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After Abuse

by Gerry Lynch last modified 12 Oct, 2017 04:56 PM

New Church document looks at Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse

Bishop Nicholas has commended a new theological resource produced by the Church of England on the extraordinarily challenging subject of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse.

The document was produced for the Faith and Order Commission, and is available for free online here as well as in paper and eBook formats from Church House Publishing.

“We have become aware that abuse is more common than many of us realised”, said Bishop Nicholas, “The Church is trying to deal with some very difficult issues, as is society at large. We need to think it, pray it and respond better.

“These resources are profoundly helpful and will help us to work through some of the most difficult pastoral work that has faced us.”

The document is an important theological addition to the extensive and practical Church of England safeguarding practice guidance. It builds upon last year’s Faith and Order Commission document, The Gospel, Sexual Abuse and the Church (free PDF here).

In common with last year’s document, Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse continues the theme about how the Church should respond to abuse and to survivors. It talks about the need for clear and unambiguous repentence on the part of the abuser and makes it clear that the Church’s primary pastoral role is to ‘listen with care and sensitivity to those who have been abused’.

An article in this week’s Church Times from the Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth (available online here), acknowledges that in the past, the Church’s demands on the victims of abuse have compounded their suffering.

Bishop Christopher writes, “…the language of forgiveness has at times been invoked by those representing the church in ways that add to the harm done by abuse. Those who have experienced abuse may be told that, as Christians, they should be able to forgive those who abused them – if not immediately, then certainly after suitable counsel, prayer and other forms of ministry. If they can’t, then the message conveyed is that they’re not proper Christians: that they’ve failed, are guilty of sin and can’t be part of the life of the church until they are willing to say ‘I forgive you’ without reservation or hesitation. For a person suffering trauma, that’s a really destructive message and one that can only alienate them from the church and from the good news the church exists to share.”

In a later passage, the article continues, “One of the key conclusions of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the Aftermath of Abuse is that while forgiveness matters in the aftermath of abuse, that does not mean it should be the immediate focus of what the church says and does. Forgiveness needs to be seen in relation to justice, healing and repentance. It can never be a substitute for them, and it is simply wrong, theologically, to think that it could. To forgive sin is not tantamount to saying that sin does not matter and its consequences can be waved aside. A faith that has at its centre a crucified Saviour should never dare to think that. The two sides of forgiveness – receiving it and giving it – both begin with recognizing that what has been done is sin, and that sin is a deeply serious thing, a deeply destructive thing, more serious and more destructive than we can ever fully comprehend.”

In addition to using the story of the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13) as a basis for some of its points, the document also offers some modern fictional case studies which show how the local church and clergy should respond in certain circumstances.  It is a helpful resource aimed specifically at those in the church who preach, teach and exercise pastoral ministry – ordained and lay.

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