Responding to Sexual Brokenness in Our Families and Churches

As part of some Bible study curriculum I've been working on for Project Red Light Rescue, I spent a bit of time studying the Joseph narrative in Genesis. There are many elements in Joseph's life that address aspects of the sex industry: angry family members, the selling of Joseph to slave traders, the attempted seduction of Joseph by Potiphar's wife, and more. But there is one bit of whole story that caught our attention as we discussed the story: thrown in the middle of this riveting narrative of Joseph's life, there's a chapter given over to Judah, his sons, and his daughter-in-law Tamar. Why, in the middle of Joseph's epic story of rags to riches, forgotten to forgiving, is there a putrid story of sex, lies, incest, and temple prostitutes?

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Do you ever take a good hard look at the Church around you? For those who find themselves in healthy local church environments, do you let yourself be blinded to the brokenness present? Do you gloss over sin? Do you confront it? Do you shelter those affected by it? And for those who have been in less than healthy environments, do you ever see the good that was done? Do you see how God intends every part of everyone's story for good? Are you able to exercise gratefulness to those who led well and walked humbly, and forgiveness to those who do not deserve it?

It seems there's always another controversy rising up in the Church these days. One pastor falls into adultery, another worship leader catapults into sexual sin, another outcry of sexual abuse scandals comes to light—where is the good in any of this?

I've been asking myself this question for the past few months as more and more stories come forward of individuals who have been harmed by sexual scandal in the church, and their churches purportedly did nothing about it.

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Back to the house of Judah:

Tamar is given in marriage to Judah's oldest son who dies before Tamar becomes pregnant, so Tamar is given (as is the custom) to the next brother in line, Onan, who in turn "spills his seed" on the ground; Tamar is given to the next son, but he's still too young to father a baby, so at this point she is left without a husband and no children. So she does what nearly every girl in this situation will do to snag herself a baby-daddy: she dresses the part of the prostitute and stands by the city entrance waiting for a man to take note. The one she's waiting for, though, is her father-in-law, Judah, the man who hadn't kept his word to give her a baby. And, well, you know the rest of the story. If you don't, here. There are many implications and nuances to this narrative that should be explored in light of the Gospel.

Then the intermission is over and we're back to Joseph, who is about to have a similar little shebang pulled on him by Potiphar's wife.

The difference is, unlike Judah, Joseph flees. 

At great peril to his life, livelihood, and final freedom, Joseph runs away. And then he's imprisoned for what he didn't do.

But we know the rest of the story, which ends with those beautiful words, "What you intended for evil, God meant for good." Those words have been caricatured, tshirted, coffee-cupped, and spouted more than enough to lose their potency. But if you can step back far enough and see the whole picture, from Joseph's wild dreams and inheritance cloak, to final restoration with his family, including Judah—I think we can agree there was much evil there and not so much seeming good.

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This is conjecture of course, but I think the reason we're given that small intermission into Judah's messy household matters is because God wanted to juxtapose the sort of life Joseph came from and the different decisions he made. Where his brother was abdicating his responsibility to his family, frequenting houses of ill-repute, and impregnating his desperate daughter-in-law, Joseph was running from what could have offered him security and comfort in an illicit affair. Joseph was not held captive to the brokenness in his family or his place of employment. Even when he was trafficked as a slave, accused of rape wrongly, imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, he was held tightly in the hand of God and God's ultimate purposes.

Because this is a blog post, and not a full-on inductive Bible Study on Joseph (which you can, and should, find here), there are deeper matters and more difficult nuances to this narrative, but what I would like to say is this:

If you have a background with sexual brokenness, whether you were abused or the abuser, the seductress or the succumbed, you have the opportunity to walk free from that. This is not to say you will walk without consequences or pain, but you can walk in the full goodness of a God who intends good from evil and secreted deeds, from hearts soiled by greed and lust, and from bodies broken by abuse and neglect.

He is a God who does not lose one of His. Not one. He completes the purpose of every person's life with victory and finality; He brings His children home to glory and there is not one crushed bone or broken spirit among them (Ps 34).

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On Thursday, April 25th, there is a free one-day conference to train and equip the Church to protect the vulnerable, to confront abusers, and to counsel and care for victims. The line-up of speakers is stellar, particularly Justin Holcomb whose ministry is dedicated to freedom for those in bondage by sexual issues. Paul David Tripp, Matt Chandler, and Greg Love will also be speaking. I will be there representing Project Red Light Rescue, and there will be other ministries there to equip anyone and everyone with how to RESPOND to sexual brokenness within the Church.

For a long time I've heard many people ask the question, "Why doesn't the Church talk about these issues? Why don't they protect the victims?" If you've asked those questions, I hope you'll take comfort. We are talking about it. This Thursday. Come if you can.

RespondConPromo FINAL1280 from Respond Conference on Vimeo.