Developing a Theology of Abuse with Dr. Chelle Stearns

Today we’re revisiting a conversation that Dr. Dan Allender had a few years ago with Dr. Chelle Stearns, Associate Professor of Theology at The Seattle School, exploring her ongoing work of developing a theology of abuse. She believes that as a theologian, an artist, and a witness of other artists, she is called—and we are called—to hold together immense sorrow and stunning beauty. Ultimately, Chelle invites us to wrestle with how we address trauma in view of the embodied life of Christ, and how this might change the way we tend to the stories of harm in our own lives and communities.


“There’s never an end to your exploration. There’s something about having a humility before the things you study to realize there’s never going to be a point at which all of my questions are answered, nor that I will ever come to the end of my questions. I’m just learning to ask better and better questions as I get older.” Dr. Chelle Stearns

“We just don’t take seriously our own suffering, and because of our own sense that we don’t matter, our suffering does not get a witness.” Dr. Dan Allender

“Theologians deal with words—there’s no end to words as a theologian. But in trauma, the body becomes centric. The memory of the body becomes the very place of meaning-making. Especially in western Christianity, we haven’t done a great job of allowing the language of the body to inform how it is that we do our work.” Dr. Chelle Stearns

“And we need this foundation because if we’re going to go higher in our understanding of trauma, our foundation theologically has to be built far better than it tends to be at this point.” Dr. Dan Allender

“You would always hope that the work of theology would have eyes to see and ears to hear the deeper cries of humanity because ultimately, in the incarnation, that’s what I see God doing. […] We are so rarely really seen in this world. And especially if you have experienced deep abuse, deep trauma in more complex forms, you can feel so isolated. And yet here is a God who comes and stares at us face to face and says ‘I have suffered all.’” Dr. Chelle Stearns