Why Abused Voices and Taboo Questions Belong in the Church

Brenna Blain

By Brenna Blain. Learn more about Brenna here, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

“Come on up, Brenna!” 

I sheepishly made my way to the front of the room, weaving through the metal folding chairs full of other antsy 4th and 5th graders. My eyes stayed mainly locked on the floor. 

“Now Brenna,” said the pastor who had called me up, “behind one of these boxes is nothing. But behind the other is a pretty fun treat. I could let you guess, or I could just tell you! You should pick this box. Do you trust me?”

I shook my head no and leaned forward to grab the other box, much to the pastor’s surprise. 

“Brenna…you really don’t trust me?” 

The topic that morning in Sunday school was obedience and trust. Not only can we trust God, the pastor told us, but we can also trust the authorities God has put in our lives (like our parents and pastors). This made my reaction terribly awkward. But it was also deeply revealing. What was supposed to be a straightforward object lesson became a reflection of my own inner wrestling.

Around five months before that Sunday school lesson, I had been molested by another male leader in my life. The God presented to me in Sunday school object lessons and shallow examples was not big enough for my new reality. At least, that was the conclusion I reached during my next six years in the church. God had something to say about little things like white lies and fights with siblings, but never about big problems like abuse or death or infidelity. Those big things were part of my life, but we didn’t talk about them in church—and because they were taboo, they started to feel bigger than God. 

When evangelical kids believe God has nothing to say about their biggest questions, can we blame them for thinking church is irrelevant? That the things of God have no bearing on their daily lives? That the doctrines are outdated?

Either Here or Out There

I was 16 years old the first time I heard about a taboo subject from the pulpit, 17 years old the first time I heard anyone say the words “I was sexually abused” out loud with a Bible in their hand. At that point, I had already decided that church, church people, and this God were not for me. My plan was simple: pretend to like church while I lived with my Christian parents, and then leave it all behind after graduation. After all, the world desired my questions and invited my wrestling far more than the church ever did. 

Every time I took a step of vulnerability with my friends outside of church, I was met with warmth and encouragement. But when I shared the same vulnerable questions with my closest church friends, they starkly responded, “You know this means you are going to hell, right?” The world was waiting with open arms while the church kept theirs crossed. 

You may think topics like sexuality and abuse are too intense for children’s pastors to weave into their curriculum…but we have to look at the reality: 

  • In a recent BBFC survey, 75% of parents surveyed thought their child hadn’t seen pornography online. In reality, 53% of their children reported that they had in fact seen it.
  • 60% of parents surveyed claimed to have discussed pornography with their child. However, very few of the children interviewed said they had had such a conversation.
  • 51% of 11- to 13-year-olds reported that they had seen pornography at some point.
  • According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Children are most vulnerable to child sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.

Christian kids who face these dark realities need to be able to talk about them somewhere—either inside their church, or outside of it. If they decide, like I did, that these topics are too taboo for church, it’s no wonder when they leave to ask their questions somewhere else.

Be Willing to Step into the Dark

By the grace of God, I came to know that Jesus was right where my doubts, questions, and suffering belonged. Like a long-lost friend, Jesus began to meet with me in the early mornings over coffee, listening to my questions about weed and politics. And in the middle of the night, face damp with tears, I would ask Him about my sexuality and abuse, my mental illness and loss. In time, other people joined these terrifying but freeing conversations alongside me and Jesus—most often my mentor, who came with gentleness and a listening ear. Her willingness to look me in the eyes and express empathy, embodying the light we are given from the Holy Spirit, made my dark corners no longer pitch black. 

We have the same opportunity to do for others what my mentor did for me. When we are honest with our stories and struggles under the banner of Christ, we can become someone’s spark. That spark can light the heatless fire pit they’ve been crouched over for who knows how long. I waited for eight years to feel that spark. But oh, the relief and new life that came when I finally realized God cared! 

When we give voice to the gnarly reality of the now-and-not-yet that is our broken world with the hope of Christ, we say to others, “You are seen, not just by us, but also by your Creator.” When we acknowledge sexual brokenness in all forms from the pulpit or choose to tackle difficult topics in youth group, we are saying, “God cares about the wounds and wonderings of your heart. He has freedom and comfort and answers for you. He has patience to hear you, right where you are.” 

After five years of vocational ministry devoted to asking hard and taboo questions in faith settings, I am still stunned by the way people are surprised that God has something to say about these things. But as we say out loud the questions people have only ever voiced in their hearts, we show that our doubts, questions, and suffering aren’t threats to our faith. In fact, when we’re honest about these things, our honesty brings all of us closer to the person of God. 

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