Heresy, Blasphemy, and the Sexually Abused

I’ve read a New York Times article recently that included an alarming comment from a young woman who said she’d gone to a counselor at her Christian university regarding sexual assaults she’d suffered while young:

The person who supposedly counseled me told me if I reported a person like that to the police, I was damaging the cause of Christ, and I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell. He said all of my problems were as a result of my actions in the abuse, which mostly took place before I was 12, and I should just forgive the abuser.

You can see the bullying tactics evident in this type of “counseling”:

  • Don’t report it. Think of how that will harm the body of Christ.
  • Besides, any problems you’re experiencing now are because you didn’t handle it right back when you were only 12 years old.
  • In fact, everything about this is your fault because you haven’t forgiven the one who preyed upon you. Shame on you for not being a forgiving person!

If this young woman’s report is true, then shame on that counselor.

Going to Hell

One other thing about this bullying that jumped out at me is the part about hell. Note what the woman said she was told:

If I reported a person like that to the police … I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell.

There is so much wrong with that message. It plays upon a victim’s emotions, it serves to protect the abuser, and – as I argue here – it’s heresy. Whether this particular counselor actually said it it or not (and the times article doesn’t report a response from the counselor, unfortunately), this isn’t the first time I’ve run across this misbegotten doctrine of salvation and hell.

Bottom line: no one’s actions are sending another person to hell. The Bible explains that under the New Covenant each person is responsible for his or her own sins.

In those days people will no longer say, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes — their own teeth will be set on edge. (Jeremiah 31:29-30.)

It’s right there in the Bible, everyone is responsible for their own sin. So how can anyone teaching the New Covenant gospel of Christ say that a victim of another person’s sin is responsible for that person’s destiny, whether to eternal life or eternal death?

They can’t.

Any assertion that reporting a sex abuser means the victim has now consigned the abuser to hell is completely unbiblical. It’s also a horrible thing to say, trying to put that responsibility on a person who has already suffered. And that makes it doubly un-Christlike.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21.)

If there is a Christian college advising its students that reporting abuse will lead to the abuser’s eternal damnation, it is completely missing the point of the ministry of Christ and should close its doors immediately rather than continue in this blasphemy and heresy.

After all, protecting the abuser by using Christ’s name is blasphemy, and promoting this teaching about hell and damnation is heresy. Both of them – blasphemy and heresy – hurt the very people who should instead be ministered to and comforted in Christ’s name.

Blasphemy and heresy – what a college curriculum.

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39 Responses to Heresy, Blasphemy, and the Sexually Abused

  1. stephanielynn75 says:

    What an absolute travesty. The crime of sexual assault is vastly underreported as it is, without people in positions of power and influence blatantly telling a victim not to go to the police for fear of what it may do their abuser. My heart goes out to the victim. I sincerely hope the counselor who doled out the advice is no longer in the employ of the college where the victim was assaulted. I imagine giving such advice creates a liability for the college. Furthermore, as you mentioned, talk about damaging to the cause of Christ…How is the victim now supposed to view Christ and his followers after being told that her assault means less than protecting the reputation of her assailant? Sheeesh.

    • Tim says:

      The abuse the woman reported didn’t happen at the college but rather when she was a child. Her attempt to address it with a counselor at the college she attended was a brave step for her. If leaders in the church are shepherds, then this college’s leadership needs to be taking better care of their sheep. And they should stop spouting heresy while they do it.

  2. lauradroege says:

    It’s absolutely astounding to me that someone could look a sexual assault victim in the eyes and tell her that. How uncompassionate! And yet this attitude (or variations of it) are common. What is the best way to help change this blame-the-victim mentality? It just makes me feel angry, especially when it’s coupled with heresy and blasphemy like this, but sometimes arguing with people who hold these views feels futile.

  3. Erica M. says:

    What th–? I mean, where does someone even come up with those ideas???

    My only hope is that the university wasn’t aware of this person’s crazy beliefs, because thinking of them willingly allowing someone like that near young people is frightening.

    • Tim says:

      It is frightening, Erica. As I said in the post, the NYT didn’t get a comment form the counselor. I have to say though that this belief of being responsible for someone else going to hell is not unique whether that particular counselor said it or not, and that’s a concern for the body of Christ.

      • stephanielynn75 says:

        As a woman, I have heard all my life that I alone hold the power to make a man lose his salvation just by the way I dress or look at him. So, ya know, no pressure there. lol I mean, it really is a fantastic leap in theology to take what scripture actually says and turn it into, “You are going to make this person stumble in their faith and lose their salvation if you…” Where this comes from, I don’t know, but too many are hurt by it every day.

        • Tim says:

          That’s what I’ve seen too, Steph. It’s not at all supported by Scripture, but some churches (and apparently counselors) teach it anyway,

  4. Jeannie says:

    That’s shocking. As so often happens, protecting the institution (under the guise of “protecting the cause of Christ”) becomes more important than protecting and supporting hurt people. As if “protecting the cause of Christ” could ever mean anything EXCEPT caring for hurting and suffering people.

    • Tim says:

      I’m not even sure what they think they are protecting. She reported something that happened before she turned 12, so it can’t be the university. The church as a whole? The heresy about hell is more damaging than reporting crimes would ever be.

  5. From what I’ve read, it’s possible that the university did everything it could to silence the victims beginning to speak up on their own behalf. As the mother of young children, I thought I had to be concerned with what they are learning in public education! Such blasphemy and heresy is far worse than anything they’ll encounter K-12 in our public school district. You’d better believe I’ll be vetting universities carefully; the process has already begun!

    • Tim says:

      This kind of thing makes me thankful for the universities my kids went to, both public and both places where their spiritual growth was huge.

      • Amen, Tim! I managed to make it through an ultra-liberal university with my faith intact. Sure, it was on pilot light… but it was still burning and our Lord fanned it back into full flame later in my life.
        During my years there it was fascinating–in a “watching a train wreck” sort of way–for me to watch other students building their Politically Correct houses of cards. My favorite:
        Woman: I can’t eat [name brand] macaroni and cheese anymore!
        Man: Why not?
        W: It’s not PC!
        M: Why not?
        W: Oh, I don’t know. But someone somewhere said it’s not PC so I can’t eat it anymore.

  6. Mary Anne says:

    This just plain sickens me. I’ve never suffered sexual abuse, thank God, but I’ve been on the receiving end of some abusive counseling for other problems and if it had gone on for very long I probably would’ve run out in traffic somewhere.

    What that young woman went through can have long-lasting PTSD results and then to meet with that from someone she hoped could help . . . *shaking head* Adding gross insult to horrific injury.

    I’m glad Jesus had such a good track record with women, as in saving the women taken in adultery from her pursuers, revealing himself as Messiah to the Samaritan woman, etc. Especially at a time when women were pretty much second-class citizens, he gave them–us–value and consideration beyond all hope. It’s a comforting thought.

    • Tim says:

      Jesus’ care for those who are disadvantaged, on the margins, outright victims, should be a model for leadership but so many seem to miss that part of the gospel story, MA.

  7. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    Unfortunately, this is all too common in “Christian” counseling. I just lent a battered woman the book Battered Into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home [James Alsdurf, Phyllis Alsdurf] from my personal library. For this reason I don’t recommend anyone go to Minirth- Meyer counseling services. I’ve had more than one abused women tell me that the counselors blamed them for bringing on the abuse, as in: “What did YOU do to provoke him?” This is a national chain, and the women who came to me all had gone to different locations, different states even. It makes me sad that Christians tend to shoot their wounded.

    • Tim says:

      The idea that trained counselors would be educated into this type of counseling is sickening, Carlene. I am so glad you are there for these people, to shepherd them gently when they’ve suffered like this.

  8. jamie says:

    The words of the counselor are so outrageous that I did a complete double take and re-read. YES, it’s heresy. There’s actually very little one can say about the counselor’s comments(s), because they are so jaw-droppingly incorrect.

    Sadly, as a prior dependency attorney and foster child advocate, I can say with many years’ of experience that similar notions exist outside of the church as well (and when I say “the church,” I think that is misleading. I should instead say, “similar notions exist outside of the very few (though far too many) outliers within the larger body of Christ who manage to screw up everything for way too many people who become impervious to the true message of love and grace because of completely erroneous and hate-filled statements as this). Moms say, “if you tell, your father/step-father/my boyfriend/Uncle so-n-so will go to jail/lose his job/not be able to provide for us.” The layers upon layers of guilt and falsehoods heaped upon victims is an outrage.

    Going on a tangent here…. I have felt such sorrow for parents when sexual abuse occurs between siblings. How awful to “lose” the child perpetrator to the justice system and know that the life of a beloved child is forever changed by life-long sex registries and the like. It’s a hard, hard road. But if “we,” especially those in positions of moral authority and with certain credentials — such as MSW, MFT, and M.Div — after our names can’t step in to get things right, then who the heck can? What a sad shame. Thanks for talking about this and trying to set the record straight.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you for a very thoughtful and helpful comment, Jamie. Your parenthetical comment is powerful and your experience in the field is enlightening.

  9. Deanna says:

    This breaks my heart-crippling shame is often the result of sexual abuse, and the counselor’s words only served to wrongly validate the shame that the victim likely still felt instead of speaking the love and grace that could dispel it.

    • Tim says:

      God says he comforts people, that Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy according to Matthew’s gospel: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matthew 12:20.)

      This type of counsel instead breaks the bruised reed and snuffs the smoldering wick. Sad.

  10. I hope you don’t mind me going off on a little bit of a tangent, but it’s still kind of related to your main topic. I happen to be a woman (which I would think would be obvious from my screen name. I post as “Daisy” over at the other blog).

    You copied this quote by the victim:

    I would be responsible for the abuser going to hell…

    While this sort of situation might also happen to males, it is typical of females across the board.

    Women are socialized from the time they are very young, and especially if brought up in an evangelical Christian family or culture, that they are responsible for other people’s actions, failings, behavior, and needs. Even Non Christian culture teaches women and girls this sort of thing. Females are encouraged to be very codependent (which is called “gender complementarianism” in Christian churches).

    As a general example: I have seen or heard many blog posts, books, articles and sermons by Christians over the years where the Christian author, preacher, or writer blame women for men’s sexual sins. Women are told they must dress modestly, because if they do not, they are at fault if a man leers or has dirty thoughts. That is one way this mindset comes out.

    Here’s another, smaller, more specific and personal example of how females are made responsible for the sins, failures, or actions of males.

    When I was in junior high school, I was bullied for about four days by a boy in one of my classes. The harassment began on a Monday, when the teacher changed the seating chart and placed this boy right next to me. Previously, we had sat apart. I had never spoken to this boy before.

    As soon as that seating change happened, every day, for four days, he made fun of me and insulted me. I did absolutely nothing to him to justify this behavior, as I had never spoken to him, I had never touched him, given him a dirty look, nothing. I was a very shy, quiet, bookworm type of kid who tried very hard to stay out of conflict. I gave that kid no reason to pick on me.

    I figured after the third day or so, that he would get used to me sitting by him in class, or get bored with picking on me, and stop harassing me. I was wrong. The bullying continued.

    By the fifth day, I had had enough. He and I sat about within four to five feet of the teacher’s podium. As she was standing at the podium leafing through some paperwork to start the day’s lesson, the little jerk started picking on me again.

    At this point, I said to him – but loudly enough so that I knew the teacher would hear – “You have been harassing me, insulting me and bullying me every day this week, and I did not start it! I do not deserve this. Leave me alone!”

    At this stage, the teacher (who was a woman), asked to speak to me out in the hallway. I got up and met her in the hallway. She proceeded to tell me that she knew that the boy had been bullying me all week (if so, I wonder why she never told the creep to leave me alone?), and she asked me if I would go easy on him.

    The teacher told me the boy’s sob story: his brother had killed himself in the school hallway of our school about two years prior. She was afraid if I told on him and got him suspended or detention for picking on me, it would just make him more sad and upset, or create more problems for him.

    What this teacher did not know is that I myself had clinical depression and had been bullied at that school almost daily by different kids and was contemplating suicide (in part because of all this horrid bullying from that boy and the other ones). My mother knew my situation and had been taking me to psychiatrists, and so on.

    My point is, this female teacher was telling me I, a female, was in some way responsible for that boy’s actions or feelings, or that it was okay for him to lash out at me and treat me poorly because he had some other issues going on from two years ago. I was told not to do anything about his abuse, just sit there and take it, because me reporting him or asking the school for help would have hurt him in some fashion.

    My feelings in all this did not matter. That I was being harassed, and that the harassment was making it hard for me to concentrate on tests and classwork in her class, meant nothing. No, the boy’s feelings and needs were considered more important than mine.

    Females are often asked to stuff their needs, feelings, and dreams down to meet those of other people (and Christian teaching encourages this dangerous view and calls it “biblical womanhood”). Again, this is also true of Non Christian women, too, they also get this same pressure from secular culture.

    (Looking back, by the way, I think the reason that boy was being mean to me is that he was just a mean jerk, it was not because he was having problems dealing with the death of his brother. What he really needed was discipline for his misbehavior, not coddling from teachers.)

    Anyway, I am far from alone. If you read books by therapists (even Christian ones) about women and codependency, it is a common theme that females are expected to put up with poor behavior, especially from males. We ladies are supposed to be never- ending fonts of compassion, understanding, and forgiveness, no matter how many times we get abused or stabbed in the back.

    We females tend to get blamed for male misbehavior, and/or, if being mistreated, we are told to refrain from seeking justice or protection from it, because it might create problems for the abusive male… it might ruin his reputation, his marriage, career, make him feel bad, etc.

    I’ve seen this sort of thinking come up over and over again, even from Non Christian women in secular circumstances, but it also comes up with Christian women in churches who go to preachers or other Christians for help.

    • Tim says:

      Daisy, your experience breaks my heart. When Christians try to put the responsibility on women it is a product of them adopting cultural norms, not Scriptural principles. And it’s a horrible way to treat people.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      As a general example: I have seen or heard many blog posts, books, articles and sermons by Christians over the years where the Christian author, preacher, or writer blame women for men’s sexual sins. Women are told they must dress modestly, because if they do not, they are at fault if a man leers or has dirty thoughts.

      Ayatollah Khomeini and Mullah Omar would agree.
      This is the rationale behind the burqa.

    • Mary Anne says:

      Yet another example of how “Ignore them and they’ll stop” does NOT work. This cliche needs to be excised from the parental and school vocabulary.

      Of course, the standard female socialization process didn’t take so well for me when I was a child; my response to this kind of situation was generally to wait outside and dry-gulch the offender on the playground . . . 😉 I have to work hard to rein in this impulse as an adult. From the Dilbert comic strip: “Must control . . . Fist . . . of . . . Death!”

  11. emilytoynton says:

    I’ve been sitting here trying to think of what to say about this. I’ve personally gone through several different instances of sexual abuse, most perpetuated by a family friend over the course of several years. I finally reported it to my parents when I was 11 (it started when I was about 5), and I was fortunate enough to go to a Christian counselor who, from what I remember, was very kind and understanding in general, but I ended up withdrawing from her towards the end of my time there simply because there were a few comments that seemed off-kilter to me. I can’t quite recall what they were simply because I developed a coping mechanism of compartmentalizing and blocking memories and emotions associated with them. Anyway, with that being said, I think that it’s good to have Christian counselors because it’s fairly easy to lose your faith after a traumatic experience like that, but there should be some kind of guidelines or rules as to what to do and not to do with such patients. If I recall correctly, I don’t think the counselor I met actually had a degree related to counseling, but there are some things that victims of sexual abuse/assault should every have to hear or go through.

    • Tim says:

      Emmy, I am so sorry you went through that. It sounds like your counselor did the best she could. I totally agree that a good Christian counselor can be so helpful in guiding and shepherding the hurt ones in their struggles.

  12. Aw, man. The comments here have me heart sick. So much insult heaped on top of injury.

  13. ‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “It is inevitable that there should be pitfalls, but alas for the man who is responsible for them! It would be better for that man to have a mill-stone hung round his neck and be thrown into the sea, than that he should trip up one of these little ones.”‘ (Luke 17:1-2) Harsh words from our gentle King. He knew all too well the way these games are played by those in positions of power over those who have none.

    As someone who experienced the hell of sexual abuse and the consequences of walking into adulthood damaged and wounded and unable to make good choices because I had no concept of ‘safe’ or ‘boundaries’ (I walked from an abusive childhood into an abusive marriage – I didn’t know any different) I think I have some experience and some wisdom (for want of a better word) to offer: I hope that the counsellor reads the words from Luke’s gospel and recognises that what he or she has said was worthy of this declaration. I hope they are able to consider how their small spark may have set a whole forest on fire – and I genuinely hope and pray that they ask for forgiveness. I pray for peace and healing for the one who sought counselling. I know how hard it is to rebuild your life when you never got the chance to figure it all out in the right order. It is hard to learn who you are, backwards. But God chooses the small and the weak to confound the wise (hallelujah!) and His justice and mercy and grace are far beyond anything the earth knows.

    Thank you, Tim, for this post and the opportunity to comment.

    • Tim says:

      I am so glad you took the time to comment, Sandy. Your experiences are horrific, and i know it must not be the easiest thing in the world to write about them here. That verse about the little ones and the millstone ran through my mind too as I read that NYT article. I think leaders like that counselor are just the type Jesus was warning there.

  14. Aimee Byrd says:

    So much more awareness needs to be raised on this topic. Thank you for posting this, Tim. We have an upcoming Mortification of Spin podcast interviewing Diane Langberg on sexual abuse in the church. Carl, Todd, and I learned a lot from her. She has been counseling sexually abused victims for over 40 years.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Aimee. I’m looking forward to hearing the three of you interview Langberg. Rooting out the abuse that is found in some churches and ministries is an ongoing endeavor; it seems to be eliminated in one place and then crops up in another. What a sad commentary on the family of God.

  15. Elizabeth Mallory says:

    What a fantastic post. Thank you, Tim. Thanks for speaking truth.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you, EM. It’s one that I worked on for quite a while before getting it ready for public view, and I am so glad it is resonating with people.

  16. Celtic Rose says:

    Yes Lori Alexander teaches this. If you leave an abusive spouse (and in her book only physical counts as abuse???) You are sending him to hell.

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