Do you see the gnat in the picture above? yeah, neither do I…
If the church has failed those who have suffered in abuse, it is by straining gnats while swallowing camels. Both gnats and camels are unlawful for a Jew to consume, but Christ’s chief complaint is the Pharisees’ attention to the minute sins, the gnats, while ignoring the blaringly obvious sins, the camels.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:23, 24
In the first 20 years of my life my family attended 5 different churches and one radically legalistic homeschool group called ATI, Advanced Training Institute (the same program the Duggar Family is involved with.) And as far as I experienced or had stories relayed to me by my mom, there was only ONE pastor who knew what the gnats and camels really were in our family dynamic.
When we approached our spiritual leaders for help all the attention was given to our gnats.
Meaning, I was constantly grilled on how obedient, submissive, and honoring to my father and mother I really was. What “good Christian girl” would tell you they are obedient, submissive and honoring 100% of the time?
Therefore, my only option for help was to improve my behavior. To become even more legalistic, rigid and harsh with my own soul because the loss of dignity, kindness, innocence and love were not enough to live without – grace and mercy had to go as well.
I grew up internalizing that unless I was 100% obedient to my parents and therefore God I had no right to hold others accountable for how they treated me. Scripture was used to mute my voice.
The weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness were overlooked. Those stark violations of personal safety and well-being, those camels just kept walking in and out of the mouths of those who represented the character and love of God.
I learned that the sin in my life made me subject to justice. Whereas the sin in my perpetrators life gained them mercy.
Boz Tchividjian shared this observation in his recent article in Relevant Magazine.
“I can’t tell you the thousands of cases I’ve prosecuted, inside and outside of the home, how often the focus was on helping the perpetrator and turning backs on victims. Often, in Christian communities, that was the belief that this was the godly response to this (abuse).”
Straining gnats while swallowing camels became the millstone that should have hung heavy on my perpetrators heart yet it settled heartily on mine (Matthew 18:5-6.)
Micah 6:6-7 reminds us that sacrifices of money and offering do not count in his book. Going to church on Sunday, Bible Study during the week, giving your most precious item or relationship is not what He desires of you.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Somehow in our Christian world we have offered mercy first to the perpetrators and justice (maybe) never.
But to the victims we have required justice. Victims, the ones who come bravely forward confiding in you one tenth of what they have endured from the camels of abuse.
We hold them to the standard of Christian perfection: A tongue that is not sharp. Clear stories without any changes to the details (because we have no clue the impact of the psychological abuse that makes them feel like they are the crazy one.) And maybe a faith that does not waver or wrestle. The advice from the church has been to pray more, submit to God’s call of suffering, or to forgive.
The church picks at victim’s gnats while ignoring the camel that is laying them in the dust.
The church has called victims to Christ’s example of laying down his life for another – because after all – there is no greater love than to sacrifice yourself for someone else. We offer this sacrifice as an example of righteousness…because it is.
But the central difference in Christ’s sacrificial love and the sacrifice we are requiring of victims is this: Christ freely chose the sacrifice. He was in full capacity of knowing his value, his worth, his position with God himself.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”  John 10:18
HE CHOSE the sacrifice.
Church, please remember, when a victim confides in you the abuse they are suffering.
- Know you have only heard the tip of the iceberg still hanging frozen beneath the glassy surface of “keeping it all together.” You must first prove to the victim you are safe to confide in.
- Know their value and worth have been slowly, systematically, methodically pushed to the ground on which the perpetrator walks. If a victim understood their value, worth and position in Christ they would leave. Christ left many abusive situations in his life before his fully volitional and wholly divine CHOICE to die on the cross.
- Being Like Christ is different than Being Christ. Christ was not a people pleaser. He made decisions to turn the other cheek because he knew the gift of deferring to someone would not change how worthy of love he was. When we ask a victim to lay down their life for another, and the other is the perpetrator, we are in effect asking them to lay themselves on the altar and die. As if their sacrifice was required for the atonement of their perpetrator’s sin. No sacrifice atones save our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a difference in being LIKE Christ and BEING Christ. Don’t confuse the two when listening to the victim.
Victims must first receive mercy and kindness or they will never pour out the full story of their suffering. The sin of a victim is anchored in shame, coping skills for trauma no one should live through, and also has become a part of their “wiring” as trauma memories are believed to be stored near the area of the brain that issues fight-flight-or freeze alarms. Our brains have been wired to respond as if every intense emotion is a traumatic event.
So when we ask for help please don’t point at the gnats in our lives. Believe our stories about camels…because we need to know that God is passionate and moved to compassion to remove camels.
Perpetrators must first receive Justice because their minds have already justified why the sin has happened. Perpetrators are master manipulators and have most likely blamed their victims for their hideous crime or may extend that blame to their past, the abuse that happened to them, their parents etc. There may be reasons for their behavior but there are no excuses.
Herein lies the problem with the historical church’s response to abuse.
If we choose to extend mercy to the camels in a perpetrators life while we exact justice for the gnats in a victims life we are choosing SPIRITUAL ABUSE. We are using scripture to keep the least of these…the least of these.
“Spiritual abuse is the inappropriate use of spiritual authority to force a person to do that which is unhealthy. Often it will involve a forceful manipulative denial of that person’s feelings and convictions…The clearest biblical example of spiritual abusers is seen in the Pharisees who had honed spiritual manipulation into an art form. They habitually twisted the Scriptures to selfishly manipulate others under the guise of spirituality.” ~ Steven R. Tracy, Mending the Soul
If we want to heal our land…we must begin by repenting of the Spiritual Abuse we have perpetrated and apply correctly justice and mercy.
It is what the Lord requires of us.