This morning, on Facebook, I wrote this:
When someone has been abused, their abuser has also worked very hard to convince them and everyone else that they are liars.
You should be able to understand why.
The fact of human nature is that wicked people can do far worse things to one another than we can possibly imagine. Even people of your own tribe can do unspeakable things to one another.
When we say “I believe you” when someone shares their story, we have given them space to heal, space to breathe, and have gifted them with the first step to their healing and peace. We have borne their burden with them and told them that they are not alone. They are three of the most powerful words we can say.
“I believe you.”
Those words are like water in a desert land, food for a starving man; One spends their life hiding, fearing, silently hoping that she (or he) could speak and someone, anyone would believe them.
We don’t do so well with that. They finally get up the courage to speak up, and most of the time we try everything we can think of to not believe them.
“Are you sure?”
“People don’t act like that.”
“Were there witnesses?”
“We need to get both sides of the story.”
Because if they are lying, then we can continue to pretend that our lives are safe and normal and predictable. But if they are telling the truth, then our world flips over and everything we thought was true proves to be false. It is so much easier if they were just lying.
But they are almost never lying. In fact, it is usually far, far worse than they first tell you.
And so most people never speak. And because they never speak, they aren’t allowed to heal and grieve.
We should do better, even if it turns your world upside down.
“I believe you.”
The normal- albeit disturbing reaction – among certain ones in the church is something like, “What about false accusations, Like Potiphar’s wife?”
So here are a few thoughts on that.
On my original post, I was not speaking to judges, jurists, or anyone else whose business it is to determine the facts of crimes committed. For some reason, Christians have been trained to enter into “jurist” mode whenever a friend discloses abuse. No wonder so many people keep silent.
I am a pastor. When a woman discloses to me, I listen, I empathize. I ask listening questions to make sure I am understanding right. If there are crimes committed and I am mandated to report, I report it to those who have the duty to investigate. If not, I protect her privacy, but encourage HER to report it to the ones trained in investigation. But I believe her.
For one thing, except for a few exceptions which I will mention later, the reporting victim has everything to lose and nothing to gain. When you look at what all of those who reported abuse in high-profile cases have endured, don’t you wonder why anyone would disclose anything – unless, of course, it was true.
I am trying to think of exceptions – but I can only think of one. Potiphar’s wife. Look at her case:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
7 And it came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”
8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. 9 There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
10 So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her.
11 But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, 12 that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, 14 that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, “See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside.”
16 So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. 17 Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, “The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; 18 so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside.”
19 So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, “Your servant did to me after this manner,” that his anger was aroused. 20 Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison
The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ge 39:6–20.
A few things to note – first, SHE was the abuser, not Joseph. The power was not on Joseph’s side. It was on hers. She sexually abused him for a long time and he resisted. She became angry at his resistance and was looking for vengeance. She had nothing to lose. She was the master’s wife. He was a slave with no rights at all.
My guess is that everyone (including Potiphar) knew what kind of a person she was, which could explain why Joseph was kept in prison instead of executed.
But everyone involved in the household knew that the woman was after the slave. He had to keep avoiding her and tried not to be alone with her. The other slaves weren’t stupid. They would all have known who was the victim and who was the aggressor.
The fact is that unless the woman has the upper hand with the power, the money, the privilege – she will NOT be believed. Look at how many witnesses it took to get anyone to listen about Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby.
Look at how many years it took to expose the wickedness in the Roman Catholic Church, the Sovereign Grace Ministries, and the Southern Baptist Convention – and the victims STILL are cast out, ridiculed, and threatened.
And then look at what all of the victims have had to go through. They have had the most private things about themselves revealed to the world. They have been mocked, disbelieved, ridiculed, thrown out of churches, they have lost their homes, their families, their friends, their safety –
Who on earth would go through that? – unless, of course, it was true.
Do false accusations exist? Sure. Which is why pastors MUST be trauma informed, trained in the dynamics of abuse and assault, and spend far, far more time listening then they do speaking. And they certainly are not trained investigators. Leave that to those trained in it. Just believe. Listen. Be a pastor.
And if you are a friend, just listen. Believe your friend. She (or he) has risked so, so much to reveal just a tiny bit of what she has endured.
If there are lies involved, they will be exposed. Don’t further wound the injured sheep with skepticism. They are only telling you the tip of the iceberg, in the hopes that they will be believed.
And perhaps, if we quit assuming that she is probably lying, maybe more people will talk to us, exposing the works of darkness. And as we humbly seek change in our own hearts, maybe we can become better at listening.
6 responses to “Believing her, and “false accusations””
Well done, Sam.
Something else I often think of, “judges” in ancient days were not focused on punishing criminals like we are today, they were bringing justice to the persecuted. The persistent widow, the mother in Solomon’s tale, these were people who turned to a judge for help in restoring what was taken from them. It was far more like civil court rather then criminal court. In the modern world many Christians seem to have this idea that we are called to determine guilt or innocence, like we are a jurist in a criminal trial as you said. The thing is, that kind of court didn’t even really exist until modern America. In ancient days there was no criminal trial by jury at all.
Our mindset as Christians needs to change, so we see “judgement” more as the righting of wrongs rather then the sentencing of criminals. Your job as a “judge” is simply to hear the complaint, to bear witness to it.
Wow..this comment is new insight to me..thank you.
Thank you. And, how I thank God for voices like yours. [Yes, thank You, Lord-You see, You know. Help us, oh Lord, in this very day wherever we are, to walk with You in Your love, and to share You as genuinely as this writing here has Shared You!!!
In Jesus dear name, amen.]
“They are only telling you the tip of the iceberg, in the hopes that they will be believed.” Yes.
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You touched on SO much material with SO many vital points:
“They are three of the most powerful words we can say. “I believe you.”
We have a wall sign that says three OTHER words that can be said, that will hopefully bring equal amounts, if not more comfort to a fragile victim:
“I saw that” (God). Or to relay to a victim: “He saw that” or “He saw everything.”
Most abuse happens behind closed doors, in private, where no one saw (or wanted to see) the pain being inflicted on the innocent. Although abusers are known to engage in public humiliation to “neutralize” and/or further silence their victims, most of that is usually not taken seriously by the public. But nothing is hidden from the Lord, and that means He saw everything.
“For some reason, Christians have been trained to enter into “jurist” mode whenever a friend discloses abuse.”
It is too easy to respond to a victim with the first words we think of, which is almost always never a good idea. Sam put the focus on listening to a victim, and one of the best ways to do just that, is to DO just that. Don’t say anything, but especially, THINK before you speak. If you are like me, you are afraid that NOT saying anything will make things worse. No, not necessarily. No matter what, let the victim be in charge; follow her lead. If necessary, let her know that your lack of words are to safeguard her feelings; that does not mean you do not care about her.
“They are only telling you the tip of the iceberg…” Think of the Titanic; what was underneath the water was FAR worse than what they could see on the surface. It is scary to look deeper; but not as scary as demanding that what is underneath should stay underneath.
“The power was not on Joseph’s side. It was on hers.”
When it comes to victimization, its main essence is rooted in power inequality/imbalances. Gender plays a part, don’t get me wrong; but what is really at work is empowering one at the expense of disempowering another. Some of my most sensitive trauma involved women, not men. The wages of death are the main essence of sin; that is what matters the most.
“Because if they are lying, then we can continue to pretend that our lives are safe and normal and predictable. But if they are telling the truth, then our world flips over and everything we thought was true proves to be false. It is so much easier if they were just lying.”
This was one of my biggest takeaways. For those that profess Christ, this should not be such a shocker, yet those are usually the very ones that are in immediate, long term denial. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel are undeniable examples: betrayal and murder often occur among our nearest and dearest. Christ, too, articulated this constantly. If it is hard to let go of the “American Dream” as being unrealistic/unattainable, it just as hard, if not more so, to let go of the “Christian Dream” for the same reasons. The very ones who should protect you, are often the very ones you need protecting from.