Being a church attentively, with body and soul
Reformed Church messages on the protection of personal integrity
The body is a ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 6:19), which is beyond all human dominion since it subject to the exclusive claim and protec-tion of the Creator.
Human beings are not brought into the world by God as creatures, but are subject – with mind, body and soul – to the enduring claim and protection of their Creator. The body cannot be separated from the mind and soul that constitute one’s personality. An assault on the body damages the whole person, which is why the human body, as the temple of God, commands unconditional respect. At the same time, from a biblical and Christian perspective, infringements on the physical, mental and spiritual unity and inviolability of the person show disregard for the divine will of the Creator.
The image of God in the person forms the basis and precondition for all human encounters.
Each person is not only a specimen of the biological species homo sapiens, but also – according to the biblical and theological view – an image of her Creator. Sexual assault and violations of personal boundaries threaten and harm the affected person in three ways: 1. They are an attack on the body, which is used and exploited; 2. They damage or destroy the human capacity and need for free fellowship, relationships and intimacy (cf. Gen. 2:18); and 3. They contradict God’s biblically attested promise of a life of fellowship in abundance (Jn. 10:10).
As God’s good gifts of creation, pleasure and sexuality do not belong in church relationships of care and dependency.
Pleasure and sexuality are good gifts from God, which should be experienced in a loving, binding partnership, on an equal footing and with mutual responsibility. They do not belong in institutionalized relationships of care and dependency, such as those involving persons under one’s protection. Pastoral care is not something that is removed from the body, and therefore involves risky encounters by its very nature. Avoiding all physicality in principle is not a solution. Instead, it is important that forms of bodily communication and physical encounters be strictly consistent with the defined and transparent roles and duties of church employees.
Gender differences and gender equality deserve special attention in institutionalized contexts.
Institutions with very old traditions have been shaped by historically evolved patriarchal structures, role models and attributions. Such outdated gender relations live on in professional functions. Sometimes their transformation lags far behind the legal and political achievements of gender equality. In recent theological history, feminist and liberation theological approaches in particular have drawn attention to such structural shortcomings in the church. The inequality and inequitable treatment of the sexes and the lack of attention to gender differences were and are a significant cause of violations of the personal sphere and sexual discrimination. The commitment to equality in the church is therefore of particular importance in the prevention of violations of the personal sphere and sexual assault.
Violations of the personal sphere happen not only where one’s own boundaries are crossed, but also where the boundaries of others are overlooked, not accepted, or violently disregarded.
The message of the Gospel is not something external but penetrates the heart of the faithful and fills their innermost being. The downside of this radicality are situations of pastoral care in which people often see themselves as being particularly vulnerable, transparent or completely naked and defenseless. The immediacy and drama of such self-perceptions can neither be felt by others nor shared. Any attempt to define or judge a person’s feelings from the outside becomes a violent assault. A person’s own lack of understanding and helplessness when misfortune has struck require pastoral care workers to consistently bear in mind, and keep within, their own limits – for the sake of the other person.
Victims of violations of the personal sphere and sexual violence are de-prived of their ability to resist and assert themselves as persons.
The Bible has a realistic view of people. It neither ignores the reality of human violence nor silences victims. The stories of Tamar, who was raped by her half-brother (2 Sam. 13), and of the nameless woman who was handed over by her husband to the mob on the street and died as a result of multiple rapes (Judges 19), mercilessly describe the brutal destructive power of sexual violence. They are a warning not to remain silent about injustice and suffering, but to look closely at what people do to other people. Victims of violence must be given a voice. Any qualification and cover-up of, or disregard for, actions and structures through which people have become or can become victims of violations of the personal sphere or sexual violence, betrays the Gospel’s message of liberation and redemption.
Even an attitude lacking respect and recognition is a violation of personal boundaries.
The central requirement of the biblical-Christian ethos consists in encountering all people as brothers and sisters. The churches encourage this spirit of siblinghood, which is expressed in a serious concern for transparency, clarification, the assumption of responsibility and reconciliation. Mistakes, negligence or misconduct must be admitted, addressed and dealt with seriously. Siblinghood is the opposite of apathy or indifference. It does not leniently overlook injustice, cover up or deny, indifferently let others plunge into misfortune, or refer to ingrained habits, but shows concern and ‘work[s] for the good of all’ (Gal. 6:10). Siblinghood is not content with just atonement and punishment, but aims at reconciliation and the restoration of a successful community.