Abused and Abuser
My own experience of being sexually abused was a brief incident in a public lavatory in a London park when I was about nine years old. It was at the mild end of the spectrum, I didn’t really understand what was happening at the time, and it was interrupted early when my dad came in to see where I was. I can’t say it has left me with any deep emotional trauma or the need for counselling, but it is a memory that lives with me. For many others, the abuse they have suffered has been far more serious and the consequences far more devastating.
Christians are often accused of being sex obsessed and puritanical about sexual pleasure. We should reject this caricature, but what we do affirm is that sexual sin has unique destructive power. Sex is so essential to who we are as human beings – none of us would be here without it, and all our relationships are defined by it, yet sex causes so much pain. As I express it in my little book on the subject,
Paul writes, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (1 Cor 6:18) Sexual sin is different from other sins because it has a much bigger impact in defining our relationships with others…Think about it this way… Sex is good, holy and desirable within marriage, because sex in some way defines the relationship between husband and wife. Husband and wife are meant to have sex together, and this sexual relationship is meant to help them live together fruitfully, faithfully and sacrificially. Sex in marriage is meant to result in kids – without sex there wouldn’t be any children. But parents are not meant to have sex with their kids – that is not good, holy and desirable – it is despicable and wrong. So the relationship between parents and their children is defined by the fact that this is not a sexual relationship, even though it is a relationship that would never have existed if there hadn’t been sex.
The fact that some relationships are meant to be sexual and others are not then spreads out beyond the immediate biological family unit. Whenever we have sex with someone we are not meant to it screws things up, and when things get screwed up sexually they tend to get more screwed up than they would be by anything else. If someone who is part of a church has an affair with someone else in the church this screws things up far more thoroughly than other kinds of sin because sex is more central to how our relationships are defined than anything else.
Sexual abuse is common because sin is common; it’s just that sexual sin is so obviously destructive. That Jimmy Savile and his ilk are being exposed and pursued like never before is good; that our children should be better safeguarded is good; and that those who have been victims of abuse are likely to receive more sympathy and help than would have been the case a few decades ago is encouraging. But so much of this is putting a sticking plaster on the gaping wound of peoples pain and loss. In the end what we need is not merely for all paedophiles to be safely behind bars, but for our sexuality to be brought within proper limits. We don’t just need more laws; we need more love. Of course, this is what I believe the gospel offers – that, miraculously, the abuser can find forgiveness in Christ and the abused can find healing in Christ, and that sex can be something that is a delight rather than a devastation. And that means that even at the risk of being accused of being sex obsessed, gospel people need to keep talking about sex.