”When initially faced with allegations the instinct across denominations has often been to protect the leader first,” suggests Rachel Mataraki. She says that instead we must learn to bear witness to the suffering of those that come forward.

Beth redman

Beth Redman speaking on ‘Let there be Light’ documentary

Source: YouTube 

Last week Matt Redman and his wife, Beth shared their experiences of spiritual abuse at the hands of Soul Survivor`s Mike Pilavachi. The documentary Let there be Light is full of testimony that has been substantiated by a Safeguarding report in 2023. It is a hard watch.

We see from Ezekiel that this grieves and angers God`s heart too. Ezekiel writes: ’Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally… This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock…’(NIV 34:3,4,10)

Many shepherds are failing their flocks

Many shepherds are failing their flocks. Christian expert in the field of International Trauma, Dr Diane Langberg was featured in the documentary. She writes in her book Redeeming Power: Understanding Authority and Abuse in the Church: ”The headlines are cause for grief because we have seen that abuse in the Church is not something that happens only to “other” groups or some category of “them”…The light has been turned on in the Church, and we are being called by God to wrestle with what ought not to be.”

But disturbingly “what ought not to be” is increasingly common. The hashtag #churchtoo started appearing in 2017 and there are ongoing new stories, So how are we to respond? How can we turn on the Light?

I first came across Dr Langberg’s work whilst looking into Christian approaches to trauma healing. 

I first came across Dr Langberg’s work whilst looking into Christian approaches to trauma healing. With an art therapy background and having been a disaster responder in some earthquake zones I wanted to learn from the Institute that she had pioneered. I enrolled in the Trauma Global Recovery Institute course where I chose a special optional immersive project. I spent hours watching documentaries and reading testimonies of physical sexual, psychological, emotional, mental and spiritual abuse within the Church.

I learned that it happens much more often that we would like to believe. That we need to be careful not to make assumptions when people come forwards. To avoid further destruction (and re-traumatization) our first response needs to be to bear witness to their suffering. We may want to deny, narrate or control what is being said. It may trigger some of our own questions, fears and insecurity. The church models Christ when we bring his presence to those in pain by allowing their voices to be heard without accusations of gossip, bitterness or unforgiveness. For victims professional care is often needed.  It is important to focus on their strength and resiliency rather than labeling them too quickly.

We must be willing to examine ourselves and our assumptions. When initially faced with allegations the instinct across denominations has often been to protect the leader first. This phenomenon may be related to  cognitive dissonance – when we cannot match the version of the person we thought we knew with the new information about their behavior. Abusive leaders are living double lives in sin and bondage both to deceiving others and to self-deception. Lament is necessary. Accountability is essential. We must grieve for the victims and the ones who have harmed them. We must carefully reexamine the structures that nurture abuse. We must hold those accountable with justice. We must be sensitive to the voices of individuals without power or platform. But most of all we must carry God`s heart cry to stop the abuse for as Langberg writes : “Whenever another human being—knit together by God—is abused, we have also abused God himself (Matt. 25:40,45)