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.