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Interview: Cecil Murphey, Best-Selling Author and Esteemed Pastor

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Cecil Murphey is the best-selling and award-winning author of more than 100 books and 700 articles. Although best-known for his collaborative projects with notable individuals, like Franklin Graham (Rebel With a Cause) and Ben Carson (Gifted Hands), Murphey also spends a considerable amount of time ministering to the public as a full-time pastor and public speaker. His topics of interest include: faith, spiritual balance and strategies to cope with tragedy, trauma and abuse.

Since October 2006, Cecil Murphey has been a permanent fixture on the New York Times bestseller list, due to the massive success of 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, which has sold more than 5 million copies and been printed in 40 languages. His most personal project, however, would come four years later. Bearing his heart and soul in an honest, therapeutic text, Murphey offers guidance and solace with the Kregel publication of When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation.

In the midst of a promotional campaign for this forthright book, Cecil Murphey squeezed some time out of his busy schedule and settled down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the challenges he faced with Christian publishers, the barriers to productive conversations about male sexual abuse, and the steps that must be taken to create a national dialogue both inside and outside of the church.

 As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, at what point did you truly come to terms with your abuse?

I was fifty, fifty-one when the memories started returning. And I shared with my wife. And she said to me: “I don’t understand this, but I’m with you.” And as soon as she said that, I thought: “That’s right. I don’t want you to fix me. You can’t. You don’t understand this. But what I do need is for you to be with me.” And that’s when I made that connection. In fact, I said to her shortly after that, and I don’t think this is in the book: “You know, if you don’t stand with me, when I’m through with this and I feel I’m healed, we’ll still be married, but you won’t know who I am.”

Upon entering your fifties, you found the strength and courage to revisit the pain of your childhood. Why do you think it’s so hard, or what do you think is the barrier that keeps the majority of men from revisiting their own childhoods?

Well, when you think about it, Clayton, in our culture, men don’t become victims. We’re the victors. We overwhelm other people. And you know, you’re a child. You can’t reason that out. But as you start to grow up, you think: “You know, if I were a real man, I would have punched him in the mouth, or I would have done something or other.” I think that this is an unrealistic attitude. A second point: we live in such a homophobic culture that we’re afraid that if we talk about it, other people will think we’re gay, when we’re not.

A related point is the fact that sexual stimulation feels good. That’s a physical phenomenon. And so therefore if it feels good, one assumes that if pleasure was ever felt, then something must be wrong with them, because if they were “normal” and a “healthy” person, whatever all that stuff is, they wouldn’t have enjoyed it. There’s so much that stifles discussion and keeps young boys from speaking up. In my conversations with women, one of the things that they tell me is that the men they want to work with just won’t open up or they’ll talk very little about it. And more often than not, they are filled with self-blame, as if they  did something.

I’m not sure a self-proclaimed gay will have the same problem. But if you call yourself a heterosexual male, then you just have to stay away from all of that, and you’re fearful that you’ll be linked. Or that people will look at you like, “Oh, is he really heterosexual or his he really homosexual?”

You have a quote in the introduction of When a Man You Love Was Abused that I found to be very striking: “You may often need to remind yourself of this fact: it is his battle. You can’t fight his inner demons, but you can stand with him when he fights them.” As you were preparing this book, is there a particular Scripture that you revisited – or surfaced – during the writing process?

I call myself a serious Christian, and I read my Bible every day, but I really can’t say that there is a particular verse that I grabbed on. It wasn’t so much that, as it was that I was at a place in my life where I think I was ready to face reality. I just prayed a lot! [laughing] Of course, there is 2 Corinthians. Paul notes: “…and such were some of you,” and he mentions all kinds of sexual sins and so on. It wasn’t referring specifically to homosexuality, but I found myself, because of my abuse, struggling with that in my mind. Does that make sense?

What role does semantics – and politics – play in the process of healing? In your book, you noted that many therapists don’t like the word “victim” or “victimized” and prefer to speak of “survivors.” You also made note that they do not like the word “abused” and usually opt for “assaulted.”

Well, I think it depends on the word you choose. I didn’t like the word “victim” because of the implication. And I think probably most men don’t, because we don’t like to think of ourselves as victims. But see “survivor” has a strong tone to it. So that’s a good word for me. But you know, I guess when it comes down to it, we all have to pick our own vocabulary on how we want to express the pain of our experience. On my end, Clayton, I want to give men hope. I want to show them that we were victimized. We were taken advantage of when we were children. But we don’t have to stay that way.

Moving forward, when you look towards the future, what do you think will be the necessary steps to create a national conversation and have other male survivors of sexual abuse step in and assist as well?

I think that’s a very insightful question. But let me review a little history. Clayton, it took me six years to get this book published. I really wanted this to go to Christian publishers because I felt the church was the area — and remember I’m part of the church — where we neglected this and denied it, despite the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church. So I just kept holding out. And finally, I got it.

The first thing I had to overcome is the general consensus, in Christian publishing minds, that only women buy books. That women buy something like 87 percent of the books. I have no idea where they got that figure. I think it’s grossly overrated. And even if women buy most of those books, they also buy books for men. So I had to overcome all that resistance. And the only way I figured I could get this book out was to address it to women to help the men in their lives. I would have much preferred to write a book about men to men. But I could not have sold it.

Oh, wow! How interesting! Your book is divided into two parts. Part One provides informational material on sexual abuse, while Part Two serves as an action plan for women related to men who have experience sexual abuse. How did you go about determining the layout and structure of this book? Did you feel it better to arm people with knowledge before suggesting a plan of action?

You’ve got it, man, you’ve got it! [When a Man You Love Was Abused] can really be two books. In the first part, my goal is to tell you about what sexual abuse really is. I want people to understand it. I was trying to write that first part so if a man [who had been abused] picked it up, he could say: “Hey, you know what? That’s me. That fits me.” Not exactly, but close enough. And the second part, or “book,” is geared to the special woman in his life: mother, sister, spouse, whatever. But even if he gives it to another man, it can still help. Giving it to somebody else who can look at him and say: “Okay. Now, I know what I can do for you to help you heal.”

Keeping “Part One” in mind, is there a particular research study or fact that you discovered that overwhelmed or surprised you to a certain degree?

Well, not really, Clayton, because I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I’ve talked to people and I’ve been pretty public about it in smaller groups. Well, if there’s one thing that shocked me, [it] is the inability of the general public to acknowledge this. The most conservative figures say one in six boys are abused, and those of us who are working with this, we think it’s probably more like one in three or one in four. It’s probably about as high as it is for girls. But boys don’t talk about it.

Keeping “Part 2” in mind, is there a particular role of assistance that you have found – or heard) women find – difficult to grapple?

I find two extremes. On one end: many women don’t know what to do. They simply say: “Go to a therapist. I don’t want to know anything. Just get fixed.” On the other end: many women tend to take on the nurturing role and try to fix it. So the tendency then, with women, is to expect them, or they expect themselves, to get in and make him more healthy. Get him straightened out. And I think both are extremes.

See, I truly believe, the best thing a woman, a friend or anybody can do is to simply be helpful. Just care and be there, and to let the wounded person talk. The most effective thing they can do is listen. And when I say listen, I mean listen. Not advise. Just listen. Shut your mouth! You can’t fix them. They don’t need your fixing. What they need is somebody to love them unconditionally.

One survivor noted: “Intellectually, I know there are thousands of others, but emotionally, my isolation makes me feel as if no one else has been there.” Reflecting on this quote, what motivating factors led you to work on – and release – this particular book at this moment in time?

Man, you are perceptive. And to be honest, I don’t know. What I would like to have happen, and it’s beginning to happen is I’ve become public with it. And even though the book has only been out for a short amount of time, I have had four or five different organizations contact me to deal with abuse of some kind. There are a few organizations that deal with male sexual abuse, or others who deal with addiction and abuse, and all those kinds of things. I’m already a national speaker, and I do a lot of public speaking, but I’ve never done any national speaking on this topic. And I think, Clayton, that if I — and others — get out there and say publicly: “Hey guys, it’s okay to acknowledge that you were abused. It doesn’t make you a freak or different or strange. It just means that your childhood was stolen from you.” And I think once we get that out there, we’re going to see a change in the attitude of the culture.

You know, fifteen or twenty years ago, the first women began to speak about abuse publicly. Now, female abuse is not that unusual. It’s very open. Well, women have given us the courage and the open door. It’s our turn, now.

You have taken several steps publicly, and your book is available to the general public. Even so, do you think this conversation should start within the church?

I would hope it would work both ways. I think where I’m going to be focusing will be within the church because those are my connections. But there’s a group — and I don’t know if you’re aware of this — called Celebrate Recovery. There are other groups. There are Christians in Recovery.  But Celebrate Recovery is the only one I’ve done any speaking in. I’ve spoken probably fifteen, twenty times to them. It’s kind of like a Christian version of Alcoholics Anonymous, except using the Twelve Steps, they use eight Christian principles. And the thing that is so wonderful about them, Clayton, is that they will really talk about their issues.

They’re not all abuse. I mean, it could be alcohol, it could be anger, depression. But abuse is one of them. And every time I’ve spoken to these groups, whether it be Sacramento, California, Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Atlanta, Georgia, and regardless of the audience’s size, forty to sixty people at a time, they have listened. And I feel that every time I speak up, I encourage other men to speak up.

Well, your story is a very inspirational one.

Thank you. My best friend got involved in this. He’s been my best friend for a number of years. His name is David Morgan. And he suspected the abuse, but was very careful not to lead me. I’m a runner and my memory started coming back when I was running early in the morning in the dark. And I called David at the worst time. The first time I started crying. I hadn’t cried since I was a kid. And he came over. And do you know what he did for me? He just held me, and let me cry. I must have cried for close to half an hour. He didn’t say a word. He just held me and let me cry. That was one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to give him answers. He didn’t have to fix me. He just held me. And boy, that was wonderful!

For more information on Cecil Murphey, visit his official website: http://themanbehindthewords.com/

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About Clayton Perry