Over Christmas I was listening to an edition of The White Horse Inn titled Sexual Abuse and the Gospel of Grace. I have to say that I agree with Mike Horton and authors Justin and Lindsey Holcomb the Gospel of the Grace and Mercy of God in Jesus has a lot to say to sexual assault victims. I’m glad the tackled this subject, in fact, because this has been on my mind a lot lately.
But I’ve noticed also that where Lutherans and the Reformed are often pretty good at announcing the grace of God to people, when it comes to application they usually fall down. You see, we in this post modern age, have a habit to try and distill everything down to slogans and formulas while convincing ourselves that doing so is the right way to go about learning and application. We tend to latch onto great statements like “grace through faith because of Christ” and learn those statements as if they are the application. But of course, if you do that, you can very quickly turn a gospel statement into a law or principle statement meant to followed rather than believed. This is a bad thing and the result of our having intensely short attention spans.
So getting back to this podcast. Everything went well until the last question was asked by Mike Horton, where he said, “of course grace for the victim, but also grace for the victimizer”. On it’s face, I can agree with this statement, after all, who among us is without sin and doesn’t want mercy for the sins we ourselves have committed? All well and good so far.
It all began to go wrong when Mike Horton used a hypothetical example of a situation where a pastor or elders would say, “This situation is under the blood of Christ, so it never happened. Therefore you need to go back to your husband who is abusing you. The Lord has changed his heart. He really understands the Gospel now. And sometimes in cases of raping children, grace is enough. You don’t need to turn that person in, you don’t need to call the police”.
Justin, in response, did a pretty good job of talking about how both the victim of abuse who is a believer and the victimizer who is a believer can easily forget the gospel and what a joy it brings to both parties. But he went on to talk about a hypothetical situation (at least I hope it was hypothetical and not a breach of the confessional) about a husband and wife where the wife has been suffering abuse at the hands of her husband, comes to talk about it with someone in the church but doesn’t want to file a police report and turn the guy in. He went on to say that after talking to the husband and saying “if you really get the gospel, you’ll turn yourself in. Let’s call the police”. They go to the police and tell what happened and when they ask the wife if she wants to file charges, the wife says “no”.
That sounds like a nice story, but it only sounds that way because people don’t understand the mindset of a person who has been traumatized in a relationship. Often, the victim blames themselves and when pressed they wont report or file charges against the person who abused them. In fact, if cornered, they’ll often deny anything is going on at all and recant the story. When Justin recounted that the wife first didn’t want to file a report, and then even afterwards still refused to press charges, shivers went down my spine. The husband may have gotten the gospel, but the wife is still in trouble.
What’s worse, Justin seems to think this was a good outcome when it is not. What they did for the wife was likely provide a way in which she could sweep the whole thing out of her mind and forget what happened. They now have them go to separate churches, which is nice, but what about the rest of the time? Is she still living with this guy? Is she now, having gone down this route of denying what happened, now also living in denial that anything is wrong at all?
Don’t get me wrong, I like WHI a lot. But this way of handling abuse situation is more of the same attitude that we’ve been seeing in churches for quite a while now. Wives don’t want to turn their abusive husbands in for a variety of reasons. They often blame themselves for the abuse, as do rape victims. Children who are sexually and physically abused by a parent often blame themselves as well and try to curry favor with the abusive parent. They don’t know any other way of getting themselves out of the situation. And what’s more, the church often sends all of them back to the abuser instead of doing what’s right.
Yes, a repentant victimizer needs to hear the gospel as much as the victim. However, we need to be more careful not forget how tough it really is for a victim to come forward. I applaud the WHI and Justin and Lindsey Holcomb for being brave enough to talk about this subject. I really do. But we all need to realize that the broken nature of someone who is a victim of any domestic abuse is a truly profound brokenness that needs deep care from us.