Preach carefully – looking after victims in church

I’ve been writing a few articles in response to a challenge raised on twitter about whether churches were safe places to refer abuse victims.

With that in mind, I want to pick up on one of the challenges.  When preaching, you have a great variety of people sat in front of you coming from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of experiences, good, bad, healing, painful. But preaching often invites us to make pithy, provocative, un-nuanced comments in order to strike home. Add to that the risk that we can also be naïve in our application.

Let me give you an example from my most recent sermon.  You can read it here. You will see that one of the applications I made was that in our day to day life, part of our discipleship is about being reconciled to others. I talked about a radical calling to love those who don’t love us back, who may have hurt us, who may make life difficult for us.  This means showing kindness to others acting with their best interests in mind and not repaying evil with evil.

Now on one level that’s straight forward, obvious discipleship.  It means that I don’t get into competition with a colleague. It means that when someone is rude to me I can be courteous. It means that I can take opportunities to show kindness and offer help.

However, hear that as an abuse victim and what might you risk hearing?  The danger is that someone may hear that they have to go back to the home, to the relationship and accept the abuse.  That would make the sermon very dangerous.

So, it’s important to preach the negatives -what we don’t mean as well as what we do mean. That’s why in my talk I took time to make it clear that I was not calling on victims to go back into risky situations. It’s why I said that our forgiveness of others does not mean that they are absolved from facing justice when they have broken the law or that we are denied the protections that the law offers.  It also means that we may not be in a position where we can show love and forgiveness to some people even though we have learnt to forgive in our hearts.  It’s why I encouraged wisdom and advice before action.

Caring for victims means that we must be careful about our preaching. We will pay attention to exegeting the congregation. We can’t simply see ourselves as free to just say our peace and leave the fallout with others. We have a responsibility for the affect that our words have.