So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.
-Job 2:13, KJV
Protestantism is big on sin and forgiveness.
Emphasis on sin and forgiveness is pervasive through evangelical teaching and preaching. That is good. However, I feel we are failing a group of people by only talking personal sin and not talking how sin impacts others.
The emphasis is failing adultery victims.
In such a culture, people may know how to process adultery from the adulterous spouse end–i.e. repent and God forgives. They likely have heard a pastor mention–even if only in passing–that God forgives adulterous spouses, too. However, these Christians have no categories of care for the victims of adultery.
In the end, the lack of clear teaching in caring for adultery victims leave them unseen and treated as if they did something wrong to be in the awful situation that they currently find themselves.
Here are a few tips to change that situation:
1. State clearly from the pulpit and in pastoral meetings that adultery victims exist. The body of Christ needs to know and see such individuals. That is where care begins–i.e. recognizing that the church has such hurting victims in their midst.
As things stand, adulterers and adulteresses already get more attention by pastors and other Christians, whereas their victims are often ignored and neglected as few are willing to acknowledge adultery victims’ existence publicly.
2. Make a frontal assault to “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” Do not underestimate the power of this demonic lie that teaches that the adultery victim is partially or otherwise responsible for being sinned against. They are not! Such sin comes from the heart of the adulterous spouse alone as Jesus clearly teaches (e.g. Mark 7:21-23).
It is important to make this teaching explicitly and publicly as some Christians hesitate to help adultery victims because they erroneous believe those victims share blame for their plight. Speaking up on such matters is an opportunity to provide gentle correction as well as pave the way for the Body of Christ to care for some of its most wounded and vulnerable members–i.e. adultery victims.
3. Teach that recovery from an adulterous betrayal is primarily a grief process. Another barrier to caring for adultery victims is getting stuck on the sin and forgiveness teachings. Often, we want to moralize grief like Job’s friends. Instead, we need to treat the grief of adultery and divorce victims with respect and care. I am convinced that the healing journey for such victims is primarily through the emotional process–i.e. not rational–process of grieving the multitude of losses that come with having a marriage end violently via infidelity.
Signalling pastorally that this is primarily a grief issue and not a forgiveness situation for adultery victims encourages congregants to approach these victims more appropriately.
Do we condemn or pressure widows or widowers to forgive God for taking their spouse fresh after the death of their respective spouse?
I hope not. Bring casseroles. Invite adultery victims to events that provide community and fellowship for them during this time. Include them. Let them know that they are seen, loved, and supported. Do what you want done unto you as if you had tragically lost your own spouse. It is a grief care thing.
I am proud to be a Protestant. However, I am sad to see how emphasizing sin and forgiveness messages have led our Christian communities to a place where they are ill-equipped to care for adultery victims. We need to do so much better. God cares deeply for these people, and we owe it to God to care for them better as a community.