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Healing the Wound of Sexual Abuse: Reading the Bible with Survivors

by Elaine A. Heath

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.

I am reviewing Healing the Wound of Sexual Abuse as the McCarrick report is released to the public. It is over 450 pages and has captured the attention of all. There are many who are writing opinion pieces. I don’t know enough about laicized McCarrick to comment except that it is a tragedy in the Church that we will have to deal with. Heath gives us a book that is really grounded in two commitments: first that the Bible can be a powerful source of healing for survivors of abuse, and second, that survivors who are healing have essential theological wisdom that the whole church needs in order to be the people God has called us to be in this world.

The process of healing from abuse is different for every survivor. While there are thresholds of healing that are common to survivors, every path to wholeness is unique. In Heath’s book she will consider several passages from the Bible that have proven to be profoundly healing for myself and other survivors with whom I have journeyed. Often in the chapters ahead I refer to ‘us survivors’ and how ‘we’ read a particular text. In doing so I am referring to the actual survivors with whom I have experienced healing through that text. I do not presume to speak for every survivor everywhere or to think that my own experience or what I have written is the only way people can heal. To protect the privacy if persons involved, Heath has changed names and identifying details of the stories and individuals in the book, while preserving the issues, theological insights and healing that took place.

While Heath feels deeply grateful for the healing power of the Bible in her life and the lives of many others, for some survivors the Bible will never be accessible. In some cases it is virtually impossible for survivors to participate in religious practices, go the church, or read the Bible because of the residual effects of their trauma. The barriers to meaningful interaction with the text are even higher if they have experienced ritual abuse that uses religious objects in the abuse, or if the offender was a pastor, priest, youth leader, or Sunday school teacher. In these situation survivors’ spiritual care involves the same respect, compassion, and encouragement any survivor needs. It is never appropriate to try to force someone to heal by using the Bible, prayer, church attendance or other aspects of religion. We can be sure tht in such cases the love of God is mediated with power as pastors, friends, and other caring persons incarnate the message of the gospel for the survivors, becoming the living text of love that survivors need. Love will heal many wounds that written works cannot. Indeed, without love the words of the Bible become ‘noisy gongs’ and ‘Clanging cymbals’ ((1Cor. 13:1)

At the start of each chapter, Heath has included two sets of reflection questions, one set for survivors and another for companions of survivors, as well as a list of recommended activities. The author hopes and prays that this book will help therapists, pastors, and survivors’ loved ones to understand how the Bible can help to heal the wounds of sexual abuse. Most of all she prays that the book will bring hope, healing and freedom to all who read it. The stories are moving and powerful and draw us to the importance of healing in light of sexual abuse.

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