Understanding Sexual Abuse: A guide for ministry leaders and survivors has been on my ‘to read’ list since 2018 when it came out. Its author, Tim Hein, was a pastor at the church I attended in my later-high school and uni years and has continued to have a fruitful pastoral ministry as well as training leaders in the Uniting Church of Australia.
In the book Tim shares from his own experience and his wife Priscilla’s as they are both survivors of childhood sexual abuse and ministry leaders. However, he does not go into detail about the abuse they experienced:
First, I’m not going to go into the specific details of our actual abuse experiences. You don’t have to be afraid that you’ll turn a page and suddenly be confronted by vivid details. The purpose of this book is to empower and inform, not to shock you. I share about my feelings and the facts of my life journey, but nothing more. You are safe in that regard.
Second, I want to dispel a myth that many victims of abuse spin constantly around in our minds: namely, that “What happened to me probably wasn’t as bad as what happened to them.” Sometimes we feel that we are not worthy of the attention and care that our pain desperately requires, compared to the horrible things we hear from other victims. That’s another reason I’m not sharing the specific details of our experiences. Trying to compare painful experiences is a profound mistake. … Survivors and Christian leaders both need to hear this clearly: every incident of abuse is traumatic. Downplaying our abuse almost always adds to our trauma.
This kind of pastoral sensitivity and wisdom saturates the book.
In the opening chapters, Tim covers what abuse is and why it is so powerful. Throughout the book he refuses to shy away from acknowledging the long-term impacts of childhood sexual abuse, including those with which he continues to contend. Tim makes himself vulnerable in order to validate other survivors and to bring insight to ministry leaders.
In chapter 3, ‘Breaking the Power of Secrets’, substantial attention is given to what it is like to disclose abuse and the role ministry leaders ought to play, especially how they can empower survivors.
Chapter 5 on forgiveness ought to be read by every Christian minister for its theological depth and astute application, especially the comments on how much of the preaching on forgiveness can sound to survivors. Likewise the reflections on apologetics in chapter 6 and corporate worship in chapter 7. The section on Christ’s trauma and Communion has the potential to be a consolation to survivors so will also benefit ministry leaders.
In the final chapter, Tim shares the tips and advice that he and Priscilla have gathered as they learn to “walk unafraid”. There is so much wisdom and hope here.
I thought I would find this book harder to read than I did. In the hands of a lesser theologian or more inexperienced pastor this subject material would have felt very different. This is also an elegant book, simultaneously profound in content and simple in style of communication. I agree with Deb Hirsch, who in the foreword describes it as “a courageous gift”.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.