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March 27, 2013

The Church’s Response to Abuse (Part 2)

Abuse Picture by Steve D. Hammond

Most of us have watched in horror and sadness the unfolding of events in the small town of Steubenville, Ohio.  Just in case you’ve not been watching the news, two high school football players were found guilty this past week of sexually assaulting a young woman who was too intoxicated to give her consent for sexual contact, or even to know what was happening to her.  While this was taking place, countless other teens watched, laughed, tweeted and photographed the debauchery.

We’d like to blame what happened on teenage foolishness, adolescent recklessness, the inability of teenagers to understand the consequences of their behavior and the problem of absentee parents.  But I wonder how different the evening might have turned out for both the two convicted young men as well as the victim if just one of their friends would have had the courage to speak up and say, “Stop?”

Why were these adolescents so willing to turn a blind eye to the evil right before them?  Were all of these teens too drunk to know right from wrong? Or was there something more universal at work?

I don’t think their reluctance stemmed from drunkenness but rather from the fear of man.  They were too afraid to stand up against what was happening because they feared the disapproval and censure of the group.

Lest we judge these teens too harshly, history tells us that we aren’t much different even as adults. This past year I read two books describing the mindset of the people and culture in Germany and the United States just prior to World War 2.  One was Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas, and the other, In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson.

It was difficult to comprehend how an entire culture including the Christian church closed their eyes to the obvious atrocities that were happening, especially to the Jews.  Reading both books helped me to see that it was more appealing to protect and promote allegiance to the country than to care about the individual.  By our silence however, we empower the emotional (or political) or sexual bully to continue his sinful behaviors.  Jesus was never afraid to speak out about injustice, about oppression, and about hypocritical law keeping those in power.   As his church, we must speak out too.

There is a good deal of research on the effects of positive peer pressure.  For example, when bullies are confronted by strong men and told, “We don’t act that way around here” or “We don’t treat our women that way,” it yields positive results. How might the young woman in Steubenville have felt the next morning if she woke up at one of her friend’s homes instead of naked in a stranger’s house or if one of her friends had the courage to speak up and gather a group of girls or boys together that would have protected her?   How might those two football players felt the next morning when they realized that their friends stopped them from doing the unthinkable?

A number of women have told me that they begged someone in church leadership to speak to their husband about his destructive behaviors. When we do so, we have an opportunity to stand alongside the victim and bear witness to the sinfulness of her husband’s behaviors as well as help the abuser truly repent.  Jesus gives us a method of dealing with difficult people and reconciling relationships.  It calls for speaking up. It calls for increasing the pressure and accountability on one who will not take responsibility for their wrongdoing.  It calls for the church to sanction and distance themselves from someone who refuses to repent in the hopes that as they feel the pain and shame from the group, they will be willing to change.  Sadly, most churches do not implement Matthew 18 or other biblical passages with destructive husbands, and therefore a Christian woman is left without the social support and peer pressure that God provided.

Perhaps you are not a church leader or a person of great influence, but you too can speak out and come alongside a hurting woman or mentor a man who is disrespectful and/or abusive toward his wife.  No one heals from destructive relationship patterns through counseling alone.  People are wounded in relationships and people are healed in relationships, but it takes real people in real community in real relationships.  If the church does not, will not, or cannot provide this for broken people, then where will they go? 

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Leslie Answers Your Questions

I need advice on raising
a good son. Can you help me?

Question:  I am happily married, and we have one son who is in his first year at college about 35 minutes from home. He is living on campus. Our original plans were for him to live at home, so that has been a big adjustment for me. He lied to me the other day which I realized immediately. After a heated discussion, he said he is afraid to talk to me because I always overreact.

I am very protective of him. He has been a very good boy growing up. For some reason, I am so worried/afraid that he will make a mistake, get involved with the wrong crowd, fall away from his relationship with God, etc. I have been working on my fears/anxiety but now that he is living away at college, it is even harder.

I have basically tried to let his dad do most of the serious communicating with him to avoid any issues. I love him so much, and I want our relationship to be good. I was a stay at home mom, and he has always been my top priority. I wish you were here to help us with our communication issues and help me learn to let go! I know that I need to trust God and let him make his own decisions…I am working on it!!

Any advice is truly appreciated!

Answer:   Raising godly men is indeed a challenge in today’s culture. In light of the high school incident in Steubenville, Ohio, I’m sure your fears have escalated. Yet, your son is becoming an adult. Hopefully, you and your husband have instilled in him the values and character qualities that will help him grow into a godly man and make good (not perfect) choices even under peer pressure. 

Sadly, I fear as a culture we’ve pushed our young people to perform and achieve, to aspire to greatness and success, but have not instilled critical and core values that are essential for a godly life. Today more than ever, there are many temptations that young people encounter that can be difficult to resist even with a strong spiritual base. That said, what is a parent to do? What is your role now with your collage aged son?

You have a tremendous opportunity right now to be of great influence to your son. However, you are wise to be aware that you are in dangerous territory. Your son is striving for independence from you (as he should be), and if you continue to cling and hover, you give him the message that you don’t believe he has what it takes to make good decisions without you. This could create an unhealthy dependence on you and, in the long run, breed self-hatred for himself as a man and contempt for you. It’s a lose/lose situation for the both of you.

You are wise to recognize that the problem is you and your fears. It’s good that you realize you can’t deal with your fear by controlling your son. And yes, you must release him to God and pray that the values you have instilled in him throughout his life, as well as the Holy Spirit, will help him find his way through the maze and temptations of college and future life choices.

That said, that doesn’t mean you sit back and do or say nothing. First, every time you feel fearful, pray for your son (Philippians 4:6-8). Pray not only for his protection, but for him to desire wisdom and to desire to know and love God above all else. You don’t just want to see him become a good man but a godly one, and that is more likely when he has a mom who stands in the gap with prayer. When we love God, he promises that everything, even our bad choices, will work out for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28-29).

Second, you asked for help in communicating more effectively with your son. Here are a few things you might want to say. Confess your problem with anxiety and overreacting. Say something like this. “I am aware that I’m having trouble letting you go. I agree I’m overreacting to things and it stems from fear. It’s a scary world out there, and I don’t want you to do things that will hurt you or you’ll regret. I wanted to spare you that pain, but I can’t protect you from everything, and some things you’ll only learn from failure and suffering. I have confidence that you know God loves you and you understand he only wants your good. I am going to trust that you and he will talk together about the decisions you make and the paths you choose.


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