The Devastation of Denial

“It can’t be true. I know him and he would never do that.”

This is one of the most common things I hear in nearly every case of alleged clergy sex abuse, as well as in alleged abuse in Christian families. For every person who says these words, they are absolutely sure that this time it is the truth and it is all a big misunderstanding or conspiracy. In every separate incidence, not only are people close to the situation adamant their friend is innocent, they are often extremely angry at those who dare to believe otherwise.

Denial is incredibly powerful. Denial can stand in the face of the most blatant and obvious evidence to the contrary. When there is little or no visible, indisputable evidence, denial stands on even stronger ground. Denial will even find ways to explain away a confession.

I saw this happen in my own family’s abuse situation. Even when my ex-husband admitted in court that he had, in fact, violently abused his children over the course of many years, during which time he had successfully denied my accusations, his family and closest friends still believed my latest accusations were false because he had a perfect public image and denied any wrong-doing. Not one of them registered the slightest alarm or concern to hear him admit the things I had been saying for more than 10 years were true after all. What were the chances that my current accusations were not true when he admitted to the actions I had been trying all those years to tell about? This meant that every time I said “abuse” previously I was telling the truth and he lied. But this time I was lying and he was telling the truth? How likely is that?

But it was as if they did not even hear what he said. No one seemed able to see the obvious, including the judge. A squeaky-clean Christian, super-Boy-Scout leader façade won the day. The judge said, “Boy Scouts don’t lie…I don’t believe he’s the monster you’ve painted him to be.” Boy Scouts don’t lie, so if a bunch of Scout leaders say it ain’t so, it ain’t so. All they could see was the public face, and the public family solidarity. They couldn’t see past this to the fact that abusers always hide behind socially-acceptable fronts and know how to intimidate or manipulate family into maintaining the picture in public.

How much stronger is this conviction when the accused is a pastor or church leader? It cannot be true; it is impossible. But it is true.

And denial only increases the damage. Denial hinders people from genuine healing. Denial lightly heals the wound, or falsely heals it because people refuse to admit they are wounded or refuse to accept the real nature of the wound.

Denial also inherently lays blame on the victim, increasing the damage to that person, and making the church a toxic environment for victims instead of a healing haven.

Worst of all, it reinforces the problem of abuse in the church because denial enables abuse to continue. Denial doesn’t just affect a single family or church. Since denial is nearly universal, the entire church collectively fails to acknowledge or address abuse in the church. This means the whole church is crippled, abuse in the church is systemically enabled, and the world can look at the church with justifiable blame for being characterized by a tolerance for the most abhorrent behavior.

6 Responses

  1. Yes. Precisely. This is why victims have no recourse but to turn to the legal system for remedy. The church will not address this issue.

  2. right on sister!!! All some people do is blame, blame, blame. It can’t be the abusers fault… it can’t be our fault, it can’t be.. things like this don’t happen to me and mine. Let’s push it on anyone who has the backbone to stand up to the church machine.

  3. Denial has caused me far more pain than the years of abuse. Even after some of his lies were exposed, he is still believed. His denial has lost me all church support (I am not allowed to join home groups or talk about what is happening or the situation at the moment) and I have lost all of our joint christian friends. They all blank me now and cross the road. Denial is by far the greatest abuse.

    • I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, too. I experienced the same thing and so have many others. This is NOT RIGHT. It is not righteousness, it is a failure of the church to stand in righteousness, and it is — I believe — secondary abuse by the church. It doesn’t make it feel any better to know they are operating in complete ignorance. The fact is, they should know better and if the church were listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit this would, and could, never happen.

      This is why I found walking through my divorce to be the hardest thing I have ever experienced, including cancer. It was the only thing that ever threatened to shake my faith. And that was entirely because of the way the church handled my known and confirmed abuse. Thank God He is bigger than that! He has hope and He has healing anyway.

      And eventually, all our voices will be heard so that others down the line don’t have to walk there, too.

      — Danni

  4. Is it rape when your husband allows another man to have sex with you when you are blacked out? Even if you have had threesomes in the past? . In my marriage I finally caved into saying yes to a threesome for my husband. After the first one which I had to be completely drunk and on drugs to do, I asked him the next day to never let it happen again. We went out again and the same thing would happen. I was afraid of losing him but I spiraled out of control after the first incident. We did this several times and my husband would provide me with cocaine, alcohol, etcasy to get me in the right fram of mind to do it. When I was sober I always asked him to stop. He was always sober for each incident. There were a couple of times I remember nothing from the night except coming to and feeling another man in me. I would see my husband watching and I would tell the man to get off of me… I was ashamed and humiliated. We are now divorced and my ex husband now says I asked for it… I am in a deep depresssion and feel as though I have no rights… What are my rights?

    • Yes, it is. I would strongly recommend calling a rape hotline and getting some professional advice. Your ex is lying to you to protect himself – at the very least to appease his own conscience. If you cannot easily find a hotline, call your county human services department and they will have information on who you can call.

      — Danni

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