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Abusers at the Communion Table

I read an article last week written by an abuse survivor on the ramifications for a victim when his/her perpetrator is welcome at the communion table. I had a strong reaction to the article, at first negative and then positive. I think the article raised a good point, and it is valuable to think through the implications from both angles.

First, I can’t say in strong enough terms that we have NO GOOD NEWS if we deny repentant abusers a place at the communion table. We might as well pack up our hymnals and Bibles and just go on home. We deny the gospel and suction out every last bit of hope we have in Christ if we do that. I will die a bloody death on that sword. Repentant sinners are WELCOME at the communion table.

However, we must also consider what simple love demands. Love is after all the GREATEST command. We must show consideration to one struggling as a victim in such a circumstance. We must lay down our rights. I have some personal experience that helps me navigate the difference in my first point and my second – the absolute necessity that the gospel not just allows but WELCOMES the repentant abuser to the communion table AND the absolute necessity to love the victim in a way that removes stumblingblocks to faith. Before I was married, my family went through a trial. Without going into detail, we ended up at a different church in our community. We deliberately went there to start over. To rebuild in a new church community, leaving our previous church which included the person who had deeply hurt our family. Then, a year or so into our time in this new, peaceful church community, this person from our previous church who was directly involved in past conflicts with our family decided to make our new church their home. Should they be welcome at the communion table? Certainly. Should we work out our problems if we weren’t already reconciled to them? Of course. But despite those two truths, their presence at our new church devastated me. I felt like they might as well have walked up and spit in my face. A key point is that there were multiple churches in our area at which they could worship. We attended a good church. I understood why this person wanted to come to our church. But we had deliberately found this new place to heal from the previous turmoil centered around this other person. Our church was a respite of grace and community for us, and it seemed another bitter betrayal for this person to invade our respite.

If you have wounded someone, repented, and done what you can to repair with them (including serving your sentence in the case of abuse), then part of repairing is respecting the other person’s boundaries. This is just common sense love for the person you have wounded. If you are repentant, do not show up in the place of worship of the one you sinned against. And those counseling and pastoring repentant abusers need to lead on this as well. I understand the predicament if, for a 50 mile radius, there is only one assembly of believers. But that is rarely the case, at least in the US. In the event that you do not live in the plains of Nebraska an hour away from the nearest congregation, then repentant abusers should find another congregation away from the person they wounded to receive communion. The Body of Christ is large. It’s expansive. It’s worldwide. There really is no excuse for an abuser to stay in a local congregation in a way that his/her presence is felt regularly by the one he/she abused. Find another congregation, be honest about your history, and allow them to walk with you.

The evangelical church that loves grace (and I do LOVE grace) needs to also wrestle through what reparation looks like for a repentant abuser. All are welcome at the communion table who understand the wealth of our sin and our need for gospel grace. The same grace we celebrate at the communion table equips repentant sinners to respect the need of those they wounded to heal in a safe place.

19 Responses to Abusers at the Communion Table

  1. Anne Vyn June 17, 2013 at 12:54 pm #

    AMEN!!! to these beautiful, healing truths!

  2. Anonymous June 17, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I really appreciate what you said about this subject. I have had four abusers in my life. Two are now deceased. One of those repented of his battering and we had a good relationship until his death a few years ago.

    The other was my mom and she abused me verbally and emotionally starting about the time I was two years old. She never seemed to realize that what she did was abusive. She was the hardest to forgive but I did and God blessed me with the ability to take care of her when she was completely senile and disabled. I really believe that was a gift from God.

    My current husband is also a verbal and emotional abuser. He is a lot like my mother. I was on the verge of leaving when he said he wanted to fix our marriage. He still is abusive and I don't know if he is really going to change. He says he is sorry a lot but change is the true sign of repentence. He is not there yet and may never get there.

    The last person is a family relative who raped me when I was eight years old and continued to sexually abuse me until he moved half way across the country when I was an adolescent. He has never said I am sorry much less repented. I have waited over 50 years for that and do not have a relationship with him because of his unrepentence. That doesn't mean that I haven't forgiven him but there can be no relationship without repentence. I hope this is not too negative for you as I have to remain anonymous.

  3. Wendy June 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Thanks for sharing that, Anonymous. How beautiful that you were able to forgive and care for your mom in her later years.

  4. Gloria June 17, 2013 at 5:27 pm #

    This is such a sensitive topic, thanks for sharing your views on it, Wendy – and especially to Anonymous – your courage and endurance are such an inspiration. I am so sorry to hear that this all happened to you.

    I had never thought about this topic from your point of view, Wendy, because I have no personal experience with it. I will certainly consider it as I interact with believers in the same situation in future. Thanks.

  5. MSAC English Joshua June 17, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    I don't suppose marital infidelity applies as “abuse”, but I know wives who've forgiven their husbands and still, obviously, live with them graciously and in all of the ways that husbands and wives live with one another. The unfaithful spouse likely knows that he or she carries the burden for having to show repentance, for having to materially change his or her habits in order to restore trust. And the forgiving spouse can depend upon God for grace to empower staying and loving and forgiving and the entire process the Holy Spirit walks us through. I am astounded at times at how the Holy Spirit has strengthened and graced me to forgive my husband; I know that I could not have done it in my own strength.
    However, I will say that at my church, while there was an abundance of comfort and support for my husband at the revelation of his adultery, there was no real comfort or support for me. I was thanked for choosing reconciliation as opposed to divorce, and then left on my own to figure out what that would look like. I am essentially trusting the Holy Spirit that I am healing properly; sometimes, I wonder if I've only played the fool only to be betrayed again or if I'm just glossing over the depth of the betrayal in a desire to not dwell on the problem. But most of the time, I am grateful to God for preserving my family and I have a new-found compassion for those who must face their betrayer in community.

  6. Beth Connell June 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    I don't think it is a lack of forgiveness when you can't face the person who has hurt you. Nor do I believe that the picture of reconciliation is that I must have relationship with that person. I must be reconciled in my heart that the one who hurt me may be very repentant and a new creation but it doesn't mean I have to sit down to dinner with them. For some that may be possible, not for me.

    Personally if the person who hurt us so deeply at our last church stepped foot in our new church I would get up and walk out. LOL obviously I have not finished my 'forgiveness stage” yet! But even if, I couldn't sit across the aisle without having to fight bitterness and anger. The act of forgiveness does not automatically clear up all the hurts and so on. I agree with you, please go get your healing but do it somewhere else.

  7. Wendy June 17, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    It's particularly hard when the person you are forgiving has the potential to hurt you again. Anonymous mentioned taking care of her mom as she was senile and disabled. That is a blessing, because then you can truly act out forgiveness without the fear of being wounded anew by the person. I imagine Anonymous' mom still had some power to hurt her, but it was probably significantly less than when Anonymous was a child.

    Forgiving someone and then being around them when they still have the power to seriously wound us is a hard thing to navigate. I pray for wisdom for those of you put in that situation.

  8. Anonymous June 17, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    I cannot believe the incredulous timing of this blog post. I will call myself Anonymous 2, not to be confused with Anonymous 1 whose situation I dwarf, and your own past situation, Wendy, which you give example of.

    My family was involved in a very small co-op type group which we sadly left after several years due to what I will refer to as major meanness. We sat down to explain to the husband/wife the hurt but after one hour of discussion the best the wife could come up with was, “Would you forgive me for whatever?” And, yes the “whatever” was said with demeaning inflection.

    The good news is that God miraculously led us to another group where we have now enjoyed two years of grace, love, and healing.

    Then just a couple of months ago one of the families
    from the old co-op joined our new co-op. My heart sank as this was not the directly offending family from the old co-op, but one who had stood with the directly offending family. Just this weekend this new co-op group went on day hike which included my son and husband. In talking about the hike, these words spilled from my mouth, “I'm still mad they (meaning the family which followed from the old group) joined our co-op.

    My desire is NOT to have a hard heart, but I can even feel tension as I type these words.

    Wendy, would you consider posting part 2 for your blog and let us know how you dealt with the situation in your church. Looking back is there anything different you would have done?

    Once again, in the grand scheme of things I know my situation dwarfs what so many have suffered.

  9. rose June 17, 2013 at 10:16 pm #

    you must mean your situation is dwarfed by what others have experienced. but I appreciate your candid story because I imagine this a common experience. I said a prayer that some reconciliation and renewed relationship could happen between your two families.

  10. rose June 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    The post you link to uses the phrase “progressive Christians” to describe Christians who go out of their way to emphasize the forgiveness available to what we might call “extreme sinners” or abusers and rapists. I never know what is meant by that phrase, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear of churches that don't, under any circumstances, welcome such people to the communion table, labeled progressive. I think of churches who promote gay marriage as “progressive” and they often don't welcome believers who believe homosexuality is a sin to the table. until that phrase is classified, I will forever be confused by the label.

  11. Wendy June 17, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    One problem is that there are many varieties of this issue, and the variations can make a big difference in how we need to address it. There is a difference in a co-op and a church. There is a difference in helping an aged mother who abused her child and being in proximity to your rapist still in possession of his facilities.

    For our family, we were best served by moving on to another church. I wrestled often with guilt for my feelings toward this other person, and it benefited me to pray for them and my heart toward them. They had some of their own tragedies in their life that naturally softened my heart toward them.

  12. Beth Connell June 18, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    And we know that wounded people wound. We also know that because of the fact that we are all born with the very same sin nature we are all capable of every sin. Jesus did not just die for the sins we would commit but for the very nature of sin that dwells inside of us.

    When Jesus was being put on the cross God did not say to Him “Now Jesus, Beth sinned a whole bunch so she needs a couple of pints of blood, but Mary only sinned a little so she only needs a couple of teaspoons. Although I do not see all sin as the same, I recognize that the payment for all sin is the same, little and big.

    WHEN and if I can remember that it helps me to forgive and it helps me to at least reconcile things in my heart.

  13. Wendy June 18, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    That's a good reminder, Beth.

  14. Anonymous June 18, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    I would think it simply good manners or common sense that if you've hurt someone deeply you maintain a respectful distance. But on the reverse- radical forgiveness is more than a suggestion- it is a requirement. And Jesus certainly sets the standard.

  15. Andrea Sargent Sharrah June 18, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    I appreciate you post and though it is difficult to face the person who abused myself and my children for years. I and my eldest have been able to work through our hurt and anger and move past. We have forgiven but not forgotten. Please pray as we do each day for my other four children to heal, especially my two older sons..it has been a difficult journey for all of us but their hearts carry much anger and resentment..thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement..

  16. Anonymous June 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    From Anonymous 2…thank you, Wendy and Beth, for pointing me in the direction of prayer. To be honest, I haven't prayed about or for the family that re-appeared in our lives, as I just chose the gut-bomb reaction of wanting to stay mad. This morning as I did pray Jesus showed me that out of the love and grace and healing that He has poured out on me I am in a much better place and can extend it toward others.

  17. Wendy June 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    That's so wonderful, Anonymous 2.

  18. Barbara June 18, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Oh Wendy, Once again you are such a unique, clarion voice speaking on a very touchy subject. Thank you for reminding us that “we have NO GOOD NEWS if we deny repentant abusers a place at the communion table”.

    I get exhausted and dismayed at the number and stridency of “Christian” blogs that seem for all intents and purposes to ignore the fact that abuse, be it spiritual, physical, domestic, or sexual is not the unforgivable sin. It is almost as if victimhood and its crusaders have become sacred, protected from scrutiny, and deserving of carte blanche for reprehensible behavior in their quest to seek “justice” and exact revenge.

    I hope your honest examination here of how it would feel for a victim to have to fellowship with an abuser in a very serious case, though, will encourage those who have a choice to choose another place to worship. I will pray to that end.

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  1. A few blog posts on sharing Communion with your abuser - Nyssa's Hobbit Hole - November 11, 2016

    […] There really is no excuse for an abuser to stay in a local congregation in a way that his/her presence is felt regularly by the one he/she abused. Find another congregation, be honest about your history, and allow them to walk with you. —From Abusers at the Communion Table […]