Letter To VPC: Hopes From Lessons Learned
Mother of a victim tells community she hopes it can move forward with findings of abuse study
Editor's Note: This letter was written by a mother of one of the sex abuse victims at Vienna Presbyterian Church, and read at a meeting on Wednesday night. It has not been edited.
In reflecting on the past six years, my hope is that we will take away three lessons learned from our collective harmful actions. Also, that we will continually instruct other churches and organizations in these three lessons to help others avoid causing secondary harm to abuse survivors, harm I liken to rubbing pieces of slivered glass into deep, open wounds left in the wake of Eric’s abuse.
- Believe and Honor the Person Disclosing the Abuse
Those in power need to:
- believe those who disclose abuse,
- thank them for their courage in stepping forward with the truth,
- protect them from the perpetrator and the perpetrators defenders while
- caring for them tenderly and continually, especially if the person disclosing the abuse is young.
So, the first lesson is to believe and honor the person who discloses the abuse.
- Pursue Justice for the Perpetrator
Suspected abuse needs to be reported to authorities in accordance with state law. Sexual contact by adults with youth always rises to the level of abuse and should be characterized as such. If the people in power do not know their state’s law with respect to reporting suspected abuse, they need to immediately find out what the law is and fully comply with it. We now see and understand the many very good reasons for these laws. Make no mistake, without a very firm grasp on the doctrine of total depravity; this step is very difficult to take. Predators are typically charismatic master manipulators who have established deep emotional ties with people in their community. This is how they are able to do what they do. Hence the laws for reporting abuse.
Those with power must also vigilantly prevent the perpetrator from abusing others.
So, the first lesson is to believe and honor the person who discloses the abuse and the second is to pursue justice for the perpetrator.
- Extend Loving, Compassionate, Constant Care for Victims and Their Families
Victims of abuse and their families need to be embraced and surrounded by loving, compassionate people who will help survivors see and understand God's heart in it. It is very clear from Scripture that God hates abuse, especially when it is perpetrated by religious leaders against young or otherwise vulnerable people. If God hates evil and abuse, those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus should also hate it. Actions should be constantly checked against the plum line of that position.
If those in power are unable to extend needed love and compassionate care, they should appoint a team of people to help them. Leaders need to enter into survivors’ pain and suffering, to bear their burdens, to pray regularly with and for them as God heals, and provide resources for them as they journey toward healing and wholeness.
We can (and should) testify to the truth that God rescues and works to heal those harmed by abuse while seeking justice for perpetrators. God is always with and for those who are marginalized, oppressed, weak, and broken-hearted. Those of us who call ourselves Christians ought to join God in His activity of extending love, compassion, and mercy to those who suffer while seeking justice.
So, the first lesson learned is to believe and honor the person who discloses the abuse, the second is to pursue justice for the perpetrator, and the third is to extend loving, compassionate care for survivors of abuse.
As we talk about and move toward “being prepared”, my hope is that our focus on the administrative and practical aspects of preparedness will not divert our energies from exploring the spiritual aspects of preparedness.
Looking back I now see how unprepared we were spiritually to respond faithfully in the wake of this evil. Many of our missteps, in my opinion, flowed from an incomplete understanding of evil, sin, suffering, compassion, mercy, love, judgment, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation, redemption, grace, healing, and resurrection from a gospel perspective.
I hope, as a community of believers, we will intentionally move toward understanding the gospel more fully as it pertains to abuse and those who are defenseless to prepare us spiritually to enter into God’s mission in this world to overcome sin, sorrow and suffering as section G-3 in our Book of Order so eloquently articulates..
As we go, may God bless us and keep us from sin & evil and make his face to shine upon us.