A Theology of Sexual Abuse: A Reflection on Creation and Devastation

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The Creator's original intention for human beings that combined royal, priestly, and shepherding notions can, paradoxically, appear all the more vibrant when we contemplate its demise. Buried in the profound wreckage of sexual abuse lie the vestiges of a majestic plan that dignifies humankind. But a foundational element of paradise - sexual innocence in community has been spoiled by, among other things, the treachery of sexual abuse.

Reflecting on the Creator's intentions can help shed light on the crushing effects of sexual abuse. To ignore the sexually broken among us is to reject the ethics of biblical community, a breakdown the abused have already endured. Moreover, turning a blind eye to sexual abuse also sanctions dualisms (body/spirit) and disconnects (sexuality, evil). Yet for a growing number, these are more than philosophical ideas; the abused have lived in these distortions.

Sexual abuse and the propensity to abuse is a larger black plague that spiritual conversion does not stamp out. It is alive in your city and in your church. The abused are the "shrieking silent," the "exit- watchers." One has to know what to listen and watch for, but they are there. But a surprising number of adult victims have already abandoned the Church - they have their reasons.


This study is one voice at the table in a much-needed dialogue. The goals are to further educate Christian leaders by normalizing the crisis of sexual abuse, create an understanding that promotes healing for the abused, and foster biblical-theological reflection among biblical educators, pastors, and church leadership, by deepening our insight into foundational creation texts with an eye to sexual abuse. These are texts pertaining to the image of God (Gen 1:26; 9:6), the creation mandate (Gen 1:28; Ps 8:5-8), and human sexuality (Gen 1:27; 2:23-24).

It is hard to improve on Patrick D. Miller's insightful description of a constructive theological investigation: "the biblical theologian is after an understanding of God and the world that will make sense of other data than the Scriptures and so will think in a large fashion about the way specific and concrete texts illuminate fundamental realities."1

1. Fundamental realities and profound distortions. This study considers the fundamental realities of sexual brokenness largely through an exegeticaltheological analysis. We begin by admitting the severity of the problem, move to an exegetical overview of key texts, contemplate the nature of sexual abuse in light of these texts, and close with some practical needs for moving forward.

This study argues that sexual abuse damages a spectrum of internal and external aspects of personhood. Creation's vision of the human being, sexual expression, leadership, community, and family are extensively ruined. Healing for victims of abuse seeks to mend profound "fractures" within the victim and the abusing party. This healing helps the abused to reconnect with an empathetic community. Sexual abuse carries a unique devastation factor precisely because sexual abuse distorts foundational realities of what it means to be human: embodied personhood is plundered, delegated authority becomes destructive, sexual expression is perverted, intra-personal trust is shattered, and profound metaphors for God are disfigured.

For theology and ethics, this study argues that elements such as personhood, authority, sexuality, community, and relational trust significantly converge around the image of God (Gen 1:26-27). 2 Understanding violence theologically in sexual abuse has extensive implications. Bringing a fuller biblical understanding of sexual abuse to various ministry contexts will go a long way to create agents of healing.

Sexual abuse is far from a one-dimensional problem. …