Originally published in the Jan/Feb 2012 edition of FrontLine.
by A Concerned Pastor and Father
Please note that gender usage in reference to the victim is neutral throughout the article.
“Dad, we need to talk.” In our family we had many conversations that began the same way. This time, this conversation would change everything. In the course of this conversation I learned that my child was the victim of one man’s perverted lusts. The perpetrator was not a relative or a neighbor but one of the most active and trusted members of our church.
This is a conversation that I never imagined having with one of my children. We homeschooled, we worked together in the ministry, and we sheltered them from worldly influences. In other words, we did all the things we thought parents were supposed to do to protect and shield our children.
I carefully questioned my child on the details of the abuse. The more my child revealed the more sick and angry I became. In the course of our conversation I found out that the abuse had been going on for some time but my child was afraid to tell us, fearing how this would affect us and our church. When I asked about times and places I learned that some incidents of the abuse had occurred at church, the place where every member of our family had invested much of our lives.
This news set in motion a whirlwind series of events that included local law enforcement, immediate steps to insure there were no other victims and that there would be no other victims, a face-to-face meeting with the abuser, church discipline, and seeking prayer and counsel from godly friends.
Going through this has revealed some disturbing yet common failures and naiveté. This is one of those sins we don’t talk about, but we should. The statistics are alarming. The officer helping us with the case warned us that churches are prime targets for child predators. Again, the officer in charge of our case informed us that our child was certainly not alone; one in three girls and one in six boys are victims of abuse. According to these statistics, it is likely that on any given Sunday morning we who are pastors look into the faces of both abusers and those who have suffered abuse.
The reason I wish to share some of our story is not so that I can give you a procedure to follow for dealing with these situations. There are plenty of resources and people more qualified for that than I am. I want to open your eyes to the very personal and painful side of this issue.
From the time my child first shared the news about the abuse to even now I still have a sense of “this couldn’t happen to my family.” But it did happen. One of the most painful questions I ask myself over and over is, “As a pastor and, more importantly, as a father, how could I let this happen?” This question opens the door for other questions. “Did I not have enough protections in place?” “Did I, in some way, put my child in danger?” “Did I trust this person too much?” “What signs were there that I missed?” The questions could go on and on, and I think that is exactly what Satan wants. In essence every one of my questions strikes at the issue of God’s good, gracious, and sovereign control of all things.
My wife and I and our child, at the time and for some time after all that happened, received caring and godly counsel. My child is doing remarkably well, better than I do most of the time, having determined that God will use this for good and to glorify Himself. My child is convinced that there will be ministry opportunities that he or she would not have had otherwise.
There were times when we all had severe struggles. As you would expect, there have been battles with bitterness and distrust. One of the most difficult struggles for my child was when we found out that our local law enforcement decided not to press charges against the abuser. My child was willing to testify in order to protect other children from facing the same heartache. The authorities, though, did not want my child to become courtroom fodder. By not pressing charges my child was afraid that what had happened could happen to another child. Here was an opportunity for us all to learn a difficult lesson in trusting God to always do what is right and good.
It is what we all learned about our God through this that has made any of it bearable. We know God could have stopped the abuse. We know what happened isn’t “fair.” We know there will be memories that bring up more questions. We also know that we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. We know that God will always love us. We know that God never does wrong. We know that God knows how all our lives can bring Him greatest glory. We know our loving, perfect, gracious God can be trusted.
Let me share just one more important lesson we learned. Listen to children. We knew our child was telling the truth, but some questioned that. We didn’t blame those who questioned but always felt uneasy with how easy it was for some to dismiss outright what our child was saying. This doubt is not unusual. We were told that, on average, a child will tell nine people about the abuse before he or she is believed.
Abuse is sometimes more a part of our lives than we are willing to admit. It happened to me a few decades ago. Half of the friends from whom I sought counsel had been abused as young people. We ought to be talking about this in our staff meetings and pastors’ fellowships. We ought to be preparing to effectively minister to those being abused and the abusers who are willing to get help.
“Dad, we need to talk.” I am so glad we did!
Due to the importance of the issue of child protection, we are publishing in serial format the entire articles on the subject appearing in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of FrontLine. These articles will be made available in downloadable format as soon as our serialization is complete.
This article may be shared in its entirety as long as no alteration is made to the text and full acknowledgement is made as to the author and source.
We encourage our readers to subscribe to FrontLine, the print voice of the FBF, a magazine designed for the edification of God’s people. Click here for subscription information.