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When We Hang Millstones on Children

I want you to see this. It comes from Mary DeMuth, a friend who is bravely speaking up about the abuse she experienced, and the abuse she sees in the church. This is something that has been heavy on my heart lately – especially with the allegations surfacing about the Bill Gothard homeschool cult in which I spent the first twenty years of my life. Mary’s words here are wise and important and I’m grateful for her voice. 

Something is wrong when the church protects perpetrators and marginalizes victims.

Jesus looked for outcasts. He dignified the marginalized.

He sided with the woman caught in adultery, against her prosecutors (and perhaps her sexual partner). He confronted sin in his closest group of ministry partners, even telling Satan to take a backseat. He noticed the woman with the issue of blood—a victim of biology and the shunning of the crowd.

He listened to the downtrodden. By coming to earth, He identified with those bent beneath their loads. He welcomed scampering children while the disciples scoffed.

And He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) But when a person in ministry pursues his own sexual deviance and violates a child sexually, how is he exempt from the millstone?

And why do we try to alleviate the weight of that millstone by covering up the sin? 

The church does far better when it acknowledges its sin, living fearlessly and honestly, than when it prefers to show a pretty, unadulterated face to the world.  But unfortunately, we have become so enamored with the ministries we have built – forgetting that God Himself builds His church – that we have lived in depraved fear. We have preferred the words of perpetrators over the words of those abused. We wrongly believe that we are in the business of reputation management.

At its heart, ministry is about freedom. Truth is what sets us free.

Honesty, authenticity, humility—all these should typify the church we all love.

If someone on our watch or in our ministry hurts another one – particularly a child – then full disclosure (along with the alerting the legal system) is the least we can do. Corporate pain and a willingness to rebuild the one destroyed should be the story we live.

Never covering up.

Never demanding cheap grace.

Never vilifying victims who risked everything to admit to the shameful acts.

I have written this before, and I stand by it: One of Satan’s most devious schemes on this earth is the sexual abuse of children. It ruins. It degrades. It impoverishes. It darkens understanding of God’s goodness.

I can write this because I experienced it, hellish and pervasive, during my fifth year of life.

Not one person saved me, though I begged for help. Not one hero stepped in to say, “This is wrong, and you will be held accountable by the law.” And I was left believing that the only person who could protect me on this earth was me.

After I told and nothing was done to stop the abuse, I became scrappy—feigning sleep, saving myself. And then we moved far, far away. But the haunting stayed with me. The secret came out ten years later, soon after I met Jesus, and even then I wasn’t believed initially. That lack of belief dredged another trench of shame and fear in me.

Was I crazy? Did it happen? Why would no one dare to protect me or, later, believe me?

When we create church structures that do not listen to children who have been violated or to their parents who stand horrified and broken, and instead prefer the perpetrating adults, we hang the millstone around the children’s and their parents’ necks.

Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian man who had sexual relations with his “father’s wife” is instructive here. He didn’t ask them to protect the man or silence the victim. He mandated the man who sinned be removed from their midst because of his egregious sexual sin.

Yet we have settled for keeping the violator within the ranks of the church with no penalty, and even defending him. We have “protected” the integrity of the church by violating its integrity through hiding and lying.

Of course the goal of this kind of church discipline is restoration, but it must first be acknowledged as sin, openly. More than that, we must dignify victims, validating their voices. Our concern should be overspending ourselves, working feverishly toward the victim’s restoration.

The outcome of the Corinthian man’s situation was beautiful, surprising restoration. As the church of Jesus Christ, we hope for no less. We long to see both perpetrator and victim come to a place of surrender. Jesus died for the sins committed against us, and the sins we commit, so that we can all experience His profound grace at the level place of the cross.

But if sin is covered up, never confessed, never called to account, how can grace abound?

If a perpetrator is not confronted, how can he come to a place of utter brokenness about sin? And if we allow perpetrators free reign in our churches, how can we honestly say we follow Jesus — the One who welcomed children on His lap?

I love the church. Jesus loves the church a billion times more. It represents His body on this great, beautiful earth. He doesn’t need us to micromanage its reputation by covering up the acts of sinful people within it.

No, He simply asks that we are truthful and handle sin like this with dignity and integrity.


I’m humbled and grateful to be here today. A huge thank you to Micah for allowing me to share my heart. A little background: I’ve shared my sexual abuse story in the last few years, but I haven’t always been so open. Initially I kept it silent for a decade, then over-shared, then went silent another decade. The healing journey hasn’t been easy, but it has been good.

About a year ago, I sensed God wanted me to be bold in sharing about sexual abuse. I wrote “The Sexy Wife I Cannot Be” on Deeper Story, which went crazy (so many comments), followed by “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife” on Christianity Today. The overwhelming response to those two posts prompted me to write Not Marked: Finding Hope and Healing after Sexual Abuse.

The book proved too risky for publishers, so I decided to crowdfund it, which turned out to be an amazing success. I cannot believe that now I can hold Not Marked in my hands, and also offer it to you. What’s unique about it: It’s written from the perspective of a survivor. It doesn’t offer cliche answers. It’s honest. And my husband shared his unique journey of how to walk a loved one through their sexual abuse.

[ image: kuorui ]

published February 21, 2014

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