Why did good people keep silent about molestation? Maybe they didn’t know any better.

I’m back.

“And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.” ~Forrest Gump.

Now on to things that have been working their way through my brain.

The past two weeks have a theme. It centers around mis-handling of child molestation. I’m sure you’re aware there have been a lot of news stories and blogging to feed that theme.

The question that is asked again and again is, Why do good men, who knew about the abuse, do nothing? Something my mother said to me when the ABWE story first started rumbling has stuck with me.

“You know, we just didn’t know everything about molestation that we know now,” she said.

I know she didn’t mean that molestation didn’t happen (she was quite aware they happened), but these things were handled consistently with whispers, embarrassment, closed doors and a-let’s-get-on-with-life-quickly attitude.

Because no one talked about it, folks were not aware of how rampant sexual abuse is. Now they’re talking, and we are shocked by the quality and quantity of the people who didn’t open their mouths. Why didn’t they tell?

I wonder if one reason is because people didn’t know that if abuse happens once, it is happening repeatedly… that there is rarely one victim. I would wager the silence keepers thought catching the one occurrence was the end of it.

I would argue the majority of people didn’t even think of the victims as victims! Here’s why: If an adult has no experience being molested, that adult has no working knowledge of the long-term psychological and emotional trauma it causes. Unless, they were educated to understand. And that education has been lacking until recently…especially in churches. That uneducated adult only has a working knowledge of consensual sex. That is not to say they wouldn’t believe someone could be forced, but they would have no knowledge of how an abuse victim reacts… often passively or protectively toward the abuser. That reaction would confuse the ignorant adult into thinking there was a consensus, hence we hear about so many taking the wrong first step of asking the victim to repent.

Especially among Christians. Forgiveness is the hinge of heaven, right? There is a prevalent reaction among the Christian leaders to emphasize forgiving the abuser, effecting a neglect of victim care. And as the victims are told to forgive and forget, there is often an impatience in the air to get on with it. I think of Tamar, David’s daughter. “Stop talking about it Tamar. Aren’t you over it already?” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

So, to say “maybe they didn’t know any better,” is not an excuse for their silence. Well, maybe it is. I don’t want to excuse their silence. But the fact that sexual abuse was swept under the rug so often makes me wonder if there wasn’t a cultural dynamic at play. Like slavery in the antebellum South, there was a generational group-think that influenced behavior to the detriment of thousands.

This theme is personal.

If you’re like me, you might be thinking, “Have I silenced something that should have been exposed?” For the last two weeks, I’ve been combing every aspect of my ministry relations to children. But, I got nothing. Thankfully, Awana has been promoting Reducing the Risk since the 1990s, so I’ve had the education my mother recognized was lacking in her generation. That education has shaped how I work with children…to protect them and avoid potential allegations.

And, if you’re like me you might be thinking, “What about my kids?” Again, I think education is key. As soon as my kids began to talk, we talked about who can touch what and when. I stress over and over they should always tell me things that frighten them, and I even discussed Jerry Sandusky’s allegations with my oldest. I want her to know that silence in the case of abuse is NEVER okay. I encourage questions and I occasionally ask point-blank if anyone has tried to touch her inappropriately.

The embarrassment and whispering has to stop. Educate and speak up.

Sign the petition asking Bob Jones University to remove Chuck Phelps from its board.

4 thoughts on “Why did good people keep silent about molestation? Maybe they didn’t know any better.

  1. There’s this assumption that child molestation is just NOW getting bad, that pastors and missionaries are just now getting more involved in sin, sexual or otherwise, but think about it. The church covers this stuff up. That’s the default position: protect the church’s reputation. The thing that’s thrown a wrench in the church covering it up is the internet. Otherwise, it would die out with the individuals and history would be silent about it. You know, I think it’s always been this bad.

    The other thing that stands out to me in this situation is how psychology was already exploring and explaining child molestation in the 80’s. Possibly before then — I’m just going off a comment I saw in that thread. Why was ABWE ignoring the scholarship? If you have this program where adults are handling children, you might as well look at scholarship about it. I’m not sure if there was an aversion to “psychology” that there is now in some circles, but it could be.


  2. I like this from their FAQ page:
    “4. Even the Bible does not erase the sins of its “main characters” from history.Do you think David preferred the story of his sin with Bathsheba not be recorded in holy books? Do you think Thomas was a little embarrassed that his moment of doubt was all his coworkers for the gospel seemed to remember about him? Do you think the people Paul called out in his letters to various churches really wanted to be remembered that way for all eternity? God’s story is still being written. No, not the Bible, but the story of how God redeems and transforms His people every day.”


  3. I’ve been reading through comments at the ABWE page, and this statement is great.

    “Who would confess their sins if they believed it would tarnish God? Who would tell of sins committed against them if they believed it would undermine the work of God? Not people who love God and want to see His work flourish. But we bought or have bought into a lie.

    The truth is that God has no need of a man or a mission board. If we believe the work of God can be destroyed by a call to integrity and openness, then we believe it is man’s work and not God’s. God does not delight in lies, cover-ups, secrecy.”


  4. I actually feel surprised and lucky nothing happened to me when I was a kid. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was abuse going on around me. You grow up and you hear that your friend looked on your youth pastor’s computer and found all kinds of lesbian porn and that kind of jades you. (I’m in no way insinuating porn is akin to child abuse, just that I grew up in an environment where people were good at faking it.)

    That’s great that you do that with your kids. Doing that also teaches them that people treating them badly is no reflection on them.


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