Responding to the spiritual impact

Although most people are aware of the physical and emotional toll of child abuse, many do not appreciate the spiritual impact of abusing children. According to 34 major studies involving more than 19,000 abused children, a majority of them were impacted spiritually as a result of maltreatment.

In some cases, this happens when an offender uses religion in the abuse of a child. An offender may tell a child he is being beaten because of the child’s sinfulness. An abuser may cite a child’s biological reaction to sexual touching as proof the child is equally to blame for their own victimization. Even if a child is not abused in the name of religion, many children have spiritual questions about the abuse. For example, a child may wonder why God did not answer a prayer to stop the abuse.

If the church does not help abused children suffering spiritually, research suggests that many of them will eventually leave the church, even abandon their faith. Out of ignorance, perhaps out of our own sinful weakness, the church has often ignored the needs of these children.

To better prepare our called workers to address the sin of child abuse, all students in the pastor or teacher tracks at Martin Luther College and students at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary receive several hours of training in recognizing and responding to cases of child abuse. In addition, Freedom for the Captives continues to develop materials to improve the ability of our churches to address the needs of abused children in our congregations and communities. See Standing Up for Children online training materials, resources for creating policies to prevent abuse, and spiritual resources for survivors, available on this website or by e-mailing

In addressing the sin of child abuse, God has given our churches multiple resources, including:

  1. Child protection policies. Some studies indicate that most child molesters are religious, and that the most egregious sex offenders are often active members of their church. One reason many sex offenders like to go to church is because the faith community often has weak child protection policies in its schools, Sunday school programs, sports programs, and camps. If your school or church does not have rigorous child protection policies, or if you are simply not sure, it is important to speak with one or more child abuse experts who can assist you in implementing or improving your policies.
  2. Training. Policies that are not accompanied by training are often ineffective. To address this, pastors, teachers, and church youth workers should be trained in recognizing and responding to abuse and in understanding the importance of policies in deterring offenders. It is also critical to provide personal safety instruction to children in our Lutheran schools so that children know what to do if someone sexually abuses them or otherwise violates them. When done appropriately, education of this kind is not frightening and may empower a child being abused to reach out to a teacher or pastor for help.
  3. Sermons. Many survivors have said they never went to their pastor for help because they never heard him give a sermon about abuse, mention the topic in Bible class or in any other manner. Many survivors believe the pastor simply won’t understand their pain and, like the offender, will blame them for the abuse. In a similar vein, many offenders sit snugly in the pews completely confident the church will never speak out against the sin of child abuse because the subject is uncomfortable, and Satan has convinced us not to cause a ruffle. For the sake of the Gospel, we need to change this dynamic.

Jesus cared deeply for children and said it would be better to be tossed in the sea with a millstone around our neck than to damage the faith of a boy or girl (Mattew 18:6). When it comes to the sin of child abuse, our Savior’s warning has often fallen on deaf ears. As a result, children have suffered needlessly and offenders are emboldened to strike again.

In recognition of our Christian obligation, and fully aware our Savior will one day ask us to give an accounting of the children he has placed in our care, we must pray for and act on behalf of these children.

Victor Vieth is a former child abuse prosecutor who is currently the Director of Education & Research for the Zero Abuse Project

For confidential, compassionate professional Christian counseling, contact WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions at (800) 438-1772.

Speaking with Survivors has Changed my Life

4 Positive Reasons to Talk about Abuse

As I think about you, the reader, I imagine that you are probably one of two people. Either you are a survivor of abuse, which means you are most likely suffering in silence. Or you are a friend of a survivor. You had no idea that some of your closest friends are survivors of abuse. Of course, if your friend would have told you, you would have prayed with them and helped them in whatever way possible. But neither of you ever had this conversation because you didn’t think abuse was that common. (That’s why I wrote my previous post.) But now you know, and one of the most powerful things you can do is talk about this difficult topic with the people closest to you.

At first, that might terrify both of you. If you are a survivor, you are probably filled with shame because your experience embedded a lie deep within your soul. The lie is: “you are a mistake.” And that lie has kept you silent. If you are a friend of a survivor, you might feel nervous or unqualified to even bring up this sensitive subject.

I want to challenge both of you to push beyond your fears because this conversation will be a blessing to both of you.

This conversation will be a blessing to the survivor. Shame feeds on the isolation and secrecy like mold multiplying on a dark, damp basement floor. When a survivor can speak about their abuse, they might be able to see the truth: they are somebody. They were created by God, and deserve to be heard and loved, and most importantly, hat happened to them is not their fault.

This conversation will be a blessing to the friend. When I started speaking with survivors I realized almost immediately that they were changing me. They were teaching me about Jesus and real love and grace. They were making me into a better pastor, person, and parent. Here’s what I mean…
How have survivors changed my life?

  1. Survivors have made me a better preacher. Jesus said, “I came to preach freedom for the captives.” There is no one who feels more captive than those who have been abused. I thought I was preaching in a way that set people free, but survivors have been honest with me. They have told me, “I hear what you are preaching pastor, but I just don’t think it applies to me.”

So now when I get up to preach, I imagine that I’m speaking to those who are drowning in shame and guilt. If the Holy Spirit can give me the words to let them know the love of God in Jesus Christ applies to them, then I believe everyone in the congregation will be edified.

  1. Survivors have made me a better counselor. Jesus said, “I came to bind up the brokenhearted.” There is no one more brokenhearted than survivors of abuse. In the past, when I saw someone indulging in destructive behaviors, I wanted to pounce on those sins. But now I know there is probably something behind the outward behavior.

Survivors have taught me to slow down and ask more questions. Drugs, alcohol, anger, and promiscuity are usually not the problem. There is probably a root cause that is much deeper. So even if I’m speaking with someone who is not a survivor of abuse, I know now to slow down and say, “Tell me more…”

  1. Survivors have taught me to be wise. Jesus said, “Be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.” That means you may love everyone, but you don’t need to trust everyone. Survivors have taught me how to do that.

For example, a couple years ago I was taking a young couple through a pre-marriage class. A week before the wedding, the young man told me, “By the way, you might see in the paper that I have a court date coming up right after the wedding. There was an incident involving my fiancé’s sister. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I took the plea deal to make it go away.”

Survivors have taught me to watch out for people who begin conversations with “Oh, by the way…” This case didn’t involve child abuse, but still, I told the man I still would not marry them until he made a clear confession of his sins.

  1. Survivors have taught me how to be a better parent. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Survivors have taught me that they were robbed of their deepest needs of love, acceptance, and security. I think about that when I discipline my children.

A few years ago I was having a really hard time with our daughter.. She was about 6 or so at the time. The whole day she was being defiant, so she sat in one “time-out” after another. But by the end of the day, I thought about what she needed most. When I tucked her into bed I told her, “My dear , today was hard, and tomorrow will be better. But nothing you did today changes the fact that Jesus loves you and I love you very much.” Like a fever that finally broke, this stone-cold girl started to cry and gave me a hug.

What is your next step?

Abuse is against God’s will and is always wrong, wicked, and damaging. But those people who have been courageous enough to tell me their story have changed my life. Now it’s your turn.

If you are a survivor…I encourage you to talk to one of your good friends. Be honest. Tell them how worried and vulnerable you feel about telling your story. Tell them how you need help and healing and prayer.

If you are a friend… you probably don’t know which of your friends are struggling with shame and guilt from abuse. You might post this blog to your Facebook page. Or you may email it to a number of your friends saying, “This post really made me think, so I wanted to share it with others.” Your friend who struggles just might see that you are a safe person to talk to. Listening to their story will help them, but it will bless you in ways you never imagined.

Take these steps today, before shame and fear keep you in the darkness. When you do, you will be blessed.

Benjamin Sadler

If God is good

I want you to trust every word of the Bible . . .

. . . even from the very first page.

I believe the main objection to Christianity is not scientific. You see, much of the debate around Christianity today is not whether you can trust in Jesus as your Savior but whether you can trust in God as your Creator, especially in our scientific age.

But answering scientific objections to Christianity is fairly easy. In fact, if you deny Genesis 1, you also have to deny scientific facts like everything comes from something and only life can produce life.

Therefore, I believe, the main objection to Christianity is not scientific.

The main objection to Christianity is experiential.

We all know there is a God. But our real questions are “Do I like him?” and “Can I trust him?”

Can I trust in a God who would let my child die of cancer? Can I praise a God who allowed me to be sexually abused? Can I follow a God who allows so much evil in our world?

How can I love God, if I don’t even like him?

Basically, we all want to know, “Why would a good God allow so much evil in our lives?”

Here is my attempt to answer the problem of evil so that you would love and trust in him.

1. Why did God create evil? According to the Bible, God did not create evil. When he created the world, everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). God did not create evil because evil cannot be “created.” “Evil” is a lot like “darkness” and “cold.”

Let me explain.

Just like darkness cannot be created. Darkness is the absence of light.

And just like cold cannot be created. Cold is just the absence of heat.

In the same way, evil cannot be created. Evil is just the absence of good.

Evil is the absence of God and his loving presence.

2. If God didn’t create evil, where did it come from? God gave his greatest creatures the greatest freedom. When he created spiritual beings like angels and humans, they had the capacity to freely choose to love God and all that is good. Instead, the devil and other angels abused their freedom and tried to take God’s place in order to lead the whole world astray (Revelation 12:9).

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they cooperated with the devil’s plan. Humans tried to dethrone God and set up themselves as the judges of right and wrong, good and evil. And humans are horrible at defining good and evil; just think of people like Hitler and Stalin.

3. So why doesn’t God get rid of all evil people? At one time, God did get rid of all the cruel people of the world. He sent a worldwide flood, and the Hitlers and Stalins of old were all washed away.

Righteous Noah and his family survived. And you would expect the world to become “very good” again. But it wasn’t. Noah and his family were infected with the same venom of sin as the rest of humanity.

You see, if God really got rid of all evil people, if he just snapped his fingers and they were all gone . . .

. . . then who would be left?

Not me.

Not you.

4. What is God going to do about evil? Instead of destroying all evil people, he set up a plan. God himself decided to enter history as a human being in Jesus Christ. He never did anything that was evil. But he lived a truly good life. Yet, as God, he decided to absorb all the world’s evil into himself. He let evil crush him on the cross.

And this story seemed to be a tragedy, but then three days later, he rose from the dead, testifying to his victory over evil.

God is not the author of evil.

The devil and humans are.

Although we struggle to understand why God would allow evil when he could stop it, we can look to the cross and see his ultimate judgment on evil.

I pray that the Holy Spirit would show you Jesus. And in Jesus you would find a God that you could love again.


Benjamin Sadler

100 Percent of People are Affected by Abuse

How you can help protect children and support survivors.

Some statistics are so staggering you just can’t un-see them. That’s how I felt at a conference two years ago on child protection. The main speaker revealed two facts that were so astounding that, after hearing them, I knew that I would never be the same.

1 out of every 4 women and 1 out of every 6 men have been or will be abused. At first, I couldn’t wrap my head around those numbers. That meant that about a quarter of my congregation were probably survivors, a quarter of my friends and neighbors were probably survivors, and a quarter of my community were probably survivors. And now I know that probably a quarter of you reading this are survivors.

But how could that be? If those numbers are accurate (and they are probably low), then why is nobody talking about this? Well, here is another statistic: almost 100% of survivors are suffering in silence.

Survivors of abuse are much more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, live sexually promiscuous lives, and suffer from a myriad of other mental, emotional, and physical problems. (See ACE study). When a child is abused they are told the most sinister lie: You are nothing but a tool for my pleasure. That lie implants a feeling of unquenchable shame. Shame is different from guilt. Recently, I listened to a psychologist explain the difference. She said, “Guilt is feeling bad because I made a mistake. Shame, on the other hand, is feeling bad because I believe I am a mistake.”

Shame is such a debilitating feeling that we will do almost anything to silence it.

After hearing this statistic, I was convinced I had been doing much of my ministry all wrong. Some of the people that I was serving were running to drugs, sex, and alcohol, not to escape God, but to escape and cope with shame. In most of those cases, they needed to hear about the love of God, not the law of God.

The world is a dark place, but with the help of God, you can be a light in the midst of darkness.

How to protect children and help survivors?

1. Establish and enforce a child protection policy at your church.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). He also said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

Jesus is serious about caring for and protecting children, so should we. One way your church can do that is through a child protection policy, making sure everyone who has significant contact with children has had a background check, and make sure no child is ever left with just one adult.

2. Support survivors in your circle of influence

In John 4, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at the well. Her checkered past seems to resemble someone who had been abused or harmed. Look at how Jesus treated her. He showed patience and love as he pointed her to the living waters of God’s love. Then he spent time addressing her besetting sins.

Most survivors are suffering in silence. So what if you followed Jesus’ example by being open to the hurting around you, and then listen with patience and care? There is probably more to the story of your friend and relatives that you don’t know about.  If you are looking for tools to help survivors check out

3. Support and volunteer with organizations who protect children and help survivors

Many worthy organizations that protect children and help survivors already exist. You or your church can partner with them. Our congregation works with an organization called “Care in Action”. Through this program, we have adopted a social worker. The social worker filters needs to our church so we can help families with children in our own community.

Another example of partnership: we heard of an organization that helps troubled teenage girls who have been exposed to abuse. The group was looking to open a home for girls in our city to help them move forward. We told people about their work and encouraged people to help them open this resource. We may be able to share resources from Freedom for the Captives with them.

Finally, if you are a survivor…

Odds are that either you or someone very close to you is suffering in silence. It doesn’t have to be this way. Stuffing the trauma will not make it go away. It will keep rising to the surface like a balloon that’s push to the bottom of a pool. So I encourage you to take the bold step of speaking to a Christian Counselor or seeking out an understanding pastor today. You don’t need to be scared anymore, and if the first person you talk to doesn’t help, find someone who will.

You need to know: It was not your fault. You matter. Your pain matters to God. He is here to lead you on the path of healing.

That truth will begin to set you free.

Benjamin Sadler