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Dan Allender: How Pastors Can Help a Sexual Abuse Victim

Dan Allender Sexual Abuse Victim

Rachael Denhollander and Beth Moore have bluntly stated that the church hasn’t done enough to address sexual abuse.

What can and should the church do?

In 2016, Dr. Dan Allender, author of “Healing the Wounded Heart,” addressed the church’s role in healing sexual abuse on a ChurchLeaders podcast.

When he originally broached the topic in the 1980’s, Allender said it was an issue largely ignored by the church.  Sadly, what could be characterized as the shock and shame of the 80’s has given way to boredom and indifference.

The revelations of the past four months have brought the church and culture at large out of our stupor.

Allender says the church must be involved because sexual abuse harms a person both physically and spiritually.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse hide a deep sense of shame, which Allender says is a condition of the heart.  

“We are as sick as our secrets. If we can’t grapple with what you have silenced through shame, you can’t hope for redemption. Not just ‘I have been abused’ but to enter the story and its implications is part of the work of redemption.”

He advises pastors to watch for the telltale signs of a person hiding shame, which include cynicism, anger and detachment.  Allender says those traits were cultivated by the victim’s struggle with evil that killed something in his or her heart.

“When you see people given to judgment of others and themselves in the realm of accusations, that signatures significant contempt.  Where there is contempt, there’s shame and an unaddressed story of shame.”

Pastors are advised to engage those exhibiting signs of shame. Get them to tell their story and then be supportive. “Invite them to name what is true, honor what is true and then step them toward the process with a hand on the shoulder to keep them moving forward.”

Allender understands that many pastors might claim they don’t have the expertise to deal with emotional problems caused by sexual abuse. But he reminds them that there are deep spiritual issues at play and that is the realm of ministry.

But if a pastor still feels outside his or her depth, they should refer sexual abuse victim to a Christian counselor who can help them get on a path of healing. You may not walk with that person to the end of that path, but getting them started on their journey is incredibly important.

You’ll want to ask several questions of the potential counselor to be sure that it’s a good fit and keeping two priorities in balance:

Integrity – You want to know each counselor you utilize sufficiently to be able to recommend them with integrity.

Efficiency – You wear many hats and need to be able to vet potential counselors in a time frame that does not impede your ability to fulfill other ministry responsibilities.

The worst thing a pastor can do, according to Allender, is to walk away from the problem and refuse to support the one who is suffering.  He says when you engage what evil does not what you to name, the spirit of God can work and redemption is not just a possibility but is virtually assured.