How Survivors of
Abuse Relate to God
Church Times Bookshop £49.50 (Use code
SUSAN SHOOTER's book is
based on her doctoral thesis, and explores the faith of people
traumatised by abuse. The methodology is clearly outlined,
indicating a thorough piece of research that comes to us at a
crucial time in the Church, with the publication of Responding
Well (House of Bishops), and the number of people disclosing
sexual abuse after the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Shooter searched for
interviewees who were established, regular worshippers. She ended
up with just nine who agreed to the publication of their stories.
Shooter recorded uninterrupted accounts from these women (she did
not set out to include only women, but that is how it worked out)
of their abuse in relation to their faith.
There is a fascinating
chapter where Shooter draws parallels between the interviewees and
the words of Job, and another where she relates the women's stories
to the words of the medieval mystic Marguerite Porete.
Shooter describes the main
outcomes of her analysis in terms of "God's Timeless Presence",
"Transformation", and "Knowing Ministry"; and there is a
well-argued challenge to the patriarchal flavour of much of our
church life, showing, for example, some of the interviewees' not
being listened to in their church - although the women were active
in pastoral care and ministry.
I did not entirely
understand Shooter's insistence that this research is not "about
how to minister [to survivors of abuse]"; but she gives examples of
some appalling responses - from inappropriate exorcisms to damaging
views on forgiveness, and the awful effects of some atonement
theology. If my experiences of working with clergy in "responding
well" to people who have been abused are anything to go by, I
suspect many ministers reading Shooter's book would find their
pastoral practice turned on its head.
This is essential reading
for anyone in the Church with authority, those in ministerial
training, all clergy in pastoral positions, and those who hope to
understand the estimated one in five people who are abused at some
point in their lives.
And the main message of the
book? Listen! Listen to that tiny voice from survivors, so easily
drowned out by simplistic views on forgiving and an unwillingness
to engage with profound pain. Many survivors are already excellent
listeners, and pastors with great empathy and skill. This is an
unacknowledged source of ministerial expertise in our churches.
This is a timely and
Sue Atkinson is the
author of several books, including Breaking the Chains
of Abuse (Lion, 2006).