Review – Healing Together: A Guide To Supporting Sexual Abuse Survivors

Image of Healing Together: A Guide to Supporting Sexual Abuse Survivors
by Anne Miller
Zondervan 2019
Paperback 208

Mark Aderholt. Several of you may recognize the name; his story was noted by SharperIron in 20181, as was the ensuing scandal as the Southern Baptist Convention’s IMB struggled to deal with the public outrage once the specific details of his crimes became more widely known, due in large part to Anne’s own bravery in disclosing her abuse and the ensuing public fallout.

With all of the turmoil in our churches regarding abuse, and the very public controversy that has swirled around the SBC, ABWE, and other Baptist entities, many men I know look at the issue and feel confident that they have the right procedures and policies in place to prevent abuse from happening within their sphere.

But what do you do when God brings a survivor or a wounded sheep to your fold? Then what? Most seminaries don’t provide in depth counseling training for men in their M.A./M.Div. programs, as other subjects like Greek, Systematic Theology, and Ministry Practicum courses fight for attention and resources. That is exactly why Anne Marie Miller’s book is so immediately helpful and practical for anyone, particularly ministry leaders. I would highly recommend it to any and believe that it serves as an excellent companion to the valuable “What Is A Girl Worth” by Rachael Denhollander (which I reviewed earlier this year). If you think of this book as “what to do when an abuse survivor is in your church,” you’re already a long way towards understanding the book’s value, potency and necessity in our day. It is an excellent primer on the subject and well worth the time invested in reading it.

Anne Marie Miller’s eminently valuable book is NOT a feel-good story of how God is making all things new and how abuse victims will eventually be made whole again, although she touches on those themes. If that’s the kind of story that you are looking for, look elsewhere because it is not in here. This book is designed for those who, for whatever reason, are being forced to grapple with the realities of shepherding people who are the victims of abuse and trauma. Her book is designed for supporting “sexual abuse survivors”, but along the way she touches on the many different types of abuse (spiritual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, digital abuse, neglect, and stalking). The next chapter gets into what a typical abuser looks like and includes an absolutely chilling interview by Dr. Anna Salter with a pedophile who was serving as a church leader. The interview goes into the specifics of how he met and groomed the families and the victims that he preyed upon and is quite frightening. Fortunately, in this case, the perpertrator was caught but there are still hundreds of people like him out there, many in places you might not think to look. It is well established that abusers particularly target churches for their evil actions because they can often get away with it.

The fourth chapter gets into the difference between the terms “victim” and “survivor,” and launches into an excellent explanation of the various reasons why someone would wait to disclose their abuse. The fifth chapter segues into a discussion of the reasons support from others is critical to healing, followed by a poignant discussion of the links between sexual and spiritual abuse, and the severe damage caused by both forms of abuse. That chapter alone is well worth the price of the book, as many who have been abused by a Christian leader will consider walking out of the doors of a church or perhaps leave the faith entirely. They are unable to reconcile the fact that someone who should have been ministering to their needs as a servant/shepherd instead made themselves fat off of their unwitting charges. That may strike us as an difficult concept to grasp, but it is included within the pages of Scripture. Take, for example, the anger of God as described in Ezekiel 34:

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep…Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.2

One could also point to other biblical injunctions in the New Testament as well, such as John 15:12-13, Philippians 2:3, Galatians 6:2, and more. The last two chapters of the book are where the proverbial rubber meets the road, as Anne gets into practical steps that Christians can take when encountering survivors of abuse and as well as steps to set up some safeguards against those who would harm our fellow believers, teenagers and children. Anyone who is charged with ministry within the church or a Christian organization will give account to God for how they led wounded people, and woe to the man or woman who adds insult to injury by providing faulty or inadequate spiritual care to those who are already reeling from any form of abuse.

Anne also goes to great pains to educate us on the specific terminology and phrasing that are used by medical professionals and the criminal justice system in the appendices. She helps us to understand the crucial differences between “Aggravated Sexual Assault” and “Rape” (pp. 195 and 197); the reasons some survivors may appear to “blank out” and turn unresponsive when questioned for specifics about their attack (pg. 166-167, under the heading of “Disassociation”); and the reasons survivors may struggle with guilt/shame/blame for the rest of their lives for something they may not have been able to stop on their own (what some refer to as survivor’s guilt, p. 168). Because of this sense of shame and guilt, it is so incredibly damaging to say or imply that a survivor is in some way culpable or that the abuse really wasn’t rape because (fill in the blank).

Anne is currently working to achieve certification either as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) or a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), in a field that is ripe for Christians to make a difference. It is imperative that we know and understand the proper legal and medical terms that are used so that we can converse intelligently with those who are responsible for bringing God’s wrath to bear on evildoers or the medical professionals we may need to interact with as a result of those crimes and sins.

I want to close with one additional note of interest. Anne has not written this book with the expressed intention of making money off of it and has worked with the publisher to set a low price. She has also, like Rachael Denhollander, had to expose herself in this book in intensely personal ways that many of us could never fathom doing. Anne readily admits that she struggles with other spiritual issues, and that her faith in God is somewhat of a work in progress. Her frankness and transparency is commendable, as we so often want to apply quick fixes and throw Bible verses at difficult issues in order to move on to subjects that we may feel more prepared to grapple with. Don’t make the mistake of setting the book aside because of that. Do yourself and the people around you a favor, purchase a copy, read it, and think hard about how you can apply it.

Notes

1 See “Southern Baptist Officials Knew of Sexual Abuse Allegations 11 Years Before Leader’s Arrest,” published July 16, 2018; and “Former Southern Baptist Official Indicted On Sexual Charges With Minor,” published Dec. 23, 2018, both accessed 10/02/19.

2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ezek. 34:7–10, emphasis added.

Jay Camp bio


Jay Camp holds a MA and a BA in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University and Northland Baptist Bible College (later Northland International University). He serves at Fishkill Baptist Church in Fishkill, NY in many different capacities and is married to his wife of fifteen years.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I appreciate the review.

Due to our current context, a huge problem we have with this whole area of need is binary thinking. I'm probably going to experience it just by pointing it out... But here's how it tends to go: Either church leaders and church reputations are priority one and everything alleged victims say is suspect or victims are priority one, everything they claim is true and everything they recommend is good advice (and if you question that, you're a victim-blamer, complicit in coverups, etc., etc.)

I hope an increasing number of leaders and influencers can evaluate truth claims on all sides on their merits. When it comes to how to help victims/survivors, I'm praying for the same. Not all victims have the same recommendations, though there's much they agree on. The fact that they don't all agree on everything should, in itself, defeat the binary thinking... but frequently it doesn't.

I've said all this before, but to me, these points are obvious...

  • Allegations of any potentially illegal sexual misconduct should always be reported to local police (and child protection also, when minors are involved) immediately. This is true whether it happened in a church/ministry setting or anywhere else. It's true that the accusation itself can do lasting damage to an individual or ministry's reputation, but the evil of sexual abuse is too serious to risk leaving unaddressed while a church/ministry keeps quiet and decides if the accusation is credible or not. The system isn't perfect, and things aren't going to turn out right every time, but the best way to clear an individual or ministry of criminal wrongdoing is to have law enforcement investigate, then clear or prosecute.
  • Per the NT, the church's responsibilities aren't over when they've turned a matter over to the "powers that be." The church must discipline its own. This is in addition to, not instead of, the legal process.
  • Allegations of unethical behavior that don't rise to the level of illegality should be investigated by the nearest responsible and trustworthy people. In most organizations, that belongs to the human resources or internal affairs department. In a church or ministry, there may or may not be an equivalent. Sometimes getting another church or ministry involved is the best way to get to the facts and aid those who have the responsibility to act (the congregation or board).

Edit to add:

  • My advice to Anne: go for SANE cert. This is a huge area of need in law enforcement, and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) nurses are a vital link between police, victims, and victim advocates. May their tribe increase! There are also several federal funding programs going on to help that happen.
Jay's picture

Due to our current context, a huge problem we have with this whole area of need is binary thinking. I'm probably going to experience it just by pointing it out... But here's how it tends to go: Either church leaders and church reputations are priority one and everything alleged victims say is suspect or victims are priority one, everything they claim is true and everything they recommend is good advice (and if you question that, you're a victim-blamer, complicit in coverups, etc., etc.)

Yeah that's usually how things go.  Either you're a liberal egalitarian out to overthrow God or you're a godly complementarian holding off the forces of darkness with a fork and torch. :rolleyes:

Something that wasn't noted in the review was the outcome of the Mark Aderholt case.  Aderholt was charged with four felonies (all sex offenses) but pled guilty to just one, a misdemeanor (assault causing bodily injury).  For his crimes against Anne, he has received a total of 30 days in jail and two years' probation.  If he meets the terms of his probation in 2021 without incident, his criminal record will be expunged.  He will not have to register as a sex offender and will not show up on any background checks.  Other women, as well, have come forward with allegations that they were assaulted but I don't know the specifics of those cases and doubt they will press charges. The SBC and IMB are still interviewing people he had contact with while on the mission field, so it is possible but not likely that he could face additional charges. Those who may be interested can read the victim impact statement at Anne's website.

The scary thing about his case, like so many others, is that he landed a position as a youth pastor two months after he was fired from the IMB.  I'd guess that he will be likely to re-offend at some point down the road.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Joeb's picture

Jay very good resource to bring to Sharper Iron's attention.  This is a very important area to address because a church may not have had an incident.  However they may have a victim/survivor  start  attending the church.  Maybe even a young mother with a husband and young kids.  Or an older woman or man who suffered abuse as a child.  Very complicated.   Again good job Jay.  
 

This is personal for me because I believe my Father was sexually abused as a child and never dealt with it.  This info came from my younger brother who spent a lot of time with my father after my mother died when I was 18.  I grew up with a mother who was in the hospital two weeks to a month every year.  My mother had a genetic  disease that was suppose to shorten her life span and polio she contracted while working in the polio ward as a nurse. It was post polio syndrome or the other disease that killed her   

 My father lived with the above  and I believe PTSD from really heavy Combat in WW 2 and the Korean War.  I'm surprised he kept it together so long.  He accepted the Lord while attending West Point.  He was also a stellar Electrical Engineer involved with the Space Program.  He was the Project Manager on both the Viking Mariners that landed on Mars. He just sucked it up his whole life but in the end I think all the problems contributed to him committing suicide  So future counseling in the church could help people like this. 
 

No matter what he did he is still my American Hero.  God still used him in many ways.  When he was in the Army as an Officer at Fort Bragg he founded a ministry group called 82 Airborne For Christ.  God also used him and my mother to lead people to the Lord.  Those are the things I most remember him for. 

Bert Perry's picture

A nice middle ground is taking things deadly seriously and proceeding from what comes out.  For a lot of churches today, getting to that middle ground is, however, going to feel a lot like "I believe you" in the strictly word-definition meaning of the phrase--meaning little room for dissent, etc..  But what that's likely doing is reversing the bias that went the other way.  

To draw a picture, if you're saying things like "do you really want to ruin X's ministry/life over this?", you're almost certainly biased the wrong way.  There are other tells that someone is too biased the other way--like excoriating Secretary of Education DeVos for applying two circuit court rulings that if you're going to be expelling people over Title IX proceedings, you've got to have a procedure for true cross examination.  Finding the balance means that you're recognizing the signs of your bias.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Aderholt was charged with four felonies (all sex offenses) but pled guilty to just one, a misdemeanor (assault causing bodily injury). 

We should remember that the church has nothing to do with this. Prosecution decisions and plea deals are state/civil issues. Often, they are done to save the expense of a trial, or done because they don't think they can get a conviction at trial. If a prosecutor overcharges a case knowing he can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt in court, he can then offer a lesser plea to what should have been the original charge and get the conviction without having to go to trial and without the case having to be crossexamined. And it helps when its election time to remind everyone how many convictions you got.

An article I read a while back was an interview with a  longtime trial judge who lamented that in recent years (compared to previous), he was presiding over very few cases. The reason was because prosecutors were overcharging cases, often before much investigation, and threatening defendants with long prison sentences while offering greatly reduced for pleading guilty to a lesser charge. I had someone in my church who faced exactly that who had no money and no way to defend herself but was facing either 15 years to plead guilty or life without parole to go to trial. There seems to be a good argument that is what happened with Gen. Flynn and he was faced with pleading guilty to a small charge or bankrupting his family and fighting for years agains the unlimited resources and power of government. Overreach by prosecutors is a serious issue, IMO, and pleading them down to a lesser offense which should have been the original charge is not justice. 

However the state deals with cases is not the purview of the church however, and we should be wary of bringing up the two issues together.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

For a lot of churches today, getting to that middle ground is, however, going to feel a lot like "I believe you" in the strictly word-definition meaning of the phrase--meaning little room for dissent, etc..  But what that's likely doing is reversing the bias that went the other way.  

Agree its going to feel like that for some. I think the antidote (which should have been inoculation) to the kind of error we've seen is a genuine (not merely rhetorical) passion for truth. Finding out what really happened is ultimately what best helps all involved. Telling the truth is as well. For gospel-believing ministries, the truth is that we live in a sin wrecked world, in which some who profess Christianity aren't Christians--even at high levels of leadership--but in which even genuine Christians are not yet fully like Christ, and fail in grievous ways.

When that truth plays out in a ministry, hiding it is a denial of the gospel. A passion for truth, gospel truth in particular, faces what happened and looks for a gospel-affirming way to deal with it.

About justice...

I also find it frustrating, but much of what happens comes down to economic realities. Legal representation and court proceedings are extremely expensive; so is jailing people. So the system looks for ways to do its work on the cheap. 

There is certainly room for some serious reform. We're always going to see deals that disgust us, though. (It's not always all about $ either: sometimes, maybe usually, it's a situation where the evidence is likely to be insufficient to convict, so a plea deal is accepted as the best way to at least apply some penalty. There is no way to protect the rights of the accused without this sort of thing happening at times.)

Bert Perry's picture

One thing that's worth noting here is that the articles about the Aderholt case indicate that personnel at the IMB recommended him for a new pastorate within months of his being shown the door at IMB.  Given that the same people were almost certainly on the witness list for the criminal case, it would be hard to believe that the willingness, or unwillingness, of personnel to testify against Aderholt didn't affect things.

One interesting thing regarding the case, though, is that the prosecutor knew the victim was 16 when she was assaulted, and that he'd confessed in 2008 to the behavior.  Age of consent in Texas is 17.   I am therefore rather shocked that they didn't even get him for statutory rape, as that would seem to be a rather open and shut case that would have largely protected the victim from cross examination, which was her stated reason for not going forward to trial.  

Regarding the cost of the criminal justice system, that is true.  The flip side of that is that the trauma to the victim also has a huge cost--MSU didn't pay half a billion bucks in damages because mental health care and the like is cheap, to put it mildly.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

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