The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused

Written by Andrew J. Schmutzer, ed Reviewed By Paul C. Maxwell

In unprecedented fashion, Andrew Schmutzer, Old Testament scholar and theologian, accords us a collaborative, interdisciplinary work on sexual abuse (SA). He seeks to help survivors of SA understand their abuse and experience healing, as well as to give their community the appropriate tools to provide succor for the process.

SA literature too often takes on predictably unhelpful genre-forms, appearing as either that of (1) indiscernible meta-analyses of surveys and statistics in befuddling academic journals, or (2) barbed and pugnacious treatises against one institution or another. Although sophisticated and savvy, such strategies are ineffective: they rarely reach survivors of SA in a helpful way.

The audience that needs helpful literature can neither be relegated to clinical psychologists with a niche interest, nor to those who wield their platform for ranting against all forms of power. In a 2005 study, David Finkelhor, Professor of Sociology at University of New Hampshire, suggests that 30–40% of girls and 13% of boys experience sexual abuse during childhood in America. “Unfortunately,” Schmutzer comments, “some of the best research on SA never filters down to the abused” (p. xiii). This concern sufficiently encapsulates the aim of the book.

There are three ways in which The Long Journey Home uniquely accomplishes the aim of reaching the abused with this helpful information. First, it represents the contributions of thirteen women and thirteen men of all dialectical “stripes” (feminist/complementarian, integrationist/biblical counseling, for starters; clans who do not play well together), each providing concise and clearly written articles on their topic of expertise. The product is a cogent, holistic program of self-understanding and growth for the survivor of SA.

The point is this: despite the historic difficulty of relating psychology and theology between competing views, there are no partisan polemics here. This unique ecumenical tone allows the book to own a constructive voice. It is informed and creative in a way that Christian SA literature has not been able to manifest due to rising temperatures betwixt competing tribes.

Second, the three disciplines that converge in this unique volume are clinical, theological, and pastoral. That convergence allows the book to overcome constant qualifications about the disciplinary limits that encumber current SA literature. Schmutzer notes that the preponderance of literature on SA before writing the book had been “social surveys, gender studies, and books by ‘group-x’ for ‘group-x’ regarding ‘group-x,’ but very little discussion on SA that intentionally valued other professions and showed it in generous dialogue” (p. xiii). The Long Journey Home offers this kind of open and generous exchange across fields and specializations.

Clinically, it is an instructive resource on definitions of SA, systems theory in families that accommodate SA, offender typologies, and the effects of trauma. Theologically, the compendium places SA in its biblical-theological context, interprets OT rape laws for today, and explores the issue of SA and theodicy. Pastorally, the book provides helpful directions for living with a survivor in one’s nuclear family, the role of the church in healing, and liturgical resources to aid a church in holding special services for survivors. Finally, the book concludes with stories of survivors, prayers for survivors, web-based resources for those seeking help, and a glossary of any potentially obscure terms (in the body of the text, these terms appear with a marking). Schmutzer effectively creates a new genre of SA literature—for the academic and the uneducated survivor—that has unforeseeable and untapped potential for the future of the church catholic’s collective effort to understand SA.

Third, the book’s strongest feature is that, while appropriately recognizing the dangers of power and the potential institutional manipulation from within the church, it is self-consciously a positive, Christian guide to understanding and ministering to survivors for the church. The cynicism and unimpressive backhandedness against the church that embarrasses much SA literature today is not present. Instead, there is a conscious interdisciplinary step forward for a broad readership: pastors, therapists, friends, and most importantly, survivors. The work strikes a sane balance between providing structural and organizational insight to the church for helping survivors of SA, as well as conceptual and spiritual guidance for the growth and healing of the individual survivor.

“The way abuse disorients the survivor’s relationship to God is devastating,” Schmutzer notes. Yet he insists, “The community of the redeemed can truly be the healing family for the sexually broken. The moral order among God’s citizens is to be a foretaste of mystery restored” (p. 133). The church is secular culture’s favorite scapegoat. One unique contribution to the dialogue, of which there are many in the book, is that The Long Journey Home champions a positive ecclesiology in addressing the issue of SA in which the church is the unique context for connecting the gospel to the process of healing.

Public discourse about SA has often been driven by uninformed notions of abuse and trauma, which evidences the need for this type of work. For example, Jerry Sandusky’s lawyer made the defense, “The time that elapsed between the molestation and initial report is striking,” later commenting that such a delay casts reasonable doubt on the credibility of such reports, as though reporting SA were the same as reporting a burglary.

This is a clear indication that Americans need education on the nature of SA and its effects. They need to understand (1) traumatic amnesia, (2) the psychological cost of childhood betrayal, (3) the developmental effects SA has on a child’s social capacities, and especially (4) how all of these culminate in understanding the struggles of adult survivors of childhood SA (CSA).

One of the authors comments, “The church has a unique position in helping the victims of sexual abuse to understand their sexual identity along with their identity in Christ. Trained counselors can help survivors of sexual abuse explore the ramifications of CSA and establish their sexual identity.” She adds, “Pastoral care workers can be better trained to understand the issues related to sexual abuse and create a welcoming environment in the church for victims to heal” (p. 100).

Besides Sandusky’s lawyer, another example of misguided public emphasis is that Roman Catholic clergy have been stigmatically concretized in the limelight as one of the largest groups of pedophiles. Yet sociologist A. W. R. Sipe has reported that only 6% of Catholic priests have ever had a sexual experience with a minor. By comparison, in a 2010 report to Congress on child abuse, Andrea J. Sedlak reported that 37% of CSA cases are parent-child in nature, and another 23% are stepparent-child in nature, locating approximately 60% of CSA cases in the nuclear family. Coordinating this statistic with the prevalence rates of CSA noted earlier, the data indicates that roughly 25% of nuclear family-settings for children internally accommodate some form of CSA.

In light of those statistics, Schmutzer’s aim to integrate the church into the process of healing for the abuser is not merely wishful thinking for the church, oft-characterized as a morally decrepit and power-hungry institution. On the contrary, it is a statistically informed, theologically motivated strategic emphasis to protect survivors from future abuse, and to bring necessary balance to multiple appropriate contexts—therapy, recovery groups, and even the church—for healing and growth. All institutionalized power is suspect, and yet a survivor in solitude will often socially, emotionally, and even physically self-destruct. The Long Journey Home constructively satisfies both of these concerns with balanced research and practical helps.

Due to the potential consequences for survivors of misspeaking about them or their struggle, the conversation about SA is a powder keg for political incorrectness and personal offense. Yet such explosive dangers must not blockade the church’s effort to address the consequences and effects of SA. Unhindered in tone by misguided pessimism of many social activists, and unbewildered in its appropriation and application of psychological academia, Schmutzer and company have made such an effort. They have enfleshed Tolkien’s adage with life-giving content, “Not all who wander are lost.”

Paul C. Maxwell

Paul C. Maxwell
Westminster Theological Seminary
Glenside, Pennsylvania, USA

Other Articles in this Issue

Too often people think of the Reformation in terms of an abstract theological debate...

Abstract: Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, edited by Christopher Hays and Christopher Ansberry, argues that evangelical scholars have failed to embrace historical criticism to the extent that they could and should...

Thomas Prince, editor of The Christian History—the first religious periodical in American history—could hardly have invented the Great Awakening, as Frank Lambert argues...

Theology is first and foremost about who God is and then about what he has done...

I would like to consider several elements in reviewing Bray’s work...