to ourselves as leaders. Agnes writes part one, Becoming a refuge for victims, below. In the next post, I (David) write part two, Walking in the light.

David and Agnes Mitchell

Agnes Mitchell grew up on the Isle of Skye, a minister’s daughter.  Both her parents experienced the Hebridean revivals and she grew up hearing of God’s supernatural work.  She met her husband David at the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh where they were trained in evangelism and again steeped in tales of revival fire.  Agnes has a degree in theology and is finishing up a degree in Scottish Gaelic and culture.  Her main ministry and passion is raising and homeschooling their four kids.


by Agnes Mitchell

We want to preface what follows with a couple of qualifiers and our rationale for the particular focus here. First, the remarks below, though strong, are not about throwing stones at any one offender. Second, we wholeheartedly affirm that God’s invitation to repent and receive grace are for everyone, whatever their offence. We celebrate every instance where this genuinely happens, and we do not wish to call into question instances where God has clearly brought restoration. However, a wide body of evidence and our own experience indicate that the church has often neglected to adequately protect and defend those who are victimised. We hope you will appreciate that this is why the needs of these often voiceless victims is our focus.

Becoming a refuge for victims

Recently I heard of a woman who reported horrendous abuse from her husband to her church elders. She was told to try and be nicer to her husband and maybe try making him some scones. Scones! I know another woman who, after sharing chilling tales of abuse which should have landed her husband in jail, was actually thrown out of her church for leaving her dangerous husband.

An abuse victim, after hearing of the exposure of Ravi Zacharias, spoke of a sense of relief: “These guys never get exposed.” A stark warning to the rest of us.  

A domestic abuse lawyer says that she is sickened by the number of pastors who come to plead on behalf of abusers, saying they have truly changed their ways and appealing for a lighter sentence. She also says that neither she nor her colleagues have ever seen a pastor come to plead on the behalf of a victim of abuse.  

Is the church just naive? Sadly, it seems the church has a growing reputation for being on the side of the abuser rather than the abused. No matter how far removed we are from notorious scandals, we end up being painted with the same black brush. We must work extra hard to counter this assumption and show that we are a refuge for the broken and downtrodden. The truth is that 1 in 6 women have been the victims of attempted or successful sexual assault. On average it takes 35 instances of abuse before a female victim dares to report. Women need to know that they have a safe place to disclose.  They need to know they will be taken seriously. They need to know they will not be judged.  

Men also experience both sexual and domestic abuse. It is often even harder for men to talk about these things as they are afraid of looking weak or unmanly. Sadly, police often ignore reports of abuse on men.  

Victims of abuse need time to heal. A long time. Their journey can be messy, dark and draining to those around them. PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, depression, trust issues, flashbacks, panic attacks can all be part of the journey. Although there is much we can do as a church, we also must recognise that professional help is often needed.

What can the church do?  

  • We can be open. If churches rarely talk openly about sex, abuse and moral failure, people can get the message that we just don’t talk about this stuff, we can’t handle it.
  • We can be a safe place. We can make it known that we are here to listen when people have shocking things to say.  
  • We can make sure women know that there are women in leadership who can be confided in. Women should not have to share intimate details with an all male panel of elders.  
  • We can help victims be assured that they are not judged. As counterintuitive as it may seem, victims commonly experience a great deal of guilt. Fearing they may have caused the abuse, guilt for not speaking sooner, guilt for causing trouble.  
  • We can pray. We may not know what to say, we may not know what to do, but we have access to the one who knows all things and the one who can make all things well.  
  • We can bring them to Jesus – Jesus not only stood up for those who were oppressed by powerful men, but also was abused himself.  
  • We can be an advocate – often abuse leaves a victim lacking confidence or energy to stand up for themselves. We can be their mouthpiece. 

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Psalm 147:3

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