Sometimes I wonder if every person in the world has been sexually abused. I am aware that the nature of my work biases my perspective, perhaps severely. You see, for as far back as I can remember, I have been interested in supporting survivors of abuse, addressing the laws that add to our frustration, and changing our “church-talk” which in many cases hinders healing. I’m invited to enter into the lives of many women: women who are your next-door neighbor, your kid’s Sunday school teacher, your pastor, your physician or your best sister-friend.
For so many of them, a history of sexual abuse lingers like a chronic toothache, so familiar that it is no longer recognized, dulling the senses but not interfering with the capacity to perform the routine tasks of life. I too have been there, making my way through life slightly numb because of the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. I didn’t realize the ways my body, mind, and spirit were impacted by the abuse until I asked myself why I continued to do certain things. For example, I never really got a good night’s sleep. In fact, for roughly 30 years, I averaged about 4 hours each night. There is no reason a 7-year-old should be living off of 4 hours of sleep each night. Sexual abuse impacted my relationships with myself and others. I normalized living from a position of “not quite whole”. Sexual abuse is not only a crime against the body, it is a crime against the soul.
Statistical information varies. Some reports show 1 out of 4 women will have been impacted by sexual abuse by the time she is 18. And some reports show that the numbers of African American women are as high as 1 out of 2 women. With the number of abused women being so high and percentage of women in our congregations being so high, why is the only thing I hear about sexual abuse about how I should forgive my abuser? That is, if I hear anything at all. Please don't get me wrong. I certainly have a deep belief in and appreciation for forgiveness. However, when forgiveness is built on forgetfulness we are inviting people to normalize their pain. For example, a woman who was abused by her father shared with me that she was told by her pastor that she was to forget the past because God made her more than a conqueror. This is absurd.
But in many ways, this is how we address issue of abuse in the church. We are taught to deny what has happened to us. We are taught to believe that it is not that big of a deal. We are encouraged to keep those dirty details to ourselves and move on because they make people feel uncomfortable. And if we continue to express pain, sadness, or anything that points to our trauma, we are somehow denying the power of God to heal us. But if we accept that, we will not be free to face the parts of our souls that remain scarred and damaged by the effects of sexual abuse.
But God does not intend for us to live broken. And the result of silence on the subject of abuse is often a greater deadening of the soul. I want to invite us to do more than talk about Tamar every couple of years, and instead, find ways to engage in conversations around the issues that cause damage to our souls more regularly. I want us to invite God into all of those closed doors where we’ve stuffed and locked away our pain. I want us to reach out to therapist and healers and our sister circles so that together, we become whole. God is big enough to handle our questions, our sadness, and our rage. So can we talk about this?
I Just Believe Ministries, Inc.
Federal Tax ID #42-2604360
P.O. Box 23902
Philadelphia, pa 19143