To be honest, I would not have read Assault on the Body: Sexual Violence and the Gospel Community if I had not been asked to write a review on it. The subject matter is very heavy; it would be too emotionally difficult to get through. Besides, I’m not a victim, aggressor, or church leader, and I think I’m empathetic enough to respond to a victim with tact. This book is helpful for other people, not me. Right?
I’m so thankful I was invited to give the book a read, for I would not have realised how much I needed to know otherwise. This book is for all of us, as long as we belong to the body of Christ, or even any community of persons. Assault on the Body shows us that we have a responsibility to one another as friends, protectors, and supporters. To be indifferent is simply not an option.
Assault on the Body is both a deeply difficult read and an absolutely necessary one. It begins with Rev Dr Nathanael Goh’s distressing reflection on how Jesus Himself may identify with the abused, as well as Max Jeganathan’s clarification on how we ought to understand the Bible’s accounts of abuse. These set the tone for how we ought to approach the topic: a Christ-centred perspective of abuse is foremost a victim-centred one. Recounts by survivors including Nelle*, Angie, and Ephraim* call for us to grieve—with those who have suffered, with those we have not helped—and show us why we must stand with victims of abuse as allies and advocates. Their stories also showed me how abuse can take different forms—it may not always be forceful; it may be insidious, subtle, and silent—and they made me realise how I might have even witnessed abuse without realisation. It did not take long for me to see how I had perpetuated injustice by merely being a sympathetic bystander to abuse, and not an active, well-equipped advocate. After all, how can we claim to act justly and love mercy if abuse happens within our doors, and we don’t handle the matter with the gravity and reverence deserving of the children of God?
Melanie’s* story was especially painful to read—it appals and grieves me to know that the church has done her so much wrong, and that no one around her helped. May we remember that Jesus, too, was betrayed, wrongly accused, mistreated, and abandoned by those around Him, and that the blood is on our hands.
What would I have done if I had known Melanie* or the others whose stories were reflected in this book? Would I have known what to do? Besides offering a sympathetic heart and a listening ear, perhaps we need further equipping to understand what resources are available for support and what actions we can take. This is where the more practical segments of the book comes in—I am so grateful for the contributions by Dr Nicole Ong, Cindy Ng-Tay, Care Corner Singapore, and the many others who have provided useful frameworks and resources on how to be a first responder, supporter, and advocate for victims of sexual abuse. These are tools I wish I had earlier, and they are massively helpful for church leaders and laypersons alike. We all have a part to play in safeguarding one another and making the church a place of safety, healing, comfort, and truth.
As agonising as it is to accept, sexual abuse is, most unfortunately, very real and present even today. Several times when reading this book, I had to set it down to cry, grieve, and pray. It is not easy to turn our eyes to the pain that God sees, but it is a necessary part of doing better. When faced with a person who has been abused, we might not know how to respond; we might be tempted to avoid the matter, set the topic aside, or just let the “professionals” handle it, either because we are unequipped or because we prefer not to face the issue. But it doesn’t change the fact that it happens and people are getting hurt. Silence empowers the aggressor. When we do not stand up on behalf of those who have been abused, we become part of the problem. I implore you: read this book, and share it with others—friends, leaders, ministry staff, pastors. We are all members of one body; we all have a part to play. May this book empower the church of Singapore and beyond to be true Gospel-bearers, bringing light to the world and refuge to the wounded.