The following is part of a handout developed for the Oklahoma Baptists convention and their Abuse Prevention & Awareness Conference, February 24 & 25, 2020. To download the entire PDF, and share it with your team, please fill out the form above.
Analyzing my experience
Throughout my childhood and teen years, I tried to talk to pastors and other adults about what was being done to me. Unfortunately, I was either not understood, ignored, or given poor advice. What I’d like to do today is use of those mistakes and errors to equip you to protect kids better.
First things pastors said to me
- You should pray for him.
- Have you forgiven him?
- Unless your dad hit you with a closed fist, it was legal.
- The statute of limitations is up, so there’s no point in reporting.
What they should have said
- I believe you.
- You’re doing the right thing by telling me.
- What your abuser did is not your fault. Their sin is 100% their responsibility.
- Can we visit with you today and pray with you?
- Have you reported this to the police?
- Can I drive you to the police station and help you report?
- Does your abuser currently have any access to you?
- How are some ways we can help you?
- What would make you feel safer?
Mistakes that were made
- My abuse was announced to the church without my knowledge or any heads up.
- The congregation was given no direction
regarding how to treat me.
- People emailed me asking embarrassing questions or expressing rage that I had no idea how to process or respond to.
- People confronted me in person at church to ask whether or not I’d been raped, which is something I wasn’t prepared to discuss.
- An elder asked questions insinuating he didn’t believe me in front of congregants.
- No report was ever filed.
- There was little to no pastoral involvement – counseling or oversight.
- Report to the authorities.
- Be prepared to alert your congregation, particularly in the case of a potential child predator.
- Give the victim a heads up that the congregation will know. Offer to field communications.
- Give the congregation direction on who to contact with questions.
- Ask them to respect the victim’s privacy.
- Stay in touch with the victim. Check in on them. Meet them for coffee. Do your best to make them feel heard, cared about, and remembered, as you would for someone grieving a death.
Seven stages of recovery
Particularly during the early stages, there’s a heightened level of panic, disorientation, insecurity, and mood swings. Make sure the survivor has people available 24/7 to receive texts, calls, and answer questions. Ensure he/she receive quick responses. At least one person needs to be available to drop what they’re doing and go be with the survivor should they become suicidal or experience a traumatic event.
“They didn’t mean it. This is my fault. If I were a better spouse / child / sibling / Christian, they wouldn’t get angry / lust / cheat / lie. Lot’s of people have it worse. What they did isn’t that big of a deal. I shouldn’t complain, but forgive, be patient, and pull myself together.”
- What you’re going through is real.
- What you’ve experienced is wrong, and it’s not your fault.
- You are loved by God, and deserve to be treated with honor.
Shock & Confusion
“I can’t believe this is real. What do I do? How should I feel? Who do I talk to? How do I get help? Is what happened a crime? Is this really abuse? Is this all in my head? How is this possible? How could they do this? Why did this happen? Why didn’t I get help long ago? Am I stupid? Am I crazy? Can I trust my own reason / instincts? How do I know who I can trust?”
- I believe you.
- Your emotions are understandable and justified.
- Can we talk to law enforcement and ask these questions? Let’s find out together.
- You are not alone. Let me help you find a good counselor.
“How dare they betray me? I did nothing wrong! Why didn’t anyone intervene? God, why didn’t You stop them from hurting me? Why didn’t You save them? Why did You abandon me?”
- You are right to be angry. God is angry with the wicked every day.
- I know you’re angry at God, but even so, you can go to Him in prayer. Tell Him how you feel. He is faithful. He will not abandon you.
“I’m too damaged to ever be happy again. All my relationships are doomed to fail. Who’d want to be around me? My marriage will end in divorce. I can’t possibly be a good parent. I’m defective, broken, unstable.”
- When Lazarus died, Jesus wept. It’s OK to be sad. Your relationship has died. Your trust in this person has died. This is a profound loss. The betrayal was real and terrible.
- Your past experiences do not define you or your future.
- You aren’t broken and nothing is wrong with you. You’re a rational and good person processing irrational evil that was committed against you.
Fear & Anxiety
“This happiness can’t possibly last. Is it even real? How do I know who I can trust? How do I know my spouse is trustworthy? Will their love last? What if my abuser is stalking me? What if they show up at our house? What if they try to pick up my kids from school? What if they show up at church?”
- If I ever say or do anything that makes you feel anxious or upset, please tell me.
- Your anxiety is a natural and reasonable response to stressful and traumatic events. Anyone in your situation would feel these worries and fears.
- Jesus was so distressed in the Garden, He sweated blood. God gets what you’re going through.
“My spouse and I have been through a lot together. I think they’ll stick with me after all! My kids are happy and healthy. Maybe I’m not too broken to be a good parent. My friends seem to like me, and genuinely want to be around me. I’m appreciated and loved, and I’m starting to get used to that. Kindness doesn’t feel like manipulation or deception anymore. I’m learning to trust again, and to expect goodness from good people.”
- You’ve really blossomed in the past year. I’m so happy for you!
- When I see how much you’ve recovered, I see the hand of God. He certainly loves you dearly.
- Watching you heal has strengthened my faith.
“God still loves me. What my abuser did was evil. Their sin was their choice and their responsibility. I was not at fault. I can have a healthy marriage. I can be a good friend. I can be a good parent. I can live my life and experience joy again because Jesus Christ is my strength and my Redeemer.”
Jennifer Greenberg is an author, recording artist, and church pianist. She worships at Cornerstone OPC in Houston, Texas. Her work and writings combine experience with the gospel of hope to help victims, survivors, and those who walk alongside them. Jennifer is married to her best friend, Jason, and they have three daughters: Elowyn, Leianor, and Gwynevere. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and her website, www.JenniferGreenberg.net.
Jennifer recently published her debut book, Not Forsaken: A Story of Life After Abuse: How Faith Brought One Woman From Victim to Survivor (The Good Book Company, 2019). Forward by Dr. Russell Moore. Jennifer also writes regularly for The Gospel Coalition, CrossWalk, and on her blog.
For further information
If you have questions or comments regarding this presentation, a situation in your church, or would like to talk to me more at length, please feel free to email me. That way I can give your question and situation the thought and attention it deserves.