When don’t we support victims of abuse?


At the American Bible Society, where I work, those of us involved in trauma healing often say that what gets us up in the morning is our mission to equip the church to be a safe place, a place of hope and healing, for traumatized individuals. I think most Christians want to believe that the church is a safe place for the most vulnerable among us.

But this has not been the case for far to many who report child or adult abuse and harassment.

Now, as a son of a pastor, I am well aware of the challenges pastors and church leaders have in leading their congregations. Frequently, the leaders need the wisdom of Solomon, especially in cases of life and death conflict. The work of pastoring through abuse allegations is never easy. Don’t let your love of the church stop you from reading the rest!

I imagine we all believe that the Church can do so much better. And we ought to be asking ourselves, why have we failed as much as we have? In theory, we are always against abuse and always for protecting the vulnerable. But it does not always play out this way.

Consider what responses might be given to these three “first meeting” vignettes:

  1. A woman comes to church leadership to seek pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-known to be antagonistic to church and to the Christian faith.
  2. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. This man is well-respected in the community and has been a Sunday School teacher for the past decade. She is also known to be a wise and careful woman.
  3. A woman comes seeking pastoral support in light of her husband’s abusive behavior. The man is involved in the church and the woman has been known to be a bit of a church hopper.

Whether or not there is objective evidence supporting her allegations what response should these women receive? Will it be the same? Will the compassion and support offered be the same for each woman? Who will be treated with more compassion, who will be treated with more suspicion (or even just neutrality)? Will the amount of circumstantial evidence influence our response?

Minto, Hornsey, Gillespie, Healy, & Jetten (2016) have attempted to research (a) whether we are more likely to fail to support abuse victims when the abuser is one of our own and (b) whether circumstantial evidence will change our position. [You can download their full-text research essay here.] Their interest was exploring how social identity (what group you are a part of and have pride in) influences how we handle allegations of abuse by fell0w group members.

Study 1. 601 individuals read a vignette of an adult male alleging that a priest sexually abused him as a ten year old. The vignette included details of the alleged abuse and the rebuttal made by the defense attorney for the priest. Catholics, Prostestants, and non-believers all rated the assumed credibility of the victim and the perpetrator. Results indicate both Catholic and Protestant individuals with high church identity were significantly more likely to defend the accused and doubt the accuser. This was especially true if their faith was central to their core identity.

Study 2. 404 individuals also read the same vignette however the level of circumstantial evidence against the priest was manipulated. For some, the survey participants learned that church authorities were not defending the priest and that there had been a previous suspension for similar behavior (i.e., higher certainty of truth). The remaining participants learned that there had been no other cases and that this case was thrown out for insufficient evidence. The results for this study indicate,

ingroup participants were more likely to defend the integrity of the accused (and to cast doubt on the accuser) than were other participants, an effect that was exclusively driven by high identifiers. Interestingly–and somewhat surprisingly–this effect was not moderated by the subjective level of certainty surrounding the guilt of the accused.

In other words, those who highly identify with the Catholic church are more likely to defend the accused even when there is considerable circumstantial evidence against that person.

While this research was carried out examining responses to Catholic priest allegations, it appears that the problem does not lie only within the Church. Consider the obstructing responses of Michigan State to allegations of Dr. Nasser’s abuse of young female athletes over the years. The authors conclude,

Our data confirm that such highly identified ingroup members are the least willing to believe that the accusations are based on fact. This helps to provide psychological explanations for qualitative and anecdotal accounts of senior group members failing to adequately follow up allegations of child sexual abuse within their institution.

But why? The authors ask, wouldn’t the ingroup members be more motivated to purify their ranks by rejecting those who are accused of bad behavior? What is gained (or lost) by standing by accusers when the there is circumstantial evidence of abuse and no evidence of circumstantial evidence of lying on the side of the accuser? This is the challenge for those of use who listen to stories of abuse that happen in our own cherished communities.

Until we solve this problem, we will stand with the young women who accused Dr. Nasser of sexual abuse because he was not one of us but refuse to do the same when the accused is one of our own.


For further reading on reasons why we fail to act well in light of abuse allegations or reports of failures to act:

  1. Why we fail to act: Sins of complicity
  2. Failures to act: Why we don’t always blow the whistle on abuse
  3. After failures: What is more important? Gospel behaviors or reduction of liability?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Uncategorized

Generational Trauma the theme for the 2018 Global Community of Practice


Each March, the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute hosts the Global Community of Practice. This year its theme is on the topic of Generational Trauma. We will have presentations about historic and generational trauma and the ways the church can be an agent of healing. Here is the official description

The 2018 Global Community of Practice Gathering will explore trauma
and healing through generations. You will hear from a wide range
of global speakers about how trauma gets passed down from one
generation to the next, infuses social structures, and results in unique
symptoms calling for unique responses. As always, we will focus on
how the Church (that’s you!) is helping

If you are interested in this topic, want to rub shoulders with those involved in trauma healing around the world, or want to get a taste of the trauma healing curriculum we use, register now.

When is it? March 13-15, 2018

Where is it? The American Bible Society headquarters at 101 N. Independence Mall East, Philadelphia, PA.

How do I find out more details? This link Registration flyer – COP Gathering will give you the details, show you the speakers and topics, and provide the link to register. Don’t delay. Last year we turned people away!

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Questions about the APA Guidelines for PTSD treatment?


Check out this opinion piece (rebuttal) published in Psychology Today by Jonathan Shedler. It challenges the notion that randomized control trials (RCTs) are the “gold standard” to determine the best forms of treatment in the real world. While RCTs can answer certain questions, he argues they cannot answer the most important questions. As a result, the APA recommended treatments are all short-term treatments but will not be able to tell us whether those who undergo the treatment really get better and what options are available for those who drop-out of treatment (there is a significant drop-out rate with several of these recommended treatments).

For those interested in this controversy, I’d like to find out if you have (a) heard anyone challenging Shedler’s criticism and (b) what alternatives are offered by them. I’ve seen zero challenges to his piece to date.

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Filed under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, trauma

Jonah 4: Do YOU have a right to be angry about injustice? Jonah’s anger is not the problem…


Last Sunday I did something I rarely do (at least in the United States). I preached. In the sermon I explore Jonah’s anger and our anger about injustice. I point out that the problem is not that Jonah is angry but that he is hardened and blinded. And then I end with the good news about how God relates to angry people and what he does to injustice.

You can listen here: 

(recording by New Life Glenside, original here)

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Shame and ministry of seeing vulnerable people


When Jesus saw her [someone crippled for 18 years], he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” (Luke 13:12)

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

When you think of Jesus’ ministry, you may think about the miracles or the sermons or the conflicts with the priests or the conversations with his disciples. But notice how much of his ministry is the work of seeing invisible and burdened people; people with shame. He sees lepers, the blind man Bartimaeus, the bleeding woman, the Samaritan woman, the centurion with a sick child, the rich young ruler and many more.

He had to see them; he had to go through Samaria. Why did he have to go? He had to go in order to meet broken people where they lived (or sat or lay).

Crossing the chasm of shame 

This past weekend I taught at Biblical Seminary on the topic of pornography and sexual addiction. The MDiv course, was designed less to help current and future pastors help addicts and more to help ministry leaders address their own struggles with sexual shame.  The truth is that we all carry around in our being some form of sexual shame. It is something we want to hide and keep from others. We don’t want this shame to be seen, even if our shame is caused by the sins of others.

During the class I asked everyone to consider one of their experiences of shame and to then list on separate post-its what sensations, images, feelings and thoughts that it might evoke (HT to the post-it queen herself–Heather Drew–for this idea!). Then, I had them consider what sensations, images, feelings and thoughts they had when they recalled a time they felt loved and cared for by someone who knew that shame story they carried. Students then placed their post-its on opposite walls of a hall. Silently the class first examined the shame side and then moved to consider the grace side. While it was easy to move from shame to grace in our activity, we considered the chasm shame creates and the impossibility of really being seen AND loved at the same time.

When I asked students how they moved from shame to grace in their own lives, the stories contained a common element. There was someone who pursued them, who stuck out a hand and drew them out of their shame. This someone was someone who saw them and love them just the same.

This is the central ministry of Jesus. He crosses the chasm of shame and sees (and touches) the unloved. Lest you think that God the father is a distant member of the trinity, remember that his first action after Adam and Eve sinned was to go find them. He pursued them. He saw them. He engaged in conversation. He provided a covering for them. Some of the most beautiful images of this ministry of seeing us in our shame and pursuing us just the same is found in the book of Hosea. Depicted as a wayward wife who has returned to prostitution, God’s people are pursued by him, bought back from the pimp and invited back into the marriage bed.

The main ministry of Jesus is pursuit of broken people, to see them and touch them. It is not to put them in a program of change as we are often want to do. Rather, Jesus invites those he loves to remain connected to him, to follow him. Consider the invitations Peter received before and after the crucifixion:

Peter said to him, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “if I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8)

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17f)

What if the work of the church is to see and serve shamed individuals? How might this change how we evaluate Christian ministry outcomes?

 

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If you thought about posting #metoo, consider taking this poll.


Are you watching #metoo trending in social media settings? It is sobering to remember that the numbers of men and women who have suffered sexual assault, harassment, and abuse are astronomical. Such posts have the opportunity to help others recognize this hidden wound that many carry around their entire lives. I’m grateful when a victim is able to voice something that has held power over them for far too long. It can be part of the healing journey. And yet I also know that voicing our pain can lead to further pain. I’ve created this anonymous poll to find out how those who have considered posting #metoo (whether you posted or not does not matter) to see how the hashtag trend is impacting them. Results will only show how many numbers of votes per option.

Thankful for all who respond here.

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What if we view anxiety as what it means to be human?


Do you often feel guilty that you struggle with anxiety? Do you beat yourself up afterwards? When you hear, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything and with thanksgiving present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6-7) do you feel more burdened knowing that you are often anxious and filled with worry?

Indeed the Scriptures speak very frequently about our anxieties and worries. Might it be that it is a human experience (this side of the Fall) that will not be removed? If you worried less about your worries; if you felt less shame and guilt for them, how might that change how you respond to your worries?

Discuss!

I leave you with this thought as you ponder your way of responding to your worry. Psalm 56:3 says, When I am afraid I put my trust in you. It doesn’t say that such trust erases fear. You can be afraid and be full of anxiety and trust God in the middle of that experience. One does not necessarily invalidate the other.

 

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Trauma-informed Churches: Clinical, Pastoral, and Theological Support for Victims of Trauma


Today I will be presenting a one hour breakout at the 2017 AACC World Conference in Nashville, TN. If you are interested in seeing the slides, down them here.

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Spiritual Abuse and Toxic Systems: Therapeutic and Congregational Interventions


Today Dr. Diane Langberg and I will be presenting Spiritual Abuse and Toxic Systems in a 3 hour pre-conference seminar at the 2017 AACC World Conference. Take a look if you like.

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The disconnect with some creeds: statements vs. conversation; orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy


If you read much news about Christianity then you may be aware of the “Nashville Statement.” It has surfaced in a number of locations with much commentary pro and con. There are those who disagree with the affirmations and denials, those who agree, and those who may agree–at least in part–but find something important missing. This final group commonly notices the cold expression of facts and beliefs that seems devoid of human connection. It appears to these individuals that love and relationship are missing, that it is a statement about people rather than to people.

At the same time, I am reading Heal us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church. This is an edited volume containing the voices of Presbyterian pastors from all walks of life about race problems in the church. Though a book about an entirely different subject as the Nashville Statement, there are two details that might help us identify the significant limitations of creedal statements:

  • Ideological statements vs. redemptive conversations. When talking about the problems of racial disunity in the United States it could be easy to mis-understand which conversation we should be having at a given time. While it is good to discuss what we think are the facts, causes, and solutions to systemic discrimination, sometimes those conversations are destructive. For example, if you begin to talk about an injustice you just experienced and the listener responds by saying, “well, that might have happened but it really isn’t a big problem” chances are you will not continue long in that conversation. Why not? You were not loved, not listened to, not shown compassion. What you needed was someone to validate you and to show concern for your experience. Statements of belief, important as they are, rarely meet people in their pain and confusion. Pastoral letters often do as they invite the other into a conversation. This point is made by Rev Lance Lewis in chapter 1 (especially on pages 3-6). In that section he suggests that ideological/political conversations alone “rob us of the opportunity to show genuine concern and love for the Black community.” Conversations, on the other hand, start with experience and move towards grounding in redemptive and theological foundations.
  • Creedal orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy. In chapter 5, “We’ve come this far by faith” Rev Stan Long makes this statement, “Dr. [Carl] Ellis once stated that for the White Christian community, creedal orthodoxy is supreme. It is the primary evaluative tool. However, for the Black Christian community, ethical orthopraxy is supreme. We determine  the authenticity of one’s confession through ethics, not creed.” Creedal statements often talk about facts in the abstract and rarely how it looks on the ground, in real life. Statements such as these, especially about what others should do/not do, might better start out with the author’s own failings to love the other well. While creeds are important–the church often recites ancient creeds each Sunday–what one does after the service tells us more about whether those creeds mean much.

As a Presbyterian, I am a creedal Christian. I do think there are lines to be drawn in life. There are boundaries to be observed and even protected. There are beliefs to be stated in black and white text. However, I don’t think creeds make good conversationalists as they cannot provide in-the-moment wisdom (who am I talking to, what do they need now?) nor do they reveal the kind of person you are and have been to the other person in the conversation. And if we creedal Christians are honest, we have not always done well engaging the ones we believe are operating outside the lines we cherish.

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Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Uncategorized