Sitting in the peace of Mass in our little parish chapel, words from the Gospel of Matthew snapped me to attention:
2He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said:’Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’
6 ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea….’
10 ‘See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.’  [a]
12 ‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.’
–Matthew 18:2-14. (Emphasis added)
Jesus refers to children 7 times in 12 verses, emphasizing the welcoming of children and warning against despising them and causing them to stumble.
I never knew that the parable of the lost sheep was sandwiched between these verses about children. I often hear it applied to adults who’ve strayed from their faith.
What if Jesus was talking about harm done to children that causes them to reject Him?
* * *
It’s been 3 months since news broke about Josh Duggar molesting five young girls, including 4 of his sisters. I’ve been processing all manner of issues surrounding that situation, pressing in to determine what sickens, enrages, hurts, and depresses me so much about it.
I’ve been triggered and healed and triggered and healed some more. It has provided me with several opportunities both to research the issue and to engage in conversations with my own family about my history of abuse. It has taught me a lot about people.
Frankly, I’ve been striving for restraint from ranting about it on Facebook because the response to the Duggars has been extremely discouraging—especially from Christians.
There are two very critical lessons we must take from the Duggar situation and the response to it.
1. Put child victims first. See the scripture above. This should be obvious—that the safety and well-being of children should be a top priority.
But hear me on this: When encountering the sexual abuse of a child, you will experience pressure, lies, manipulation, and evil of all kinds that will be aimed at taking your attention away from the fact that a child has been violated, traumatized, and faces a long road of healing.
That looks a lot like:
- Denial of the abuse and deflection from the situation
- Dismissing concerns about abuse of pre-verbal children.
- Professions that the abuse wasn’t that bad/could have been worse.
- Assertions that boys will be boys.
- The perpetrator confessing to a lesser offense to appear cooperative and garner sympathy.
- The loved ones of the perpetrator demanding that their pain be a priority/urging not to “break up a family/church community”
- Insisting that the past is in the past.
- Insisting that the perpetrator has done so much good in his/her life.
If a person has crossed the line and abused a child, do you think he/she won’t lie to you? Manipulation goes hand in hand with abuse. Why give the benefit of the doubt to someone practiced at deception? We cannot afford to be naive about the nature of evil in this situation. Standard conflict resolution doesn’t apply here. Sexual abuse is a crime. Don’t let them fool you!
Put the needs of the child victim before everything else.
That looks a lot like:
- Believing the child
- Immediately reporting the perpetrator to the police, no matter who the perpetrator is.
- Never requiring the child to be in the same room as the perpetrator. That means removing the perpetrator from the home if he/she lives there.
- Getting the child ongoing counseling with a professional trauma therapist.
- Understanding that abuse has long-term effects. Allow the child to speak about it freely, and ask about it often.
As human beings and followers of Jesus, it is our duty to protect the weak and vulnerable among us. There is no doubt that this includes children. Perpetrators of sexual abuse against children are not the weak and vulnerable among us. They are predators of the weak and vulnerable. Let’s keep our priorities straight! (<===Click to tweet.)
These things are incredibly difficult to do, but when you do, you facilitate the healing of the child. By contrast, when you don’t do them, you compound the trauma to the child.
You hold tremendous power.
Because of human nature, adults will handle disclosures of abuse imperfectly, but the standard still needs to be set and widely taught. Families who do not handle abuse disclosures in this way cannot be held up as role models.
That is one issue I have with the Duggar situation. Many people, mostly Christians, do hold them up as role models in handling this situation. I am willing to accept that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar did the best they knew how to do at the time. However, their failure to remove Josh from their home resulted in 2 girls being re-victimized, plus 3 more girls to be abused.
Listen, I am not saying they are bad people. I am saying not to do what they did in this situation.
Does it really need to be stressed that 5 girls being sexually abused is a horrifically tragic thing? Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar could have prevented much of it, but they didn’t. Saying so isn’t condemning them. It’s educating others to handle it differently if they ever encounter the situation.
2. Child sexual abuse often severs children from their faith and relationship with God. See the scripture above. This is the ultimate way to cause a child to stumble—driving them away from Jesus.
(^^^Click to tweet.)
You do this when you are a person of faith and you
- Abuse a child.
- Refuse to believe a child who discloses abuse.
- Neglect to protect a child and help a child heal.
- Prioritize the needs of the perpetrator and his/her family above the child.
- Worry about the reputation of anyone or anything more than the child.
- Push a victim to reconcile with a perpetrator.
- Offer spiritual platitudes to a victim.
- Treat abuse primarily as sin instead of crime.
Or when you hold up a family like the Duggars as role models for handling situations of abuse simply because you believe they are a good Christian family with wholesome values. Good Christian families make mistakes, and holding them up in this situation is a lie that both compounds trauma for victims and endangers children.
Christians, please. Don’t have a blind spot when it comes to the choices of other Christians. Speaking out against a crime committed by a Christian is not condemning the person. In this case, it is speaking truth that binds up the wounds of injured little souls.
One more time: Put the needs of child victims first. Weigh each decision you make in a situation involving abuse against how it will affect the child victims. Remember, you hold tremendous power to facilitate their healing.
“’…whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…. See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.’”
* * *
I am not an expert. I am a woman with a story that includes child sexual abuse. I am familiar with the dynamics and warning signs of abuse. I am a woman with a passion for offering hope to those who’ve been traumatized by abuse and for protecting children from it.
Here are some resources I recommend to better understand child sexual abuse, its effects, and how to handle it: