Tim Hein
Understanding Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Ministry Leaders and Survivors
Muddy Pearl, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1910012475

Understanding Sexual Abuse

 

"Understanding Sexual Abuse tackles a subject few Christian leaders would desire to put at the top of their reading list - but it's a book every Christian leader - as well as survivors looking for some understanding - should take a look at. "

Our response in churches to the issue of sexual abuse can sometimes push us to either go "full bureaucratic" and work ourselves into a frenzy of paperwork as if somehow putting in place new rules will "solve" the issue (and don't get me wrong, they have their place) or to simply wish the whole thing would go away and hide our heads in the sand. Thankfully, Tim Hein chose to do neither.

Instead, Hein - an ordained minister of the Uniting Church - provides a thoughtful journey into how sexual abuse can affect congregation members and what the church can do to help rather than harm. This is not a "how to guide" for churches and what to do when an incident comes to light - there are other resources for that. Instead, this guide can be used by leaders in any Christian community to gain a better level of understanding and insight into what victims face as the navigate the aftermath of abuse and create a platform for better response and care for all the congregation.

The great strength of Hein's book is that, as well as being involved in ministry, he and his wife Priscilla are also both survivors of sexual abuse and can therefore provide insights from both perspectives. Each chapter starts with a passage describing part of Tim or Priscilla's own story which introduces the subject being covered which range from how churches can create a 'safe place' for survivors and the key role secrecy plays in abuse to recovery and working through issues of shame and sadness (in particular with the latter, the need to allow for 'sadness' at times in churches and not demand all worship always a time of joy).

Many of Hein's insights are broadly applicable - his look at forgiveness, for example, reveals deep truths about the meaning of this essential part of the Christian walk and his insights into the part suffering plays in the Christian walk are also well worth reading. Both they - and other sections of the book - draw on a deep well of theological understanding and personal experience to explain in the simplest of terms some of our deepest feelings and reactions.

It ultimately takes the reader to a place of hope. "Christian hope means that God sees us today in our brokenness, but from the perspective of what has achieved on the cross," Hein writes. "Thus he sees not only who I am today, but who I am becoming as he heals and restores me. God sees the deep brokenness of my trauma, but from his perspective it does not define me. I am not, in the final view, just an abuse survivor. I am redeemed. I belong to God. I am a new creation. That is my sure destiny - for the new heavens and the new earth are not a vague spiritual place for our souls only. They are a redeemed physical world, with healed bodies and minds. All the recovery that we can experience on earth is only a foretaste of the fullness of all God has created us to be."

This is not an easy read but nor should it be. That said, it's broken into easily digestible sections and is the sort of book that can be put down and picked up again as needed. Understanding Sexual Abuse tackles a subject few Christian leaders would desire to put at the top of their reading list - but it's a book every Christian leader - as well as survivors looking for some understanding - should take a look at.