Tag Archives: Violence and Abuse

How one church has taken up the task of addressing sexual abuse

As a christian psychologist, I work with disasters of the church. No one comes to me to tell me how their abuse was handled in a fabulous way. I get to hear all the mistakes. So, it can be tempting for me to believe that no church handles sexual abuse or abuse allegations in a healing manner.

But that would not be true. Many churches do a phenomenal job addressing this problem. Below is a link to a site illustrating how one church handled the topic. This church put a lot of time into crafting an event with aftercare, resources, and prevention plans. Check out this link to see what pastor and counselor Brad Hambrick’s church did: the sermon, video of the after service care, additional resources including other media and policy on dealing with child abuse allegations.

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Filed under Abuse, biblical counseling, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling

System justification: motivated avoidance of vulnerability

System justification: the tendency to defend an organization or institution in the face of negative public opinion or distressing facts.

Have you ever noticed that when some person, institution, value, or position you love and cherish is being attacked, you come to its defense? Think back to your childhood. You may have mistreated a sibling but if someone else was a bully, you did not stand idly by. You may have criticisms of your church or country, but if an outsider attacks it, you feel a level of outrage. When you finally do come to see the criticisms of outsiders as valid, it is also common for us to leave our once cherished system and become an enemy. Consider how former catholics converting to evangelical christianity may often be more critical of their former church than those who never followed the tradition.

This is a common, understandable, but potentially unhelpful response. It seems that it is difficult to stay inside a system and yet be vocal about its value AND weaknesses. Either we stay and defend or leave and attack.

Some Evidence

Steven Shepherd and Aaron Kay say,

Being actively critical of something one is dependent on is thought to be psychologically uncomfortable, and therefore avoided in favor of increased perceptions of legitimacy, trust, and desirability. System justification theory posits that people are motivated to justify and legitimize the status quo and the system in which one lives. (Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 102(2), 2012, 264-280)

They go on to say that feeling dependent on a system leads to increased trust in that system which leads to active avoidance of evidence critical of that system. In other words, we like to be comfortable and loss of an important system increases our sense of vulnerability.

This “motivated avoidance” of information that might undermine our sense of safety shows up in domestic violence  research. In the most recent journal of  Psychological Trauma (5(3), 2013, 241-250), Ryan Matlow and Anne DePrince point out the differences between women who experience chronic violence at the hands of one partner versus domestic violence from the hands of multiple partners. Those who stay with a violent partner appear to use active avoidance strategies to ignore the violence but focus only on the good qualities. The assumption is that the attachment bond is more important to protect than to admit that their partner is abusive.

One more piece of anecdotal evidence: many spouses of adulterous partners either leave immediately or stay and defend against the evil other person who “attacked” the family. It is rare (but I have seen it) to stay with someone who you think is the main or sole cause of adultery.

We stay and defend instead of stay and reform. Or, we leave and attack. Staying and criticizing for reform is difficult and potentially dangerous.

Is there another way?

Imagine that one of the authors of the newly revised DSM 5 were to acknowledge that several of the significant changes were based merely on political or philosophical forces and not at all on empirical data. Imagine that a Republican or Democrat in Congress would agree that their party cared more about winning than finding true compromises. Imagine that a member of the PCA (my denomination) admitted that electing but not ordaining deaconesses for service in the church was hiding behind semantics.

What enables us to have the courage to stay and critique our favorite systems (assuming that there is something worth saving!)? I suspect the following must be present:

  • A love for truth above winning arguments (which will influence how we criticize others!)
  • A love for both those outside the system and those inside who need to change
  • Honest admission of previous or current support of problem systems
  • Courage in the face of criticism from others who dislike our truth-telling
  • Vision for reform (it is too easy to destroy, much harder to construct)
  • A willingness to give up what provides comfort, choosing future honor over insider status
  • Acceptance that one outcome may be your being kicked out of your beloved system

Of course, the power to avoid avoidance of vulnerability comes not from intellectual prowess but from no other place than the Holy Spirit. Why else would we trade current comfort now?

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Filed under Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Relationships

Motivated forgetting amongst perpetrators?

I’m in the middle of a series on the problem of abuse, memory, and recovered memories. You can see the first two posts here and here. But, before I go on to address the matter of dissociation, repression, and re-remembering abuse, I want to point out that motivated forgetting doesn’t just happen to victims. It also happens to perpetrators.

Even when forensic evidence exists, it is common for perpetrators to deny their participation (or downplay it at least) in the offense. Some are quite capable of passing lie detector exams. They appear to able NOT to recall or respond in ways that would signal lying. From a theoretical point of view, we could offer two plausible answers

  1. They are extraordinary liars. They have perfected their craft and are able to beat the best technologies we have to detect their conscious lying.
  2. They have forgotten. By means of practicing an alternative story, by means of inability to see outside their own perceptions, by means of dissociation during the event, they have somehow forgotten. Cover of "Machete Season: The Killers in ...

Could it be that perpetrators use psychological mechanisms to forget–at least in part? I am still taken with Jean Hatzfeld’s accounts of his interviews with imprisoned genocidaires in Rwanda. In Machete Season, he documents how mass killers (already imprisoned and so thus with less need to maintain one’s innocence) seemed unable to speak about their actions in the first person but could speak with greater detail when using 2nd or 3rd person (we…they…).

To my mind, this suggests we are capable of forgetting many things (the motivation for forgetting how you chopped someone up is clear) but that we may remember when using a different portion of our brain and accessing a different perception of self/other. Self-deception takes many forms and is motivated by many  (often unknown to us) reasons.

To read another post I had on this book, see this link.


Filed under Abuse, deception, memory

Valuable Child Protection Website

I want to tell you of a great website for those needing help in fighting against child abuse, for child protection. It is the website for the National Child Protection Training Center. The center is run by Victor Vieth and has a host of resources, webinars, conference notices, and more. Especially check out their publications page. On this page you can find some excellent full-text, free, information about the legal process and how to navigate child testimony and deal with defense attorneys who are trying to discredit children. Check out some of the titles:

“A children’s courtroom bill of rights: 7 pretrial motions prosecuting attorneys should routinely file”

“Vicarious trauma in child sex abuse prosecutors”
The website has a few hiccups but I recommend you check it out for helps if you know of folks going through the legal system regarding child abuse and neglect.


Filed under Abuse

Trafficking and abuse Conference: Theology of Justice and violence to women

Over the next few posts I plan to highlight some good points from the trafficking and abuse conference. For those who didn’t make it, you can order the DVDs for only $9.95 total! Here is the form and here is the website where they are described. The website also advertises our next event in this lecture series (Dec 1-3, 2011).

Bethany Hoang of IJM opened the conference on Thursday night by reminding us that justice is at the heart of worship. It is not merely a social matter. Proverbs 14:31 pairs justice with worship and honor of God:

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

And Jesus tells us in Matt 23:23b that the “weightier matters” of the Christian life have to do with justice and mercy:

But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness

(Later in the conference, Diane Langberg reminded us that complacency is complicity with those who are committing these crimes.)

Bethany went on to describe the historical rift between social action and conservative views of Scripture. The fundamentalism/liberalism debate of the early 20th century caused many to equate justice ministries with liberalism and is only now becoming more prominent in evangelical circles. Justice, said Bethany, must be grounded in Christ or else we will burn out.

So, we look to Christ. Where does he call us to join him? In dying to self. Bethany quoted Karl Barth here: Jesus calls us to live in the neighborhood of Golgotha, the neighborhood of death. Let us remember that our tangible efforts toward justice are to point to Christ and ought to reveal the character of God.

Diane Langberg spoke to the audience about violence to women. There are some very consistent facts:

  • 1:3 women experience sexual violence in their lifetime (1:6 men); 1:5 women experience rape
  • 5 million women suffer domestic violence every year in the US. It is the number one cause of injury in women 15-44.

The definition of genocide (from Rwanda) actually fits the data on how women are treated. When you consider gender-based violence (from abortion to murder, to rape, etc. ), more women have been killed in the last fifty years than people died in all of the battles of the 20th century put together. Approximately 100 million women are missing from the planet (per the Economist). In addition, the crime of genocide can be levied on those who are complicit, who do not act to stop this violence. Thus, are we complicit in the church for failing to adequately protect our girls and women. When we fail to identify and name evil for what it is, we are accomplices to a crime.

One of the most powerful parts of her talk was her review of how Jesus exhibited counter-cultural care for women. For example he,

  • had a woman traveling with him
  • allowed a woman of ill-repute to touch him
  • engaged in conversation with the woman at the well, another woman of sketchy background
  • completed his first miracle to bless the marriage of a woman
  • Did not condemn the woman caught in adultery
  • Had compassion on a gentile woman wanting some “crumbs” of healing
  • Provided for his mother with his final breaths
  • Had a woman be the first reporter of his resurrection

We fight in church about the role of women in ministry and about headship/submission. Maybe it is time to start addressing the matter of the dignity of all women and how men honor their head, Jesus Christ, when they act in ways that acknowledge this inherent dignity.


Filed under Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Diane Langberg, Uncategorized