Wednesday, June 20, 2012

5. Making Church Safe

     Understanding the relationship between faith and healing is essential when ministering to the sufferers and victims of sin. All human beings are Han. All need healing from the effects of sin committed against them. This wounding ranges from minor to profound, but those who are wounded deeply are often the most difficult people for the church to minister to. They are often fearful, angry, poor in relationships, self-hurting, self-medicating (generally with disastrous results), and easily triggered.[1] Distrusting of God and anyone who has anything to do with Him, they are quick to run away, and their behavior can frustrate and wear out people who attempt to care for them. At times it even seems they want to prove the depths of their woundedness by demonstrating how intractable it is. Ministry to plain old sinners seems easier.
     A church that ministers to the sinned against must recognize the fundamentals that are central to its success, especially for the deeply wounded. There are other principles, but these are the most important things a church desiring to minister to the sinned against must understand and incorporate in its ministry:
  • It must be safe. The complete requirements of a safe environment are beyond the scope of this paper, but they include having windows in doors, leaving doors open, including others in counseling or prayer, asking permission to touch or hug, using appropriate language, and being authentic and ready to confess or respond to offense.[2]
  • It must understand the gospel for the Han and how they hear it.
  • It must understand and teach the gospel for sinners. The sinned against also have things in their lives they need to confess so God can forgive them.
  • It must not pressure the sinned against to forgive without understanding what forgiveness is and is not.
  • It must seek to have patience born not of human strength, but of God. Han (especially the deeply hurt) are seldom healed quickly, often revert to self-destructive behavior, and often quit or relapse just as everything looks greatly hopeful. This should not come as a surprise.
  • It must be alert to conscious and unconscious manipulation by the Han. For them it is a method of survival, though they often apply it inappropriately.
  • It must understand that God is the author and finisher of healing, not the ones who pray and certainly not their mere kindness toward the Han. 

     Local churches, like believers, have different gifts, and some are clearly more desirous (and perhaps better equipped) to minister to the Han.[3] At other churches this is clearly not a strength, and the need is not even really perceived. They understand the gospel as it applies to sinners but would find the idea of the gospel being given for the Han a novel and perhaps even theologically suspect concept. If such churches cannot be brought into actual healing ministry—especially to the badly wounded—perhaps they can at least learn to recognize the needs of the Han and refer them to others who are better equipped to minister to them.

Healing and Refuge

     When parents, clergy, teachers, and others do not provide protection and healing for victims of sin, those in trouble look elsewhere for refuge and help. Often they band together for mutual support with others in similar circumstances. Many people in these groups have been abused or abandoned, often as children, and the harm done them has had a profound effect on their lives as adults. Some of the abused disassociate into “parts” or personalities; some flee into the numbing refuge of alcohol, drugs, or food. As part of the person’s search for refuge from threat and pain, these choices can hardly be condemned, although they are often foolish and harmful. Those who make them are also often unaware of the gospel or misinterpret it badly.
     Many subcultures are gifted at welcoming abused individuals and making them feel relatively safe and at home. These range from vital support groups to street gangs and can include everything from social clubs and local bars to paramilitary armies and cults. Obviously, not all such groups are harmful. As a rule they accept the wounded far better than the church often does, and they offer victims comfort, acceptance, and a worldview that rightfully condemns aspects of the culture they are fleeing. 
     While victims of racism, disability, political oppression, poverty, and a host of other kinds of suffering face similar issues, the prevalence and immediacy of the homosexual community in modern culture serves well to illustrate the underlying challenges to the church in healing all victims of sin. As a whole, in its organizations and in churches, the homosexual community is skilled at providing refuge and understanding for those who have been sexually abused. When others “do not want to hear about it” or do not know what to do, this community says, “Come here. You’ll be safe. We understand.”
     They do understand. Many there have suffered in a similar way, and this gives them both understanding and compassion. They empathize and readily accept not only the sexually abused, but also misunderstood and undervalued people such as males who are artistic and not enthralled by sports, females who are tomboys or technically gifted, or anyone whose body or affect does not conform to the cultural norm of maleness or femaleness. When leaders in the church simply rail against this community without understanding why it is seen and sought as refuge by Han, they are blind to the victims and condemn them all as sinners.
     Nevertheless, taking refuge in a homosexual community can be harmful. Like other places of refuge, it can contain a “stinger.” A stinger is something that is required for full acceptance in the community—whether it is a homosexual community that requires the promotion of same-gender sexual intimacy, a gang that requires “making your bones” (killing someone) for full membership, a local bar whose patrons must embrace alcoholism to be “one of the guys,” or a cult that requires rejection of one’s biological family to gain entrance.
     The tragedy is that although forgiveness and healing are the great legacy of the church, it often seems inept and unable to deploy them. The church should be speaking against the culture in the areas where it hurts or abandons people; instead, it is often complicit in the victims’ injuries or isolation. The great loss in this is that the wounded look outside the church and settle for refuge instead of freedom, for empathetic acceptance of woundedness instead of healing, for (justified) anger instead of forgiveness, and for a false identity instead of their true identity in Christ.
     To be fair, what the victims of abuse settle for is sometimes better than what they had. This is not to say that their refuge of choice is ordained by God or without sin, but that it sees what the church often does not: The sins of the fathers are visited on to the third and fourth generation. Victims always pay for the crimes of their victimizers; the victimizers pay only if caught.
     As victims, the Han are fundamentally innocent, but are wounded by (rather than complicit in) evil. It is not only wrong but also harmful to equate their sins with the sins of those who harmed them. The sins of the latter are crimes of violence; the former, at worst, attempts to find shelter, love, and safety. Often this “misses the mark,” but it is not like the sin of the abusers. It is counterproductive and even destructive to force victims into the same category as their victimizers.[4]
     For the church to be able to minister to the Han, whatever the origin of their wounding, it must acknowledge their wounds and treat them, rather than complain that their cries of anguish disturb prayer time or try to force them to see themselves simply as sinners. The church must see behind their wounding to people who are made by God, living in fear, seeking refuge, and often unable to fulfill God’s desire for their lives. Refuge, though not God’s best for us, is often better than what was, and the church needs to see that. Jesus would see it, and He would understand. But He would not leave victims of sin unhealed, still hiding in refuge.
     Here is an analogy that might be helpful in understanding the Han in relation to refuge and healing. During World War II, many people not involved in battle were hurt simply because the violence was so widespread. They often wandered the streets injured, dirty, hungry, confused, and alone. Others, including the Jews, were the intentional victims of Nazi violence. All these people were true Han.
     If they were fortunate in the midst of this horror, they stumbled into a partially destroyed building, where they discovered other Han hiding in a room in the basement, living as best they could with the food and supplies they found there. Sometimes Jews were hidden by non-Jewish families, who took them in, often at great personal risk. Recognizing the victims’ hurt and loss, they accepted them, loved them, fed them, and shared what little they had with them.
     This was genuine and wonderful refuge, in which the battle wounded and weary helped one another survive. They all knew that the Nazis were the enemy and that they were innocent victims. They knew that what the Nazis did was evil, and they hid from them. This refuge was much better than wandering the streets alone in danger and in fear—but it was still only refuge.
     When the Allies liberated Europe and their troops entered the bombed-out towns, they found many people in hiding. Most of them willingly came out, rejoicing at their newfound freedom and ready to begin the hard task of rebuilding and even re-visioning their lives. But some, fearful of being tricked, would not come out. They believed that what they had together in refuge was better than what they would have alone outside. They could not believe that something better would follow if they left their refuge and came out into the light.
     Many who have been wounded in life are like that. They are Han who have found refuge in various communities (some healthy, some neutral, and some fraught with danger and further sin), and they do not want to come out. But no matter how much better their refuge is than what they suffered before they found it, Jesus would not have them remain there. The great hope of the gospel of Jesus is for the Han to have all that God desires for them. He wants to heal their wounds, not just cover them over, and He wants them to find wholeness, not just have their brokenness accepted or falsely labeled “good.” Ultimately, He wants the Han to leave their refuge behind and step into the light.
     Jesus desires to redeem their lives and begin the process of rebuilding them into the persons God intended and desired them to be—free from wounding and free from refuge. The “stinger” in the gay community, as in gangs, cults, and other groups, is that those who receive comfort there can be trapped in refuge and taught that their new identity is the end, the fulfillment of their journey to healing. This is the deception that keeps them still partially bound, and the church must vigorously resist this deception as it seeks true healing for the sinned against.
     The Han need a Liberator-Healer. To ably minister the gospel to them, the church must do more than use Scripture to show them they are sinners in need of a Savior or counsel them (directly or disguised as prayer) to stop sinning. As important as it is for the church to help all people understand their sinfulness, it must also minister healing to the sinned against. That requires the humility to recognize that everyone is wounded and needs healing, even though some wounding is not as profound. Those who care for the Han are also Han, in need of God’s grace and healing. They are not the “holy ones” helping the unwashed.
     Jesus did not rebuke and accuse the poor and suffering; He fed and healed them, and they ran to Him in response. He rebuked and accused those who considered themselves holier than the poor and suffering; those who abused, oppressed, and took advantage of others; those who looked “religious” but lived selfish lives; those who expertly quoted the Law but did not live by its spirit. The way Jesus responded is how the church, as His body, is also to respond. This can liberate the Han by bringing them out of isolation or refuge into healing and fullness of life. How do we go about this?

[1]Trigger is a word psychologists commonly use to denote a stimulus that produces a response, often of an intensity or direction other than would be expected normatively. For example, someone previously mauled by a dog might react in terror in the presence of any dog. Victims of abuse often have a variety of triggers that stem from the specifics of their abuse. For example, the use of the word Father for God, even in a hymn, can produce profound distress during worship for someone who has been abused by a father.
[3]Catherine Clark Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, No Place for Abuse: Biblical and Practical Resources to Counteract Domestic Violence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 72–74. 
[4]Those who believe in total depravity are often blind to the uncorrupted good that is in the victims of sin and to God’s highest intention for each human being while here on earth. C. S. Lewis wrote, “I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if we were totally depraved we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and partly because experience shows us much goodness in human nature.” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain [San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996], 61.) More strongly stated, the notion of total depravity is blasphemy because it asserts that God’s creation is evil instead of good, as He pronounced it to be. Instead, His creation is seduced and infected by evil. The Han, as victims, are fundamentally innocent—wounded by, rather than complicit in, evil.

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