Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse

Reading the Bible with Survivors

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This accessibly written book illuminates the good news of healing and liberation the Bible offers survivors of sexual abuse. As an expert in pastoral ministry and a survivor of abuse herself, Elaine Heath handles this sensitive topic with compassion and grace. The book is illustrated with stories and insights from survivors, and each chapter ends with reflection questions and recommended activities. Previously published as We Were the Least of These, this repackaged edition includes a new contextualized introduction that explores how the book speaks into a vital cultural conversation (#MeToo).

1. We Were the Least of These
2. Fig Leaves
3. Through the Wilderness
4. The Terrible Secret
5. Beauty Pageants
6. Prayers of Lament and Mercy
7. Are You My Mother?
8. Eunuchs
9. We Are Clean
10. About Judas and Mary
11. Emmanuel
12. In Remembrance of Me
13. Letting Go
14. Final Thoughts
Appendix A: The Healing
Appendix B: A Definition of Sexual
Recommended Resources


"Elaine Heath draws deeply from Scripture and her own experience as a Christ follower, friend, pastor, and teacher, gifting us with this remarkable resource for healing the wounds of sexual abuse. She is a courageous companion into texts familiar and loved as well as texts avoided and ignored. The result is persistent and surprising good news: in every hard place in life, darkness is overcome by God's light and love."

Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, North Carolina Conference, United Methodist Church

"The journey of recovery from sexual abuse is both scarred and sacred. Elaine Heath boldly covers theological terrain 'that is perilous, beautiful, wild, unutterably holy.' Her development of atonement theory understands Jesus (Emmanuel) as 'the least of these.' Heath asserts that Jesus was a victim of sexual abuse as he was publicly stripped naked, humiliated, bound, violated, penetrated, and torn. She proceeds fearlessly into topics of toxic shame, original wounding, vulnerability, spiritual eros, and healing. As a survivor of sexual assault, Heath goes with the reader into this difficult reality. Joining with the vast numbers of women, men, girls, and boys who are survivors of sexual abuse, Elaine Heath offers her unique contribution to the #MeToo movement."

Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, professor of pastoral care, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"What an important and helpful book this is! We couldn't ask for a better pastoral guide than Elaine Heath to probe deeply into the issue of sexual abuse and the healing so desperately needed by the abused and all of us. She helps us listen carefully to the Bible and see it as a path toward divine healing instead of as a weapon of oppression, bringing to bear the riches of our theological tradition along with a tender pastoral love. I thank God for this gift of a book."

James Howell, Myers Park United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

"Written from the powerful perspective of 'we, the survivors' by a person who is deeply contemplative and able to 'be angry but sin not' regarding the evil of patriarchy and sexual abuse, this book educates, encourages, and empowers individuals and communities. Heath shows us how Jesus, the Bible, and Christian community can (and do) serve as sources of healing and wholeness for survivors (even those abused by people in the church). This book is for everyone--churches, seminaries, small groups, and individuals. It is for survivors themselves and those who journey with survivors. It should be required reading for every seminary, and it will be on my syllabus. Far from an exercise in theoretical possibilities or wishful thinking, it is an invitation into the sure reality of healing that awaits survivors and those who companion them."

Jaime Clark-Soles, professor of New Testament, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor, and director of the Baptist House of Studies, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University

"This book should not need to be written, much less deserve another edition. That it is still needed is painfully evident when public leaders condone and even revel in abuse. This book is gracefully written by a teacher, pastor, and survivor. These are not simply academic issues to Heath but reflect the lived experiences of her and others, whose stories are boldly shared. Through biblical narratives from both the Old and New Testaments, our eyes are opened to the prevalence of abuse among us--survivors sit in every church, school, or business of any size. Heath shows through these scriptural stories and contemporary cultural artifacts, including films and books, how hurt can grow to hope and healing in the broken lives of survivors. Everyone needs to read and discuss this book, which opens our eyes to the needs of those sitting right beside us."

David W. Baker, professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages, Ashland Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Elaine A. Heath
    © Duke Photography

    Elaine A. Heath

    Elaine A. Heath (PhD, Duquesne University) is professor of missional and pastoral theology at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. She previously taught at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where she directed the Center for...

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