We live in a hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil society, what you would call a “polite” society. I’m talking about American culture as a whole along with many Christian churches. Families free from abuse, such as myself, thrive in this culture. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to evil also means that abusers thrive. And so in a “look-the-other-way-there-is-no-evil-to-be-had” type of system, victims get the short end of the stick.
My first awakening to the evil deeds happening right under my nose was from the Liam Neeson movie Taken. In it you find a good family whose only daughter is captured by human traffickers in Europe. Turns out her father works for the CIA and has a particular set of skills that can help him find her. I really loved this movie back then. It shocked me to find this underbelly of evil and when I looked it up online… it turns out it’s been there the whole time even in the United States.
Taken is a great escapist fantasy on the subject. It only touches on the issues of abuse and human trafficking. It says that the best way to save a loved one from being taken is to shoot a gun and punch your way through it all. Anger is a natural response to a hidden evil revealed to a blind society.
A few years later I saw the documentary Nefarious. This explains how traffickers work all over the world. It shows that even parents will sell their own children into sex work. It spoke on the slow movement of government policies to stop this. One of the most telling bits of advice was to go after the pimp, not the sex-workers. These girls are not doing this willingly. They are caught and trapped through drug abuse and other abuse by pimps (mostly men) who control them. Go after the pimp and help the workers find safety and security. Of course, the logistics of doing something like this are enormous. And you have to work within a government that prides itself on seeing no evil.
What about abuses closer to home, or rather, abuses found within the home? Our first response might be the Taken route, that is, punch your way through and think about it later. But domestic abuse is a very delicate thing.
Is It Abuse is a biblical guide to identifying domestic abuse and helping the victims. It is written by Darby A. Strickland, a Christian counselor in the field. What are we to do with an ignorant church who only responds in anger?
Here’s what she says:
Jesus was no stranger to relationships that hurt. The people who were closest to him never quite got him. He had to explain his mission and purpose to his own disciples again and again. In the garden of Gethsemane, when he needed them the most and repeatedly asked them for prayer, his closest disciples fell asleep. Peter and Judas went on to betray him.
Walking with the oppressed will cause you relational pain and conflict. Not everyone understands the evils of oppression or the dynamics that are at work within it. As you seek to advocate for victims, some fellow Christians may disappoint you and leave you hurt and confused. Whenever this happens, our posture must be the same as Jesus’s. He continued to love–and we must proceed with love for the church and those who do not understand oppression. We, like Jesus, must never tire of trying to teach others…. We do not want to interfere with the care that the oppressed receive by allowing our agendas and frustrations to keep a church from seeing oppression in its midst. And the most important thing we need to do for victims is to acknowledge the failings of ourselves and others, and the wounds that those failings create, in a way that has a redemptive impact on their relationship with Christ and his larger church.
I know that’s a mouthful, but perhaps this will reveal how complicated the issue is. You need many different tools to handle the nuances of abuse. Strickland points out that every situation of abuse is different. She says you must not take away the victims choices, even out of a sense of protecting them. These are the tactics that abusers take. This means take your time. Strickland says at the beginning of chapter 2: The Helper’s Calling:
Walking with the oppressed is usually a slow and deliberate journey–one that cannot be rushed. We have to give much of ourselves so that others can find freedom.
To a victim seeking help, please understand that good help is hard to come by in an ignorant society. Many will be shocked that such things are happening. They might want to rush in and quickly try to save you.
You might perceive such a heavy-handed approach as moving from one abuser to another. Such helpers must be taught. Tell them what you are feeling and how they are hurting you. If they really want to help, they will be humbled and repentant. If they recognize their approach as giving you PTSD and reminding you of how your abusers approach things, if they learn that you feel this way when they take over your life, when they take away your agency to “protect” you, this should give them pause.
If we are going to offer the help and truth that victims desperately need, we need to display Jesus’s heart for them. Jesus did not just share his teaching without having compassion for people, nor did he give them empathy that was devoid of truth. Both are essential.
If you are reaching out to a friend or church worker, give them this article, also by Darby Strickland: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/help-domestic-abuse/
Here’s what she says in a nutshell:
Try best to:
- not take over her choices by telling her what to do;
- avoid minimizing her abuse; instead, carefully listen to what she shares with you;
- connect her to the help of others who have experience with domestic abuse.
I’m very sorry about this… so sorry that our church has a lack of understanding in this field. Please forgive us.
The one thing you might be tempted to do is to push away bad help. But then this would put you back in the abuser’s hands. So, as hard as it is to say, in most cases, bad help is far better than no help at all. If they are teachable then you can show them a better way to help you.
Give them a chance and be as graceful to them as you wish for them to be to you. Don’t be silent now. Speak up. For, even if you feel they are like your abusers. they aren’t. They do want to help. They just don’t know how. Tell them. Teach them.
If this still isn’t working then find help another way. I recommend contact your local counselor if you are at a college. They will have resources and organizations that can help. Unfortunately this might mean going a secular route. However you get it, find help from this. There are so many options out there. Find help from people who have done this many times, people who know what they are doing. People with empathy towards your specific plight.
Ultimately, put your trust in God.
Overcoming ignorance of this magnitude is a rocky road full of strife and tears. But over time, the light of God will shine. And the sleepers will awake!
The church must learn to have more tools than a hammer in handling the hidden abuses among us.
Ephesians 5:14 is not just for the victims… it is for the church as a whole.
Awake O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ’s light will shine upon you.