Forgiveness was not the end of the story for Cerys Morgan. She explains how God also led her to seek justice in her abuse case
Content warning: this post contains information about responding to reports of harm and abuse
A few months before he died Tim Keller gave an interview to Premier Christianity where he made some comments on justice and forgiveness, which, as a survivor of church abuse, I thought were spot on. He said:
If you say to a woman in your church who has been sexually abused: “You have to forgive your perpetrator. He repented, so you need to meet together and you have to forgive and you can’t go to the police,” that’s an abuse. The reality is that forgiving is not opposed to seeking justice.
As a matter of fact, if you don’t forgive, you won’t seek justice, you’ll seek vengeance – which goes past what justice demands and always eats you up. So you need to forgive and pursue justice. It’s not either/or.
Having read these words, I wanted to share my own story
I was abused and raped by a deacon in my church throughout my teens. There was no safeguarding in our church at that time, and the perpetrator was a much loved man. I thought: Who would listen to me?
For years afterwards, if anyone preached on forgiveness, I would sit there, fuming. My mind screamed: What do you know? What have you ever had to forgive?
But eventually, I realised I had a wrong perception of what forgiveness is.
To me, forgiveness meant that everything I had suffered was of no consequence; that I didn’t matter; that I was just a “piece of meat”, as he had called me.
Struggling to forgive
Twenty years on, I was married with two children, but still struggling with the effects of the abuse.
I had been asking God to give me the desire to forgive, as I didn’t have it in myself. I wanted to break free of the chains I lived in and the mask of smiles that I wore, no matter how hurt I felt inside.
One evening, I lay on my bed, venting my anger and frustrations to God: “Why couldn’t I have been a pure, virginal bride walking down the aisle? Why did I have to be so tainted and dirty? Why do I bother to be a Christian? I can never be good enough!”
The Lord showed me that everything I had suffered mattered to him
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with peace and stillness. I saw myself from above, as a bride walking down the aisle. The Lord spoke clearly to my heart, saying: “You ask why you weren’t that pure virginal bride walking down the aisle? Well, to me, you were. Your purity was stolen from you, but I am your purity. I am your righteousness. I am your strength. Everything that you are and everything that you are going to be is all in me.”
The Lord started to show me who I am in him. And when you grasp this - how loved we truly are - it is life changing!
A long road
I had a long journey to forgiveness, through prayer and asking the Lord to help me. Eventually, that day came. I was alone at home, sitting in the armchair, talking to the Lord when, suddenly, I felt I wanted to forgive. I wanted to let go of everything in my past.
I pictured my abuser sitting opposite me, and I spoke aloud: “I don’t know why you treated me the way you did. I don’t know why you hated me so much, but I place you in the hands of the Lord and I forgive you.”
I started sobbing as I felt such heaviness break from me. I felt as if the Lord was pouring his love, forgiveness and compassion into me.
The following week was my dad’s surprise 70th birthday party. My abuser had also been invited. I was greeting guests and, when he walked in, I went over and hugged him. He looked at me as if I had smacked his face and shot to the other side of the hall. At that moment, his power over me was broken.
A couple of months later, the Lord impressed on my heart that I had to speak out now, showing me who to speak to. Peter* was also a deacon and had been lifetime friends with my abuser. He was the last person I would have chosen to confide in.
I begged the Lord not to make me do this. I just wanted a peaceful life. Yet this burden grew so heavy. Eventually, I wrote a letter to Peter. As I put it in the post box, I said: “Lord, only you can do this now!”
One evening, I received a phone call from Peter, asking if he could visit. He said that the previous year, he had wanted to retire from leadership, but the Lord had told him he had one more job to do. When he read my letter, he knew this was it.
Your purity was stolen from you, but I am your purity
I really struggled with going to the police. I was physically sick with fear. But I pictured the balance scales at the courts of justice. I placed myself and my past in one scale, and all the children and young people in our church in the other. For me, the damage had been done. But I could never forgive myself for allowing other children to suffer as I had.
The effect on the church was divisive. The leadership went into panic mode. I was told that Christians do not take a brother in Christ to court - this twisted the knife. No brother in Christ would treat me the way he did!
Some members shared things they’d seen and heard about other sexual assaults, but refused to make a formal statement for fear of being seen as a ‘gossip’.
Let justice roll
Yet throughout that year, the Lord spoke so clearly to me about the pursuit of justice. He showed me that forgiveness did not mean I would not receive justice. He showed me that everything I had suffered mattered to him.
Forgiveness set me free, but my abuser still had to face the consequences of his actions. I was told he repented but he told police his only regret was that some of the attacks did not go his way. When the police read him my statement, he laughed and said: “Oh yes, I remember that!” There were also many more victims; he wrote a list of over 90 names.
The Lord provided me with a Christian detective, a Christian court usher and Christian judge. He was so evident in the whole process. The Sunday after he was jailed, my mum commented that I seemed taller, and was walking with my head held high. The power of my secret was broken. The wall I lived behind collapsed. Now, everyone can read my face like a book. There is no hiding anymore!
Christians need to have a much truer understanding of forgiveness. It does go hand in hand with justice.
*All names have been changed
If you or anyone you know are affected by situations raised in this article and want to speak to someone independently please call the thirtyone:eight helpline on 0303 003 1111 where a trained professional can give advice and guidance