Archive | October 2012

Sexual Abuse and the Distortion of Worship – an AJS reblog

There is one question that I never fail to hear in my counseling office when I listen to abuse stories:  “Where was God in the middle of my pain?”

Where was God as the precious six year old girl was being raped by her father, when her mother was being battered, or when her little brother was being thrown down the stairs?  Where was God when she was kept locked in a cold & wet basement for days?  She prayed, she pleaded, but Heaven did not hear her.

Andrew J. Schmutzer has written another wonderful article, copy below, that addresses how trauma impacts a survivor’s concept of God.

Sexual Abuse and the Distortion of Worship

by Andrew J. Schmutzer

There’s another form of trauma from sexual abuse (SA), and one poorly addressed—the bitter upending of one’s faith. “Where was that sovereign God?” “Where were those guardian angels?” “Where are the empathetic people of God willing to listen to my story?” Have you seen this phenomenon or maybe lived it? This is especially traumatic for children in their developmental years, abused by familial and spiritual authorities. I would argue that this fracture of faith is the saddest of SA outcomes for survivors who claimed any faith to begin with. God may be retained for some survivors, but it’s a passive God that remains—a detached and dethroned deity. How do you worship a (“male”) God who did not prevent the plundering of an innocent, vulnerable child? It’s not just female survivors that struggle deeply to worship this God.

This is standard “fallout” for survivors of SA, in large part because the “absentee deity” is the new narrative that greets them at every turn in: the politics of violence, secular therapy offices, internet sites, angry support group leaders, and the sacred silence of the church. Many survivors, steeped in perfectionism and hypervigilance may cling to some form of God—or androgynous “cosmic sacrament”—but the profound spiritual estrangement that now exists between their lived-experience and God stifles any meaningful worship. This loss of worship is directly tied to religious community. As a survivor myself, this collapse of worship among survivors greatly concerns me. As a theologian, I must speak into this.

In part, the specialization in current professional training means that neither counselor nor pastor is adequately educated to address this hybrid of social-theological trauma. Can worship be restored in a twelve-week program? The populist social conviction is that religious systems are inherently flawed, especially those that smack of patriarchy. Is this a stereotype, science, or theology? The need for holistic address of faith and trauma has never been greater—that is my point. But what has happened to religious faith in universities? Where is trauma addressed in seminaries? From one end of the educational spectrum to the other, either God is protected and the victim largely ignored, or the victim takes center stage and God has to walk. It’s likely we’ve all witnessed these extremes. One thing we as professionals must increasingly model is how to disagree at a higher level, valuing inter-disciplinary dialogue in our papers, books, societies, and the classroom. How are therapists or ministers trained to address theological trauma—a whole other kind of healing is necessary! Whenever survivors write off organized faith and their worship dries up, hope will be put in something else, but political platforms aren’t spiritually nourishing.

Why have we separated “finding one’s voice” from “reviving one’s worship?” Understanding how the sin-portfolio operates in sexual abuse goes a long way to helping us understand why survivors struggle so much to worship and talk to God. Sin has its own life cycle, its own environmental logic that moves from: (1) the act, (2) through the resulting guilt, (3) to the perversion that is brought to others as a consequence. As Cornelius Plantinga states it: “[M]oral evil is social and structural as well as personal: it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix” of derived effects—“we both discover evil and invent it; we both ratify and extend it” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 5).

Corruption and evil leads to pollution in the web of relationships and beliefs, and now the distortion of worship becomes more apparent: pollution corrupts by addition, failing to keep apart what should not be mixed. The polluting effect of sin inhibits worship through idolatry. “In idolatry a third party gets in between God and the human person, adulterating an exclusive loyalty” (Ibid, 44). For survivors of SA, the new abusive dynamic compromises the intended relationships by contaminating individuals, severing communities, and so defiling the victim’s proper orientation to God. Third parties are always wedge-shaped (Ibid, 45). As Alistair McFadyen observes: “Sin is therefore living out an active mis-relation to God…so the grounds for genuine joy, are blocked” (Bound to Sin, 149).

Understanding how worship can be disoriented for victims of abuse means helping them wade through the contaminating and toxic effects of sin—whether as self-idolatry or other-idolatry. Both self- and other-idolatry have their unique presentations and addictions. Caring for the abused requires us to bring counter-dynamics into their relational ecosystem. Appropriate healing services for abuse survivors instinctively understand the need for such things as: (1) naming and story-telling, (2) liturgies and memorial, (3) individual safety and corporate grief, (4) and acknowledgement of personal pain and Jesus’ own suffering. These are vital inroads to reawaken the worship of those sitting in silence and suffering from complex PTSD they can’t even explain. What they do know is that their metaphors for God have been crushed. We must help them find new metaphors for God, new rituals, and new vocabulary. To heal a survivor is to restore a community. Healing may take time, even a lifetime. But a survivor’s worship can be renewed and even strengthened by the Good Pardoner and Great Physician. That said, healing from abuse cannot be scripted. And reviving a survivor’s worship may be the most precarious stretch of their healing journey. Many wounded leave the path right here, at the juncture of joy.

Andrew Schmutzer teaches classes in Hebrew language and Old Testament Theology at Moody Bible Institute and is an adjunct instructor at Wheaton College. He is an associate member of the Trauma & Transformation project (McGill University), a contributing editor of Edification, and a co-founder of a support group for abuse survivors called CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation). He recently edited the book The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), He desires an inter-faith dialogue to develop faith-based healing for survivors and (inter-)national policies against sexual abuse.  This article was previously published in Soul and Spirit.


how a mother’s love alters a child’s brain

I was incredibly blessed to be born to a loving mother.  Not all of us were.

Far too many of you sought solace under blankets in closets, or were locked in basements, and were abused in unspeakable ways.  You suffered at the hands of sadist/alcoholic/mentally ill/this list goes on … mothers.  Well, they were women who gave birth to you, perhaps, but they were not “mum” …

Each one of us deserved to have been given a mother’s love, and the following article explains the impact of that love – or lack of – on our emotional development.


How a Mother’s Love Alters a Child’s Brain

By Joseph Castro –

Nurturing a child early in life may help him or her develop a larger hippocampus, the brain region important for learning, memory and stress responses, a new study shows.

Previous animal research showed that early maternal support has a positive effect on a young rat’s hippocampal growth, production of brain cells and ability to deal with stress. Studies in human children, on the other hand, found a connection between early social experiences and the volume of the amygdala, which helps regulate the processing and memory of emotional reactions. Numerous studies also have found that children raised in a nurturing environment typically do better in school and are more emotionally developed than their non-nurtured peers.

Brain images have now revealed that a mother’s love physically affects the volume of her child’s hippocampus. In the study, children of nurturing mothers had hippocampal volumes 10 percent larger than children whose mothers were not as nurturing. Research has suggested a link between a larger hippocampus and better memory.

“We can now say with confidence that the psychosocial environment has a material impact on the way the human brain develops,” said Dr. Joan Luby, the study’s lead researcher and a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. “It puts a very strong wind behind the sail of the idea that early nurturing of children positively affects their development.”

The research is part of an ongoing project to track the development of children with early onset depression. As part of the project, Luby and her colleagues previously measured the maternal support that children — who were ages 3 to 6 and had either symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or no mental health problems — received during a so-called “waiting task.”

The researchers placed mother and child in a room along with an attractively wrapped gift and a survey that the mother had to fill out. The children were told they could not open the present until five minutes had passed — basically until their mothers had finished the survey. A group of psychiatrists, who knew nothing about the children’s health or the parents’ temperaments, rated the amount of support the mothers gave to their children.

A mother who was very supportive, for example, would console her child, explaining that the child had only a few more minutes to wait and that she understands the situation was frustrating. “The task recapitulates what everyday life is like,” Luby told LiveScience, meaning that it gives researchers an idea of how much support the child receives at home.

Now, four years later, the researchers gave MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to 92 children who underwent the waiting task. Compared with non-depressed children with high maternal support, non-depressed children with low support had 9.2 percent smaller hippocampal volumes, while depressed children with high and low support had 6.0 and 10.6 percent smaller volumes, respectively.

Though 95 percent of the parents in the study were the children’s biological mothers, the researchers say that the effects of nurturing on the brain are likely to be the same for any primary caregiver.

Luby and her team will continue following the children as they grow older, and plan to see how other brain regions are affected by parental nurturing during preschool years.

“It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child, but it actually physically changes the brain,” Luby said.

The study was published online (Jan. 30 2011) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Re-blogged from

October 11 – International Day of the Girl

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to recognize the International Day of the Girl,” the first of which is to be held today, October 11, 2012.

So what does this mean?

What does it mean to be born a girl?

In the poorest regions of the world, girls are among the most disadvantaged people on the planet.

  • One billion people live in extreme poverty—70% are women and girls.
  • 67 million children worldwide don’t go to school, over half are girls.
  • One extra year of primary school can mean 10-20% higher wages for a girl.
  • When a girl in the developing world stays in school for seven or more years,
    she’ll marry later and have fewer, healthier children.
  • There are nearly 60 million child brides worldwide. Some as young as 12.
  • Girls who give birth before the age of 15 are five times more likely to die in
    childbirth than women in their twenties.
  • 150 million girls are victims of sexual violence and exploitation.
  • Nearly two-thirds of new HIV infections among youth 15 to 24 are in girls.
  • In a survey for the 2011 Girl Report, 43% of boys agreed with the statement:
    “There are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.”
  • And in the same survey, 60% of children interviewed in India agreed that if
    resources are scarce, it’s better to educate a boy than a girl.
  • $92 billion—that’s the estimated economic loss in countries that do not strive
    to educate girls to the same level as boys.

The International Day of the Girl is about “helping galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” (General Assembly Resolution 12.9.11).  The day is an opportunity to speak against injustices and to advocate for gender equality.  It will be marked on 11 October with a Virtual Summit involving girls from around the world at

If you’d like to make a real difference in the lives of little girls around the world by providing education and health care, support the 4 million girl promise at Because I Am a Girl   If your heart is burdened for children sold into the sex trade, support World Vision‘s incredible ministry to rescue these little ones.

You may feel that you are only one person, so what difference can you make?  When you give, your individual gift joins hands with the gifts of other individuals and you provide opportunity to truly change a life.

“a candle for others”

… so were four of the words used in the statement by Jerry Sandusky yesterday morning, as he proclaimed his innocence.

“I’m responding to the worst loss of my life,” Sandusky said in the interview, which was confirmed as authentic via the Twitter account of one of Sandusky’s attorneys, Karl Rominger.

“First, I looked at myself,” Sandusky continued. “Over and over, I asked, why? Why didn’t we have a fair opportunity to prepare for trial? Why have so many people suffered as a result of false allegations? What’s the purpose? Maybe it will help others; some vulnerable children who could be abused, might not be because of all the publicity.

“That would be nice, but I’m not sure about it. I would cherish the opportunity to become a candle for others, as they have been a light for me. They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they could treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged disgusting acts.”

Sandusky’s sentencing was today, and in that court room he was given 15 minutes to continue to drivel on and blame the victims.  He begs us to “evaluate the accusers,” asks us to question their honesty, suggesting that the victims, in coming to “The Second Mile,” were dishonest in the first place as they came with “issues.”  How dare he.

Yes, these children came with “issues.”   Everyone of them was vulnerable, having been abandoned, abused, or neglected, all victimized in some way, and he knew it.  He preyed on the fragility of these children, every one of them longing for an adult to believe in, to trust, to protect them.

Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to between 30-60 years in prison.   As he is nearing 70, he will die there.  His victims, however, could live much longer than he will, and every single day will suffer the consequences of his betrayal of them.   I wonder how many of them will ever be given a chance to have 15 minutes in a court room, having the world listen to their stories?