Lifting the Cover on Sexual Abuse

“Will I need to stand in front of the church and confess that I was hospitalized in a mental health facility?” At first I thought she was joking. She was not joking. She was dead serious. And when she asked that—I knew our church had failed. We had failed her terribly.

The church adds to the trauma of sexual abuse when men and women are afraid to come forward, afraid to share their story, and afraid to confess that they no longer want to live. That’s when it is obvious that we, as a church, have failed the broken and hurting.

The church is actually adding to the problem.

You see, a survivor of abuse doesn’t see themselves as a valuable individual—they see themselves as damaged goods and something that should be discarded. They fear that the desire to die, the attempts at suicide, might be reason enough for church discipline. They know that their reaction to their horrific trauma, and desire to die, might be considered by others as sinful.

What if they are just so very exhausted by all that they’ve experienced, that they see death as the only escape from the past that continues to ravage them?

What if they don’t share how they vomit when past memories come crashing in because they fear you will think it demonstrates a lack of faith. Or the fact that they don’t share that they still struggle with debilitating fear combined with self-mutilation because they believe that if it were known, it would be seen as a blight on the church. Who in their right mind would want to talk about their story with all that judgment and disapproval staring them in the face? Of all places, all places, the church should be a safe place. Not only a safe place, but on the offensive when it comes to this issue.

The church should be on the advance—be leading the way in protecting the broken and abused, rather than bringing additional harm.

I’m ashamed today. I’m ashamed of what has been uncovered. But I’m thankful it has been uncovered. I’m thankful that sin has been exposed and forced into the light. But I’m ashamed of the church at large. How could we? How could so many perpetrators of evil, so many predators and evil seducers be allowed to remain hidden? And how did the church not see the hurting and come to their aid? Why has the Lord’s instructions not been followed to protect these? Why have civil authorities not been contacted?

Why has it taken so long for judgment to fall on the church?

I’m not answering these questions in this small blog post. I’m just appealing to you to look around, to pray for those who are hurting. To be a safe place for the men and women in your church who may be throwing up (or running to a mental health facility) as they relive the horror of being preyed upon by someone in church leadership—as these revelations continue to pour out.

And I’m asking you to intentionally cultivate an environment in your church that is safe.

You may not know what I’m talking about, but if you’re on social media at all, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of something referring to the Houston Chronicle articles (a three-part series) addressing the horrific proliferation of sexual abuse within Southern Baptist churches. It is a serious investigative report and one that all churches should be aware of—whether you’re a member of a SBC church or a different denomination.

You may want to run from the graphic horror of what is being revealed. But don’t. You may want to argue the need to reveal this. But as believers who carry the gospel before a watching world—we can’t.

As hard as it is for us to look in the mirror and see ourselves, we need to look. We need to see what we’ve missed or what we’ve hidden. We need to wake up to the fact that the church is easily invaded by predators—and many times those predators stand behind a pulpit or sit in the Sunday School teacher’s seat. We need to operate in humility and grace—not in reckless accusation or paranoia—but we need to be watchful over our little ones, over the vulnerable, over our teens (male and female), and over those who’ve already been ravaged by this evil.

What can we do?

  • If you know someone who has suffered from this type of abuse, meet with them and gently ask how you might come alongside them, and ask for suggestions in how the church can improve in helping the abused.
  • Be aware that if you ask how you can help—the victimized may not be able to give you an answer. As one told me: “You don’t expect a drowning person to manage their own rescue.” Be sensitive to that. Don’t demean them if they can’t give you an answer. They are drowning.
  • Be prepared for, and committed to, the long haul. This will not be a “quick fix.” This will not be easy. Walking with a survivor of abuse requires time and patience. And much grace. They will probably need good counseling from a Christian health professional that is trained and experienced in helping trauma victims. Be willing to go with them to those sessions if that will be helpful for them.
  • Realize that your abused friend will have a skewed perspective of God, and in all likelihood will be angry with God. This is where you can be the most help. Don’t preach to her, but in creative ways introduce her to the wonder and goodness of God. Love her as He loves her. His heart is for the broken and oppressed.
  • Invite your abused friend to experience “normal” with you. Fun outings with no pressure of heavy conversation. A quiet meal with meaningful and affirming conversation. If she’s the mother of young ones—offer to relieve her of care-giving duties for a few hours, that alone is a huge help.
  • Demonstrate respect and compassion to the victimized—not debilitating pity that demeans them further.
  • Do not ever use them for your own means—as a “victory mission project.” They’ve been used and should never be used again—especially in Christ’s name.
  • Be careful to walk the fine line of assisting them in their recovery without encouraging an unhealthy dependence on you. Be on guard that you do not function as a little “savior” rather than continually pointing them to the source where they will truly find their needs met—in Christ Jesus alone.
  • Cultivate an environment within your church that communicates to those who are hiding, that it is safe to come out in the open and share, that the church will not shame you.  
  • Don’t be entertained by sexual abuse. As believers, when we gorge on movies or other forms of entertainment that presents graphic images of the victimization of others, it desensitizes the church to the horror. It further dehumanizes the abused. Eating popcorn while watching rape is barbaric behavior.  
  • Watch for symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) within your church family. The rate of PTSD in sexual assault survivors is second only to war veterans.
  • Be public about your willingness to serve those who’ve been sexually assaulted, abused, or are aware of abuse that is going unreported.
  • If you’re aware of ongoing abuse that hasn’t been reported to authorities. Report it. Now. And get the abused to a safe location. Today.

Join me in praying for the church? How I grieve for those who’ve been harmed by wolves who hold positions where they are supposed to represent our holy Lord Jesus. How angry I am for that misrepresentation and for the horrors and atrocities these predators have brought. Let us move ahead in wisdom and watchfulness. Watching out for those in need. Caring for the broken and injured.

Let us be true representatives of our kind Shepherd.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28 –29)


  • Tammy Thomson

    Thank you Kimberly, for helping to bring this horrific issue more in to the Light. This is another example of why it can be so difficult for females (in particular and speaking from my personal experience) to accept the view that many churches hold that only men can hold leadership roles, and women should be submissive to male leadership. I understand that this can be a “beautiful arrangement” if followed to the biblical letter, But; too often young children (women and men) as well as adults are preyed upon by these leaders. When I met with the pastor or my local church (and Evangelical Free church) to ask for some understanding of why women aren’t allowed to serve in any leadership roles, he turned the tables on me and tried to intimidate me: it felt like punishment for asking my one simple question. I did not even attempt to discuss the issue but; just listened as he rambled on about “no women Apostles in the Bible”, etc. I had to dig for answers on my own, because my church made no mention of their stance on women in leadership and this made it seem like they were trying to keep it ‘hush hush’. You may wonder what I am getting at? I wonder some times too 🙂 But seriously, I have been wondering if God has been calling more women to the ministry And to other church leadership roles (more so as of late, that is) because so many men have failed women as leaders and protectors. Not to take away from the many good and decent men!! such as Leroy. Maybe if women were allowed to lead aside men, there would be less of a Boys Club mentality.

  • Kristy

    Yes, this is an atrocity. The Lord is still on the throne. The man that abused me for 10 years sat in the pew in front of me on Sundays. When I was finally able to tell my brother what had happened, we told our pastor and nothing was ever said. Just when I begin to deal with that in my college years, I got a job working for a man that owned his own business and was also the Music Minister at his church. I had a very difficult time trusting men as I was just beginning to tell my story for the first time. I was so glad that I was working with a “Christian man”. I went into work to open up and my boss was there and started to put his hands all over me. He said we should keep it a secret and that the woman who I had thought to be his wife, was not because they had divorced and the church didn’t even know it. When the man left for a few minutes, I called my friend and he said I had to leave. I was too scared to leave and lose my job so my friend showed up to pick me up. We went straight to the pastor of our church. He immediately took me and my friend to confront my boss and he denied it, so my pastor took it to the pastor where my boss was minister of music and told them that if they didn’t tell the church and remove him, that he would go and tell them. The pastor and deacons decided to look the other way because this man was a big contributor to the church. This was devastating to my recovery and I attempted suicide shortly after. Sexual abuse has greatly affected my life, but I am so thankful that God new it. He was my only source of comfort when I could tell no one else. By His grace, I can face each day with much hope. And, though it was terrible, I would go through it all again if it meant that my heart would be softened toward the gospel. I choose to look back and see the grace of God in it. I know everyone that has been abused may not be at the place and that’s okay. Neither of those abusers were ever held accountable in the justice system. I pray they will be saved and the blood of Jesus will cover their sin. If not, God is just and they will be judged. I would find no pleasure in seeing them go to hell. Peace only comes through Christ our Savior. Thank you, Jesus!

  • T

    Thank you so much for this Kimberly! Our family has experienced abuse, and it is the deepest, darkest thing that we have ever walked through. Because it was my father-in-law that did the sexual abuse to my daughter, it has also caused marital trouble. My husband cannot acknowlege (I know that he does not want to imagine) his father sexually assaulting our daughter so it has eroded that father-daughter relationship. So the enemy has ravaged our family in this horrific situation. To top that off, 6 1/2 months after learning about the abuse by my father-in-law, my younger daughter was raped by another college student. Devastating! I am a homeschool mom. I was with my daughters every day for 12 years. We raised them in church. I did all I could to love them and protect them. I never dreamed this would be our lives, our story. Had you told me just 2 years ago that we would be living this nightmare, I would not have believed you. Yet here we are. I confess that I am struggling because my father-in-law was a prominent church member. He took up offering every Sunday morning and was called on to pray often in services. I thought I married into the ideal Christian family. I did not. My mother-in-law, the ladies SS teacher for over 30 years, is protecting her predator husband and has not even apologized for or acknowledged the abuse to my daughter. And church members stand by him because they can’t imagine him doing such a thing. It has been a horrible experience for our family and has made my daughters’ faiths and my faith rocky. I just have to keep leaning on My Lord and read His Word, even on days that I feel numb. And I tell myself so many times, over and over, that I am not alone. My girls are not alone. He is with us and He is working even when I can’t see it. I am reading Lysa Terkuerst’s new book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. God is using it to encourage my heart. My girls are going to counseling. Please pray for both of them. The anxiety, panic attacks, and depression are horrible consequences that are left because being victims. And please pray for my marriage. My husband keeps saying that his dad did not have evil intentions, that he was trying to be affectionate, that he is “retarded.” He refuses to admit that his dad is an abuser. I know it is because he loves his dad. But it has damaged our family. Please pray for us. We have been walking through this since June 2017. I am weary. But I know my God will see me through, see our family through.

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Hello, Tammy ~

    I’m so sorry for how you were treated when you sought answers. The reaction you described that you received when asking your questions was wrong and insensitive. I’m concerned that women, in some churches, are not valued as vital members who can contribute in a wide array of positions. It is a tough topic to grapple with and has grown more complicated and difficult as men have abused the positions they hold.

    There will be a temptation to challenge the leadership model that places men only in pastoral roles, but we must be careful that, in our desire to protect (where many men have failed), we don’t step outside of the Scriptural model. Scripture doesn’t prevent women from serving in many leadership roles, but in the role of pastor–it seems clear that it is reserved for men.

    I hope you’ll check out this blog post from the archives that addresses this issue (and especially the Scriptures):

    When men take on the godly and humble mantle of leadership that our Lord Jesus provided through His example, there will no longer be a “Boys Club mentality.” May we see that happen! The church desperately needs that!

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Oh, precious friend, how this breaks my heart to know what you’ve gone through! I’m so very sorry. But I am so very thankful for your beautiful reaction and response as you view these as horrific events that can be (and have been) used to soften your heart (as you stated). It is also evident to me that God can use you in a vital way in ministering to women who’ve endured the same type of abuse. And to also recognize those who may be struggling with the trauma, but have never voiced to anyone what they’ve experienced (or may still be experiencing).

    May God use you mightily as an advocate for women who’ve been abused and traumatized!

    As I read your painful story, this passage kept running through my mind:

    “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–7)

    Pausing to pray and thank God for you now ~

  • Kimberly Wagner

    Dearest “T” ~

    Oh, dear one, how my heart aches for the pain you and your family is experiencing. It is indeed horrific. And so hard to comprehend. I commend you for being an advocate for your daughter, even though it has come at cost to yourself. You have not been complicit in her abuse, but have sought out help for her and attempted to bring her abuser to accountability. I can only imagine how very hard that is with it being your husband’s father. I pray that your husband will recognize the need to serve as his daughter’s protector, rather than attempting to justify or shield his father.

    I’m so sorry for the additional horror for your daughter who was raped. May God minister to both of your daughter’s hearts, and yours as well. Such evil. It makes us long more deeply for heaven and for God’s kingdom to be eternally established!

    I’m glad that you’ve received some encouragement from Lysa Terkuert’s book. You might also check out a book I’m currently reading: “On the Threshold of Hope” by Diane Mandt Langberg. Also, I hope you’ll go to her website and check out resources there that I think you’ll find beneficial. They’ve been quite helpful to me in grappling with this issue as I seek to minister to women who’ve been traumatized by sexual abuse:

    Precious one, I’m pausing now to pray for you, your daughters, and your family. May this not be the end of the story! May God bring refining fires and redemption for His glory!

  • Tammy Thomson

    Thank you Kimberly. I didn’t think you would post my comment because of my controversial view/s. It means a lot to me that you did….and; also that you took the time to give me a heartfelt reply. I just wanted to thank you for this, and for your excellent ministry. You are an awesome teacher of God’s Word! I have to add: it seems a disservice to the world if someone with your knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, couldn’t feel free and Be free to teach in any way shape or form–including the pulpit.!

  • T

    Thank you so very much for your prayers, Kimberly!
    Also, that your for the resource recommendations. I will check them out now.

  • Donna Doverspike

    Kim and LeRoy

    My continued prayers for you both. I am praying for all that were sexual abused.