DCP: What the Faith Community Needs to Know

One of the breakout sessions I attended was on “What The Faith Community Needs to Know to Help Victims” lead by Pastor Alika Galloway, Kwanzaa Church.

To start off the session, she shared the short story: The Mousetrap. She reminded us that faith communities often take an approach of “I’ll pray for you, but it’s not my business or it’s not my trap.” But the reality is we are all affected by others’ traps because humanity is interwoven. Even if we are not a victim of sexual exploitation firsthand, it is still our business because someone else’s pain will affect us.

“The purpose of your light is to ignite others’ whose light has gone out.” – Pastor Alika.

Why should we get involved in the anti-human trafficking/anti-sexual exploitation fight? Pastor Alika called out all of the women listed in Jesus’ genealogy (or in His circle of influence once on the earth) who were “sexually suspect.”

Sarah – was given by her husband, Abraham, to an Egyptian king. She also encouraged her husband to commit adultery to ensure they had a son.

Tamar – dressed up as a prostitute to secure her right to a child (because by law, her in-laws who were supposed to give her a child to continue her husband’s line, refused to do so)

Rahab – a prostitute who saved the spies of Israel and whose faith was commended in Hebrews

Bathsheba – another man’s wife, taken by King David

Mary – Jesus’ mother was a teenager who became pregnant before getting married to Joseph.

Women at the well – a woman who had had five husbands and was living with a man out of wedlock.

Adulteress women – Read this story because I think it is incredibly relevant to this topic on faith and working with survivors:

John 8:1-11 (ESV) But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Clearly these women were sexually suspect—either because they committed sexual sins or were put in situations that made them sexually suspect. Yet, God thought their stories and names were important enough to put in His Bible. Jesus claimed them in His own blood line. He gave grace to the women He interacted with—rather than judging them or shaming them. He valued them.

The faith community should not turn away from such women today. We instead should come with a nonjudgmental attitude because we have no right to judge, only God has the right to judge them–and clearly Jesus would rather offer love than shame. We can, instead, help these women see that they are valued, that Jesus loves them and understands what they went through. We can do this by mirroring His approach–valuing them and showing them grace.

This goes beyond just our personal interaction with girls and women. Pastor Alika told us a story of how some girls in her neighborhood came to her church, looked at the gorgeous stained glass windows and asked her, “Does Jesus really want me to come to church?” “Yes, he does.” “Well, how can I come to church and worship Him when there is a white man staring down at me from the window?” (Remember, in most communities, the #1 john is a white male).

Pastor Alika challenged us: “Don’t let your space make it impossible for people who need Him to see Him. Be sacrificial about your space, about your environment.”

Both Pastor Alika and Vednita Carlson also talked about how hosting Bible studies or just providing prayer is not necessarily the most effective way to share faith with survivors. Because of the immense amount of trauma, shame, and mistrust that comes from a history of sexual exploitation, these women need to observe faith through your actions before they will trust your words about faith.

Vednita also suggested that, rather than creating a new program to meet the needs of survivors, partner with current agencies who have the expertise and are already serving the population.

Finally, Pastor Alika reminded us that “Little becomes much when we put it in His hands.”

In summary, how can the faith community become prepared and involved in the fight against sexual exploitation?

1)      The faith community needs to realize that this is their problem too because all people are part of an interconnected humanity. We cannot just “pray for” those who are trapped in exploitation; we should do something.

2)      Faith communities need to become educated/reminded on grace-filled, nonjudgmental, loving interaction with all people—especially those who have been victims of any form of abuse.

2.a) I would personally add provide healthy, holistic sexual education in church. First, approach sex as holistic, including gender–providing healthy messages about gender that are not hypermasculine or hyperfeminine like our culutre does. Teach parents how to have healthy conversations with their children–when they are young! Not just at puberty! Teach children and youth learn how to have healthy relationships.Don’t treat all sex as bad! Sex was created by God to be an amazing expression of love in marriage. And open grace-filled arms to the men, women, youth and children who end up “messing up.” We’re all messed up, yet God extended grace-filled hands to us while we were still in sin.

3)      The faith community needs to be sacrificial with its environment—being open to spaces that are welcoming to the people who need to meet Jesus. If gorgeous stained-glass windows with white men are a barrier for survivors to come hear the Gospel, what is really more important? Your windows or them hearing about Jesus?

4)      Rather than come up with your own ideas, faith communities can explore strong partnerships with agencies already supporting survivors.

By the way, if you are in the Twin Cities, MN and would like to know how to connect your faith community/church to an agency, Source’s Annex Network is founded on the vision of church congregations taking an active role in providing community-based transitional housing to survivors of sexual exploitation. The organization is currently in a transition period, but I know they would like to continue connecting with local churches and faith organization regarding this issue. You can find out more at http://www.sourceannex.org/.

So, come on people of faith! Let’s be thankful for the grace God gives us and, in turn, offer that grace to others.