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.