April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to 2017 National Statistics, Child Protective Service agencies across the country received “an estimate 4.1 million referrals involving approximately 7.5 million children.” Of these reports, over 670,000 children were victims of substantiated child abuse and neglect. For the remainder of the reported children, agencies were not able to substantiate abuse, or, children received alternative services. To say that child abuse and neglect is a problem in the United States is an understatement.
Stacey Reoach’s article at Desiring God titled, “When Our Children Are Wounded” attempts to tackle how mothers can help children who are wounded. When I saw “wounded” in the title, I was hoping for an article that would address children who deal with trauma. Instead, she describes situations where children might be disappointed such as a hurtful remark by a friend, not making a team, or not getting invited to a party. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to help children navigate their feelings of disappointment.
When Reoach said, “There’s nothing quite like seeing the child you’ve cared for and nurtured hurt by others,” I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to discuss how parents and the church can help children who are abused and neglected. Instead, Reoach’s approach fails to protect victims and withholds accountability on the perpetrator. I would like to evaluate Reoach’s “gospel-focused” reminders through the lens of child abuse and neglect.
Remember that we are all sinners.
There are no perfect people, and no perfect children. All of us will sin and hurt others. People will disappoint our children, and our children will disappoint them.
One helpful question to ask our kids when they’ve been hurt is, “How might you have contributed to the situation?”
This is simple victim blaming and disregarding the actions by the perpetrator. Why would a caring mother tell a wounded child that they are no better than the one who caused the harm? This tells the child that they played a role in the harm done to them. It also implies that the harm done to the child is insignificant due to the equal status as a sinner.
Overlook the offense.
One of the best ways to move forward from a hurtful situation is, by God’s grace, to choose forgiveness. Instead of dwelling on the wrong done, dwell on what’s good and right and true (Philippians 4:8).
We have seen instances of forced forgiveness used by church leaders at Sovereign Grace Ministries. Forcing a victim to forgive a perpetrator does not help the healing process. Instead, forced forgiveness sends a message to the victim that their abuse does not matter and an even stronger message to the perpetrator that getting away with abuse is easy.
Believe the best.
In every hurtful situation, we have a choice. We can believe the other party purposely hurt our children, or we can believe they had no intention of wounding them.
When it seems like our child has been slighted in some way, our natural, sinful tendency is to assume the worst about the opposing party.
How many children continued enduring abuse and neglect because adults decided it was better to maintain reputation and not rock the boat? How many known instances of abuse and neglect did not get reported to the police because church leaders were manipulated by the abuser? Abusers are good at making other people see that either they are not the one causing the problem, or they will work at changing.
Also, it is not “sinful” to assume the worst. This doesn’t even fall on the spectrum of sin-leveling. If a mother notices a child not acting as usual and has unexpected reactions to everyday situations, then it is best to go with your gut instinct that something is wrong.
Extend God’s grace.
Our hurts and our children’s hurts are a perfect reminder to extend the same grace that God has given us through Christ Jesus. We are not worthy to be forgiven. We didn’t earn the right to be loved for our model behavior. Just the opposite! While we were Christ’s enemies, he died for us (Romans 5:10). This motivates us to extend grace to those who hurt us and our loved ones.
Please, stop with the reminders to forgive. It is perfectly normal and healthy for victims of abuse to be angry and not want to forgive. Perhaps one day a victim or survivor will be able to forgive the abuser, but that is up to the individual. No one responds in the same way to trauma. Healing takes time and energy and lots of emotion. No one should feel shamed or guilty for not forgiving in the way expected by others.
Even if perpetrators are forgiven, their actions should not be forgotten. We should expect perpetrators to answer to and be held accountable for their actions. Child abuse and neglect is a crime. By not holding abusers accountable, more children are placed at risk.
It may seem that I am reading to much into what this article does not address. But I stand by children who are victims of abuse and neglect. Abused children are wounded children. Children need to know that it is okay to acknowledge every emotion, whether it be anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety that comes up due to their trauma. And, children need love and support to work through the trauma so healing may take place in there lives.
Let us all strive to do better with our words and actions when supporting wounded children.
11 thoughts on “When Desiring God Misses an Opportunity to Address Child Abuse”
Kathi, good job on this article. When you first alerted me to it, I couldn’t help but think about those parents who are trying to be good parents and who will use this kind of instruction as foundational for any kind of harm/offenses done to a child.
Another recurring theme we find with John Piper and his ilk is how they continually remind themselves and each other that we are all born wretched sinners. I don’t understand why that topic is even brought up when it comes to someone harming a child – whether it’s a minor issue, or major abuse issue. Whether the victim has sin in their life is irrelevant to the harm done to them.
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Hello, Kathi. Thank you for writing the above and for the valid criticisms, expressed in a thoughtful, constructive way. I am curious– did Stacey R. mention Matthew 18, Matthew 5:23, or Galatians 6:1? These are all texts which acknowledge offense or wrong-doing, and which exhort us to deal with offense and try to make things right. Of course, the age of the child would be a factor in when and how to apply these texts. But. I know many believers who do not deal with offense, who do not go to their brother who has an issue (Matthew 5:23) or do not tell him his fault “if he sins against you” (Matthew 18:15). Instead, they sweep it under the rug.
The kind of advice given by Stacey R. is simply training people at a young age to do what so many in my generation (and those before us) have done– pretend everything’s hunky dory and not deal with stuff as our Lord commands. I’m sure most of us understand that we shouldn’t be petty, and we should overlook minor gaffes or irritations. We get it. But, Jesus acknowledged that there would be times when we are offended, and he didn’t say “Think about nice things” (Philippians 4) or “Because God has forgiven you so much, just extend grace and…. ignore it.” It bothers me that so many believers are quick to pressure wounded people to forgive, but show LITTLE interest in justice or righting wrongs. In light of all we’ve been hearing about “forgiveness” and “grace,” what does it mean to seek justice? Doo Wop Coke Fan.
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I came from a home where domestic violence was pervasive, and I witnessed way too much. I have forgiven my father, but I have not forgotten. As a young adult, I realized that I needed to protect myself from him. A wise Christian friend told me that wasn’t wrong-it was being safe. I could be with my dad in a public place, for a limited amount of time, and make sure I had my own transportation so I could leave as needed. It actually helped me strengthen my relationship with my father as he realized I was stronger than he thought.
This is equivocation on Total Depravity and very very harmful. Total Depravity says that we are born in sin and unable to save ourselves. It doesn’t “level the playing field” between what we’ve done and what others have done in a temporal sense.
Sure, we all make mistakes, but when we make those mistakes, it is on us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Just as Jesus died, not to forgive our sins (because that is universalism), but to OFFER us forgiveness. We need to seek that forgiveness that is freely available. And, I believe that is consistent with what the Bible teaches. We are unforgiving when others repent and we still want to hold wrong against them. We shouldn’t be labeled unforgiving when the other party refuses to admit any wrong. We shouldn’t be labeled unforgiving when we want to seek justice beyond the church for a criminal wrong against us.
In the same way, Cloud and Townsend rightly say that when we “forgive others” – meaning absolving them of their sin, we cheapen grace and we remove that person’s opportunity to grow through seeking forgiveness and restoration.
As I’ve said over and over, this is a message to the victims only. When it comes to church leaders, it is of course, overwhelmingly important that the sacred authority of the church office be defended. So, why can’t we defend the sacred image of God in all humans? Why do we tell the weak that they are sinners and don’t deserve to be defended, while we stand up for the powerful. Isn’t that flipping Jesus’s message on its head?
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I think this all comes down to… it’s more comfortable to be the kid standing next to the bully than to be the kid standing next to the bullied. Whatever psychological self-deception it takes to do that in “good conscience” is just the kind of stuff we expect to see on Desiring God – the lair of the Evangelical bullies.
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Another random thought about asking the child what they contributed to the situation: “Be good, or you’ll make your daddy angry and he’ll hit mommy.” (heard much too often in my home growing up). For a long time, I thought my good behavior would prevent my mom or sister from getting a beating. It took a lot of counseling for me to understand that none of it was my fault.
I’m so sorry Linn and this is an excellent point.
There are many times in life when someone has wronged us and it is not our fault in any way shape or form. And it’s very helpful to realize that.
Now maybe we learn from the experience and are able to see it coming in the future and avoid it, but we didn’t have the benefit of experience before. Sometimes we have to realize we are not at fault and that brings peace.
This article really needs to differentiate between types of offenses instead of hand waving them all away as minor offenses we should just shake off.
We already know that the people behind Desiring God are spiritual abusers, it is just a question of how far they go with their spiritual abuse in their teachings. They have a huge blind spot in detecting abusive behaviors by husbands towards their wives, so it does not surprise me that this continues to how they discuss dealing with children. In this case, it seems they took their pre-canned speech given to wives expressing concerns and applied them to children.
It’s authoritarianism. The authority is God’s chosen instrument.
Teaching kids to blame themselves and silently “forgive” when they’ve been abused is just conditioning them to be good sheeple in church. Never questioning. Always tithing. Always victim blaming.
Linn – Thanks for sharing your experiences. You received some great advice! It’s good you sought help when you needed it the most.
DESIRING GOD huh?
I have no desire for their god.
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