VIOLENCE-BASED FORMS OF TRAUMA PREVALENT IN 2019 AND CORRESPONDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE CHURCH
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
CN731 - Trauma and Faith
Fuller Theological Seminary
VIOLENCE-BASED FORMS OF TRAUMA
PREVALENT IN 2019 AND COORSPONDING OPPORTUNITIES
FOR THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The dawn of a new year brings hope and new possibilities. However, time is of the essence for those affected by violence-based traumas which creates overwhelming opportunity for the Christian church. Properly defining trauma seems a bit of a challenge according to Gingrich and Gingrich, suffice it to say “(trauma) is anything that is less than nurturing…that changes your vision of yourself and your place in the world…(including) the subjective experience of physical, emotional, or relational harm.”A violence-based trauma then would include those traumas which result from violence at the hands of another entity, whether it be a family member, intimate partner, group (religious or otherwise) or supervisor. For the purposes of this text, focus will be placed on family of origin and relationship violence, modern day slavery, and refugees of war. In an effort to fully understand each of these minute focus areas one must also comprehend its prevalence in current times and appreciate its definition, causes, neurobiological effects and current clinical treatments.
God’s design for humankind’s time on earth is perfect. Unfortunately through sin, unrest is experienced. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” The very presence of sin which causes violence-based traumas, should move the church to action. While clinical treatments add immense value, the Christian church holds the missing piece to a survivor’s full recovery while allowing followers of Christ to live out the calling placed on their lives by God. To solidify this premise, a full look at the theological basis for behavior and community will be followed by both offensive and defensive idealistic rolls of the church. In an effort to put this research to immediate use, included are also practical steps I personally might take in each of the three ministry areas in which I serve. The goal of these actions would be to both ensure trauma-informed mindsets as well as actively involve the church in the eradication of violence-based forms of trauma.
PART I : EXPLORING VIOLENCE-BASED TRAUMA
FAMILY VIOLENCE : family of origin and domestic violence
One’s family is meant to be a safe haven, a place where humankind might learn and exhibit values, find respite, grasp worldviews and traditions and experience true love. Unfortunately, for many, their home based relationship does not provide the intended safety net, rather in these cases the paradigm shifts toward the outside world being more safe than the dynamic at home. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics describes family violence as including all types of violent crime committed by an offender who is related to the victim either biologically or legally through marriage or adoption.They go on to say,
a crime is considered family violence if the victim was the offender’s current or former spouse; parent or adoptive parent; step current or former stepparent; legal guardian; biological or adoptive child; current or former stepchild; sibling; current or former step sibling; grandchild; current or former step- or adoptive-grandchild; grandparent; current or former step- or adoptive-grandparent; in-law; or other relative (aunt, uncle, nephew).
The Bureau’s definition includes that of violence experienced within one’s family of origin and violence committed by a domestic partner. In particular, the Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim …”The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports, “on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States – more than 12 million women and men over the course of the year.”While these statistics are staggering by themselves, they do not include unreported cases or those occurrences of like behavior elsewhere around the world.
To that end, in 2017, the World Health Organization listed intimate partner violence and sexual violence as a major public health problem and violation of human rights.The report went on to say, “worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.Author and researcher Sylvia Asay and her coeditors suggest these may be the best statistics on family violence worldwide “because of the various definitions and the differences in the ways statistics are gathered”.They add a quote by McCue which “suggests that there is a culture of silence that contributes to the widespread belief that family violence is private and may be a factor in underreporting and the lack of response from family, community, and government.”The World Health Organization does shed a bit of light with their 2010 statistic listing 25%-50% of all children globally being physically abused.
Thankfully, the United States has done an amazing job of compiling available statistics that can add a bit of definition, at least for the developing world. During the last reporting period, the rate of family violence dropped by more than half, from 5.4 victims to 2.1 victims per 1,000 U.S. residents age 12 or older with family violence accounting for about 1 in 10 violent victimizations.The report also stated, 3.5 million violent crimes were committed against family members, 49% being against spouses, 11% were sons and daughters victimized by a parent, and 41% were crimes against other family members.It is important to recognize here that children who are exposed to domestic violence are also victims of emotional and mental abuse who, even when unharmed physically, will have a long road to recovery even in the best circumstances according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.Just one occurrence, in one location, at one time should move God’s people to action. However, while much is being done to prevent, explain and restore survivors, much is left to be done.
Dr. Langberg sheds some light as to why and how some family dynamics slip into violence and trauma. In defining healthy versus unhealthy families, she says
Healthy families respect a child’s individuality and development, have a concern for the child’s welfare, and set reasonable, age-appropriate rules and expectations within which the child is taught to operate. These rules and expectations are somewhat flexible and change as the child matures. A healthy family operates somewhere between neglecting and abusing the child on one hand and overprotecting and intruding on the child on the other. In other words, they nurture and protect without intruding or suffocating. There is flexibility and independence without neglect or abuse.
Of course, this American based definition must also be understood alongside the caveat of cultural norms and dynamics. As cited previously, many cultures and worldviews currently contain norms that defy human rights. The particulars of this phenomenon will be discussed more fully in the following section on modern day slavery. Still, no matter the means, it is clear families who experience violence-based trauma have slipped from healthy to unhealthy forms of interacting with one another. Dr. Langberg goes on to list characteristics of families in which violence is a prevailing crime. She says, they have multiple problems, rigid in their relational patterns, confused about individual’s roles, and send destructive messages.
Turning to broader global statistics, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports violence can negatively affect women’s health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.In addition, WHO found men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low education, a history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence against their mothers, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women.Along similar lines, women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege, and women’s subordinate status.Clearly the problem of family violence is a systemic one in many cases and not simple to define or treat.
Recent discoveries have helped to define the neurobiologic effects on both those who have witnessed family violence and those who have been physically impacted by this particular type of trauma. In the 1990’s Dr. Bessel van der Kolk partnered with Scott Rauch, Massachusetts General Hospital Neuroimaging Laboratory director, to help enhance research on survivors of trauma by tracking brain activity through new imaging technology.Their discoveries have changed the course of history and made ground breaking advances in treatment for trauma survivors. It was determined that the limbic brain and visual cortex show heightened activation, which was somewhat known based on previous chemical testing.However, newly discovered were the effects on the brain’s speech center, which decreased in activation following remembrance of a traumatic event.
Struthers, Ansell and Wilson take this explanation a step further by elucidating on the particular areas of the brain and the effects of particular types of trauma. The commonly referred to “fight or flight response” is housed within the autonomic nervous system, which controls numerous involuntary systems such as endocrine glands, respiration heartbeat and digestion.The hindbrain’s medulla oblongata is responsible for involuntary systems, while the tegmentum is the chemical manufacturing plant housed within the brain which allows higher functioning.The neurotransmitter of dopamine, the ventral tegmental area, is extremely critical in the study of survivors of traumatic family violence and their recovery.Also of importance are the hypothalamus, important in the body’s response to stress, and the hypothalamus, critical in the consolidation of memories.
Multiple factors play a role in the length of time victims will remain in close relationship with an abuser. Regardless of the answer, complex trauma is being committed and logged within one’s neurobiological systems. Gingrich and Gingrich say this of the neurobiologic effects of trauma,
Trauma results when stress overwhelms an individual’s existing stress-response systems, inhibiting recovery from the stressor. Often this loss of neurological equilibrium results in physical, psychological, and functional declines. In cases of severe or chronic stress, a healthy baseline may never be fully recovered, particularly without intervention.
Clearly the effects of violence-based family violence are severe and require extensive treatment. Thankfully, with recent advances in the particular diagnoses and funding to support neurobiological research, survivors located within reach of treatment providers are better positioned than ever before to move through their experience to recovery as a functioning and purposeful member of society.
Current clinical treatments for survivors of family violence are varied and do not contain a universal treatment plan. Albeit, three main indicators must be present to move toward recovery for survivors. These are: to promote healthy self-care as well as emotional and physical safety, to adequately process the trauma memory and maladaptive appraisals about the event, and to repair relationships with significant others and establish a functional meaning system.Safety, remembering/mourning, and reconnection with community are also indicated as Phase I, II, and III by Parks, Currier, Harris and Slattery.To further solidify these phases as clinically sound, Dr. Judith Herman has also included them in her Trauma and Recovery text, highlighting the aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror, which was first written in 1992 then revised multiple times with the latest being 2015.This seventeen year span to 2019, shows the value of the methods, learnings and models offered by Dr. Herman.
For the target population included in this text, survivors of violence-based forms of trauma, these indicators will remain the same. However, the variance is present in particular psychological treatments necessary to meet each person as they present at the time they seek treatment. To complicate matters, the survivor’s care team must also consider preexisting traumas or the person’s entire history when determining treatment models in an effort to reach comprehensive recovery. Several psychological treatments exist for each phase of recovery. Phase I (safety) includes: social advocacy, medical referral, psychotropic medication, behavioral sleep therapy, stress management, mindfulness meditation, breathing retraining, relaxation exercises, coping skills training, activity scheduling, and supportive therapy. Phase II (meaning-making) includes: cognitive restructuring, in vivo exposure, and imaginal exposure.Finally, Phase III (reconnection) includes: couples therapy, family therapy and spiritually integrative approaches.While the aforementioned list of therapies seems general, additional information will be provided as a part of later sections.
MODERN DAY SLAVERY
With an estimated 40.3 million men, women, and children enslaved worldwide, we are living in both the best of times and the worst of times as it relates to violence-based forced servitude.The magnitude of the issue has become great with the connectivity and mass-transit available in today’s society. It is estimated between 10 and 12 million enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas from the 16thto the 19thcentury.Today’s number of victims subjected to this brutal form of violence-based trauma is nearly quadrupled that of the type of slavery most Americans recognize as resolved through legislation enacted more than 100 years ago in both the United Statesand the British Empire.While common images of African-American farm workers may come to mind when one invasions slavery, the type of servitude experienced by victims today looks a bit different. Types of modern day violence-based slavery included in the Global Slavery Index include: sexual exploitation, cyber-sex trafficking, bonded labor slavery, and police brutality.
Details of each casework type can be found in the manifesto of International Justice Mission’s (IJM) founder, Gary Haugen.The book adequately entitled, the Locust Effect, not only discusses each of the violence-based forms of trauma as they relate to the everyday violence experienced by the global poor but also ways in which IJM takes a comprehensive approach to eradicating this problem which has been pervasive since biblical times (late 500-600s BC).He calls it “poverty’s hidden terror” and refers to the epidemic as a man-made disaster.This industry generates over 150 million dollars in revenue annually according to the International Labour Organization’s 2014 report.According to IJM,
Slavery is a violent crime that goes beyond just bad working conditions. People trapped in slavery face physical, verbal and sexual abuse daily, and cannot leave to find other work or protect their families. In IJM’s cases, we have met slaves who report being beaten, gang-raped, locked in small rooms, starved and even forced to witness murder.
Sexual exploitation can victimize men, women, and children and when termed sexual violence,flows out of an even larger plague ravaging its way through the global poor. Further, this epidemic can be defined as gender violence, which more broadly combines sexual violence, domestic abuse, and other forms of coercive abuse that mainly affects females.Sexual violence (sexual exploitation or cyber-sex trafficking) whether victimizing adults or minors, plagues the developing world as well, but for the poorest of the poor in the developing world there is no hope of recourse for injustice as systems are structurally designed to work against them.The National Center on Sexual Exploitation defines the crime as encompassing a wide-range of sexual abuse or utilitarian sexual uses of persons, regardless of age, including sexual objectification, sexual violence, pornography, prostitution, sex trafficking and more.Additionally, Holcomb defines sexual assault as an overarching term encompassing a large number of sexual behaviors – physical, verbal, and psychological – that violate the agency and well-being of an individual.At this point in history, the casework types continue to grow as worldwide advances are made in technology and communication. Cyber-sex trafficking of minor children to global perpetrators became a casework type of IJM, the largest anti-trafficking organization, as recently as 2015.IJM defines this particular casework type as the live-streaming sexual exploitation of children viewed over the internet where pedophiles and predators anywhere in the world pay for victims (some as young as 2 years old) to be abused or forced to perform sex acts in the front of a webcam.
However, modern-day slavery also includes non-sexual forms of violence. Bonded labor slavery, also referred to as forced labor, is a category of violence that is driven entirely by money and the willingness to put violence to work as an economic enterprise, unlike sexual forms of trauma whereby only a portion of the violence is a money-making business.Directly put, bonded labor is the use of violence to steal the disadvantaged person’s whole body and put it to work in ways that will make money for the perpetrator.These victims may be exploited in brick factories, rice mills, tree cutting factories, garment facilities, as fishermen and boy slaves, technology device factories and the like.Similarly, police brutality involves the coercion or misuse of one’s entire body for the gain of the law-enforcement official. In this case, the crime is committed out of an abuse of power, which many times includes physically violent coercion and murder.Examples of this casework type exist in developing nations where corruption within government systems turns the safety-net of a country’s citizens against the very individuals it is meant to protect.
Taking a deep breath, one will inevitably begin to ponder the reasoning for such grotesque human behavior. Essentially, as Haugen states, the end of poverty requires the end of violence. So conversely then, violence will be the end of poverty – meaning the two are directly related to each other.However, theologians will add sentiments on human sin and the likelihood of total eradication based on human nature which will be covered in Part II of this text.
The Locust Effect is the plague of everyday violence. Beneath the surface of the world’s poorest communities, common violence – like rape, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, police abuse and other brutality – has become routine and relentless. And like a horde of locusts devouring everything in their path, the unchecked plague of violence ruins lives, blocks the road out of poverty, and undercuts development. … There is nothing shielding the poor from violent people. In one of the most remarkable-and unremarked upon-social disasters of the last half century, basic public justice systems in the developing world have descended into a state of utter collapse.
Haugen and his colleagues at IJM have done ground-breaking work, alongside the United States Department of State, to further define the state of modern-day slavery globally. According to the most recent Trafficking in Persons report published by the United States Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons,
Victims of modern slavery are exploited in every region of the world, compelled into service for labor or commercial sex in the real world of industry and on the pages of the internet. … As of the date of this report more than 170 countries have made public commitments to its eradication, promising punishment for traffickers, care for victims and action to prevent this crime.
In fact, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said, “Modern slavery has no place in the world, and I intend to ensure, through diplomatic engagement and increased action, that the United States government’s leadership in combating this global threat is sustained in the years to come.”There is an unmistakable movement to end the immense suffering sustained by survivors of modern-day slavery. However, the question of this violent trauma’s effects on its victims deserves similar emphasis.
For the fortunate few who have been rescued, devastating neurobiologic alterations, have occurred. As Dr. van der Kolk highlights, survivors have learned the anatomy of survival, in many cases lost the brain-body connection, and will forever bear the problem of traumatic memory.He says, “trauma affects the entire human organism – body, mind, and brain. In post-traumatic stress disorder, the body continues to defend against a threat that belongs to the past. Healing from PTSD means being able to terminate this continued stress mobilization and restore the entire organism to safety.Recent neuroscience findings are bleak for those minors affected by slavery and sexual exploitation. Studies show the limbic system is organized mainly during the first six years of life and when one experiences trauma within those years, this subsection of the triune brain can continue to impact functioning throughout life to the point of going off-line in response to threat.Many times this sort of off-line neurologic response is labeled as dissociation. Dissociation is the complete detachment of a victim either during continued traumatization or after.While this fate seems insurmountable, van der Kolk does provide hope for survivors through his eight paths to recovery.
Treatments for survivors of slavery are vast and multifaceted. Depending on their particular form of violence-based trauma or slavery, a treatment plan might involve recovery path ranging from rewiring the brain to music therapy. Most importantly,
“nobody can “treat” a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul; the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.
As with survivors of family violence, first safety must be established. At that point one can begin reprocessing and organizing their memories and finally reconnect with their community and/or loved ones. However, reaching full recovery through reconnection is further complicated by the isolation one experiences during their abuse. For example, children who have been sold into slavery or trafficked by their parents many times will not have family or friends who are deemed safe or healthy enough to reengage with the survivor. Once again, IJM is at the forefront of developing scientific based models for assessing survivor outcomes in each of their casework types. The Assessment of Survivors Outcomes Validation Study compiles strategic statistics on the recovery rates of survivors and the impacts made by IJM’s global aftercare teams. IJM defines restoration to be when a survivor is able to function in society with low vulnerability to revictimization.They found, “a holistic and comprehensive approach to survivor care and treatment, one that addresses both psychological and physical needs is an integral part of restoration for survivors of violent injustice.
VICTIMS OF WAR:refugees and internally displaced persons
War by nature is violent. Whether directly involved or indirectly, the trauma experienced by those implicated is very real and the effects can last for the remainder of their lives. The United States Department of Homeland Security defines refugee as
Any person who is outside his or her country of nationality who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. Persecution or fear thereof must be based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. People with no nationality must generally be outside their country of last habitual residence to qualify as a refugee. Refugees are subject to ceilings by geographic area set annually by the President in consultation with Congress and are eligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident status after one year of continuous presence in the United States.
While this might seem all encompassing, the global United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) goes a step further to say, “war and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.”UNHCR also defines the population in saying two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.Refugees might also be misidentified as an internally displaced person (IDP) which is
someone who has been forced to flee their home but never cross an international border. These individuals seek safety anywhere they can find it – in nearby towns, schools, settlements, internal camps, even forests and fields. IDPs include people displaced by international strife (violent war). Unlike refugees, IDPs are not protected by international law or eligible to receive many types of aid because they are legally under the protection of their own government.
In both cases tremendous trauma is experienced and should be treated by a professional. Sadly many victims of war do not have this luxury. Currently, 40 million people have been identified as internally displaced, 10 million people are classified as stateless, and there were 1.7 million new asylum claims in 2017.While a stateless person can be classified as such for a variety of reasons, including sovereign, legal, technical or administrative decisions or oversights, asylum seekers are essentially refugees wishing to be recognized as such under the law of another country whereby they will attempt to prove their fear of persecution is well-founded. Unfortunately, the burden of proof lies with the refugee themselves, which after being violently traumatized by war, are less likely to be able to coherently complete paperwork, have files and facts together, and relevant information related to their own state of safety.
As of late 2018, the Trump administration failed to accept even half of the number of refugees they had outlined in fiscal year planning.A mere 10,548 refugees pales in comparison to the goal of 22,500.Of course many political factors were at play as United States leaders determined arrivals. Unfortunately, behind each number is a face and a family that had experienced one of the most horrific types of violence-based trauma. The American Psychological Association reported on the Resilience and Recovery After War and found that children arriving in the United States from countries affected by armed conflict and violence often experience multiple traumatic events and stressful circumstances prior to, during and after their arrival.To make matters worse, the APA also found that citizen’ direct involvement in armed conflict had drastically increased leading to multiple losses and disruptions in the lives of those seeking refuge.Unfortunately, none of these sorrowful statistics affected the decisions of the United States arrival rates. In fact, last summer, the PEW Research center reported on these incredibly low statistics and added “for the first time, U.S. resettles fewer refugees than the rest of the world, while the U.S. has historically led the world in refugee resettlement.
Several types of conflicts create today’s refugee population. Of course poverty, corruption and everyday violence play a role in violent war conflict for survivors of war just as for survivors of modern day slavery, but additional factors are at play for survivors of war. Civil unrest and religious extremist groups plague not only the world’s poor but also those who not only have financial wealth but a rich family history in a particular land. In fact, the Syrian Civil conflict alone has created over 470,000 casualties, not including those who survived the conflict only to face an extremely long road to recovery.Reports as recently as two years ago claim, there are fewer legal or illegal ways to escape conflict unless refugees have money.Across the world, a number of countries offer citizenship or residency for foreign nationals in exchange for investment or property purchase.Extremist groups, such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), are not only targeting Christians but those Shi’a Muslims which do not adhere to the most militant forms of Islam.The country of Jordan, alone, has taken in an estimated one million refugees, among which the vast majority were Sunni Muslims fleeing civil conflict.However, for the remaining 17% of Shi’a Muslims and 12 % of Christians, fatal discrimination was at play.ISIS is attempting to implement Sharia Law, rooted in eighth-century Islam, to establish a society that mirrors the region’s ancient past.Sadly, like other global purity holocausts, the effort leaves a wake of devastation. Whether regional conflict or religious militantism, survivors are in need of swift and far reaching care.
Building on the neurobiological effects of the family violence and modern day slavery, survivors of war are also in for a long road to recovery. Their lasting effects mirror those discussed previously. However, multiple factors are at play, creating opportunities for varied approaches to treatment. Dr. Caroline Leaf, a world-renowned neurobiologist rarely sees clinic, rather she now spends her time educating the public on the plasticity of their brain.She advocates a model which she founded called the, Geodesic Information Processing Model.
It is important to remember that our thinking changes the structure of our brains because our minds are separate from our brains. Your mind controls your brain. Your brain does not control your mind. You change your brain; your brain cannot change itself. When you think, feel, and choose you are updating your experience, and this is reflected in structural and functional changes in your brain: you are both literally and figuratively building memories.
Dr. Leaf has put forth fascinating research in this area and while the above quote is taken from a book written for the masses, unique neuroscience findings can be extracted. Previous thought schools advocated against the brain being able to retrain itself after a traumatic event or set of life circumstances. However, in the early 1980s, Dr. Leaf began research on the possibility that the brain can regenerate.Amongst her clinical population, astounding developments began to take place. Complete transformations took place in victims of various traumatic experiences, from car accidents to survivors of violent South African apartheid.
While Dr. Leaf promotes one’s thought life as a basic model of restoration, Dr. van der Kolk advocates limbic system therapy. He says,
The fundamental issue in resolving traumatic stress is to restore the proper balance between the rational and emotional brains, so that you can feel in charge of how you respond and how you conduct your life. When we’re triggered into states of hyper- or hypoarousal, we are pushed outside our “window of tolerance” – the range of optimal functioning.
Thankfully, each can be put to use for survivors of war as they may have experienced a range of assault. Middle Eastern Christians, as was the case for the refugees in Jordan cited earlier, may have been physically removed from their homes and forced to leave their possessions at gun point and then forced to flee with young children into a state of utter homelessness in a new land whereby they were limited in access to healthcare, education, or employment. In this story, many touchpoints exist that might each be a lifelong trauma if left untreated. Dr. van der Kolk also addresses the issue of medication to control one’s neurobiological trauma triggers. He acknowledges the commonality of their use in modern history but adds “we have a host of inbuilt skills to keep us on an even keel. … Some 80 % of the fibers of the vagus nerve (which connects the brain with many internal organs) are afferent; that is they run from the body to the brain.”He connects this with a thought school strikingly similar to that of Dr. Leaf when he points out, “we can directly train our arousal system by the way we breathe, chant, and move, a principle that has been utilized since time immemorial in places like China and India.”Gingrich and Gingrich shed a bit of light into the discrepancy between the common clinical practice of prescribing prescription drugs and those methods advocated by van der Kolk and Leaf. “Trauma is a condition of extreme complexity and severity. Stemming from a vast spectrum of acute or chronic stressors, trauma affects many facets of emotional and physical functioning, yielding serious short- and long-term neurobiological consequences for affected individuals.”In short, there is not a universal treatment model which can be applied to the many various forms of trauma experienced by survivors of war and many times a combination is required to reach full recovery, if in fact one has access.
Organizations like the International Refugee Committee (IRC) have created comprehensive aftercare service plans that are working to restore survivors better than ever before in history. The IRC alone provides assistance in the way of preventative and emergency healthcare, safety, access to education, economic wellbeing and power.The Refugee Council of the USA (RCUSA) takes matters a step further and focuses on services upon arrival in a safe land. RCUSA is known for its programs in public assistance (reimbursements to organizations who choose to provide services to refugees and other eligible persons), education, employment benefits, immigration benefits, including: travel documents, adjustments of status, family reunification.The positive impact of these programs is undeniable. In 2017 alone, the IRC and its partners:
helped nearly 23 million people access primary healthcare, provided 1.14 million children with education, provided counseling, care, health and /or legal services to 33,261 children, 37,878 gender-based violence survivors and 74,144 individuals requiring specific legal assistance, and provided job training to 39,043 people.
These sweeping statics prove their worth as one looks at RCUSA’s fact sheet on the impact of refugees in the United States. Specifically: the refugee population has an 81% participation rate, well above the national rate of 62%, 13% of refugees were entrepreneurs in the target year compared to just 9% of the U.S. born population and 40% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by refugees, immigrants or their children.Undeniably, learnings stemming from targeted refugee populations and non-governmental organization models of recovery together with recent neurobiologic responses hold immense promise not only for the traumatized refugee population but also all survivors of violence-based traumas.
PART II : THE MISSING PIECE | OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHGOD’S DESIGN FOR COMMUNITY
The prevalence of trauma in this modern day and age is astounding. While great advances in neuroscience, neurobiology, behavior patterns, psychology and psychiatry have been made and multiple treatment models have been put forth, many of which have been groundbreakingly successful. Still the question remains, why then is violence-based trauma on the rise? The humble answer, I believe, has been in our midst for centuries. Groups have fought it, communities have dishonored it, new-aged thinkers in each decade have discounted it, yet its validity has stood the test of time and when adhered to, stands to transform societies in ways never experienced throughout history.
The bible is the breathed word of God, the physical representation of God and Christ. Within its pages are the finer details of God’s design for his creation and how we are to live alongside one another. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” As has been put forth in preceding sections, violence-based traumas are those acts committed on one person by another. Scripture would classify these acts as sin. In God’s infinite wisdom, the Lord knows “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) For, outside of God’s will and design each and every one has the capability to be the perpetrator of the aforementioned crimes. Kathryn Tanner, a professor at Yale Divinity School, acknowledges the difficulty many face as they attempt to understand how such a generous God could have created beings so prone to sin.
The idea that the presence of Word and Spirit within us are necessary prerequisites for the proper operation of our faculties is hard to square with the prospective account of the way we image God: if God did not create us with the gifts of Word and Spirit it is hard to argue God intended the to be ingredients of our proper constitution. But the disagreement with a prospective interpretation is otherwise rather slight if, with the vast majority of theologians who hold the view we have been developing, we affirm humans lost both Word and Spirit almost immediately as a consequence of sin.
Dr. Tanner’s writing style while impeccable and proven to be some of the best scholarly work of modern times, complicates issues that can be put simply. Paired down, Dr. Tanner is pointing out the difficulty humankind has had throughout history in identifying themselves as flawed, while simultaneously knowing they have been created by a perfect God who has cast them in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27) and in need of salvation. However, in God’s perfection we were created to become holy, with a charge to bring heaven’s likeness to earth. The Lord’s prayer enlightens this theory commanding the prayers of God’s people, “…Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) The key phrase in Matthew 6:10 seems to lay within heaven coming to earth. How exactly heaven is to come to earth might be the next possible quandary. Were earth to mirror heaven, humankind would be without sin, without temptation and exhibit qualities of the most high. Again, this is a question clearly addressed in scripture. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “because it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Christians are called to not only be holy by holding themselves to a life free of sin but also to love others in the ways demonstrated by the triune God. “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) Sin itself is clearly defined in 1 John 5:17, which says “all unrighteousness is sin…” Were humankind to live out this calling, we might experience a world free of the aforementioned violence-based traumas. Sadly, the battle for righteousness remains ever present.
Still, the Lord came and sent his son to cleanse the Israelites from their sin and offer salvation to anyone who would dare to accept such a gift. Plantinga and his co-authors describe salvation this way, “The saving work of the holy spirit: adoption into the triune life.”So, if each one is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and has been given the gift of eternal life through the salvation offered by Christ, which would adopt them into the family of God, why then does humankind experience violence-based traumas? This seems to be an age-old question, not easily answered. However, for centuries humankind has attempted to redefine the gift of God, tried to do things in their own power rather than alongside God. This self-service moves societies far from God where the enemy is able to gain a foothold. “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold,” proclaims the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27. He goes a step further in Hebrews, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ.” (Hebrews 13:20-21) Done God’s way, humankind would reach true fulfillment not in temporary power but in the purpose of the Lord.
Thankfully, in God’s goodness, the Lord did not leave humankind on their own. So, providing one accepts the gift of salvation and chooses to walk in the ways of the Lord. The answer is found in the community humankind is designed to live within according to scripture. In Dr. Schaefer’s text on Trauma and Resilience, the power of living inside community is highlighted.
“The power of community is the power of the Trinity and penetrates to the depths of our hearts, moving us to stay in the race despite tremendous pain, injury and sacrifice. … The words that follow make a key connection. They tie the power of community to perseverance in this life of trials and suffering. “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Community is the gift God bestowed on his people to aid in their daily lives. This gift has the power to sustain survivors in recovery, aid perpetrators in the healing of their sin and to prevent any such actions in the way it provides comfort and companionship. Repeatedly in scripture, God details his design for community. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Community is a place where one might find the peace only experienced in being truly known for all that is positive, in addition to those things that need spiritual repair. Henri J.M. Nouwen describes the type of fulfillment he experiences in this communal setting,
“In our community there are many parties. Parties are usually happy events, during which we eat and drink, sing and dance, give speeches, talk and laugh a lot. But a celebration is something more than just a party. A celebration is an occasion to lift up each other’s lives-whether in a joyful or a sorrowful moment-and deepen our bonds with each other. To celebrate life is to raise up life, make it visible to each other, affirm it in its concreteness, and be grateful for it.
Trusting God’s design for life promises to bring the fulfillment sought by so many either in their pain or through their painful actions toward others. Christine D. Pol highlights how contrary this model is to contemporary culture. She advocates truthfulness as a value of Christian community saying, “Concerns about truthfulness are undermined by contemporary emphases on image, success, litigation and personal affirmation. Living truthfully in contemporary society is difficult on so many levels, but as Christians we are called to it.”Along the same lines, in his previous quote, Nouwen defined what is truly wonderful about community, as it can be a place to receive: both help and direction, celebration and sorrow, togetherness and the closeness of one’s Savior through the felt love of his people.
Subsequently, God also created forgiveness to follow sin, salvation and the checks and balances of community. Again, Plantinga understands the issues at play in the forgiveness offered by God through Christ.
Moreover, since sin, at its heart resident in the human person, becomes a reality that affects the structures of society and under which all creation groans, it is important that Christ’s reconciling work connect to every dimension of human existence. If sin in the personal sense is essentially disobedience and rebellion against God, it is fitting that the representative of humanity who neutralizes the effects of that rebellion live all of the states of human existence … Hebrews (highlights) Jesus as the representative of all humanity even needed to prove his righteousness and representational status by faithfully living an authentic life. Thus his person and work serve not only as a redemptive counterpoint to humanity’s disobedience, but also as the revelation of true humanity – what it is to be the imago Deibefore the face of God.
Truly, no human outside of God’s design for society has the power to live both righteously and have fulfillment that reaches beyond one’s selfish ambition and desire. We were created with an inherent dependence on God. Over the years, as sin has evolved from eating forbidden fruit to the massacre experienced by the internationally broadcast habitual rape of young children for profit, evil has taken the place within humankind intended for God, his community and his purpose. As societies seek to rid the world of the horror that is violence-based trauma, the answer is as close as the nearest keyboard, iPhone app, church, or living representative of Christ. Scripture is the Lord’s written instruction manual left behind to assist humankind with the many fluctuations they experience as a part of life, which if adhered to would provide the community, intimacy and grace so desperately sought.
THE CHURCH’S DEFENSIVE ROLE
According to PEW research Christians still make up a majority of the world. As of 2012, 31.5% of the world identifies as Christian, while 23.3% identify as Muslim, 15% are Hindu, 7.1% are Buddhist, .2% are Jewish and the rest are minor religions or unaffiliated.Yet with all of the aforementioned truths, God’s grace, community, forgiveness and the call to love and serve, violence-based trauma is on the rise. What can the Christian church learn from these statistics? Is the global Christian church missing something? Has the church steered their congregations away from each other with peer pressure? Have pastors driven congregants out of the church with our exegesis? Has church clergy made believers feel shunned by God in the way they fail to represent the fullness of community as God intended? Clearly, the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes but there are many lessons to be learned as the year 2020 approaches and the church reflects on the massive growth of slavery, family violence and world terror in the form of horrifying religiously fueled war.
Succinctly, the church has a responsibility to adhere to the commands of scripture by actively taking both a defensive role in recovery and prevention of violence-based trauma as well as an offensive role. Turning first to the church’s defensive opportunities, the need for congregations to become trauma informed is highlighted, especially from the pulpit. James 3:1 says, “not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Not that the missteps of pastors are intentional but in the event a teacher chooses to remain ignorant to the possibility that their words may actually retraumatize a select few in their hearing, they would be at fault. The challenge of pastors globally is to interpret scripture and speak generically to the masses. Unfortunately, throughout history, many phrases and traditions have been assigned to church jargon that have the high likelihood of becoming triggers to both those who might be inclined to perpetrate violent crime and those who have experienced trauma. Serene Jones says,
Understanding the effects of violence upon the workings of our imagination – and upon the bodies and souls of persons who have been traumatized is the central task. … Too often we believe that when physical healing occurs, mental healing naturally follows, and that with time, all wounds heal. Such is not always the case, however. Violence often cuts so deeply into our minds that surface healings cover it over and, hidden away, allow it to expand. The balm like work of theology and of religion is to uncover and mend such wounds. And what medicine does this? Healing lies as much, if not more, in the stories we tell and the gestures we offer as in the doctrines we preach.
Here, Jones adequately summarizes both the problem and the proposed solution to the retraumatization of victims of violence within the church. Of course, outside a structured course on trauma many cultural and societal norms that influence the language of pastors are not adequate for those who maintain the pulpit. Jones continues on to describe a particular circumstances that happened as she accompanied a friend of hers during a service that would eventually be the catalyst of change for the direction of Jones’ professional career. First, when one revisits the mind of the victim as they reenter the church or enter it for the first time, feelings of disappointment and distrust arise. Jones says, “It is hard to know God when your knowing faculties have been disabled. It is hard to feel divine love when your capacity to feel anything at all has been shut down.”Hence, the goal of each service, program, and environment should work to create trust, namely in God and tangibly through the relationships and experiences created within the dynamic of the church.
Moving toward specific examples, Jones describes her moment of enlightenment as she conversed with her new friend Leah, a survivor of violence-based trauma. Leah describes her retraumatization experience at church,
It happens to me, sometimes. I’m listening to the pastor, thinking about God and love, when suddenly I hear or see something, and it’s as if a button gets pushed inside of me. In an instant, I’m terrified; I feel like I’m going to die or get hurt very badly. My body tells me to run away, but instead, I just freeze. Last week it was the part about Jesus’ blood and body. There was a flash in my head, and I couldn’t tell the difference between Jesus and me, and then I saw blood everywhere, and broken body parts, and I got so afraid I just disappeared. I thought the bathroom might be safe, but even it scared and confused me. I forgot my name. I forgot the hot and cold.
Leah’s experience represents some of the most drastic forms of retraumatization experienced during a church service. The terms that triggered Leah were common and in my opinion should be permitted in trauma informed churches. However, the church should also be aware when words like blood, body, death, and sacrifice are used. During those times, special care teams should be available for persons who feel triggered by this language. It might also help for pastors or speakers to preface such activities with a statement identifying the pain it may cause to some. The statement might also include a word about God’s redemptive love and grace while pointing those affected toward the care teams available.
In the book Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb more fully explain the effects of sexual assault. They say, “sexual assault is not simply an event that happened to you, ended, and now is over. It can have an impact on every aspect of your life – your faith, your daily attitudes and emotions, your self-image, your relationships, and your sexuality.”This description has the terrifying fragrance of one who is now physically safe but remains trapped by their past. In previous sections, the very real neurobiologic response which occurs in the minds of victims has been discussed. However, recovery can take a village, and the church has a primary role in restoring one’s sense of security by integrating trauma informed philosophies throughout.
Educating a church staff and volunteers in violence-based traumas might also prove helpful as a church seeks to become trauma informed. Disillusionment is one of the many states of mind a person who has experienced trauma might exhibit as they reenter into a church environment. Learning to recognize the signs of a traumatized person experiencing disillusionment might prove life saving for the survivor. Kraus describes factors leading to disillusionment,
“It could be fatigue, or the realization that the demands of the event outweigh the resources …it could be a behavior shift, like noticing that one has stopped ordinary habits of socializing, exercising, or other means of self-care. It might be signified by an increased use of alcohol or medication for self-soothing, or by excessive sleep.
Thankfully, Jones and Kraus are in good company as authors leading church clergy in ways that are trauma informed. Resources and materials for training, educating and development are being rapidly produced for congregations who wish to reach survivors in a safe and healthy way. While budgets might prohibit extensive programs, Jones’ story highlights simple and cost effective steps congregations of all budget constraints can take to help the wounded that walk through their doors.A simple change of language or announcement might be the very tipping point one needs to reach out to a care team or remain for the entirety of a service without being triggered so that they might hear of the saving grace of God’s love. Another small step that might be taken involves amending church welcome team best-practices. While many cultures offer a hug or a handshake, the physically traumatized person is struggling to regain a sense of their own agency.An unwelcomed physical touch works against this, including when being asked. The church leader or volunteer approaches the person in a position of power, as an agent of the church, and not on equal footing.If the embrace is desired, always let it be initiated by the victim in the presence of others, never behind closed doors.
Alongside these trauma-informed strategies, the body of Christ should reexamine its exegesis of scripture and language used surrounding certain stories to prevent ill mindsets of many of the perpetrators who feel they are supported by the church. In other words, particular interpretations of scripture are leading to the perpetration of violence-based form of trauma in the way they show biblical characters being absolved of certain crimes, misinterpret the original intent of scripture, translate verbiage incorrectly, and fail to consider a story in its entirety or a particular cultural context. The sixteenth century brought much reform to the Christian faith in Europe and beyond with the influx of Martin Luther’s theology and the reformation he brought to the orthodox Roman Catholic church that was majority Christianity at the time.While these changes brought incredible freedoms to many of the “overly religious” tenants of the faith as well as largely removed the “church as business” theory brought on by the Vatican’s monetary penance policies and third party prayer, Luther’s 95 Thesis was merely the beginning for views on marriage and respect for women intended by Christ.Still, further freedoms arose for humankind as John Wesley’s Methodist movement in the eighteenth century aided in the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and lobbied against predestination, in favor of one’s ability to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ whereby a believer would be able to reach a state of holiness no matter their background.Still, much was left to be done in the way of racial and gender-based equality – notwithstanding the evil sin that exists in humankind’s heart even in the best of these scenarios and theological philosophies.
In short, scripture in and of itself supports the sinner through forgiveness, instruction, and love. Sadly, humankind has twisted scripture in condoning ill treatment of others and has largely missed Christ’s original intent. For example, scripture was used to support slave owners for centuries. Verses like, 1 Peter 2:18, which says, “slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” Unmistakably, this scripture is one that has been used to promote the harsh treatment of human beings. The misstep here is the siloed interpretation of scripture. In essence, taking this scripture out of context, and leaving behind the many areas where the word of God calls for the gentle and kind hearted spirit of supervisors, business owners, family members and friends. For example, Christ explains the demeanor of a believer in the sermon on the mount,
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:3-16)
Christians are called to be merciful, have a pure heart, be peacemakers and exhibit righteousness. Interpreted alone, 1 Peter 2:18 and similar scriptures support the essential abuse of children of God. However, read alongside other scriptural commands, undoubtedly produce an entirely different outcome for those being abused. By and large, abusers who exploit humankind for their own gain are likely not of the Christian faith, as the majority of enslaved persons reside in North Korea, India, Africa and Afghanistan.However, this was not always the case. For the trafficked person in Christian contexts today, the most likely scenario is a women or young girl who has been sexually trafficked and abused either in the United States, Europe, or Central America.In this case, the church does have a significant opportunity to educate their congregations as to the meanings of those scriptures which reference slavery and worshiping the “God of Gain” at the sake of another of God’s children also made in God’s divine image. John Wesley included an extract of a 1766 sermon preached by the Bishop of Gloucester in his Thoughts on Slavery Manifesto. In this excerpt, the Bishop pleads with perpetrators of the slave trade saying, “Gracious God, to talk of property in rational creatures! Creatures endowed with all our faculties, processing all our qualities but that of colour; our brethren both by nature and grace, shocks all the feelings of humanity, and the dictates of common sense.”Further, Wesley himself begins the text quoting Genesis 4:10, where Cain murders his brother Abel, “And the Lord said – What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”Throughout the old and new testaments, the Lord explains the unrighteousness of harming our brethren despite the interpretation of some.
Another form of erroneous exegesis is that which seeks to create a role of inferiority for women. Whether in the context of a marriage, educational spheres, or society at large, scripture has been used to oppress women against the clear direction of the Lord. As recently as 2018, popular evangelist and teacher John Piper, spoke against females being allowed to teach, as professors of theology, in a statement released on his website, despite earning degrees from theological schools which promote that which he opposes.This patristic form of theology has infiltrated the Christian church for quite some time. Scriptures like, 1 Peter 3:7, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Piper used portions of this scripture to validate his subservient view of women.Ironically, when read in its entirety, the Lord goes on to name women as fellow heirs of grace and threatens a husband’s prayers in the event he chooses to not honor his wife. Of course, elsewhere in scripture multiple accounts can be found regarding the agency and intelligence of women. In her text on Women in the Church, Elizabeth A. Clark tells of the Apostle Paul’s recognition of Priscilla’s importance and value as a teacher (even above her husband in this case):
It is worth looking into the reason why, when Paul greets them, he places Priscilla’s name before her husband’s. For he did not say, “Greet Aquila and Priscilla,” bur “Priscilla and Aquila.” Now he did not do this unwittingly, for it seems to me that he knew she was more pious than her husband. And that interpretation is not just a guess, one can learn it from the Acts of the Apostles. Apollos was an eloquent man, skilled in the Scriptures, but he knew only the baptism of John. This woman took him, instructed him in the way of God, and make him a perfect teacher (Acts 18:24-28).
For Paul and Luke, as the author of Acts, it seems women were not only important as teachers but were able to make whole what their husbands could not. Elizabeth A. Johnson summarizes the issue in this way,
From the margins feminist liberation theology sees clearly that society and the church are pervaded by sexism with its twin faces of patriarchy and androcentrism. This social sin has debilitating effects on women both socially and psychologically, and interlocks with other forms of oppression to shape a violent and dehumanizing world.
The church along with institutions of learning, like Fuller Theological Seminary, have made great strides in creating and advocating for the agency of women. In fact, Mari Clements, current provost of Fuller issued a press release following Piper’s statement that challenged his interpretation and cited the numerous examples of Christ not only honoring women but actually involving women in his inner circle and ministry team.In effect, hurtful words like those published by Piper and others only work to splinter the body of Christ so that it cannot fully function as the light of the world as intended by Christ. (Matthew 5: 3-16) Other examples of harmful interpretations rests in verses which speak ill of divorce and forced intimacy. Many times these sermons are not presented with obvious caveats for abusive or violent situations, keeping women trapped in threatening situations. Scripture says both, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband,” and “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” (1 Corinthians 7:4 and 39) However, as one reads further within 1 Corinthians, God’s words says, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:4-6) Scripture is meant to be interpreted as a whole text, not in part and surely not in an effort to commit violent acts of abuse on others, no matter the relationship.
Yet, another critical value destroyed when evil penetrates the will of God is that of the removal of community. When church communities become places to be seen they fail to promote authentic relationship and the sharing of both the joys and struggles of life. If the National Center for PTSD’s estimates are correct, 6 out of every 10 men experience trauma in their lives and 5 out of every 10 women experience trauma in their lifetime,then lessons learned as a part of Aten and Boan’s research, on how to help congregations prepare to deal with survivors of violence-based trauma, is critically relevant. Authentic community became a highlight of recovery, in the way listening skills and basic needs are met for survivors in both the safety and meaning making stages of recovery.When the aforementioned statistics are fully realized, every other person in church pews is either currently experiencing a trauma, has endured a previous trauma or will experience a traumatic event in the coming days. The church has a unique ability to surround these individuals with the love, understanding and kindness offered by Christ, yet so many times the body of Christ has used their platform to disempower, judge and slander others for personal gain. It is time the church takes charge of the defensive role they have been called to play in the world for both the sakes of those who might consider perpetrating a violence-based trauma as well as those who have survived a violence-based trauma.
THE CHURCH’S OFFENSIVE ROLE
Conversely, the church also has the opportunity to cure violence-based traumas by going out into the world and actively aiding the oppressed through service and by bringing the lost into God’s community through evangelism. This sort of approach might be labeled, an offensive strategy, as opposed to the defensive or inside the churchmeans previously discussed. Examples of an offensive strategy could be global missions, local outreaches, advocacy, and services offered inside the church. Of course, each of these endeavors is a vast focus, which alone could be and has been the topic of a lengthy paper in its own right. However, in the limited space given, brief descriptions and points relevant to its value in the eradication of violence-based trauma will be provided.
Foremost, in an effort to reach those far from God, the church must fulfill its call to go out into the world and teach the word of the Lord. Ideally, as the righteousness of God is learned and experienced, the lost will find the Lord’s good news and those who are currently being oppressed will find the freedom offered through Christ. Depending on the victim’s situation, they might then discover the bravery to flee their oppressors. How then should one approach sharing and showing the word of God to the global oppressed? Benno van den Toren explains best practices in his text, Christian Apologetics as Cross-Cultural Dialogue. Cultural relevancy is key to ensuring the intended messages is received whether in the United States or abroad.
All human life is culturally embedded. … What is evident for us isn’t always so for others. Our cultural perspectives play into what we perceive to be true, in how we experience reality, in how we reason and in what we find worth pursuing. In a sense people with different cultures live in different worlds. The history of apologetics and Scripture itself provides examples in the cultural sensitivity shown in apologetic dialogue and witness. Jesus himself proclaimed the one message of the presence of the Kingdom of God in his Person, yet addressed each audience differently.
As van den Toren states, the importance of contextualizing one’s message for their audience is not only evident, it is also crucial to the message itself – in that Christ incorporated contextualization into his own ministry. Christians are called to engage in areas both near and far so that the word of the Lord begins to pervade humankind in an effort to live out the Lord’s Prayer as described previously. Bringing heaven to earth in this way might work to bring perpetrators into the fold of the body of Christ, as well as provide hope to those being victimized. For victims, both the meaning making phase and reconnecting phase depend on healthy approaches to missions. Accepting the Lord as a sovereign who guides and protects his followers will prove a difficult task for those who have experienced such extreme suffering. It is also important to note that many perpetrators of such violence are in fact victims of violence themselves. In her text on hope, Langberg discusses how the values learned from one’s family become part of one’s worldview that will impact their behavior if not addressed with the help of healthy perspectives and therapy provided in a structured setting.Unfortunately, for the majority of the over 40 million slavesand their perpetrators, this type of care and recovery is an unaffordable luxury. It stands to reason then, the answer for survivors is the ability of those who are experiencing a healthy mindset, to reach them with the healing hand and salvation of Christ. Many behaviors seen as violent or unhealthy in the context of the United States, are normalized in other societies. Examples of these things could be: patristic societies, government systems in need of transformation, or deep rooted violence as a part of everyday life. In these cases, even in the event a culture is based on Christianity, it could be warped by human sin to the point of damaging one’s spirituality. Missionaries (both short and long term) must remain cognizant of the environment they are entering, to not present the gospel as a new idea, yet to approach historically Christian societies as if they have been spirituality damaged as a sequela of complex trauma.Walker and his coauthors say this, “Related to spiritual meaning-making and religious beliefs, schemas about self and others are highly vulnerable to disturbance as a consequence of trauma, especially trauma that is interpersonal in causation and implementation and that occurs repeatedly over the course of significant developmental epochs.”
The issue of timing is of great importance to this particular section. One must recall the distress experienced by the population of violence-based trauma survivors which have been the focus of this text. Establishing safety should be the primary goal for these survivors. While mission care teams might be eager to share their faith, doing so directly while aiding the survivor in establishing safety or medical care, could be considered coercion in the way it takes advantage of their vulnerability. Christine A. Courtois speaks to this phenomenon in the text, Spiritually Oriented Psychotherapy for Trauma.
Because most trauma involves an assault on the victim’s spirit, identity, and self-worth, healing from trauma is fundamentally a spiritual process or a quest for spirituality involving a deep need for meaning and value. Many traumatized individuals are dispirited by the assaults, abuses, and the neglect and indifference at the hands of other humans, some of whom are related to them … In consequence of their traumatic experiences, many victimized clients despair at ever being understood or being able to heal. Attention to how their spirit and spiritual beliefs were altered by the trauma is therefore well within the domain of their psychotherapy and is in the interest of healing, renewal and transformation. 
As Courtois suggested, survivors are in a state of crisis until safety is established. For many of the victims discussed as a part of this text, safety means more than physical distance from their perpetrators. Rather, safety might be a long road of gaining personal freedom and agency with the security that comes with a home of one’s own, knowing and understanding a new culture, the ability to earn a living without the risk of exploitation. In particular, refugees who have fled unsafe situations in their home countries seeking refuge in areas of relative safety like Jordan, are still not in a position to be able to safely hear the word of God as they have yet to acculturate within a new legal context. Similarly, survivors of modern day slavery, either directly following a rescue or as a part of initial aftercare are also still dependent on the care of others for their welfare and sharing one’s faith may seem a contingency of continued care for these individuals, which might further exploit them. Of course, room for the Spirit to work in an unorthodox way must also be priority. However, as a best-practice, care groups providing care should do so out of the type of compassion called to by Christ while being careful not to create a reciprocal contingency dynamic for the survivor. However, once the survivor regains agency of their self and their family, providers should be open to sharing their faith directly as a means of fulling the great commission and their desire to bring all souls into the body of Christ.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
It stands to reason then that one who chooses to engage in missions should be well read on the various dynamics within their target culture. In addition, teams should prioritize prayer for each other and those with whom they will come in contact. Also of great importance is thoughtful selection of team members. Ideally, each traveler should possess a necessary skillset and knowledge base for their particular task while on mission.
Conversely, local outreaches to areas surrounding one’s place of worship should also be subjected to similar types of discernment. In particular, urban areas in the United States present issues mirroring that of international missions. Cultural dynamics and needs might alter street by street in many neighborhoods. Albeit, several additional factors are at play when proximity is relevant. Outreach coordinators must be careful to not interfere in areas which they are ill equipped to provide services needed or are unwilling to refer as matters reach a level beyond their team’s expertise. For example, if the church becomes involved in homeless outreach and determines they have interfaced with a survivor of violence-based trauma, the church should be careful not to over promise where their services are lacking, rather build a list of local resources which may be called upon to facilitate needs. Heather D. Gingrich says, Church congregations tend either to provide environments conducive to healing or to be toxic faith communities for individuals suffering from complex traumatic stress disorder (CTSD), a byproduct of violence based traumas, as the needs of such individuals are so great, appropriately ministering to them is a challenge, but not impossible.”Gingrich suggests that the church first educate themselves about (violence-based trauma), provide survivors with emotional and spiritual support, and partner with counselors.Again, church clergy are not equipped properly to handle the types of needs presented by survivors of violence-based traumas. Their needs are vast, complex and require deep cognitive therapy that cannot be overruled by well-meaning pastors with extensive biblical knowledge. Gingrich goes on to say,
“perhaps the biggest stumbling block for churches is a lack of understanding about (violence-based trauma survivors) and dissociation. Highly dissociative individuals are at increased risk of being misunderstood by other Christians, particularly as fears … arise. This is where educating pastors, lay leaders, lay counselors, life coaches, spiritual directors and other members of church congregations can be of immense help.
In effect, it appears there is a large role for churches through local outreach to survivors of violence-based trauma. However, churches must commit themselves to learning about the specific needs of survivors, while simultaneously developing vast reference lists of specialized local care providers that are well versed in the needs of survivors of violence-based trauma.
Ministering to the globally hurt and the locally abused is enough for any congregation. Nevertheless, in some cases, where capacity exists, an additional avenue is available for those who wish to be a part of healing and prevention for survivors of violence-based traumas. Merriam-Webster defines advocacy as the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal; the act or process of advocating something.Yet, in my experience, advocacy is the voicing of one’s opinion to those in a position of power, who might be able to impact policies and procedures in relevant arenas going forward. Speaking out can be an important part of recovery for survivors or those who have experienced loss either as the result of a violent act or as the family or friend of a loved one who experienced a similar act. Jerry Sitter discusses the loss felt by victims of violence in a more palatable way,
Our sense of personal identity depends largely on the roles we play and the relationships we have. What we do and who we know contributes significantly to how we understand ourselves. Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity. It is not like the literal amputation of a limb. Rather, it is more like the amputation of the self from the self. It is the amputation of the self as professional, if one has lost a job. Or the self as a husband, if one has lost a spouse through divorce or death. Or the self as an energetic and productive person, if one has lost good health. Or the self as a respected member of the community, if one has lost reputation. Or the self as pure and innocent, if one has been raped or abused. It is the amputation of the self we once were or wanted to be, the self we can no longer be or become.
This explanation of loss can be quite catastrophic for some, yet can provide eternal meaning-making for others. While the truths are valid, the definition does not do much in the way of providing a valid avenue of healing for the young girl abandoned to the sex slave trade, the middle-aged father struggling for means to feed his family following a war-caused relocation or the young wife with a history of family violence who has become violent herself as she is triggered by the particular behaviors of her spouse. For these, defining their pain is the beginning of restoration but not the end. Fortunately, this is an area well studied in both developing and undeveloped nations. Dr. Mary Beth Williams is one such scholar who has taken the time to fully research the effects of violence-based trauma, specifically, in her case, post traumatic stress disorder. In Williams’ text which serves as a workbook to survivors, she describes many possible means of healing, which included choosing to work for a “common good” that gives a sense of meaning.Williams goes on to give specific examples like the well-known advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, started by the survivors of victims of drunk driving, and others. She says, “you may become a mentor to others or start your own organization. … Through these or similar activities, you give something back to the world.”Of course survivors would need to reach healthy mindsets in order to begin these goals, however knowing of these possibilities might provide an avenue for healing both for the survivor and for the church body wishing to eradicate violence-based traumas globally.
PART III : PERSONAL MINISTRY APPLICATION
My current ministry and role within the church looks much different than I would have envisioned it ten, five or even one year ago. Truthfully, the impact of our two children has taken both my husband and I by surprise. With small children so close in age, we have been forced to make life adjustments in areas unforeseen, namely the amount of time I am able to spend doing ministry work outside the home. For now, I am very limited. However, I enjoy the three opportunities I do have when time, health and childcare allow. This current situation should resolve in the next four years or less as the children begin school, so it is with this in mind that I build into these three ministry areas with the knowledge gleaned as a part of CN731.
As a church influencer, by way of leading intermittent bible studies and advising church leaders as a doctorate of ministry candidate, several key areas come to mind as the church seeks to become more trauma informed. Many of these have been mentioned as a part of previous sections, but are worth revisiting as practical steps. As the church considers its defensive role in becoming more trauma informed, exegesis might and should be amended in several cases. This is not to say that interpretation of the bible should change, but it should be done in a new light, through the lens of a survivor. The rarity for centuries, has been the church pastor willing to create necessary caveats for abusive situations or those which fall into the violence-based trauma category. For example, a wife being repetitively abused by her husband either through violent means or otherwise might choose to remain in an unhealthy relationship due to perceived religious duty. Consider research found in Walker’s text,
At times, clients appear to be using religious beliefs as a justification for abusive behavior, either their own behavior or acts of abusive behavior that they have experienced. Giesbrecht and Sevcik (2000) gave examples of an individual who believed that she deserved her spousal abuse because she saw herself as spiritually inadequate.
In an effort to help influence in my own congregation in this direction , I will seek to leverage the relationship I have with my pastor as a community group member to help educate the staff in trauma informed ways. This will include reviewing forms of violence-based traumas in a separate meeting with the key leadership to review how messages and services are being rendered and ensuring they are being considered through the eyes of a survivor.
To that end, our congregation does not currently hold a list of mental health professionals to which congregants can be readily referred in the event that they are in need of care. This seems a major area for improvement both within our congregation and for the church at-large. Shelley Rambo discusses the relatively new field of trauma and its influence on theology and the church,
“The phenomenon of trauma is not new. There is no time in history when we can say that trauma began. Yet the study of trauma is relatively new, spanning a little over a century. … Yet the rise of trauma studies, and theological engagement with it, calls attention to new aspects of the conversation about suffering. More recently, theologians following the conversation about trauma have started to think that trauma calls for a distinctive theological articulation. Unique dimensions of trauma move theology in new direction. (New theologians) testif(y) to the fact that trauma is not simply a category that can be confined to the fields of psychology and counseling; it had broadened to present profound challenges to epistemology, constructions of the self, and theological understandings of time.”
It is clear, my home church is not alone in experiencing these voids. However, this is not a valid excuse or reason to not pay due attention to an issue that has very probably been leading to the traumatization and retraumatization of church members for decades if not centuries. Another example could be, a couple experiencing post-partum depression leading to violence. Finding an adequate and well educated counselor might prove unmanageable as the couple, who is already stressed and sleep-deprived, with little spare time, attempts to navigate the world of mental health professional on their own. That is to say, the lay person might experience frustration and hopelessness unnecessarily as they attempt to determine which professional is the right type for their particular needs – psychiatrist, psychologist, biblical counselor, licensed counselor, pastor with a seminary education, or pastor without a seminary education. Were church staff to have already filtered those spiritually oriented mental health professionals providing services locally, the couple might experience a healthier outcome than going it alone. In the case of one such couple at our church, the wife eventually ended her life leaving behind 3 children, the youngest of which was less than one year old.
Establishing safety for church members should also be of the utmost priority and can be critical to their initial wellbeing and continued recovery. For our particular non-denominational church, congregants are encouraged to participate in some type of volunteer work or regular church service opportunity. Many times, excitable greeters will unnecessarily attempt to embrace those who enter the church or otherwise enter their personal space in some way. For the survivor of violence-based trauma, this could be yet another threatening individual forcing themselves physically on the victim, further retraumatizing them and steering them away from the church. It is difficult to know the stories of all who are able to walk through the church doors. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to do our best not to add to the pain of those who make the effort to seek God, whether in the middle of their crisis or throughout their healing process by letting the visitor initiate physical contact.
Another practical strategy could be to ensure our small groups, bible studies and community groups understand confidentiality rules and under no circumstances break the trust established through relationship, notwithstanding emergency situations. For example, a church my family and I attended previously would sporadically allow women’s bible study coaches to visit and rotate through groups throughout a six week study. Once safety was established and women began divulging personal experiences and possible unhealthy living situations or abuse both past and present, it was overwhelmingly troubling for me to have an unknown individual enter the “circle of trust.” In my opinion, this broke down trust barriers and could have prohibited the women in the group from seeking help. During the meeting on becoming a more trauma-informed church, I intend to discuss this particular example so that my current congregation can work toward creating safe spaces for those currently experiencing a form of violence-based trauma and those in recovery.
As a part of my own healing journey, I became an advocate for the oppressed. This took the form of working as congressional staff and federal lobbying for many years. My current responsibilities allow me to advocate with groups like the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on an as needed basis, providing me with the opportunity to leverage my political contacts in an effort to help free the oppressed from violence. Thankfully each of these groups is well versed in trauma-informed strategies and pays close attention to survivors of these crimes.
Still, care for the caregiver seems to be an area of great need for each organization. To-date, IJM has rescued more than 45,000 people from slavery and other forms of violence.These are overwhelming and were unfathomable statistics just 20 years ago, prior to the founding of IJM. The organization currently serves clients in countries where laws exist that prohibit the exploitation of human beings as slaves. Currently funding allows operations in 17 offices globally. With all of IJM’s amazing programs and services, it unfortunately falls short in the area of care for the caregiver. Several methods exist for staff of IJM to become traumatized through the ritual stories of violence they are exposed or by the retraumatization of staff members though unchecked business processes. While serving as full time staff with the organization, I noticed a lack of legitimate resources offered in this area. As I continue to engage with IJM, in both advocacy and alumni roles, I will seek to influence organization leaders to more fully develop resources that might aid staff in their exposure, which might also serve as a preventative measure against some of the violence-based traumas infiltrating the lives of IJM’s employees. In her text on Restoring the Shattered Self, Dr. Heather D. Gingrich, discusses spiritual warfare not only as a tool of Satan to attack the minds of God’s people but a tactic that should be expected by both the care giver and the client. After referencing Ephesians 6:10-17 which discusses putting on the full armor of God, she says,
“This passage of scripture is clearly addressing spiritual warfare, but the focus is withstanding assault. The focus is on resistance by focusing on truth, developing character, focusing on the message of the gospel, using faith in God and the knowledge of our salvation in order to defend against attacks, while relying on the Word of God and prayer. Practicing regular spiritual disciplines is the best way of doing this. Christian clients who meditate on God’s Word and pray regularly are thereby strengthening their spiritual armor, and thus interfering with Satan’s attempts to control them.
IJM has been phenomenal at creating a community of spiritual formation for its employees, in the way it has helped to create space for its staff to put on the full armor of God and encouraged literal dependence on the guidance of the Spirit. The organization is also made up largely of type-A personalities who might find it difficult to admit defeat outside of the context of a safe and non-judgmental environment. In this way, the organization could move more toward regular (even in-house) meetings with mental health professionals so that staff felt spiritual warfare on their minds and personal lives was not an unexpected consequence but an expected one. Gingrich goes on to say, “I believe that counselors are helping clients battle Satan’s lies, which, in effect, is spiritual warfare, whether or not counselors or their clients are aware of it.”During our next advocacy day, justice advocate call or alumni meeting, I intend to raise this as a continued area for organizational improvement. IJM’s high staff turn-over rate is also of note in regards to staff care. In addition, I would like to raise the issue of preventative care for staff as a means of staff retention.
Similarly, IRC is phenomenal at serving their target group. I have had the great honor of lobbying Congress for increased arrival rates of refugees, advanced funds toward resettlement during the Trump Administration and interacting with clients on a casework basis. Currently, the IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps propel those whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. An astounding 10,665 refugees and special immigrant visa recipients were resettled in by IRC in American communities last year alone.
Unfortunately, the organization was not established as a Christian non-profit and does not include spiritual interventions in their recovery models for survivors. While I might be able to influence the United States government to increase the rate at which it accepts victims of violence-based trauma in the form of survivors of violent war crimes, these individuals will never fully realize their own recovery as a healthy and productive member of society if they are not allowed to process events which occur through a spiritual lens. Many of these survivors are Muslim by descent and choice. It is my personal belief that the Lord Jesus Christ might be able to use the unfortunate circumstances in their lives to draw them closer to his side. Yet, one must recall best-practices previously mentioned in this text, and be careful not to coerce individuals by sharing their faith in too close of proximity to the survivors’ trauma. Still, Walker lists spiritually oriented trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy as a shining example of how to best assist victims of violence-based trauma complete the second step in healing, meaning-making.For this reason, I will seek out leaders both locally and abroad to advocate within the organization for more robust inclusion of spiritually oriented methods in aftercare models.
The third aspect of personal ministry in which I have the joy of engaging is international missions. As medical mission team member I have found myself serving in a number of roles, including: pharmacist, eye glass technician, triage nurse, waiting room greeter, prayer partner and evangelist. To date, these trips have included several continents and multiple languages. The vast difference in ministry opportunities present between Nicaragua, Nepal and Jordan are astounding. Van den Toren discusses cross-cultural persuasion in his text, saying “All human beings are profoundly bound up with their culture, and receive their basic outlook on reality from the community in which they are socialized and from which they receive their identity.”Understanding the dynamics of a target country’s culture is of the utmost importance. Thankfully mission teams with which I have the opportunity to travel with are particularly diligent in this area. Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), is one such group which places extreme importance on the knowledge of missionaries. In my experience, the group protects emergency missions at the cost of fundraising and awareness in many cases.For example, during urgent trips which serve survivors of war, CMDA has mandated not one image or story be published on social media or otherwise in an effort to protect the local pastors and missionaries which are under constant threat of exposure and persecution.Providing one has necessary protections on their email and social feed, it seems the retelling of these stories could help safely expose the issues present for refugees, including many Middle-Eastern Christians, that are in desperate need of help from developing nations, namely the United States. Of course, protecting these persecuted peoples (establishing safety) should be of the utmost importance and organizations like CMDA might be better able to serve both purposes by mandating the use of pseudonyms and blurring faces of survivors. This is a suggestion I will pose via email to the director of CMDA prior to our next trip.
Along these lines, it is also imperative that teams not attempt to impose full American values on peoples of other nations and cultures. For example, many women in Nicaragua might be totally aghast at the thought of equal marriage partnerships and being honored within the home. While on mission to Central America, our teams serve women currently trapped in prostitution and sexual exploitation, otherwise known as modern-day slavery. The many means by which women and girls end up in this situation has been discussed previously. However, relevant to this section is how mission teams from the United States approach these precious souls. In several cases, what some consider sexual exploitation is an honor and privilege to others, as the “work” provides for themselves and their children. Again, my experience proves that once in conversation with these women, an intrinsic human characteristic desiring control of one’s own body arises. To that end, conversations surrounding agency of one’s own body and the impurity of prostitution must be approached carefully and surely not completed within the brothel itself. Dissociation might play a role for some but as Walker states, “Although religion is often a source of healing and comfort, at times its tenets can be applied to religious communities in ways that sometimes support the abuse of women in intimate relationships.”It is important to understand a person’s worldview on gender roles, their own agency and history with faith before or alongside witnessing to them on the field.
Similarly, timing is very important as one considers how to share their faith. As discussed in the section titled the church’s offensive role, it is not always appropriate to share one’s faith in a direct manor on the field as doing so may become further damaging or even coercive to the survivor. The inherent benefit of traveling alongside medical professionals seems to be the opportunity for the sharing of their faith in indirect ways. Scripture calls Christians to love one another, “the message you heard from the very beginning is this: we must love one another.’ (1 John 3:11) Yet, how particular survivors are best loved might be through indirect service of their immediate needs rather than being overly concerned with ensuring they understand John 3:16. This will be a more difficult topic to broach with CMDA as it is in their very nature to directly witness. While the organization seeks to serve the oppressed and bring all into the body of Christ by providing free medical services, they would greatly benefit from becoming more trauma-informed. It is my hope to gain audience with many of the board members of CMDA as a part of advocacy or annual updates, and form a group of trauma-informed team members that might begin to educate leadership on best practices for serving survivors of violence-based trauma through thoughtful evangelism.
Another key practical measure that might be gleaned from the study of violence-based trauma, is the critical importance of carefully curating a list of local or in-country resources which can serve the needs of the oppressed following the departure of short-term mission teams. As was the case for the local church, one team or individual cannot possibly fulfill the needs of each soul they encounter on the field. It is imperative for short-term missionaries to have robust resources for patients following the team’s departure. Williams says, “Healing from trauma occurs when you are able to have at least some level of power or authority over your memories, when you can manage emotions connected with those memories, and when you can manage intrusive and avoidant PTSD-related symptoms.”For survivors of violence met by CMDA’s teams, whether they be victims of war or survivors of sexual violence, establishing safety is a crucial first step which requires numerous local resources. Subsequently, faith can play a role in meaning making but should be done as a part of a permanent resource. This is an area where CMDA excels, but attention could be paid to decreasing the numbers of patients seen in a particular clinic so that each one seen can be assessed and given proper follow up references based on their unique needs.
We are all survivors. Following the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden, we have all fallen short of the glory of God and require the Lord’s grace and guidance at every turn. Placing a degree of hurt on one person’s story over another only works to further divide the children of God, which the Lord himself declared includes each and every one. This is our bond with survivors, perpetrators and mere sinners. The call to love each of these and be earnest in our treatment of their story, lives and situations is a profound and evident command in scripture.
The goal of this research was not to prove the believer’s call to love and serve God’s people but to learn how best to love each individual no matter their context or situation, both presently and in the past. Specifically, survivors of violence-based traumas in the form of family violence, modern-day slavery, and refugees of war deserve the attention of the church in was previously unfathomable. Great strides have been made through science and research in an effort to understand the causality of many of these preventable forms of violence. Hence, it is time the church fulfill the honor and duty given to them by God to not only meet the needs of survivors of violence-based traumas but also rise to the challenge of creating biblical communities which model well the body of Christ. As this goal is realized within the church, areas outside the church will begin to take note and heaven will truly be brought to earth.
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