I am not going to preach today about Josh Duggar and the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. We’re all too addicted to these stories, of how the famous rise and fall. We have too much invested, in their fame in the first place, and then the wild, untamed feelings released by their apparent fall from grace. We are too quick to feed on the frenzy.
I should know, I’m a hot personality, a fire personality myself, so I should know. We will burn this hatred, this anger, this fear, and these defenses. And then tomorrow we’ll be bored again, while systems of power and abuse of power remain unchanged.
I do want to talk about the culture in which these kinds of things keep happening.
A close friend of mine after high school had been molested by her older brother. It was a Christian family. She left the church, and in some ways she left her family, too. They named her bitter when they named her at all, but mostly they just didn’t. The faith marches on. They kept going as they were and let her go. Just one lost sheep.
But for me, it wasn’t just that one friend. We used to go to dinner together on Tuesdays, a whole group of us. We were not all abused, although the ratio was higher than the media touted 1 in 5. But we were people who had eyes for abuse in the church, and in secular culture as well. We were people who could see, and once we had seen, we could not un-see.
All girls. All damaged in one way or another. All used to being ignored. We acted out, in various ways, I suppose. But whether we did or didn’t wouldn’t have really mattered. Wrongness was projected on us. Our truths were considered socially unacceptable. We were hushed up, told not to say the things we had to say in front of children. We were identified as the source of pain and violence, as if we had created these wounds out of thin air.
We were wrong to say that these mistakes were harmless.
I knew then, as I know now, that sexual abuse and abuse of minors is a bindweed on the heart of the Christian church. I knew then, as I know now, that these patterns of abuse were never God’s plan for humanity. I know now, too, the cost of raising one’s voice to say so.
I know about getting labeled “angry” or “harsh” or “bitter,” and even wearing these adjectives on purpose because you think have no choice. I know about being told I need to get down on my knees and pray to God for correction, and of being accused of holy pride. I know all about getting the silent treatment, or being told that “I’m really out there” or my theology is “weird.”
But I know something else, too. I know how much it means, one person to another, to have someone tell you their story and say to them I BELIEVE YOU. I know that that this is real, salvation work. And I will not let go of this sacred thread. I know that there are human hearts and souls attached to it.
I will not stop calling on the liberating spirit that is freed when the stories of abuse victims are held high and reclaimed and brought fierce into the public square. And no, I am not talking about denying a victim’s expressed wish to have their identity concealed. I’m talking about the ones who are speaking with their loud beautiful voices, right now, like Mary DeMuth, and the women I used to go to dinner with on Tuesdays. I will not quit raising these voices to the glory of God.
And I will not quit calling on grace. I don’t mean the grace that is confused with perpetuating systems of abuse, or that is an excuse for holding the sound-proof walls of silencing in place. I mean the grace for ourselves and each other to say that WE WERE WRONG.
We were wrong to double the pain on the abused by asking them to smile and pretend that nothing happened. We were wrong to say that authority figures who abused their power should still be kept in those exact places of power. We were wrong to say that these mistakes were harmless. We were wrong to claim that this pattern of sin was God’s intention for His people.
We were wrong. But there is grace for this. There is joyful, reclaiming grace for this. We can yet recognize the tremendous power that we have, in maintaining silences, but also in breaking them.