The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that one in six American women is a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime. Forty-four percent of victims are under the age of 18. The fact that these offenses are being perpetrated so regularly within the church should serve as a severe beacon to the Christian community. Now is the time for raw and regular conversations about healthy sexuality, sexual addiction, and sexual sin. Now is the time to ramp up our best practices and protective policies. Now is also the time to minister to the ones who remain: among them, the wives of sexual offenders.
Over the past eight years as a pastor's wife, the Lord has given me a somewhat bewildering ministry to these women. I love them heartily and consider it my great privilege to offer support and shelter. But I've yet to experience much in ministry that comes close to this kind of confusion and devastation. Lives ripped apart. Innocence shattered. Hearts broken.
In some instances, these sexual offenders have been my friends and ministry partners. I've felt, as you'd expect, betrayed and completely duped. In other situations, I have never met the husbands but have watched these wives navigate a new existence: life with a spouse behind bars.
Mostly I've seen the church wrap their arms around these women, helping with unpaid rent and medical bills, offering employment opportunities and emotional support. However, a handful of people have lacked civility.
Cornered by well-meaning folks in the church, some of these wives have been forced to listen to unsolicited, and frankly, shameful advice: Don't you understand you will never have couple friends again? Surely you know you have biblical grounds for divorce. If you stay with him, you will never see my children. My personal favorite is this: You'll never have a future in ministry or missions or leadership. A close second: Your life will be eternally marked by this.
Listen, I get it. I get angry. I scream in my pillow. I stay up nights praying protection over my own children. I kick-box and punch the air.
But it's taken some time and more than a few feet in my mouth (Just knee him where the sun don't shine, pack your bags, and leave him already!) to realize one thing: shaming these women will not inspire them to courage.
In her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't), Dr. Brené Brown tells the story of working with the clinical director of a treatment facility for children. This man set the course of Dr. Brown's research when he made the following statement: "I know you want to help these kids, but you must understand this: 'You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.' "