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Be Aware

Continued from previous blog….

Be aware, as a faith community leader, of your own feelings, attitudes and experiences with sexual assault.  If you are a survivor who has never started your own Unintended Journey, admit this to your congregation.  As a general rule, if the above is true of you, whether you a man or a woman, your bent will be to do such things as  not believe what a survivor might tell you, respond judgementally, or minimize the ‘cancer’ that has been inflicted and not treated.  I invite you leaders into a new place by not allowing your own disbelief, ignorance, disgust, anger or discomfort to control your your leadership on this issue.  You can respond calmly to a survivor, and not minimize her/his experience even if you are in doubt.  A faith community leader needs to assure the survivor that she is a worthy and acceptable person; perhaps a rare experience for her.  She needs to be assured that she is in no way to blame for the assault even if she herself isn’t quite sure of the memories.  The best thing you can do is assure her that the faith community will learn how to surround her with support if she wishes it. (I am using ‘she’, but please understand that it could also be ‘he’)

Though a faith community leader doesn’t need to be qualified to meet all the needs of the survivor, you do need to know your limits of education, support, what to do, etc., and not go beyond those limits. One very important limit is how many times are you able to meet with her?   Your role would usually be to deal with the spiritual and religious concerns she might have like “how could God allow this?  If God is a good God and in control of everything, why didn’t He protect me?”  Anger at God and questioning God is normal and must be seen as a vital stage of recovery.  You do not need to have all the answers, but just learn how to be God’s Presence to the degree you are able.  These personal limits will be different for each of you.  I hope you will be able to recognize that even if you can give her the ‘right’ answers to the hard questions, she’ll most likely ‘believe’ them only with a mental ascent, if at all.  God’s truths will reach her heart as she embarks on her own Unintended Journey.  If you can just let her question, speak truths gently as you are led, understand that she will need to walk her own road of recovery, and lead your community in how are we going to provide the supports she needs, you will be giving her a great gift. 

Communicate clearly that it is common for a survivor to blame herself and God for what happened.  You can help her by placing the responsibility squarely on the perpetrator, no matter what the circumstances surrounding the SV.  Though she may not accept the truth, she’ll feel the support of your position (you will only be able to say this truth if you yourself actually believe it in your own heart).  A survivor may ask, “Is it because I failed in my Christian walk that I am being punished?  Or she may say, “I have followed all the rules and yet this happened.  Maybe there is no God.”  Her Unintended Journey thorugh this can help her find God in new and wonderful ways she (and maybe you) have never even imagined.  Through your leadership, she can experience what God can do.

I know ‘all’ is a very extreme word to use, but I will risk it here.  I propose that all of you faith community leaders must make a choice about how you will lead in this area, or not.  If you choose not to learn how to lead your community, all survivors will suffer more than they would have without such leadership.  Families and children will suffer more than necessary.  You can actually lead your community to learn how to be rape-free, just like QRS.  What would God want?

More on faith community leadership next time…….


  1. It’s challenging for me to grasp the notion that Christian leaders aren’t supportive of survivors of sexual abuse. I’ve always imagined that they would have an attitude similar to mine, though perhaps not as harsh: The perpetrator should be either castrated or sewn shut, and the victim should be helped through the healing process. I hope your experience in this regard is more uncommon than you perceive!

  2. Hi Kevin,
    Another way to think about what you wrote “that Christian leaders aren’t supportive of survivors of sexual abuse” is to realize that the majority probably want to be. A little bit of education can go a long way in our faith communities to change the ‘culture of silence’ that is so prevalent. The notion that sexual violence is rare, cannot be talked about, or that I would not not know what to do as a leader if I did talk about it, so I do nothing is more common. Or I do something I think is right, with little or no notion of what is needed. Ignorance on this issue is not our friend, male or female. Your anger is certainly a healthy response. I hope you will join with other Christian men to help form a movement that can change our faith community/general culture to a rape-free culture. It has been done. I have blogged about a few examples. We can learn from both the word of God and these other examples how to do it if we really want to. I sit here wondering who God is calling to lead change.

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