Sexual-abuse survivor and victims’ advocate Trudy Harder Metzger preaches an important word when she says we should not expect survivors simply to forgive and move on after abuse has stopped. Survivors need to be able to talk about their experiences and feel recognition and support from their communities. They should receive special attention, the opportunity to communicate their needs and access to pastoral care from their church families as long as needed.
Addressing physical and emotional needs is an essential element of our shared Christian life. Membership in a congregation is both a commitment of faithfulness to God and of support for each other on our journeys toward holiness and wholeness.
Numerous admonitions in the New Testament address our relationships with each other, such as “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2) and “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17, in the context of assisting with fellow believers’ physical needs).
The traditional Anabaptist ideal of yielded submission to the fellowship should never be used to neglect addressing the suffering of a church member. But Metzger believes it has had exactly this negative effect. She has observed that culturally conservative Anabaptist churches need to give special attention to a problem that arises from the high value they place on submission to the community. Disdain for individualism has suppressed survivors’ voices. It has caused a failure to hear individuals’ stories of trauma and to offer care. It has hurt and driven away those who feel uncared for and unable to express their grief. Jesus’ words, “Let [my followers] deny themselves and take up their cross daily” (Luke 9:23), should never be used to silence people or to ignore their suffering.
Whether wounds are from abuse or from the accumulated spiritual soreness of being marginalized, compassion from our church families should be the expectation.
We are instructed to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted” (Eph. 4:32). The church body is arranged so that if one member suffers, all suffer with it (1 Cor. 12:26). Against such kindness there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).