Sexual Ethics: How Do You Honor an Abusive Father?

I get emails —

Dear Brother,

I know a man who has a sexual addiction for which he has never received therapy. He seems unconvinced that he has a “problem,” despite a history of using pornography, exposing himself publicly, using prostitutes, and molesting children (to include his own daughter).

His daughter has forgiven him, and she wants to honor God by honoring her father. But wouldn’t that necessitate some sort of relationship? How could there be a relationship without honesty and trust?  And what about the likelihood of future abuse of daughter and grandchildren if unrepentent offender enters their lives once again?

How can the daughter honor the father?  Can this be done without having any contact? And does forgiveness necessitate a restored relationship in the case of such a potentially dangerous person?

I’m sure the readers will have much to add.

One of the toughest issues we sometimes face is how to forgive someone without become an enabler. By “enabler” I mean someone who helps a sinner sin.

For example, if an employee steals from men and asks my forgiveness, I should forgive him. That doesn’t mean I should leave him handling cash unsupervised. That would not only be naive of me, it would tempt him to repeat his sin — which would be very wrong of me.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean believing a lie about her. It doesn’t mean assuming that she’s utterly defeated the sin. It just means I’ve forgiven her and so no longer hold that sin against her. It doesn’t mean that I have to trust her. That’s not the meaning of forgiveness.

Rather, forgiveness means I no longer hold the sin against the sinner. The sin no longer interferes with our being friends and loving each other. And it allows me to see that person as he really is without being clouded by resentment. Indeed, forgiveness sometimes even allows me to see his sin more clearly because it becomes less personal. I can be more objective about it.

Forgiveness doesn’t require that the other person repent or change. Forgiveness means that I change because my attitude toward that person changes. Obviously, the person being forgiven ought to repent and ask for forgiveness, but I shouldn’t wait. Rather, I should forgive as God forgives.

(Col 3:13)  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

When Jesus asked God to forgive those who crucified him, he didn’t wait for their repentance. When we were baptized, we were forgiven. We repented in the sense of turning our lives toward God, but we didn’t entirely stop sinning. In fact, many of us continued to sin because we didn’t even know we were sinning. Our education in Christian living came later. But we were still forgiven.

Therefore, the daughter of an abusive man should not allow herself or her chidren to be abused. Forgiveness doesn’t require that. In fact, it would be a grave sin to permit that to happen. But she can and should still forgive her father and seek a relationship with him. But she shouldn’t ever put herself or her children in a situation where they are at risk, even if it hurts his feelings.

Paul tells children —

(Eph 6:1-2)  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise–

— but notice the “in the Lord.” She has no obligation to allow or permit him to sin. Indeed, she honors her father best by helping him overcome his sinful tendencies.


18 Responses

  1. A question that immediately comes to mind: Does this same ethic apply to a wife of an abusive husband? Seems like it would. A wife’s godly responsibility to her husband is no less important than a daughter’s to her father.

  2. Well said. In the case of this man, the woman must fundamentally understand that the rate of recidivism in pedophiles is very high, so he must be treated and supervised. In the matter of honoring him as father, I think she is already doing so just by staying involved in his life. It would be easy to brush him off because of his life choices, but part of honoring him as father is maintaining the relationship when many people would counsel her not to. It will be important for her not be naive about what he struggles with.

  3. I remember hearing Willard Tate (ACU) talking about counseling with a man who was struggling to forgive. After some time, Willard said, “I know what your problem is. You think that if you forgive, it means that what (s)he did was o.k.” When he said that, the counselee understood.

    Forgiveness does not mean there is no sin. If there is no sin, there is nothing to forgive. It means we look beyond the sin to the sinner. As Jay said, however, this does not mean trusting the sinner – especially if there is no fruit of repentance visible.

    You do not “forgive” an embezzler by putting him in charge of the church finances, especially if there is no visible contrition and desire to provide restitution (four-fold?). You forgive him by moving on in your relationship with him while protecting him from himself and others from him.


  4. Jay et al,

    I think she best honors her father by bringing criminal charges against him, and forcing him to face his actions. Recidivism for pedophiles is close to 100%.
    True fathers do not molest their children. By bringing charges against him and getting him into prison, he is held accountable for his actions, and takes him away from the source of his pedophila. he has no handy victims.

    If he is not a father “in the Lord”, then he has zero right to a relationship with her. She or anybody can forgive over time, but that is between them and God. I do not believe God forgives us unless we repent (metanoia),
    is God asking us to be better than He is?

  5. You wrote:

    “Forgiveness doesn’t require that the other person repent or change. Forgiveness means that I change because my attitude toward that person changes. Obviously, the person being forgiven ought to repent and ask for forgiveness, but I shouldn’t wait. Rather, I should forgive as God forgives.”

    Where does the Bible say that God forgives the unrepentant sinner?

    Jesus says forgive so that you can be forgiven. I get that. But this ‘forgive as God forgives’ advice as though God forgives without requiring repentance, rings hollow to me.

    Help me out, Jay.



  6. An added note about Jesus asking God to forgive those crucifying Him…

    The significant phrase here, to me at least, is “for they know not what they do.” God the Son forgave the ignorant, those who had no idea what they did was wrong. We can and should follow that example. But forgiving someone who knows what they are doing or will do or have done is/was/will be wrong, requires their repentance about that thing they do/did/are considering doing.

    Teach forgiveness, certainly, but teach it as Jesus taught it. And teach a proper attitude towards justice while you are teaching forgiveness. We can hardly justify seeking only justice (i.e. harsh consequences) for every other evildoer while seeking mercy for ourselves. If we would know mercy, we must show mercy. And it is the merciful who will receive mercy, according to Jesus.

    Grace is NOT license. Neither is love a license to abuse.

    This may complicate our handling of things, but it is not absolutely necessary for that to happen. We forgive because it is best for us to do so – for our own sake and for the sake of those who look to us as examples.

    What am I missing?

  7. Our standard for forgiving others should not necessarily be as high as God’s. After all, we are sinners in need of forgiveness ourselves. God isn’t. If we are stingy with forgiveness, God will be stingy toward us in the same way.

    Jesus taught that we should forgive someone who sins against us seven times in a day, and seven times says “I repent.” The likelihood that someone will repeat an offense is not a factor in our forgiving their past offenses. And we are not supposed to be withholding forgiveness until the repentance is satisfactory to us. The words “I repent” are all we have a right to require.

    That doesn’t mean God forgives them on that basis. Maybe he does, and maybe he doesn’t. But the command is that we must forgive on that basis. We can’t see the heart, so we cannot base our forgiveness on what we think is going on in someone’s heart.

    In the case of this person’s father, unless he simply refuses to express regret, the daughter must forgive. That doesn’t mean she’s saying what he did was OK. And it doesn’t mean she’s saying she trusts him not to do it again. It simply means she doesn’t expect any compensation for what she suffered, and that she won’t exact any retribution for the past. It means he has a chance to move forward, having her forgiveness.

  8. One good way to honor such a father would be to pray for his salvation. More than anything, he needs to turn away from his sins and turn toward Christ.

  9. I’m consistently amazed at the number of people who equate love, forgiveness, and mercy with TRUST. The number of people that think TRUST is a pre-requisite for love/forgiveness is huge.

    I love my 17-year-old son, but I wouldn’t trust him to remember to take out the trash without being prompted–or much else. God loves me, but he doesn’t trust me to live without sinning.

    Trust and love and not interdependent. Neither is love and fellowship. I can love all of mankind, but I cannot fellowship all of mankind. I can love my 85-year-old Alzheimer’s mother-in-law, but I can’t trust her for a moment out of my sight. “She can’t control what she does,” you might say. Sure, but I can control how I feel about her…and loving her despite her terrible situation is my choice.

    The daughter in discussion can both LOVE her father without trusting him, and LOVE him without having a relationship with him. That is actually the height of love. It’s called: Unconditional Love. She doesn’t have to leave her kids with him or spend the holidays with him to prove that she holds no resentment for him in her heart.

  10. Put him in the pokey!

    Prisons are full of them and to a lot of them, they have died and gone to heaven by being there. Especially if they like boys or men.

    When sexual perverts finish the sentence given them by the court, in order to be released, a team of psyciatrist, etc. must sign off that he is ready for society. If they won’t sign, then the inmate is sent to a “detention center” (same property, different building), as its not a “prison” and held there until someone signs or he dies.

    Who would take the responsibility for his actions if turned loose? I wouldn’t!

  11. Terri,

    Thanks. That’s excellent advice.

  12. Alan,

    Those are really good points. Jesus told us to pray for forgiveness conditioned on how well we forgive others. The Sermon on the Mount is quite pointed.

    We are further taught to love those who hate us, even our enemies.

    While we should forgive as God forgives, that doesn’t mean we only forgive baptized believers. That’s way too literal. Rather, I think the point has to be that we forgive those who don’t deserve forgiveness — just as God does.

    Ask any counselor. If we only forgive those who deserve it, we’ll be seriously messed up people. Forgiveness does more for the one forgiving than for the forgiven.

    But forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything is OK. A forgiven abuser is still an abuser.

    It may well be that he should be reported to the authorities — particularly if he’s still endangering others. But it’s not either/or. We have to love his potential victims enough to do what’s needed to protect them. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be loved as well.

  13. Yes, we must forgive and love his soul.

    Still, we must even more accept the responsibility to protect others from his abuse and from him destroying their lives because we love the innocent ever bit as much.

    Love the sinner, hate the sin!

    When we have forgiven and love the soul of the destructive child molester, pray for his salvation, but, still throw the switch.

  14. This is a touchy issue, and a lot of emotions come forth. I am a forgiven sinner, period. Jesus died for me and rose again in His body from the grave. I believed that when I was 17 years old, and repented of my sins. METANOIA is the Greek word, and it means a change of mind or direction. Our new direction in life is toward Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

    According to the Bible I have read, we are not forgiven until we believe in Jesus and turn from our sins. It does not mean we are perfect or are saved by works. It just means that faith and repentance ( a real change of thought and deed) precedes salvation and forgiveness.

    As far as the man and his daughter, I have seen this abuse happen between someone’s daughter and her brothers. The scars are deep in a woman’s soul,and the healing can take a lifetime. It takes a lot of love and prayer and inward spiritual healing before any measure of true forgiveness can take place. I do not tell a sexually abused woman that she MUST forgive an unrepentant rapist. I leave that to her and God. If a woman (or a man) gets to the point of true healing to the point where they can forgive, that is a beautiful thing. I have seen that happen. To me this is not an academic exercise nor a matter of cherry-picking Scripture to force people into premature forced forgiveness.

    That being said, pedophiles are a tough group to deal with. I do not believe in capital punishment. That is another topic. The only way a child molester can be trusted is in a prison. I know of one minister in the church of Christ from the 60’s who is a serial adulterer and sexual abuser of women in the churches he served. To my knowledge he has never repented in the Biblical sense of the word. Maybe he has just stopped, as he is in his 80’s now. Without repentance, there is no salvation for this man. You can find hIm hanging around of the TRUE BELIEVERS of course!

  15. Hmmm. I have never been molested by an adult male that I can recall. However, it has ran through my family for generations. One of my uncles, molested a number of my female cousins and my oldest sister. He has never served one day in jail. He confesses to be a christian in his own ways and claims to have changed.

    However, last year he contacted me during a drunken state and confessed and gave details of his crime against my oldest sister. I think the key word here is “CRIME”. What he did wasn’t just an act of uncivility, but a crime punishable by the law of the land.

    Now, I also recognize that if every sin in the bible was signed into law, all of us would be doing time in a jail or prison. However, what must be recognized is that regardless of the crime, whether against God or the law of the land we all have to face the consequences of our sins. It says that the wages of sin is death. That may not literally mean a physical death, however there is the death of a dream, the death of a vision, the death of a purpose and the death of a relationship. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t forgive us or that what the enemy meant for evil God can’t make it turn to good. What it does mean is that each of us are accountable for our behavior. But, just as a wife who is divorced may need to forgive her ex-husband or vice-versa, she isn’t made to stay in contact with her him.

    Getting back to my uncle, just as he confessed about my sister, he further continued in another conversation to say to me that I was the one, I was the special one. Then he tried to convince me not to tell my sister what he shared with me. I realized that although he is distant from the family physically, he was reaching through the phone attempting to molest me mentally with his comments. He moved to a state where the law isn’t as strict on sexual crimes. His fear is that he will go to prison and it should be. First he wanted me to express his feelings of remorse to my sister, but then when he sobered up he realized that there are laws that can still cause him to be prosecuted by the law and wanted me now to keep his confession secret.

    I mean really folks. The challenge many of us have isn’t that we don’t want to do good or to forgive, but it’s the challenge placed before us to behave as thinking Christians, we somehow act as though it’s a sin for us to govern appropriately.

    We behave as though being “sheep” causes us to not have the ability to be critical thinkers in the Word. The Word tells us in Proverbs that evil prospers when good men stand by and do nothing. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to stay exposed to abusers, it doesn’t require us to allow evil to prosper. I believe Jay that you mean well, however abuse in many forms has been one that plagued my ancestors and has affeted my siblings and cousins alike. These parents, while they may get a little better, often continue to wreck havoc throughout their families. They leave the scars of abuse because it’s passed down and difficult to overcome. We must understand what honoring a parent means.

    Honoring doesn’t require us to stay in a relationship with an abusive parent. The hebrew word for honor means to maintain the dignity of ones parent and it’s key to recognize “in the Lord”. We are not slaves to our parents sins or to their abuse of power, just as we are not to be slaves to strangers. She doesn’t have to tear her father down, slander him or defame his name. However, as with any other person he needs to be held accountable by law and if she’s uncomfortable with the relationship it’s not a sin for her to set whatever boundaries keeps her safe mentally and emotionally; as well as making sure there is no access to her children.

    Forgiveness is fine, enabling isn’t. Unconditional love is fine, exposing ones self to unhealthy toxic conditions isn’t a requirement. She needs to define her boundaries, without sinning against another. However, she is well within her God-given rights not to be subject to her father’s sins.

    Lastly, if she’s in court and must recant what happened, this doesn’t constitute defamation, slander or tearing him down. It’s stating the facts.

    Athough they may be difficult to find, I would also suggest seeking out a competent Christian, who is also a competent licensed therapist to assist in you gaining the tools to heal, set healthy boundaries and to move forward. Key: When I say licensed, I mean someone who has gone to a real University and is viewed in the medical community as a therapist, not one who simply went through church training or a satellite program. No pun intended, but we need to begin having a spirit of excellence in our care of our fellow laborers in Christ so they can be better equipped mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Thank You.

  16. I wanted to make a correction, the quote that “Evil prospers when good men stand by and do nothing” isn’t if Proverbs. It’s a quote most known to be said by a conservative statesman Edmone Burke. However, I am studying to find any common message in the Word. Thank You

  17. Renee,

    The question posed here was whether to forgive the abusive father. Yes, the person molested must forgive.

    But forgiving doesn’t mean the abuser doesn’t pay for his crime. In fact, being arrested may be the best thing for him — and is certainly the best thing for his victims and future victims.

    In some states, particularly where the abused person is a minor, anyone who knows about the abuse has a legal duty to report the abuser.

    Even where it’s not legally mandatory, I think reporting the abuser is necessary — for the sake of others and the abuser. After all, sin harms both the person sinned against and the sinner.

    I am aware of several cases where respected church members got away with abuse for many years because the victims felt obliged to forgive — and so sinned against his next victims. That’s wrong. He should be turned in.

  18. “But she can and should still forgive her father and seek a relationship with him.

    Forgive yes. Seek a relationship with him? No. That is just stupid and the very suggestion places an undue burden on an abused woman. It is just plain evil in my mind to even suggest this. Its like trying to make her feel guilty. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be buddies wit the person you forgive. It means you drop your ill feelings towards them, not that you pursue a relationship with them. With God maybe its different, but he’s God. We aren’t. When he forgives a sexual deviant he can “pursue a relationship” being a purely spiritual being who can’t be sexually abused. We aren’t in that position. So no, I absolutely say she should not “seek a relationship with him.” A little common sense should always prevail over utopian mushy liberalism.

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