Monday, November 20, 2017

Why is there so much sexual abuse?

I thank God that many victims of sexual abuse have been given courage to share their stories.  There’s been waves of these recently related to the #MeToo movement.  This three minute video from Fox News documents some of the recent accusations and fallout:

Ironically, Fox News itself earlier had its own severe sexual abuse problems.  Sexual abuse is nothing new.  The scandals which have come to light in recent months pale in comparison to the massive world-wide sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

I wish there was no sexual abuse, but when there is, I’m thankful when it is exposed.  I’m thankful even though it brings up painful memories of my own role in exposing a case of sexual abuse.

My Story

I had the great privilege of teaching at a Christian Bible college overseas.  Many of the students, teachers, and staff showed a real love for God and a commitment to His Word. This small Christian school was located in a Muslim majority nation.  The school showed courage in allowing me to teach and encourage students to share the love and truth of Christ with their Muslim neighbors.  In that setting, such sharing, even when done with sensitivity and respect, could have brought severe repercussions.

Despite all the good things about the college, I sensed something was wrong.  I wasn’t surprised that some students fell into sexual sin as tragically this happens everywhere.  However, I was surprised how widespread the problem was and how difficult it seemed to be to address it.  Efforts to work with the school leader who was over student life and discipline felt frustrating.

At the school, I spoke some on the topic of sexual immorality.  The school also invited a guest speaker on the topic, who included a discussion on sexual abuse.  My wife and I made it known that we were available for counseling.  Soon a female student came to see my wife.  Amidst many tears she eventually shared that the very school leader/professor who was over student life had asked her to sleep with him.  We asked if there might be any more witnesses or victims.  She gave us names.  We talked to them and more and more accusations of sexual abuse came out.  The worst accusation was that this leader was regularly sleeping with a high school student who was living in his house to help care for his children after his wife passed away.

I was thankful that the school president and leadership had been supportive of our efforts to interview student witnesses and seek the truth.  But then things went downhill.  The leadership of the school was unwilling to fire this man.  They planned to suspend him for one semester from teaching, but even then he would continue to be a paid staff member.  And worse of all, they would not take steps to get the high school girl out of his house, even though his house was on campus and owned by the school! 

After exhausting avenues to address the problem within the school, I felt I had to resign.  It was one of the most painful choices I’ve had to make.  After resigning I sent an email with many details (except the names of the victims) of what had happened to many prayer supporters.  I knew that among them were some who knew the school and likely had connections with leadership in the school’s parent organization. This brought shame and embarrassment to the school, which is something I was willing to do only because the situation was so severe and all other efforts to properly address it had failed.  Not long after this, the school did fire the abuser.  But the leader of the school was very hostile in his attitude and actions towards me after that.

What My Story Has in Common with Many Others

Sexual abuse always involves some type of sexual immorality.  But it is more than that.  Sexual immorality becomes sexual abuse when one of the people involved uses their position or power to pressure those who are in a weaker position to do something sexually immoral and/or to remain quiet about the sexual immorality of the abuser. In cases of sexual abuse there is always some type of difference in power between the abuser and the victims.  In the story I shared above, the abuser was a professor who had power to fail students and a school leader who had power to discipline them. He was highly respected and well connected with other leaders at the school and in the denomination the school was part of. Some of the students were afraid of him.  In other cases, the abuser is an adult and the victim is a youth or child.  In the recent media cases, the abusers were employers who could offer jobs to their victims or deny them work. In many cases, the abusers were “high up” in their organizations and had many connections and a lot influence.

It’s not wrong to have position, power, and influence.  But those things should be viewed as gifts and are meant to be used to serve, help, and protect others. They should not be used for selfish purposes.  When power is used to pressure others into sexual immorality it becomes a twisted, evil force that damages souls.

How Do They Get Away With It So Often for So Long?

In many sex abuse scandals it is shocking how many victims there are.  Often others knew of the abuse, or should have known about it but put their heads in the sand. Instead of helping and protecting the victims, members of organizations often end up shielding the abuser until evidence comes forth in such a public way that they can no longer cover it up. Why do people cover up such evil and allow it to continue?  I’m convinced that a root cause of the problem is that many fear people more than they fear God.

NIV Proverbs 29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

In the case of the Bible College where I taught, I talked with several top school leaders.  I asked them why they thought things were handled so poorly.  They each independently gave the same answer:  they thought the school president and others were afraid of the abuser and his supporters. They were afraid that he would in some way attack and harm them and the school if they took strong action against him.

But the problem is not just a wrong fear of man.  A closely related problem is insufficient fear of the Lord.  In these cases people think a lot about what other people might do to harm them.  But they do not think about what God might do in response to their sin.

The abusers fail to remember that God cares deeply about their victims. The victims may appear powerless, but they are loved by a powerful God who promises to avenge wrongs. Abusers fail to remember this truth:

NIV Luke 17:2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Those in organizations who seek to sweep the abuse under the rug are forgetting that they can’t hide anything from God:

NIV Hebrews 4:13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Often organizational leaders are worried about the harm that will be done to the organization if the sexual abuse is exposed and dealt with. But they fail to consider the much greater harm that will come if God withdraws His blessing and disciplines the organization because of its hidden sin.  Perhaps it has been too long since they considered the consequences of hidden sin as seen in the story of Achan:

Joshua 7:10 The LORD said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?
11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.
12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

I wonder how many churches, ministries, and organization lack spiritual power and suffer defeats because of hidden sin in their ranks? The lack of the fear of God is a deep and wide spread problem today. I want to talk a little bit more about it before closing.

What is the Fear of God and How Does it Work?

The Bible teaches us that God disciplines those whom he loves:

NIV Hebrews 12:6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son."

In this life, when God brings painful consequences into our lives because of sin it has a purpose of leading us to repentance and of helping us to grow into the image of Christ.  His discipline flows from His love.  But the discipline is still painful to us.  Therefore, we may define “the fear of the Lord” this way:

The fear of the Lord is an appropriate feeling of fear we experience when we are tempted to sin and we remember that God brings painful consequences into our lives when we sin.  This fear should never cause us to avoid God.  This fear should motivate us to avoid sin.

The fear of the Lord is discussed all throughout God’s Word.  Here are some verses to meditate on, related to this often neglected topic:

NIV Leviticus 19:14 "'Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.

Note:  A deaf person cannot hear it if you curse them, but God will hear it and punish you.  Likewise, a blind person cannot see you place a stumbling block in front of them, but God will see it and punish you.  Thus, the fear of the Lord prevents us from doing evil even when, from a human perspective, it seems we are likely to get away with it.

NIV Deuteronomy 10:12 And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,

ESV Nehemiah 5:15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

NIV Psalm 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.

NIV Psalm 147:11 the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

NIV Proverbs 8:13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.

NIV Proverbs 16:6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD evil is avoided.

NIV Acts 9:31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

NIV 2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. 11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.

ESV 1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
There are many more Bible passages which discuss the fear of the Lord. 

If there was more fear of the Lord, there would be far less sexual abuse.  Even when the abusers themselves do not fear God enough to not sin, others who fear God should quickly act to expose and stop the abuse.

Much More

While the fear of God is important, there are of course many other Biblical principles which need to be lived out to overcome the problem of sexual abuse.  We need the love and grace of God.  We need compassion to heal those hurt by sexual abuse.  Sexual abuse often causes deep damage to a person’s soul.  The wounded often find it very difficult to trust others because a person with some type of power or authority in their life who should have been trustworthy instead used that power to harm them in a deep way. Because of the nature of sexual abuse, victims will often need to be in a loving atmosphere and experience faithfulness and care for an extended time before they are able to open up.  They need patience and grace. Healing is often a long and difficult road, but in Christ healing and freedom can indeed be found.

I thank God for all the courageous people sharing their stories in the #MeToo movement.  Evil works in darkness, and exposing it to light helps to stop it from hurting others (see Ephesians 5:11). The current wave of testimonies is also an opportunity to examine our own lives to see if we are giving in to the fear of man, or if instead we have a healthy fear of God which guards us from sin of all types.

By His grace, may we always “Fear God and dread nought.”

Hebrews 13:16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others . . .

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