Monday, 21 July 2014

Abuse in Church

I lay in bed the other night and quite randomnly, I remembered an incident from when I was a teenager. I used to do a paper run and there was a married man, much older than me, from our Church, whose house was near ours. He would always smile and be friendly. From time to time, he would be out biking, meandering around the streets while I just hapenned to be on my route. He would bike along with me for a bit, chatting, and although it struck me as a little odd.. I didnt give it much weight. Until one day he stopped outside a home he was building, in our subdivision, and invited me to look through it. I was hesitant and confused.. too young to understand, yet too old to ignore the misgivings I had. I agreed politely and rushed through the rooms, trying to ignore the hand on my back, the fact that no one else was there, the weirdness of his behaviour. I headed for the front door, got on my bike and carried on. Later that day I quit my paper run. At the time, I remember thinking how silly I felt for even feeling uneasy or wary of him. Yet with years, hindsight and wisdom, I was able to clearly identify the predatory nature of his actions and was grateful for my gut instincts to over-ride my politeness and desire of pocket money, with a need for safety. As I sat tonight, praying, I recognized a fire God has lit within me. You see, there are so many stories of abuse hapenning 'in church'.. no, not necessary inside its walls, but by members who you should trust, and the lack of talking, discussion and frankness is a breeding ground for danger. People who have a profile of being trustworthy, noteable, respected; who are in reality, undermining, attacking and damaging families, children and the innocent. And you bet, it grieves my heart, and sure grieves Gods. First of all, abuse isnt always of a sexual nature, as my story hints above. Sometimes its much more subtle than that.. and dangerous. Emotional and spiritual abuse is harder to pin, and often takes a mask of looking like religion. I fear that, more than anything, because its often the most ignored and disregarded. The church tends to excuse it under lines of 'grace, forgiveness, personality, preference'. So how can you keep you and your children safe? #1 Abuse is intentional and controlling. The feelings a victim has, are often paralyzing and silent. It seeks to build trust, isolation and loyalty and the most alarming thing, is that others around often cant see what is going on for you. Be wary of those who be-friend you fast and single you out. Especially those who have a 'ministry' profile of some sort and act that way. They will make you feel 'extra special' and that should be your first warning. #2 Note how much personal information is shared. Abusers tend to go very personal, very quickly. They will share things that are at a level that make you feel you are trusted and ask the same of you. #3 Dont be afraid to offend. I dont let my children go to other kids homes alone. They always go in pairs and stay in pairs. I wont let them shower or bath with others, and we dont do sleep overs. They know they can punch anyone in the face who touches any of their private areas and I wont growl. They know to not keep secrets from us, to never go into a room with someone alone. Im strict, and yes, Im sure Ive offended many a friend whose rules arent as strict as ours, and who dont understand. I dont care. Id rather an offended friend than a messed up child. Right now, Sam and I are our childrens voices and we take that job seriously. #4 If you feel unsafe, say so. The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare, but the fear of God leads to life. Fear often leaves us silent.. so SPEAK UP! To an authority, leader or someone you trust. If they ignore you, go to a trained counsellor outside your circumstances but within your community. An even more daring move: Call the offender into a meeting with someone professionally trained and outside the situation. Chances are, they wont agree to it, but that alone is telling enough. If someone has nothing to hide, there is no reason to fear talking. Refusing to talk, is again, control, and you dont have to sit under that. #5 Trust your instincts. A couple of years ago I walked through an issue which left me traumatized, only I didnt know it! At the time I felt upset, however, my body started doing strange things. I developed a thumb fasciculation (twitch) and I would wake in the night literally shaking all over. I tried to ignore it, but finally one night in womans homegroup, I broke. I felt like a mess as I tried to gather my overwrought self into some state of normal and my dear homegroup leader made a wonderful suggestion: Go to a chiropractor. The thing is, at the chiropractor, he, being a Christian, quickly identified that I was carrying tension in my back, and over breathing from stress, and the combined effect was causing my thumb to twitch. He didnt cure it straight away, but it lead to the next best decision... I booked into a counsellor. He listened to what had hapenned for me, and my body symptoms and on the spot announced: Your traumatized and what you are experiencing is normal! We spent some time working that through and I learnt something HUGELY profound.. to trust my instincts. Each of us has a God given ability to sense right and wrong, and when we ignore that, it causes us stress. Some stress is good, but that kind of stress is damaging. Im still learning it, but I give a lot more weight to my instinct and discernment these days. Its usually right because its God given. The thing is, instinct cant always be explained and rationalized so dont try. Make a personal decision that although you cant give reasons, youre going to listen to the cautions you have and trust them. #6 Get wisdom. Often were so 'in' the situation we cant see clearly. When youre in an abusive situation, its often very confusing and heart breaking. Your own emotions can make it difficult to separate yourself from the issue. Ive read stories lately of woman who have gone through some horrendous abusive situations by Christian men.. and yet in it, they cant see the truth of how unloving the behaviour is. Or if they can, they dont know how to get out of it. God is our advocate, our very best friend and our hiding place. He is wise to provide a way through and out of the storm! Yes, He is there in the prison with us.. but many of us forget that those prison bars are wide apart and we can step right through, right over, and beyond the issues which others place on us. Fear of the future is often what holds us back from the courageous step of moving forward. Were afraid.. is there life beyond the prison bars? Is it more of the same? Will we be further ostracized and alienated?. Yes the world is full of more of the same.. but you wont ever be the same. Your experience doesnt have to break you, God can use it to make you an advocate for someone else who is sitting silent in a prison. But unless you step out, how will you reach others who feel like you feel? Unless you take a step of courage, how will you know that even in darkness, God holds you. He will NEVER let you go.