Recently we’ve seen a great deal of discussion occurring in our culture as it pertains to abuse. Even moreso, we are witnessing evangelicals discuss abuse. Sometimes it’s thought, if you remain silent, that you are complicit in continuing the trend. And while that’s undoubtedly an accurate statement at its face value, it also needs to be said not every evangelical leader, and even more particularly, every pastor and ministry leader is equipped to respond in writing immediately after every situation and to the latest controversies in the evangelical world. With that said, I am equipped to respond to respond to this particular issue, but it’s not because I’m in ministry and it’s also not because I have several degrees in theology. You see, in my childhood and teenage years, I was a victim of emotional and mental abuse.
I’ve never written about this before that I can recall, but there were many times in my childhood that I remember specifically, often painfully so, where my dad was very distant and cold. I remember in my teenage years where my parents would fight for hours and hours. It hurt me. In some ways, it still does even though it’s been over 20+ years since it happened. It indeed did shape my life, and now that I can see it in a redemptive way through the gospel, it also helped me not to be the kind of man who values that kind of behavior in anyway shape or form. It also shaped my marriage and helped me to see that being abusive wasn’t how a Christian man was to behave.
And that’s part of why I’m writing this article today. Recently there are allegations out there about a particular denominational leader in the SBC and his abuse of people under his care at a specific Baptist seminary. And while I can’t comment specifically on that in particular, it is still nonetheless shocking. Here is a man who the Lord has used powerfully to stand fast for the conservative resurgence in the SBC and now is being brought low by these allegations.
When I was a child experiencing emotional and mental abuse and when I saw and heard my parents verbally sparring with each other in a very aggressive fashion, I felt all alone. I felt like I had no one at all to share with, even though I did. I felt very confused, shamed, and so it made me shut down in almost every way emotionally and mentally. My grades took a giant tumble, I went to counseling for years, and none of it helped. Not a single bit.
In the Church when victims of abuse share, we especially, those of us who are Christian leaders must listen. After all, here, we are, we believe that every person is created in the image and likeness of God. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor. How is it loving to not provide safe places for people, victims of abuse to not share? How is it loving, when, my mom, did not feel comfortable sharing with her and my pastor about how my dad treated her? Instead, this particular pastor would walk right past by my mom, even when she said hi at the airport, at the grocery store, or other places in public he would see her. He knew very well who she was, I was her son, and I was also very involved in every facet of the high school ministry as a teenager, and he also knew me by name, even though we attended a very large church in the suburbs of Seattle.
You see if all we do as pastors and ministry leaders is walk by people, failing to acknowledge them even at the most basic level, they will walk away from the church. If all we do is continue failing to recognize the actual problem of abuse all around us in many forms, not just in our own lives, but in the lives of others, we will lose those people from the church. They will walk away and justly proclaim; we don’t believe the message we say we do in the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
And there’s a better way, Christians, and Christian leader. Instead of excusing, denying or even turning aside, as Christians we should turn towards in love towards both the victim and the abuser. Since we are ambassadors of Christ, and agents of reconciliation, we must not turn aside; we must turn toward hurting people with the gospel of reconciliation.
Abuse of any kind, especially, abuse by a church leader is inexcusable and utterly indefensible. Of all, people, church and ministry leaders, are to be examples of the grace of God, worthy of imitation, though they often fail, daily to do so. Even so, abuse of any kind and any shape, whether in the home, in the workplace, or elsewhere is against the Word of God and is an assault on the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is also an utter denial that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore have dignity, value, and worth in the sight of God. All people, whether they are Christians or not, have this dignity, value, and worth, which is why whether abuse occurs in the church or outside of it, it is wrong.
I will never forget sitting on the steps of the third floor in an over five hundred thousand dollar home in the Greater Seattle area and listening night after night as a teenager to my parents fight downstairs in the family room on the second floor. We had an amazing view of Lake Sammamish in Washington State and lived in a golfing community. My dad worked near the hospital and had a busy physical therapy practice. My mom was helping him build this practice. By all accounts, it seemed that all was well, but it wasn’t. My dad refused to give my mom any money for food for me or her or money so I could get new clothes. My mom had to go and get a job to pay for both food and clothes for her and I. And slowly, but surely their marriage eroded, and they got a divorce after being high school sweethearts and married for thirty-three years. While my parents divorced in 1998, I still remember sitting on the third floor on the stairs today even after twenty years. My parents now would have now have been married for fifty-three years, and my parents are only in their seventies.
You see abuse it takes and takes. It rips and divides families. It isn’t just that a Baptist seminary president is front and center in the evangelical discussion these days. What should be even at the center, is how men and women, from every economic sector and fabric of our society in our churches and outside of it, are facing abuse each day. And even sadder are those couples who have children who are affected by abuse.
We must not say only the right words on this and pretend that is the only solution. No. We must genuinely repent, not just saying we are sorry but turning from our sin to Jesus Christ. We must create safe places in our churches where people can share openly and honestly about what’s honestly going on in their lives. And that starts with us as church and ministry leaders, my friends in ministry. That starts with us, opening and talking honestly about the problem of abuse. I don’t pretend to have many answers to this problem. I’m a victim of abuse, but I’ve also at times, been an abuser myself, with my words. And for that, I’ve had to repent. The vicious cycle of abuse goes on and on from one generation to another, and it continues to destroy families and lives.
Today, I plead you with, if I was again that sixteen-year-old teenager sitting on those steps just outside my parent’s bedroom listening to my parent’s fight, I would tell you, please make it stop. And so that’s what I say to you today reading this article today. We can make it stop but not on our own. We can make it stop by being agents of reconciliation. We can make it stop by being ourselves godly people who people feel comfortable approaching and sharing openly and honestly with us. And we can also minister the hope of the gospel in the midst of these difficult situations.
We have the only message that will bring healing and hope, and real change on abuse. So let’s stop sitting on the sidelines. Let’s stop being silent about this issue. Instead, let’s speak up. And if you’ve been abused, there is hope for you today, in Christ alone. And there in the vast ocean of the grace of God, God Himself can take your pain, He knows it through and through, and sees you are you are. Won’t you even now turn to Him, turn to the one in Jesus who offers you hope, and grace for your pain? Even now, I’m reminded of just how amazing the grace of God is, and my utter daily need for Him. And at the end of the day, that is what will change not just our churches on this topic, but also, our own lives, our own homes, our neighborhoods, cities, and churches, and yes, even our nation, and the world for the glory of the grace of God.