By Tom Strode
GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) — Courage and a recognition of trauma’s long-term effects are called for if the church is to deal sufficiently with its sexual abuse crisis, two well-known women in the evangelical Christian world said Thursday (Oct. 3) during an Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission-sponsored conference.
Bible teacher Beth Moore and author Kay Warren — both survivors of childhood sexual abuse — were among the six female speakers who addressed “Caring Well: Equipping the Church to Confront the Abuse Crisis” on the opening day of the 2019 national conference hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention Sexual Abuse Advisory Group. The focus of the ERLC’s sixth annual national conference, a three-day event in Grapevine, Texas, is on educating churches about abuse prevention and ministering to survivors of such abuse.
Followers of Jesus should receive courage from Him and confront the church abuse crisis, Moore said, because:
— “Christ loved the church;
— “[L]ives are at stake; families are at stake; the safety of human beings, image bearers [is] at stake;
— “[I]t is the only path of faithful discipleship.”
“A terrible thing has happened among [Southern Baptists]”, Moore told the sold-out audience of more than 1,650 registrants. “… The name of God, of the Holy One who dwells in unapproachable light, has been used as a storefront for darkness.”
The casualties include the devastation of victims and their withdrawal from the Christian community, as well as “a very public stumbling block to the Gospel,” she said. “What has happened among us broadcast a message to the unsaved that we are unsafe.
“It will take no small amount of courage to confront the crisis of abuse amidst rampant skepticism,” Moore said. “The skepticism is fair, because talk is cheap. We earned distrust, and now we must take the long road of earning trust and walk forward in a posture of humility. It will take much courage not only to resist defensiveness but to resist deflection.
“If we are cowards, the generation coming up behind us will either despise us or be like us.”
Warren — who co-planted Saddleback Church in Southern California with her husband Rick and has advocated for people living with mental illness, HIV/AIDS and the orphans left behind — shared her testimony of the ongoing impact of abuse. A teenage boy sexually abused her in the back of a church auditorium when she was 6 years old, Warren said.
“I wish that I could say today that there is no longer any effects of the abuse,” she said, adding Christians “like the big bow on top of the package that says, ‘This is the way it used to be, but praise God that’s no longer true and that’s not possible and everything’s been healed and everything’s fine.’ And sometimes it happens that way, but sometimes in this life it doesn’t.”
For her, shame and anxiety have been among the effects of her childhood trauma — trauma that has not been fully resolved after years of therapy, she said.
“And I’ve come to believe catastrophic loss represents some not fully grieved trauma or some incompletely grieved losses to trauma in our life,” Warren told the audience. “And survivors find differing measures of healing. It’s not a one-size-fits-all recovery process.”
Warren said she has “come to believe that there are parts of my soul and my body that will not be completely healed until I see Jesus face to face.” While she has not given up on recovery or the pursuit of healing, she said, “Every day is one day closer to the total and complete healing that my soul longs for, and it’s coming, and it’s mine, and it will be mine forever on that glorious resurrection day.”
Moore offered a response to a question often asked: “Does our complementarian theology cause abuse?” She alone should be held responsible for her answer, she said.
“The answer is no,” she told the audience. “Sin and gross selfishness in the human heart cause abuse. Demonic influences cause abuse.”
Yet, Moore said, “a culture prevalent in various circles of the SBC” that came out of complementarianism has contributed to abuse.
“Complementarian theology became such a high core value that it inadvertently by proof of what we have seen — look at the fruit of what happened — became elevated above the safety and well-being of many women,” she said.