Grace: The Gospel’s Answer to Disgrace
About the Guest
Does the sexual abuse you suffered make you feel like a disgrace? Pastor Justin Holcomb, a sexual abuse victim himself, explains how God turns our disgrace into grace. Justin defines what sexual abuse is, and tells parents some things to tell their daughters to lessen their chances of being sexually assaulted. Justin also tells what to do should sexual assault occur.
Justin HolcombJustin is an Episcopal priest (serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida) and teaches theology, philosophy, and Christian thought at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He previously taught at the University of Virginia and Emory University. Justin serves on the boards of REST (Real Escape from the Sex Trade) and GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments). He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary...more
Does the sexual abuse you suffered make you feel like a disgrace?
Grace: The Gospel’s Answer to Disgrace
Bob: Justin Holcomb says, “Our definition of what constitutes sexual assault may be too narrow.” He says, “There are teenagers who experienced sexual assault who maybe didn’t even realize that’s what it was when it was happening.”
Justin: I’ve had in my counseling office—I’ve had people who’ve said, “This is how I am feeling.” They’ve started describing the effects of sexual assault. I would ask gently, “Has there been any instances of abuse: emotional, physical?” and I’d throw in, “sexual” in the mix of the list I’m giving people. They would say, “Well, there was this—when I was 16, there was this boy under the bleachers.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, October 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today with Justin Holcomb about what constitutes sexual abuse and about whether you may have experienced it in your past. Stay tuned.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We are dealing this week with a subject that is a sensitive subject. One of the reasons that we are spending some time with this—even though it is uncomfortable and sensitive—and again, something you may not want to have kids tuned into; but it is so prevalent, Dennis. It’s so much a part of the experience of so many people; and yet, it’s not talked about very often. We just feel there is a real need to address this subject and look at what the Scriptures have to say about it.
Dennis: Right. We are going to talk about sexual assault. Just as we get started here, before I introduce our guest, I just have to wonder if this sexually-saturated culture we live in, with all the pornography on the internet, with now, not just a decade, but decades of promiscuous behavior and warped thinking around sex.
You just have to wonder if this is not a huge problem across our nation—people, who have been sexually-assaulted, and who, as our guest has said, have really been imprisoned in their blame and really feeling shameful about what happened. We’re hoping that perhaps this will give folks a biblical grid, a way of processing this, to find a way of hope.
I want to welcome our guest, Justin Holcomb, back to FamilyLife Today. Justin, thanks for taking the journey all the way from the Northwest, down to Little Rock, Arkansas. We’re glad you came.
Justin: It’s my pleasure to be here and talking about the Gospel and how it applies to this kind of suffering. Thank you.
Dennis: Justin was, until yesterday, one the pastoral staff of Mars Hill Church in Seattle when we—
Bob: When you declared him senior pastor—
Dennis: Senior pastor taking over for Mark Driscoll— (Laughter)
Justin: I did preach once—no, twice, in the past two years.
Dennis: That’s good! That’s good. I’m sorry I cost you your job, though. I’m kidding on all that.
He and his wife, Lindsey, have been married since 2006. They have two daughters, and they have coauthored a book called Rid of My Disgrace. Explain the title because you’ve got a line—the cover is black and in white you have “Rid of My Disgrace,” but you have a red line through the words “Rid of My Dis” and “Grace” is in white.
Justin: And it is bold.
Justin: It’s on purpose. It is straight from 2 Samuel 13. Tamar was assaulted by her brother. That was the question that she had after she was sinned against, “Who will rid me of my disgrace?” We answer that question, “Jesus is the One who will rid you of your disgrace.”
What we wanted people to see on the title is the whole message of the book—that there is disgrace by what happened; and the Gospel rids it. It erases it, and all it leaves is grace—louder and bolder than the disgrace that was there.
Bob: As you address this subject, you’re expanding the whole idea of sexual assault. You really define it with a little broader definition because we sometimes minimize what has been sexual victimization in our lives, don’t we?
Justin: Absolutely. We’re actually using legal and counseling definitions. It is any sexual contact or behavior that is without consent and that has been obtained through threat, force, manipulation, or coercion.
So, what happens is—the stereotype of what sexual assault is—is “stranger with a weapon, in the bushes in the dark”; and that’s about 20 percent of sexual assault cases. Most of them, 80 percent, know their perpetrator. Most don’t have weapons. They don’t need weapons because they use something that is sometimes more forceful, which is coercion, threat, the threat of shaming, or threat of violence.
If we have a narrow definition, we are leaving out a large scope of people who have had devastating things happen to them; but the only category they have is, “Some dark, gross thing that happened to me,” without being able to say, “That was sexual assault; that was sin.” You were sinned against. That wasn’t an unfortunate thing that happened.
Dennis: One of the things we were talking about before we turned the microphones on—you were saying that not only is it not necessarily children, and young girls who are being sexually abused, and young boys—but this goes all the way into the teenage years?
Dennis: Girls are vulnerable at what age? What’s their most vulnerable age?
Justin: Sixteen to 19-year-old girls are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of sexual assault.
Dennis: I want to stop you there. Every parent ought to be listening up at this point. Four times more likely between the ages of 16 to 19. Here is the thing—I’ve gotten criticized for writing a book a number of years ago called Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date.
It got criticized as being heavy-handed or being legalistic. Well, it was never intended to be used like that. What it is intended to do is call daddies to engage with the young men and to say, “You know what, young man? I’m entrusting my daughter to you for an evening; and as you go out on a date, I want you to know I’m going to hold you accountable for how you treat her.” Now, you and I both know that does not guarantee that there won’t be sexual assault—
Dennis: —but I’ve got to believe if more dads would do that, the reputation spreads throughout school. “Hey, you don’t go near that girl because behind her is Dad. He wants to talk to you.” I know one dad who interviewed the young man. The young man, in the interview, said he wanted to be a fireman when he got out of high school. So, when his daughter went on the date with the guy, he sent a fire extinguisher with her to set in the front sit between them. (Laughter)
Okay? So, I know what we’re talking about here is kind of funny at a point; but at another point it is really dangerous. Parents have to realize that their daughters are vulnerable. As far as that goes, their sons, too.
I want you to talk for just a moment about date rape and how prevalent it is today in high school and on the college campus.
Justin: Acquaintance rape and date rape—I mean, it is the same thing. It is commonly known as date rape, which basically means that usually a young woman with a friend—a date or just an acquaintance—those are the people who are most likely to assault her. The people who know her—that there is a closeness with—they are not strangers.
What happens is—this is where a lot of confusion takes place because if there is coercion or the threat, as we talked about earlier, or even if there is—let’s say they are kissing; and consent for one level of physical intimacy isn’t consent for everything. So, what ends up happening frequently is the young lady will say, “Yes. Kiss, hug; and see what happens.”
Then, she’ll change her mind and say, “I want to stop right here. I don’t want to go any further.” The myth is that sexual assault is all biology now—it is about sex. It is mostly about control and power, though. What happens is the myth—we kind of explain that by, “Well, you got the guy’s engine revving; so, what’s he supposed to do? Just turn it off?” Well, “Yes.” Sexual assault is not mostly about sex; it’s mostly about control, power, and domination.
So, what ends up happening is that the young man will start pushing, pressuring, whining, threatening. So, for whatever reason, more happens. Then, the young lady will then start thinking, “Well, I let that happen. I let that happen. I’m responsible for that.” She starts embodying that. That’s where a lot of the confusion comes in.
If it was a stranger, you can point and say, “I didn’t want that. That was evil.” If it is someone that you actually wanted to spend time with or that you’re friends with, “Why did I let my guard down? I was wearing a dress, and I guess that’s my responsibility.” They start taking on the responsibility that is the perpetrator’s.
Dennis: Okay, I want to go back to the parents again. You’re a dad of two girls. Now, they are really young right now; but someday they are going to be—they are going to be in the target age range, 16 to19. Without creating some paranoia and fear of never spending anytime with the opposite sex and having deep relationships where you trust the other person, what are you going to say to your daughters about lessening their possibility of experiencing date rape?
Justin: You start before they start dating. You don’t start being a dad when there’s just some boy knocking on your door. You start when they’re born. That’s step one. You love them well, consistently, and persistently early on. You don’t just kind of kick into like, “Okay, well, it is game time because there is some guy that wants to date my daughter. I’m getting my shot gun. Ha Ha, Ha.” You start, you plan to raise that young lady with wisdom and grace.
My first daughter’s name is Sophia Grace on purpose—praying for wisdom. Second one is Zoey, which is “life.” Wisdom and grace—I’m wanting both of them! That’s what I want them to experience.
So, my wife and I are realistic about sin in the world, darkness, and devastation. So, at the appropriate ages, you start talking about this. You don’t make it sound like it is something that never happens. You talk about divorce. Some mommies and daddies don’t stay together. That’s why some of your friends—their parents aren’t together. You talk about some of the things that happen at the appropriate times.
So, when you talk about sex, you talk about how are babies made, and then body parts. You start to talk about some of the things that are not enjoyable to talk about. You say, “This is a gift from God.” What happens is: Since the Fall, Satan has taken the gift that God has given for you and your husband—he is going to try to twist that as many ways as possible.
So, the very thing that was a picture of God’s goodness, shalom, and peace together, is actually one of the most powerful things to hurt you and cause devastation. So, be on your look out for that. Then, you give them the basic stuff, and you give them the how-to’s: “Don’t walk at night,” and, “Stay in communication with us.”
We started now, actually, practically—I love wrestling and tickling my little girls, but we taught our little girls to say, “Stop,” and, “No more,” and even sign language. So, if I am tickling my daughter—so, tickling my daughters—my fingers touching her body. As soon as she says, “Stop,” stop immediately! So, I want to instill that in her at a pretty early age. I’m thinking about this already. We’re planning for it now. I’ve got some conversations that I will have in the next 17 years.
Bob: We’ve been talking about teenage girls who are victimized by teenage boys. We live in a culture today where teenage girls are being taught to be sexual aggressors—not just to be victims, but to pursue.
Bob: It’s a whole different mindset. There are teenage boys who are having to learn how to say, “No,” to the strong advances of teenage girls.
Justin: There are boys who have been threatened to be outed, “If you don’t do this, I’ll tell everyone you are gay; and they’ll all believe me.”
Going back to what we talked about very early on, just about the highly-sexualized culture. The fact that: 27 percent—almost one third of sexual addicts to pornography— are women or females. So, we’ve opened the flood gates in—most boys and girls see pornography, I think, the average age is 11. I mean, it’s dropping every year. It’s getting younger and younger. The last time I checked, a few months ago, it was 11 years old. We’ve poisoned the hearts, minds, and souls of our children all over the place.
Bob: Let me ask you with regard to that—I’m thinking of, again, somebody who is listening now as an adult who is thinking back on their teenage years. They’re going, “You know, I got pressured into doing stuff that I look back on with regret; but I’ve never really stopped to think of myself as a sexual-assault victim. Should I now start to think of myself that way? Is there a process I need to go through?” or, “If I’m getting along okay, can I just kind of keep getting along okay?”
Justin: Praying for wisdom is going to be very important at that point. I’ve talked to some where they’ve said, “I think maybe I—I don’t even know—you know, my boyfriend kind of whined a little bit and that was what we did.” If they don’t have any symptoms and there is no—there doesn’t seem to be an effect, I don’t want to create a problem where there isn’t one.
If the woman says, “No—I mean—I think that was just sin. I don’t think that it went to that next level against my consent. I thought, through it. Yes. I consented to do that.” I don’t want to go around to just be like looking for an assault everywhere possible in every single nook. That doesn’t do anyone any good.
Justin: I also don’t want to do the denial thing. You have to go between creating sexual assaults out of an experience that really wasn’t and then the other extreme is denial.
So, some of those people I’ve had in my counseling office. I’ve had people who have said, “This is how I’m feeling.” They’ve started describing the effects of sexual assault. I would ask gently, “Has there been any instances of abuse: emotional, physical?” and I’d throw in “sexual” in the mix of the list I’m giving people.
They would say, “Well, there was this—when I was 16, there was this boy under the bleachers.” They’ll describe it; and then, they’ll realize, “Yes. That actually—” It wasn’t a hidden memory that I, somehow, through counseling unearthed from their deep conscience. I just asked them a simple question. They—it just popped in their head, and they said, “Yes. That did happen.”
So, I think wisdom, praying, and saying, “I don’t want to be foolish, God. Please be gentle, but please be clear at the same time. If there is something I need to pursue here, let’s go.” Again, not creating a mess where you don’t need to.
Dennis: You mentioned that a person who is unearthing or uncovering a past sexual assault should find a safe person and begin to express or venture out and do what maybe the most courageous thing they’ve ever done in their life, which is really invite another person into their prison and where they are blaming themselves, where they’re full of shame.
Are there other things they need to be aware of as they begin to process what they experienced? I mean, maybe it was an assault as a child, maybe it was date rape, when they were in high school, or college, or as an adult.
Justin: Something that is very helpful is—thinking through—is telling them first of all, “You’re not guilty for what happened to you. You were a victim; you’re not guilty for being a victim. But, think through how that experience has twisted the way you think about things and about how you respond. Is there ways you’ve responded sinfully to being sinned against?” So, that’s been very helpful for some people.
I don’t want to say, “Well, you were sinned against. That’s why you were promiscuous.” If you look at the people who’ve been sexually assaulted, they either shut down sexually—“Sex is dirty and gross!”—they are kind of anti-intimacy and closeness; or hyper-sexualized, promiscuous—or you’re angry—your rage, you’re very controlling and manipulative. Seeing how—because sin and suffering go together.
So, those who’ve been sinned against, they are suffering. People’s sin creates suffering. They’ve suffered at the hands of someone else. That suffering has likely played itself out in sinful responses.
The point is not to find a way to blame them and be, “No. You are guilty here;” but to say, “Think how this has played out in the fabric of your life. Start looking for ways that you actually need to realize what forgiveness and grace looks like.”
There is compassion for the way you’ve been sinned against. The work of Christ on the cross applies directly to how you’ve been sinned against, but they also apply to the sins you’ve committed. So, there is forgiveness, grace, and mercy for all that. Seeing how they relate is very helpful for them.
Dennis: Justin, speak to the person who has been assaulted and may have begun to think of themselves as “damaged goods”. You know, “Okay, this happened to me. Maybe somehow I encouraged it. I’m to blame.” It’s back to what you talked about earlier. How should they reverse that way of thinking about themselves so that they don’t lose their nobility, their dignity, and the plan that God has for them?
Justin: To me, this is the heart of the response to a victim because the—sexual assault is striking at the identity of who they are. It’s calling them something that—they’re saying, “You’re filthy, dirty, un-loveable, and worthless.” “Damaged goods’” is the phrase that most people think of themselves.
So, the joy of being a Christian and speaking to someone else who has faith in Christ, or if they don’t, you can tell them, “This is what you have in store for you if you trust in Christ. Look at Scripture. You are called the people of God, the child of God. You are called, what Jesus was. Jesus was pure, righteous, holy, blameless, and without spot or blemish. If you have faith in Christ, His robe of righteousness is over you in the—it’s the opposite of what you think.
“You’re not—it’s not that you were dirty, and you’re less dirty. It is that you felt like you were dirty; but if you trust in Christ, you are considered perfect, pure, and righteous. You were declared by the Creator of the universe all of these amazing things.
“So, if you look through Scripture, we—our identity chapter is really going through the entire Bible and saying, ‘If you’re God’s people, what does He call you?’ He calls you amazing, overwhelmingly good, and gracious things that are—sexual assault has tried to bestow a demonic, evil identity to you.
“God is—He’s redeeming; He’s restoring. What He’s doing, He’s going to counter way stronger than the evil identity. He’s bestowing the child of God, creature of God, image of God, people of God. If you’re God’s, it’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re the people of God.’ It’s a possession thing. “You’re my kid. You’re my child. I own you. I protect you. I sustain you. I’m here for you. You’re part of the family of God.’ That’s a good identity. You’re adopted and coheirs with Christ.”
Dennis: Here’s a great spiritual address for your identity: Second Corinthians,
Chapter 5, verse 17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold the new has come.” You know, to someone who has been violated, that can be the greatest message of hope to their soul that they do have Christ. They are a new creation.
I just happen to believe, Justin, that in our country right now this is one of the Devil’s shrewdest, most cunning, most powerful ways he’s trying to destroy lives, marriages, families, and legacies. I just—I want to encourage you to get a copy of Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s book, Rid of My Disgrace. You may not only need it for yourself, but you may need to pass it on to a friend.
Bob: Yes. I think this is one of those books you may want to have a couple of copies in your home bookshelf because, as you talk with friends or as you interact with folks and you hear stories or you find out things about a friend’s past, this is a great way to be able to hand them a copy of a book that God can use in their lives.
It maybe that this person isn’t a believer, but this is the kind of book that can help them understand that there is a God who cares about them, even though this horrible thing has happened to them. Again, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for more information about Justin Holcomb’s book, Rid of My Disgrace. Our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
We’ve also got additional information dealing with sexual assault that you’ll find online, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, then the word “TODAY.” When you get in touch with us, someone on our team can let you know how you can have a copy of Justin’s book sent to you.
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We want to encourage you to be back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the very difficult subject of forgiveness. How do we even begin to approach forgiveness with somebody who has sexually assaulted us? We’re going talk about that tomorrow. I hope that you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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