Child sexual abuse is devastating. I know as a relative because members of my extended family have been victims. I also know as a pastor from listening to church members who trusted me with their abuse story.
Sleepless nights, lack of trust, panic attacks, feelings of intense depreciated value, tendencies to self-harm, aggressive behaviour from deep-seated anger are just some of the things I have observed and heard of from those who are victims of this terrible crime. Taking someone’s innocence by force is despicable.
Michelle Hood’s experience is real and I acknowledge her courageous journey to healing (see “Healing the wounds of childhood sexual abuse”). I applaud that, with her husband Graeme, she ministers to and supports many victims and their families. Michelle has turned an absolutely horrible experience into a valuable ministry with Jesus.
Last year, Pastor Jorge Munoz, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia, and I published an apology on the Adventist News Online website. It was genuine and heartfelt. Some people really valued it. Others responded that it was too little, too late. An apology is important, but if it is not followed by positive action, it means very little.
I am pleased that the corporate Church in the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia has responded positively. Safe Place Services was the first attempt to deal with victims and perpetrators of child sexual abuse. The Church began to listen and care for victims. They began to restrict perpetrators, and began to educate church leaders and congregations. As president of the Western Australian Conference in the early to mid-2000s, I worked with a sub-committee of the Executive to develop the first policy on the topic. This has since been amended, improved and developed by others, but some of the policies we put in place remain today.
During Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the corporate Church realised we could do better and established a separate entity called Adsafe. Adsafe does all the things that Safe Place Services did with more staff and more focus. They also support the redress system. Adsafe and our church communities still have much to learn, but through Adsafe we are trying to better deal with the many ramifications of child sexual abuse in our Church.
“Caring for people takes time and effort—real compassion.”
I recently spent a morning with the staff at Adsafe and encouraged them in their difficult work. One comment from a staff member still challenges my thinking: “We are a very redemptive community who lacks compassion.” What did they mean by that?
In my words, we explain and teach the redemptive grace of Jesus very well. People know that Jesus saves and saves completely. Jesus’ death on the cross took all of my sin and its penalty, and replaced it with complete forgiveness and righteousness. This is indeed redemptive and good news. But when it comes to dealing with people who stumble and fall continually because of abuse they’ve experienced, and how others and their own sins have affected their lives, we are not so patient and caring. Caring for people takes time and effort—real compassion.
Jesus modelled this compassion. He continually cared for Mary Magdalene who came back for hope and healing seven times (Luke 8:2, DA 568). As a Church it would be great if we could be real disciples and dispense such lavish grace and compassion.
Jesus is just and tough too. He said to His disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin,” (Luke 17:1,2; ESV). We don’t know what sins Jesus is talking about, but from what I see it certainly applies to sexual child abuse.
Tough, compassionate and redemptive—this is what the Church is called to be. To do this we need grace and discernment, given to us through the Holy Spirit. I am committed to this—I ask you to be too!