Should we ‘Believe the Victim’?

I recently listened to a podcast discussion between two SBC pastors. The discussion caught my eye when I received an email about it. It was a discussion about the new curriculum put out by The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the AbusedI was interested to know what these two SBC pastors had to say about the curriculum, so I gave it a listen.

As I began listening, I quickly became very frustrated. While these two pastors admitted that the curriculum has some clear things to commend it, the discussion was not a thorough review of the curriculum. They never even mentioned the things they liked about the curriculum, though they pointed out several times in the discussion that the curriculum says some good things. No, instead of reviewing the curriculum thoroughly, they picked out one phrase and critiqued it. The phrase is “believe the victim.”

Now, the very fact that they only quoted one small phrase in their critique of an 180 page book was frustrating enough. But the phrase they quoted should not be problematic for anyone reading this book.

The phrase is found on page 87 where Mika Edmondson is talking about physical abuse. He writes…

Regardless of whether the victim wants to take steps to pursue safety, there are two powerful things you can do as a ministry leader. First, you can believe the victim. “Innocence until proven guilty” is the appropriate legal standard, but you are a ministry leader, not a judge or investigator. We take the posture of 1 Corinthians 13:7, “love believes all things,” until there is evidence to the contrary.

“That’s disastrous. It’s sad,” one of the pastors said. They even argue that Edmondson’s counsel is contrary to the Word of God based on Proverbs 18:13.

But what should we do when someone comes to us and says that he or she is being abused? It seems that we really only have two choices. Either we believe him/her or we don’t.

Think about it, pastor. A lady comes into your office. She tells you that her husband has been beating her. What do you do?

Do you preface your comfort and counsel to her with “If what you have told me is true…”? Or do you assume that she is telling you the truth?

I do not make a practice of assuming that my church members are lying to me. Why would I treat them any differently in a situation where they are being abused?

Believing the victim does not mean that we rush with demands for the perpetrator to be thrown under the jail. It doesn’t even mean that there are never false reports. It simply means that basic pastoral care demands that the shepherd believes the sheep when the sheep comes to say that he/she is being abused by a wolf.

One of the reasons this curriculum is needed is because for far too long pastors and church leaders have operated from a posture of suspicion. We’ve sided with perpetrators rather than victims. We’ve played investigator, judge, and jury instead of providing the pastoral care that victims of abuse need and deserve.

Dr. Edmondson is right. Pastor, please believe the victim.

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