Sunday, October 22, 2017

Thoughts on the "Me, Too" Campaign

I participated in the "Me, Too" campaign through Facebook. I chose not to share my story there because some in the past did not respect it. Some even blamed me for my perpetrators' actions, for not telling, and for not stopping the abusers in their tracks. The first Christians I told were visibly uncomfortable and sharply admonished me to forgive. Several years ago, God blessed me with godly counselors and empathetic friends, who gave me safe places to tell my story, validating it with their tears, allowing me to explore the impact it had on me, my life, and my relationships. They also helped me see I was protecting my heart in ways that hindered my relationships and ability to love.  

I wasn't going to blog on this, but I have been reviewing a workshop I took on systemic spiritual abuse and came across this quote and changed my mind, "If no one remembers a misdeed or names it publicly, it remains invisible. To the outside observer, its victim is not a victim and its perpetrator is not a perpetrator; both are misperceived because the suffering of the one and the violence of the other goes unseen. A double injustice occurs--the first when the original deed is done and the second when it disappears." (Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory, p.29) Essentially, both continue to live lies. That is why so many are speaking up now. The burden of the secrets and living a lie are exhausting. This has been going on way too long and we can't change what we don't acknowledge. 

From my experience, sexual harassment looks like the teenage boys lining the hallways in school who, looked girls up and down, making lewd sounds and comments as they passed. It was comments about the size of my breasts and being told it was a way of saying how smart and beautiful I was. It looks like a group of guys coming into the PE office when I was alone, talking crudely about their sexual conquests. It looks like a group of teenage boys in the youth room, congregating so they could ogle girls walking in. It looks like a group of college athletes cat-calling and yelling horrible names, leaving me shaking to the core. It looks like the man my grandfather's age where I worked, whose friendly chatter turned to bedroom talk. It looks like the "friendly greetings," with guys eyes resting on my chest. It's a glance behind me to find a man I considered godly staring at my rear. It looks like the medical professional crudely commenting about my breast and refusing to numb me as he sewed me up after childbirth. Just to head off those questions: Yes, I dress modestly. No, I wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, I wasn't flirting, I tried hard to be invisible. 

I also experienced sporadic sexual abuse starting when I was four. I didn't have words for it, but knew something inside my spirit shifted and I would never the same. As any preschooler would, I tried to figure out what in me caused the abuse. As an adult, I woke up to find a strange man touching me. My husband chased him away and just like before, I blamed myself. But, as preschooler I had no cleavage and as a woman asleep in my own bed, I wasn't asking for anything. 

I both loved and hated being a female. I loved carrying, giving birth and nursing, but I hated that simply by being a woman I could cause "good men" to stumble. I hated feeling forever unsafe in my body. And when harassment happened within the churches I attended and I addressed it, I was told I must have misunderstood, maybe they just had a bad day, or we women should dress more appropriately. It wasn't me, it was patterns of behavior unchecked and men not being accountable to be the men God has called them to be.  

I can't solve an entire culture's moral problem in this little space. However, I can go out on a limb and be a prophetic voice to the church. We forget local bodies aren't Christ's true church. They are organizations that in the language of parables contain tares mixed with the wheat, goats with sheep, wolves dressed in sheep's clothing, and people who are white washed, spiritually dead beings. So, when someone comes forward with stories of past abuse or current allegations, doesn't this mean we should not dismiss them or silence them with platitudes. Doesn't it mean, we should not ask questions or make statements like, "Are you sure you saw what you said you saw?" "He (or she) is such a good person, they couldn't have." "What did you do to cause him to stumble?" "You want to keep this quiet. We can't hurt his good name, destroy his career, or mess up his family." 

I hope every church gets training in how to prevent and respond to both sexual harassment and sexual abuse. There is a temptation to protect the church over the victim and that is wrong. There is a temptation to twist the Scriptures in an false effort to protect God's name. When I volunteered with youth, I heard accounts of harassment, abuse, and pressure put on girls by "good Christian boys" to "put out." Confronting it only resulted in more lectures on women being modest. In our support groups, I hear stories of women who as kids were abused by dad's who attended church or by Sunday School teachers, deacons, and elders. I also hear stories of gals who were abused by youth pastors or other youth workers. Some told and were silenced either within their own family or within their churches. That is spiritual abuse of the worst kind. 

Isn't it time for churches to do some self-reflection? Do men understand God's call on their lives to define what it is to be a man by the Scripture, not by locker room talk, sexual conquests, or how uncomfortable they can make a woman feel when they stand in a pack? It is time for churches to become extremely proactive about protecting the vulnerable and confronting evil when it is presented. Jesus didn't hide the flaws of the religious system of His day. He overturned tables, cracked whips, and cleaned house. Every woman wounded by abuse or harassment longs for a safe church and a safe church isn't a perfect church. It is a church that believes the wounded, protects them, and deals with sin. In today's vernacular, maybe it is time to do some throat punching to protect vulnerable sheep. 

When we refuse to do what Jesus did to protect His flock, we become complicit and have the propensity to become white washed toxic systems filled with spiritual abuse that deeply wounds. Christ didn't protect the system over the sheep, He turned it upside down. The first day the "Me, too" campaign hit Facebook, my friend Katie messaged me and said, "The Lion of Judah is on the move!" I believe she is right. Let's guard our hearts, our minds, and our mouths so God's character is seen in the church. Let's be quick to confess our faults and our tendency towards complicity. I attend a church that provides support and help for those who have been wounded and that is a sacred work of the church. We want to be proactive, letting the Lion of Judah's roar be heard reverberating through the church so God can be seen as He truly is--holy, just, loving, gracious, and good. 

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!