While all the recent rashes of sexual abuse/crime/assault/harassment allegations against pastors (this or this or this or this or this or this) has deeply grieved me, it does not surprise me. When I had the opportunity to learn from other experts in this space, I had the privilege of hearing from Jimmy Hinton who, along with his mom, turned in his pedophile father who had been their pastor.
What I learned from Jimmy was this: sexually predatory crimes are not crimes of convenience (the perpetrator suddenly found himself/herself in the right time, right place with the right victim), but of master practice and planning. A perpetrator considers perfecting methods as their number one full-time occupation. It’s their craft. They spend hours upon hours honing their skills. They become so deceptively adept at it that they can perpetrate in front of parents in the room. We saw this in the recent Nassar case.
Just typing that makes me sickened and worried. If this is the case (and, sadly, it is), what is a parent to do? What is a potential victim to do to protect him/herself? If everything we’ve learned is wrong, then what is the truth? How do we protect?
The first thing I see as a benefit is this: you are NOT to blame for someone’s predatory behavior. I don’t care what you were wearing, where you were, or what state you were in. A predator is skilled. A predator preys. A predator hones their sick craft. A predator can manipulate reality in order to perpetrate. While I didn’t blame myself for the abuse heaped on me (which is rare), many people do. They overthink every part of the process, shifting blame from the perpetrator to their shoulders.
Hear me: the blame rests on the shoulders of the one who violated. This is their crime, not yours. Their fault, not yours. Their conniving, not yours. Their occupation, not yours. Their carefully fine-tuned skill set, not yours.
If you’d like to learn more about this, I highly encourage you to listen to Jimmy Hinton’s podcast. There, with his mom Clara, they unpack the terrible story of their father’s/husband’s crimes, and what they learned in the aftermath of it all. I especially recommend episode 6 where they talk about this honing of deception. In addition, read Jimmy’s blog post here, and if you have the time, watch the video at the bottom. It shows you how abusers get away with their crimes for so long, how they often use sleight of hand and redirection to fool people.
We must remember this scripture as we think about sexual abuse in the church:
These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT
Those in pastoral leadership who abuse their congregants may appear to be holy, but they will be found out (and we are seeing a massive cleaning of house these days!). No wolf in sheep’s clothing can pull the wool over the eyes of the Almighty, all knowing God. These perpetrators get away with their crimes for so long because they’re adept at manipulation and deception.
But they also get away with it because we don’t want to live in a world where clergy hurt people, so we afford them way more benefit of the doubt than we do victims. If we believe victims, it plunges us into a chaotic world, where those we thought would protect, instead prey. And that is frightening. Better to keep up the ruse for the status quo. I see this in the town I live in, where people simply don’t want to believe that good upstanding (seemingly) citizens prey on others.
Predators reflect their true allegiance, which is to the father of lies who came to steal, kill, and destroy humanity. I can think of no other crime, other than murder, that leaves a human more damaged and broken than sexual abuse.
Jesus didn’t leave us without resources. Consider his warning:
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 ESV
We live in a world of wool-wearing wolves, friends. We must be wise. And my friend Jimmy is spending his life helping us all uncover the deceptive practices of sexual abusers. Educate yourself. Expose. Pray. Don’t back down. It is kingdom work, this. Exposing darkness with light is God’s handiwork. Remember this, too:
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8 NIV
Instead of vilifying whistle blowers and dismissing victims, our work is to partner with Christ to expose darkness.
Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. Ephesians 5:11 NLT
Let me end this post by saying if you have ever experienced unwanted sexual touch, talk, or inappropriate advances, I am so sorry. I hear you. I see you. I dignify your story. You are not alone. You are not the only one who has battled this deep ache and severing scar. You have endured evil and come through on the other side. As you heal and tell your story, you’ll be part of God’s beautiful army, exposing the lies and deceit of the one who authored sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse is war, and you are a warrior.