The church should be the safest place on earth for a crime victim—a haven established by shepherds who protect sheep from wolves, recognize threats to the wellbeing of the flock and take necessary stands to keep out hungry predators.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The church often fails victims, particularly victims of sexual abuse. Instead of protecting people who dare to tell of their abuse, it sometimes heralds and harbors those who perpetrated against them.
Because the gospel of Jesus Christ holds grace at its core, churches and church leadership tend to quickly believe the best about those who may appear to repent from grievous sexual crimes. Yet they are overly cautious in believing a victim’s report even though FBI stats show that false reports make up less than 5.4 percent of reported rapes.
Last Spring, the Village Church in Dallas, Texas, navigated such a minefield. They stood by a man who confessed to the federal crime of child pornography, essentially marginalizing his wife because she sought an annulment without their consent. This, thankfully, has been beautifully resolved, but it indicates just how confused churches have become with regard to predators and victims.
The church has typically shown a gross naïveté in its understanding of predators who do not look like creepy people offering candy from white vans.
• They appear like us.
• They tend to be charming and friendly.
• They don’t wear a predator uniform, and often there are few red flags to tip us off to their deviant ways.
It seems easier to rationalize that So-and-So, the upstanding citizen, couldn’t possibly have criminal leanings than to believe a victim whose voice shakes and who can barely make eye contact.
Judith Lewis, in her book Trauma and Recovery, reveals just how easy it can be to believe the perpetrator over the victim:
“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”