Abuse Survivor Mythology in the Church
Over the years we have been increasingly concerned about the intrusion of psychological theories and therapies into Christianity. We have warned Christians about the teachings of secular psychologists and those integrationists who attempt to integrate secular models and methods with the Bible. We are now seeing sad results of the many years of wedding psychological counseling theories and therapies with Christianity.
Christians have been exposed to so much psychology, through books, sermons, radio programs, and other forms of communication in the Christian community, that they do not even know when they are dispensing psychoheresy. Once psychological opinions are mixed with Scripture, some Christians are unable to separate the two and therefore are not "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15).
This ungodly mixture was, and continues to be, fertile ground for the abuse-survivor mythology to take hold and thrive in the church. These myths have come from the world of therapy and have been popularized by such books as Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, which is filled with much misinformation and bad advice. Christian counselors have had their female clients read these books. Now there is an entire fleet of women convinced that their problems or the problems of their clients stem from childhood abuse, whether or not that abuse actually occurred.
Even after much research has clearly demonstrated the failures and fallacies of inner healing and counseling that seek to heal by unearthing "forgotten memories," Christian counselors and speakers continue to dramatize their horrific stories and disseminate their myths. Indeed, there is an entire mythology surrounding adult "survivors of abuse" with many people not remembering such an event until they are in counseling. These myths cannot be found in Scripture, except in those verses that warn of "fables." 1 Timothy 4:7 tells us to "refuse profane and old wivesí fables."
Myth One: "People who experience trauma, including sexual abuse, usually do not remember it." No, research has demonstrated that people do remember trauma and other meaningful events.
Myth Two: "Memory is like a tape recorder and therapy can help people remember traumatic events accurately." No, research has demonstrated that memory is not solid, but malleable and changeable. What is remembered in therapy will more often than not be enhanced, changed, exaggerated, or totally fabricated.
Myth Three: "About half of all women have been sexually abused as children." No, as researcher Dr. Carol Tavris says: "If one of them comes up with a concocted statisticósuch as Ďmore than half of all women are survivors of childhood sexual traumaíóthe numbers are traded like baseball cards, reprinted in every book and eventually enshrined as fact. Thus the cycle of misinformation, faulty statistics and unvalidated assertions maintains itself."
Myth Four: "If you are overweight or experiencing problems of living, the underlying cause is probably early life sexual abuse." No, this myth relies on Freudís theory of the unconscious and of the present being determined by early childhood events. To show how easily women can suspect that they were abused as children, here are some sample questions Courage to Heal directs women to answer to see if they have symptoms of having been abused:
"You feel that thereís something wrong with you deep
down inside; that if people really knew you, they would leave."
Myth Five: "Early childhood abuse destroys a personís viewpoint of God." What is often said is that women who were abused as children conclude that "Godís mean, or God doesnít care or Iím really lousy." No, how we were treated as children does not determine how we will view God. No one can understand the horror of his own sin or know the vast love of God without the work of the Holy Spirit. One does not believe in the goodness of God because of oneís childhood. Rather, it is the work of the Lord in a personís life that reveals both our sinful condition and Godís great saving love.
Myth Six: "Women who have been abused are unable to believe God loves them." No, too many Christians are shortening the hand of Godís salvation by saying that bad parenting (sexual molestation in this case) will hinder people from knowing Godís love. Believing Godís love and the saving work of Christ is not dependent on having had wonderful parents or having escaped the horrors of abuse. Believing Godís love and the saving work of Christ is dependent on God and the faith He gives: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9,10). When we consider the awesome magnitude of John 3:16 and the depth of our own sin (so much so that all our own righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God), we fall down and worship if we believe. But those who are not saved simply cannot believe that such a thing could be so, or if it can be, it cannot apply to them.
Myth Seven: "Women who have been abused need a better self image and need to learn how valuable they are to the Lord." No, that comes from psychological counseling teachings regarding shame and feelings of worthlessness, such as those taught by John Bradshaw. Psychological techniques abound that are designed to help one have a better self image through self talk and self affirmation. Neither salvation nor sanctification is dependent on a person having a positive self identity or on someone seeing oneself in a more positive light. Knowing Christ and His love must be uppermost, not having a better self-image.
Regarding self image, Paul continued to refer to himself as "the least of all saints" (Eph. 3:8) and the chief of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He never lost sight of the magnitude of Godís loveóto love a sinner such as himself. We have no indication that the redeemed prostitute who washed Jesusí feet with her hair had been coaxed into a better self-image. She only knew she was a forgiven sinner, and that it took lots of love to save her from her sin and guilt.
The Gospel Is the Same for Everyone
We do not wish to minimize the horrors of abuse, but we know from history that there was a great deal of sexual sin during the time of the Apostles, especially in the nations where Paul preached. Nevertheless, Paul had the same Gospel for everyone. He did not have a special method for ministering to women who had been abused as children even though the sexual sin of those nations was rampant. While the application of Godís Word to each person may be unique according to the work of the Holy Spirit in an individualís life, the Gospel is the same.
When one is born again, that person becomes a new creature in Christ, "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Can we believe that Scripture, or is there a degree of sexual abuse that is beyond the transforming effects of the life of Christ in a believer?
PAL V11N4 (July-August 2003)