|Sanctuary for the Sexually Abused—Martin Weber, D.Min.|
(From the April 2009 edition of HopeSpeak)
[Excerpt from the book, God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain (Pacific Press, 2009)]
Calls past 10 at night are bad news for law enforcement chaplains. Somebody’s daughter got murdered in the dark corner of a nightclub parking lot. A teenager must be notified that Dad just died on I-80. A depressed off-duty policeman committed suicide, and his widow needs to make it through her first lonely night.
For me, this Wednesday night call was the worst I ever received as a chaplain. A woman phoned my church office with allegations of sexual abuse by one of our chaplains, Joe.
Her husband had a fatal heart attack several days previously, and my colleague was dispatched to comfort the widow, Janice. She said Joe hugged her while rubbing her body inappropriately. She also said he told her things a man should not tell a woman who isn’t his wife. And her husband had not even been buried yet.
Late as it was, I arranged a visit with Janice. I found her in total turmoil, not only grieving about her husband’s death but deeply confused about her visit with Joe. Had she done something to encourage him to act that way?
I assured Janice there was nothing she could have done to deserve the type of behavior she was telling me about. Besides, we chaplains operate on a strict code of conduct, and what she was describing was way out of line. Janice nodded agreement, yet seemed plagued by guilt one moment, outrage the next.
Deeply traumatized, she moaned, “What should I do! What can I do?
“I’ll take care of this for you,” I assured her. “I’ll report what you told me to our supervisor tomorrow and he’ll guide you through this. He’ll also discuss this with the chaplain.”
“I don’t want to get him into trouble!” she protested. “He did seem like a nice man, but then ...”
“That’s not for you to have to worry about. Besides, you’ve got a funeral to prepare for.”
“Would you help me with that?” I promised Janice I would guide her through the planning process and then conduct her husband’s memorial service.
What a tragic situation: confusion, outrage and guilt with Janice—and then Joe’s reaction to deal with. I phoned him to let him know what I heard and that I had to report it. I urged him not to contact Janice again unless he had clearance from the supervisor.
“You don’t believe that stuff she’s saying, do you?” Joe pleaded.
“It’s absolutely unlike anything I’ve seen in your behavior,” I assured him. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, Joe. But I couldn’t disbelieve it either. You know it’s not my job to determine your innocence or guilt. Our supervisor will conduct that inquiry.”
I don’t think Joe was pleased with me, but I did report what I heard to the supervisor, who asked me to accompany him on a visit to Janice and introduce him to her. He assured her of his concern about her report and that he would conduct a thorough investigation.
I can’t tell you what happened with Joe the chaplain and Janice, the widow. Before their case was settled, I was called to work in another part of the country. I don’t know how the case turned out, because I had to leave both Joe and Janice entirely in the care of the chaplain supervisor, and the outcome was confidential. It would not have been possible, or appropriate, for me to inquire about the case when I no longer carried the badge of that police force.
What a sad experience. Never in my life had I been involved with anything quite so traumatic concerning these charges against a professional colleague and friend.
Another friend of mine earned her doctorate at Princeton University’s seminary. Her project was helping women who suffered sexual abuse, usually from men who were domineering—often their incestuous fathers. Sometimes the abuser was a religious person who committed his crime in the name of God. All the women in my friend’s study had abandoned organized religion, and most or all of them had given up a personal relationship with God. The goal of the project was to discover what might help them regain their trust in God and perhaps reconnect with the church.
As I recall the results of the study, every one of the women associated their heavenly Father with abusive male authority. My friend gathered them into small groups and studied with them how God the Father is revealed in the person of Jesus, the suffering Savior of victimized humanity. They talked about Christ on the cross becoming the ultimate victim, beaten and humiliated. Thus He understands and empathizes with others who today suffer abuse.
Identifying themselves with this view of God completely transformed these women’s concept of their Father in heaven. All of them received some measure of emotional and spiritual healing, some of them quite dramatically.
I volunteer for The Hope of Survivors, an organization that serves victims of clergy sexual abuse from various denominations. Many have distanced themselves from church and God. Some have sought escape from painful memories in various addictions, including dysfunctional relationships. Their lives have been devastated and in some cases nearly destroyed. Many are profoundly lonely. Often fellow church members, even closest friends, sided with the abuser and ostracized the victim.
In ministering to them at our weekend conferences, we explain that the clergyman, as both a spiritual leader and professional caregiver, bears responsibility for any pastor-congregant relationship that becomes sexualized. Then we connect them to Jesus, who suffered physical, emotional and spiritual abuse from clergy.
I take it a step further, explaining how our Lord is no longer a victim of his abusers. He rose triumphantly as they cowered before His powerful presence. He soared in our new humanity to heaven’s sanctuary, where He now reigns over abusers, their enablers and corrupt institutions. Soon He will return to this earth and take us to a new home where abuse will never happen. Meanwhile, as our loving and faithful high priest, he protectively watches over us. He invites us to cast all our concerns and confusion upon Him as He intercedes for our needs. In heaven’s sanctuary He feels our anguish, soothes our resentments and calms our fears.
How about you? Are you feeling so messed up and broken, so violated yet so sinful, that you fear you might never be healed from what others have done and also forgiven for your own sins? Then flee for refuge to God’s sanctuary and embrace your new and true identity in Jesus. In fact you can do that right now.
Martin Weber has served many years as a pastor, most recently in suburban Sacramento, California, and has volunteered as a law enforcement chaplain.
Weber is currently editor of Mid-America Outlook and director of communication for the Mid-America Union of Seventh-day Adventists. He and his wife, Darlene, have two adult children and live with their four cats in Lincoln, Nebraska.