Marti Wibbels, MS, LMHC
Recent news exposing the secret life of Ravi Zacharias* is heartbreaking, a grim reminder of what we already know: Christian leaders can fail. It’s time to focus more on God and less on people and avoid putting any person on a pedestal. There's no excuse for abuse: anyone entrusted with caring for vulnerable humans (including all of us) needs to consistently rely on God instead of being driven by human impulses and instincts.
Currently, sexual violence (SV) is at pandemic levels throughout the world. According to the CDC:
- “Nearly 1 in 5 women has experienced completed or attempted rape during her lifetime.
- 1 in 3 female rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old.
- 1 in 8 female rape victims reported it occurred before age 10.
- Nearly 1 in 38 men has experienced completed or attempted rape during his lifetime.
- About 1 in 4 male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years old.
- About 1 in 4 male rape victims reported it occurred before age 10.”
Churches, civic organizations, sports teams, and schools are a few of many places predators go to find victims, intuitively aware people are open to people in power. Like hunters in the animal kingdom, sexual predators have a seemingly insatiable appetite. A single predator can have hundreds or even thousands of victims. Eerily able to detect human vulnerabilities, predators steadily, stealthily groom victims for their own selfish desires. After being groomed, manipulated, and coerced, victims often numb emotions and suffer in silence, alone, without hope.
For decades, I’ve been trying to awaken the church to perils within it, grateful for leaders who are proactively reducing the risk of trauma by offering healing groups, training, and hope. Others, when I mention the need to address sexual abuse, look at me patronizingly and ask (without listening), “Oh, you must have been abused?” (Actually, no, I wasn’t.) But our God, the Good Shepherd, compels me to help the helpless and address complex trauma-related concerns with compassion and skill. His love has driven me to write four books (two novels and two counseling workbooks) designed to clarify trauma’s ramifications while offering practical ways for survivors to heal.
Perhaps Ming, the legendary New York City tiger, can help us understand how a human leader could take advantage of a vulnerable person. When Ming’s owner, Antoine Yates, went to the hospital with bite marks he claimed were from his pit bull, medical personnel sent authorities to Antoine’s Harlem apartment to check out the pet, certain the bites were from something much larger than a dog. There they discovered Ming, Antoine’s full-grown Bengal tiger. Never the tame “cat” he once seemed to be, Ming did what predators do—attack, ready to devour. But Ming was a wild animal; people have a choice to live differently, treating one another with dignity and respect. In fact, 2 Timothy 2:22 teaches: run away from youthful lusts, desires that never mature. We're to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace...
When Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they opened a metaphorical Pandora’s Box, releasing every form of evil, including SV. The question of why some people become sexual predators is a complex one. Whenever we choose to rely on human instincts, following selfish desires, our behaviors can deteriorate into those described in Galatians 5:19-20: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Do you recognize potentially addictive behaviors in verses 19 and 20? With addictions, people develop tolerance to the behavior, substance, etc., craving more of whatever behavior or substance is chosen instead of God. And we can choose to listen to God instead of human desires. As God told Cain, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. When God commands us to rule over our impulses, He provides strength to do it.
Galatians 5:22-24 says the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. When we yield our desires to God, He transforms us!
We can trust God for strength and wisdom amidst daily challenges and concerns:
- Choose to yield to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to empower you to live in God’s love, joy, peace, etc., while crucifying the flesh (refusing to obey it).
- Parents: monitor your kids’ computer time to two hours or less per day, with computer usage allowed only in wide-open spaces where it can be easily observed.
- Churches: do criminal background checks of all nursery workers, children’s workers, and youth leaders. Offer training for keeping children, youth, and adults safe. Pray for your leaders and for one another.
- Pay attention to your children: If something seems “off,” if a child changes his or her behavior, either acting out with anger or withdrawing, isolating, or self-stimulating, gently ask questions, such as “Has anyone asked you to keep a secret?” (and explaining "we don’t keep secrets in our family; we’re here for you," etc.). If concerns persist, find a Christian counselor who specializes in treating children.
- Don’t assume people are safe. I’ve counseled families whose children were molested at home, in friends’ homes, at Bible studies, at “Christian” day care, and in just about every imaginable (and unimaginable) place. Before SV occurs, children and adults are generally “groomed” by a perpetrator to drop their guard. It’s not about “stranger danger,” since approximately 80% of those who experience SV actually know their perpetrators.
- Choose to trust in God and avoid living in fear. Being confident in Christ can be a deterrent to a predator’s manipulation. Focus on the attributes of God, the character of God, and the love of God. He alone is worthy of our trust. We can live safely in God’s love.
If you’ve experienced sexual violence or any other form of trauma (like hearing about a fallen leader), please accept my invitation to study Core Healing from Trauma.
*For additional information on the Ravi Zacharias tragedy, watch Josh McDowell share his perspective.