Without going into too much detail, I’ve recently heard from more than one person who is a Christian and has sexual abuse in their pasts. They’ve reached out in response to my request for different Myers-Briggs types to talk about their faith. As heartbreaking as it is to hear about the terrible things their abusers did, it’s equally heartbreaking to hear how the church has responded.
The people who contacted me didn’t say they were hesitant to open-up to me because I was a stranger on the internet. Rather, they were worried because I’m Christian and they’ve had so many Christians react badly in the past. One, abused by “upstanding members in the church” encountered people who wouldn’t believe her or were angry she actually filed a police report. Another faced judgment so harsh she compared it to “being victimized twice.”
That sort of things should never happen in the household of God. We can’t always prevent terrible things being done by and to other people. But we are 100% responsible for how we respond when someone shares their pasts with us.
In his epistle, James tells the church not to judge others for the way they look. You should be just as welcoming and loving to the “poor man in filthy clothing” as to the “man with a gold ring, in fine clothing” (James 2:2, WEB). But do you really think this only applies to peoples’ outer appearance?
If you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9, WEB)
It is a sin to make snap judgments of people based on their appearance, their pasts, or aspects of their personality you just don’t like. Remember, you’ll be judged with the same type of judgment you turn on other people (Matt. 7:1-2). So “use mercy to them all” (Shakespeare, not the Bible, but still a good policy to follow).
The only sort of “judgment” given to the church is to discern when someone is unrepentant and continuing in sin while professing to follow Jesus. Such a person shouldn’t be allowed to remain in the church assembly, as Paul discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:1-6:11. They can, however, be welcomed back if they repent and change per 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. That doesn’t apply in the case of someone who has been abused, though. They’re not the ones who should be judged for doing wrong (just in case it’s not clear, the sinner in this situation is the abuser).
Jesus Christ had a nice friendly chat with a woman who’d been married five times and was living with a man not her husband (John 4:1-30). He forgave a woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-11). He saved a man from possession by a legion of demons and promptly involved him in preaching the gospel (Mark 5:1-20). The first person He appeared to after His resurrection was a woman who’d once hosted seven devils (Mark 16:9). Jesus offered love, healing, and forgiveness to these people and He never held their pasts against them. His focus was on moving them forward into a better walk with Him.
One of the people who contacted me said they found stories like this very encouraging. Because Jesus could love those who purposefully sinned, surely He wouldn’t hold things that weren’t even her fault against her. And thank God that’s the case. God doesn’t hold our pasts against us, whatever they might be. If you ever doubt that, it’s time to re-read the gospels.
Every Christian is supposed to become like Jesus. So what does it say about us when we won’t love and welcome people because of things that weren’t even their fault? That’s certainly not a Christ-like attitude. In fact, it’s the sort of attitude that can block you from getting into the kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46). We don’t get to pick and choose who “deserves” God’s love. The very people you’re ready to devalue are the one’s God wants to see you showing love to.
Act Like Jesus
When Jesus tells us “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” He’s specifically talking about impartially loving everyone you interact with (Matt. 5:43-48, WEB). If we want to become like God, we have to show love to all regardless of our gut reaction to them. Whether or not you feel loving, you’re still called to act like God.
“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Even if you don’t instinctively react to other people with the compassion, mercy, and love of God, you can at least act as if you do. And the plan is that eventually, as God continues working in your heart and mind, you’ll start to be like God on the inside as well.
There’s a very easy test to see if people are Jesus disciples or not. He said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, WEB). By this standard, can everyone you interact with tell you’re one of His disciples? More importantly, can He tell? Or are we just saying “Lord, Lord” without doing the things He says (Matt. 6:21-23)?
I don’t want to end this post on a depressing note. But it is a shameful thing when hurting people come into an assembly of God’s followers and find judgment rather than compassion. It’s up to us to change that. So make an effort to include the people you don’t like or are inclined to judge (for whatever reason) in church activities and gatherings. Welcome new people into your church. Listen to them with sympathy instead of condemnation. And do the same for people already in your fellowship. Start behaving like Jesus would right now. At the same time, let’s all join in prayer asking Him to transform us on the inside so we’ll truly become as He is.