Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal. We work to expose sexual predators and their methods of getting into our lives.
This week Together We Heal, as an organization, and myself, David Pittman as an individual, have joined forces with Justice For Anne, For A Time Such As This & several fellow advocates. Together we have issued a statement that was most perfectly articulated by fellow advocate Ryan Ashton:
“If you please, read the joint statement myself and fellow abuse survivors and advocates delivered to the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) yesterday regarding their announcement of a sexual abuse study group:
“We all have a decision—to become more polarized and distrustful of one another, hide, build barriers, and perpetuate numerous injustices. Or we can face this evil together, choosing to create a culture where healing and safety are the norm, where love and compassion dwell, where children and families flourish, and the hope of the gospel maintains its integrity. We sign with that hope, committed to a future where no one in the Church has to say “Me Too” ever again.”
Everything we do at Together We Heal and GRACE is because of the past and current failures of those within the church to better protect children and properly respond to those who’ve been harmed. It is our hope that the SBC will begin to live up to the call of Christ they espouse and not be just another one of those “cast to the bottom of the sea with a millstone around their neck”.
If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
The time is long overdue. The ball is in your court SBC leaders and church members. Do you truly believe the scripture you preach and teach? Then BE THE VOICE OF THE VOICELESS and quit giving lip service and protecting sexual predators.
We are so honored by our friend, Boz Tchividjian, who has posted the interview he did with me about Together We Heal and what we’re doing to help our fellow survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Please take a moment to read, not just our interview, but all of the inspiring articles Boz has on his site. I cannot thank him enough for the issues he’s confronting head-on within the church and it’s neglect of those abused. We look forward to working together with him and his organization, G.R.A.C.E. http://netgrace.org (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)
The following article was written by a friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian. It has been my honor and privilege to become friends with Boz and to begin working together with his organization, G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up on behalf of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, whose abuse occurred at the hands of the church. Boz does not try to defend the actions of churches who failed to protect victims; to the contrary, he wants to see real change take place within the church. Thank you Boz.
I did take the liberty of redoing his title for the purpose of emphasizing my personal perspective on how churches should begin acting. The original title is shown below.
7 Ways To Welcome Abuse Survivors In Our Churches
Churches should be some of the safest and most welcoming communities for those who have suffered from sexual abuse. Sadly, today these are some of the places survivors feel most vulnerable as they are often shamed, silenced, and judged.
This is most tragically illustrated by the case of a young girl who was sexually abused by a missionary doctor on the mission field. When she finally stepped forward and reported the abuse, the missionary leaders made this little 13-year-old girl sign a “confession” letter in which she had to acknowledge having “participated in a physical relationship” with the offender and end the letter with “…I know what I did was very wrong, and I am very sorry for it.” Years later this survivor told me that this damning letter is what shamed her into decades of feeling worthless and being silent. It doesn’t take a demand to sign a confession for a church to become an unsafe and unwelcoming place for survivors. Hurtful comments, the embracing of alleged perpetrators, the failure to offer assistance, and the pretending that this offense doesn’t exist in the Christian community are just a handful of ways that further wound survivors and drive them out of the very places that should be their refuge.
I want to share seven ways that I believe will help transform our churches into some of the safest and most welcoming communities for survivors of abuse.
Be a friend and listen: One of the best ways to serve survivors is to simply be their friend and listen. This does NOT mean we pity them and turn them into our special project. It means that we spend time with them, laugh with them, cry with them, and support them. It means that we validate them as human beings made in the image of God. It means that we don’t have all the answers, and it’s ok. Too many survivors have been traumatized by churches that fail to protect them, and then turn around and ignore them or tell them what to do. Perhaps we can help these amazing survivors shed the shame by being a safe person in a safe place.
Know the available resources: Survivors often need professional assistance to help shed the shame fueled by abuse. Becoming familiar with local resources such as qualified therapists, victims’ advocates, attorneys, and support groups will enable us to introduce them to our church communities and to any survivor who may need their services.
Acknowledge & address spiritual struggles: Those who have been sexually abused often struggle with many spiritual doubts, concerns, and questions. Criticizing or judging these struggles will only fuel more shame as survivors are pushed away from yet another unsafe place. On the other hand, offering no response or simply providing oversimplified answers can minimize the importance of these struggles in the lives of these individuals. Sometimes we answer best by simply connecting individuals with sound spiritual resources that may provide them a starting point to address their particular spiritual struggles. This can be anything from recommending a book, blog, or podcast to encouraging them to become part of an abuse-survivor support group at the church. It could also mean connecting them with a clergy member or other professional who has worked through many of these spiritual issues. Before recommending any particular spiritual resource, it is critical that we seek the counsel of Christian child-protection experts and other Christians who have the training for and experience with serving survivors. Organizations such as GRACE and Together-We-Heal are equipped to provide such assistance.
Connect with local law enforcement: Developing a relationship between our faith communities and local law enforcement is invaluable. Believe it or not, most law enforcement officers are thrilled when people in the community seek them out for advice and help. Our churches would greatly benefit from the guidance provided by law enforcement on issues such as child protection, dealing with known sex offenders, status of pending cases, and available community resources for survivors. In most cases, this as easy as calling the local law enforcement office and scheduling an appointment with the officer who supervises the investigation of abuse cases. Simply let him/her know that your church is seeking guidance on issues related to abuse. I highly recommend having a member of the church leadership be a part of this meeting. Connecting with law enforcement will communicate a strong message to the survivors in our churches that we take this issue seriously as we seek to love and protect them with excellence.
Start an abuse-survivor support group: Support groups often create safe places within our churches for survivors to be honest and vulnerable as they continue to walk the long and difficult road of healing. Giving survivors a safe place to speak freely about their abuse and struggles can offer real healing from the isolation they have experienced. When survivors know they are not alone, they can encourage one another by walking through the often difficult journey together. Though one doesn’t have to be a survivor to start such a group, I highly recommended that we seek out the invaluable input and assistance of survivors when putting together such a group. Developing and supporting this group is a powerful way a church can communicate that it values, protects, and cares for those suffering in its midst.
Develop response protocols: Work with the church leadership and outside child-advocate experts to develop a protocol for responding to abuse disclosures. How we respond to abuse disclosures is perhaps the single most important way we demonstrate value to those who have been abused. A protocol that follows the law and places the needs of the survivor first is needed in every church. I will be writing more about this in future posts.
Speak Up: We serve survivors best when we are their biggest advocates. Those who have been abused should find their greatest and most vocal supporters inside the church. Shaming, silencing, and judging have no home in a community that loves and advocates on behalf of abuse victims. Unfortunately, there are still many within the walls of the church that don’t see it that way. That is where we step in and speak up. We speak up for these amazing survivors, constantly encouraging them with our words and actions to hold their heads up high and walk away from shame and silence. We speak up because it is these unsung heroes who so often teach us, inspire us, and reflect Jesus. We speak up because Jesus speaks up for all of us. We speak up because it is our privilege.
Transforming our churches and faith communities into places of refuge for those who have been violated, judged, and marginalized is what the Gospel is all about. If God is our refuge, then our churches must be the places where these precious souls find safety and rest.
Let’s begin this transformation today…
This article was published with permission from Boz Tchividjian.
The following article was written by “Boz” Tchividjian. It is an extremely insightful article explaining how survivors of childhood sexual abuse are made to feel by those in power within religious organizations.
Boz is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also an Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. He is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.
“He has worked hard to convince everyone that I am crazy.” These were the words of a woman who was speaking about a relative who had sexually abused her as a child for years. This well-known and “respected” relative has been successful in keeping her abuse disclosures ignored for many years by convincing anyone that listens that she is an irrational and troubled individual.
After years of being labeled “crazy” and being ignored, this survivor became silent and even found herself struggling with whether or not the baseless label was legitimate. Do you see what happened? A person who is well liked and well-respected in the community is accused of horrific behavior that the community prefers not to believe.
The perpetrator provides the community with exactly what it wants in order for it to look the other way. Believing that the complainant is “crazy” gives the community the excuse to marginalize the victim and the disclosure, all the while showing support to the “unfairly” accused offender.
I recently watched the acclaimed Norwegian film, King of Devil’s Island. Based upon a true story, this movie was about the Bastoy Boy’s Home for delinquent boys located on an island off of Norway in the early 20th century. During the course of the film, a housefather named Bråthen sexually molests one of the resident boys who ends up committing suicide. Another resident eventually reports Bråthen’s abuse to the corrupt superintendent, Bestyreren, who confronts Bråthen. What follows are scenes that vividly illustrate some of the appalling ways sexual abuse survivors are marginalized by our communities:
Don’t Listen: When initially confronted about the reported abuse, Bråthen responds, “You can’t listen to them. They say whatever they want.” Survivors are marginalized when communities are all too willing to accept the claims made by perpetrators and their supporters that the individual disclosing the abuse is “crazy” and should be ignored. Disregarding the claims of a survivor communicates insignificance.
Helpless Souls: During the course of the confrontation with Bestyreren, Bråthen claims, “The only thing I have done is to try and help a boy who could not help himself.” Survivors are marginalized when perpetrators and their supporters paint them as helpless souls. Perpetrators are heralded as compassionate and the survivors are pitied as their disclosures are largely ignored.
Supporters Maligned: At one point, Bråthen identifies the boys who reported the abuse as “animals”, claiming that they were the real source of the victim’s harm. Survivors are marginalized when those who support them are maligned as being irrational and harmful. All too often this becomes the needed validation by some within the community to disregard allegations of abuse.
My Reputation: Just when we think that Bestyreren is going to report Bråthen to the authorities, Bråthen pulls out his trump card. He threatens to report that Bestyreren has been misappropriating funds for himself and his wife. In perhaps the most decisive scene of the film, Bestyreren makes the deliberate decision to protect his own reputation instead of reporting the abuse and protecting the lives of the other boys under the supervision of Bråthen. Survivors are marginalized when those within the community value their own reputation over the life of the abused. One way this happens is when an institution fails to report an offender out of fear that its own reputation may suffer. When speaking about the failure of boarding schools in the United Kingdom to properly respond to abuse disclosures, attorney Alan Collins recently told the New York Times, “…when teachers were discovered abusing pupils, they tended to be moved on quietly to avoid public embarrassment and damage to the school’s reputation.”
Disingenuous Response: The scene immediately following the confrontation between Bråthen and Bestyreren, shows Bråthen leaving the island with his suitcases as the boys look out their dorm window visibly rejoicing. At first it looks as if Bestyreren did the right thing. It is not until later in the film when Bråthen returns to the island that we learn the real reason for his initial departure. The Bastoy Boy’s Home board of directors had scheduled its annual inspection of the facility and Bestyreren did not want the boys reporting Bråthen’s abuse, fearing that it would get him fired. The best way to keep their silence was to make the boys think that he had terminated Bråthen. Tragically, the plan worked. The boys remained silent, Bestyreren kept his job, and Bråthen returned shortly after the inspection. Survivors are marginalized when a community is disingenuous about its responses to abuse disclosures. All too often such responses are not driven by the need to serve abuse survivors and pursue justice, but to create a positive public perception and to protect jobs.
Misplaced Focus: At the end of King of Devil’s Island, the boys begin a revolt when discovering that Bråthen has returned. Eventually, the armed forces are called in to put down the revolt by beating and capturing the boys. At no time do the authorities address the horrific abuses perpetrated by Bråthen and the fact that he was responsible for the death of a boy. Instead, the authorities focus on silencing those who were simply crying out for justice. Survivors are marginalized when the community misplaces its focus on behavior of the abused instead of the abuser. This belittles and re-traumatizes survivors, while conveniently keeping the spotlight off of the offender, where it needs to be.
The heartbreaking reality is that the marginalization of survivors is all too common in the Christian community. I have encountered many abuse survivors who want nothing to do with Jesus because of being marginalized by the very community they had hoped would care most, the Church. Just like the Priest and Levi in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are often so quick to embrace ‘rational excuses’ for why we walk away. When we do this, we marginalize the very lives that God sees as beautiful and infinitely valuable. When we do this, we marginalize Jesus.
You can read the article at it’s original post here:
While Together We Heal, Inc., has no ties to any religious organizations, we gladly promote any group that works to protect children from sexual predators and it is clear this is the focus of GRACE.
Founded by Basyle ’Boz’ Tchividjian, J.D., a grandson of Billy Graham, he is leading by example on how churches should respond to childhood sexual abuse. We are honored to be partnered with them in efforts to help survivors of CSA, and educate any who seek to better protect all children.
The Mission of GRACE is to empower the Christian community through education and training to recognize and respond to the sin of child abuse.
Obedience to Christ dictates that the Christian community must learn how to respond to those children and their families who cry out for help when they are victimized. This obedience begins with the education and training of those within the Church regarding the sin of child abuse and how to respond to such disclosures in a God honoring manner.
GRACE is an organization whose sole purpose is to equip and assist the Church and those within the Christian community to fulfill Mark 9:36-37.