The Sexual Abuse Crisis: Learn how to show love and care

By Jack Marslender | Feb 13, 2023

I sometimes give overly simple answers to complex questions.

I was asked, “Why should we care about the sexual abuse crisis?” I gave a simple answer.

We care because we’re Christians. Christians care about people because Jesus cared about people, especially hurting people.

That may be the simple answer, but the real answer is much more complex. Saying we care is not enough. On complex issues, we need to learn how to care for people.

I began my ministry caring deeply about people, but I was clueless in knowing how to help those experiencing deep hurt. I knew that sexual and physical abuse were real issues, but they simply weren’t part of my world. It didn’t take long until I saw firsthand the deep hurt and dysfunction that follows all kinds of abuse:

  • My first sermon (at age 15) was delivered in a homeless shelter in South Tucson — a far different setting from my middle-class suburban church. The stories I heard that night about all types of abuse, addiction and hopelessness shocked me.
  • As a part-time youth pastor in Tucson, I was shocked to learn that three of the 12 teens who attended youth camp with me had been either sexually or physically abused. I cried and prayed with them, but I was spiritually and mentally unprepared to help them on a deeper level.
  • As a student at Grand Canyon College, I had the opportunity to pastor a tiny church in Gila Bend. I was once again shocked when I found out the scars on the hands of six-year-old Isaac were from candle flames purposely used by his parents to discipline him.
  • As a young pastor in Mohave Valley, a leading member of my church punched a hole in my office wall in anger when I wouldn’t tell him where a deacon and I had taken his battered wife.
  • As a pastor in Avondale, I’ve had to help multiple families whose children were sexually abused. And I’ve had to call the authorities numerous times to report cases that had been reported to me.
  • And, like many of you, I was frustrated, saddened and angered to read the Guidepost Solutions report on sexual abuse that clearly indicated how poorly Southern Baptist churches have responded and dealt with sex abuse in the church.

I’m no longer shocked when I hear stories of sexual or physical abuse, but I am very deeply saddened because I know that behind every story and headline there are hurting people who need help and healing. They need to find it in a safe, protected and caring church that offers healing through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If we want to be like Jesus, and I think we do, then it’s our responsibility to be that church and to offer that love. All hurting people need that place and that love, and perhaps no one hurts more deeply than the victims of abuse.

I am convinced that Southern Baptists do care, but we need to move beyond talking about caring and educate ourselves on how to best provide that care. That’s not an easy task, for sexual abuse is ugly, but it’s necessary if we truly want to be like Jesus. We must do everything possible to keep that ugliness out of the church. We also must learn how to help and share God’s love to those who have experienced that ugliness.

It’s been nearly 50 years since I preached my first sermon. I still care deeply about hurting people, and I’m learning, together with all our churches, to know how to show that love to those who have experienced the ugliness of the world.

The Southern Baptists I know care deeply about hurting people.

It’s time we learned how to show that love in the best possible way. I invite you to join me in that effort!

Next Steps

  • Read thoroughly the current issue of Portraits. You will find an abundance of ideas and helps on showing God’s love to people who are hurting.
  • Teach your church the reality of the deep hurt that abuse victims suffer and educate your church on what it will take for your church to be that safe place that victims need to experience God’s healing.
  • Lead your church to implement all 12 of the recommended practices posted at azsbc.org/caring-well to ensure your church will protect children and adults and know how to respond if abuse occurs.
  • Be prepared to get outside help from a counselor with experience. New Life Counseling, a ministry of Arizona Baptist Children’s Services & Family Ministries, is a good place to start. I have found their counselors ready and able to help those who have experienced abuse.

Jack Marslender is senior pastor of Avondale Baptist Church in Avondale and past president of the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists.

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