It has never been easier to make our voice known on a public platform. Historically, one had to possess some trace of charisma, respect, or social etiquette to be heard by a demographic of people that chose to listen. Today we can expose our opinion to the general public in just a click, however accurate or biased it may be. I’m certain there have been some positive consequences, but in the wake of a scandal in the church or a harsh disagreement among believers, I often long for the days where dialogue was face to face and rational thought was more commonly accepted. Can open social platforms become the birthing ground of more logical and proactive conversation?
I think not, unless we engage in some scriptural encouragements like allowing our “reasonableness” to be known to everyone (Philippians 4:5) and exercise being “swift to hear and slow to speak.” (James 1:19) and realize that true love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but “rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6), There is no easy way to navigate the exposure of evil in this world. There are no quick answers when we are faced with a new nightmare. Our ability to reason and listen when the core of our emotion is rocked comes only from being grounded squarely in something more stable than our emotions.
Trauma of any kind has the capacity to evoke a myriad of emotions. This is normal and expected and often a cycle of anger and grief. In the complex journey of healing and restoration stereotyping and reactionary statements based on a false premise can easily become a part of our lingo when we are speaking out of the most painful parts of our heart. In an effort to impede the trauma we have experienced personally, we often resort to an irrational debate that is not primarily based in a desire to see long term solutions and statistical change.
Many of my acquaintances make strong statements specifically geared towards their communities. I do not hesitate to admit the need for continued growth and repentance in the church. It is the deepest grief of my heart that in a place where Christ is named, such evil surfaces time and again. However, as I have been face to face with victims and perpetrators from different countries, I am left with the realization that this is not a new strategy of the enemy in certain churches, but an old strategy implemented right after the fall of man, utilized to bring the optimum amount of chaos to the whole person. He uses his strategy well and globally. He convinces entire cultures that victims of sexual assault must be killed to retain honor. American women are not the only oppressed women in the world and it is the rise of postmodern thought that has given us a free ticket to believing that we are all under a system of oppression. While I certainly believe many churched women have lived under legitimate oppression and abuse, they are not alone in their suffering.
Many of us have made our anger known, and do not shrink from it because we are weary of having our voice repressed. I have personally lived as a very angry individual, and not the righteous kind. I said the harshest words, wrote the strongest emails, and refused to dialogue healthily about issues I was against. There came a day when I was too weary to keep moving into the life I knew God had called me to. Too much of my energies were completely absorbed in cynical thought and dogmatic debate. Shockingly, the very rage I was sure would convince the victims I was standing with them drove us further apart. Here’s why.
Survivors of sexual trauma often do not feel any emotion except anger. When anger meets anger and we join hands to see who can yell the loudest a whole lot of din takes place. The only positive result is the growing awareness of a problem. Awareness of a problem does not translate to rational dialogue on the solution of a problem and it certainly does not mean the real needs of survivors are being met. I have come to believe that fighting for restoration for all involved means more than attending anger festivals and celebrating the rise of new problems.
The #metoo movement began in Hollywood. It started with a lot of real problems, genuine evil, and the resulting years of repressed trauma. A lot of very angry women found their voice on a social platform for the first time. This was quickly followed by the #churchmetoo, exposing sex scandals in the Catholic church. A young Jordainian journalist vocalized her abuse during the hadj (a muslim’s journey to Mecca), hashtagging her story #mosquemetoo and it resulted in hundreds of muslim women sharing their stories. The Time’s Up campaign began, and the resulting mass outcry has been dubbed the fourth wave of feminism.
Evil was exposed. A problem was recognized.
Yet, I wonder who is caring for the hearts of the women in Hollywood in the wake of a sex scandal. The survivors in the Catholic church know the evil is exposed, but I cannot help but wonder who is emulating the true Jesus to them. Muslim women have found momentary relief in the exposure of secret shame, but who will guide them towards true rest for their souls? In the wake of sex scandals in the church, many will voice opinion of what should be done, but I have found it grieving how few will actually engage in the long term process of healing for survivors.
If we want to be truly victim centered in our approach I suggest we start channeling our energies towards focusing on new alternatives to prevent old problems so we can move on to implementing solutions and evaluating positive change. Continuing irrational discussion will keep our courage declining and conversation unproductive. It is startling to see the decline of morale among my acquaintances when a scandal surfaces. If we are problem-focused individuals a new problem will sweep us into a state of despair every time. But if we’ve moved on to initiating dialogue regarding possible positive solutions we are in a hopeful posture when disaster strikes.
When we are reasonable and coherent in our conversation, avoiding stereotyping and reactionary fluffle we actually draw people to us instead of sending them sprawling. That’s why scripture exhorts us to let our reasonableness be known to everyone. We might be surprised how many pastors and leaders would take time to listen if they could understand our entreaties. The devil must laugh at our flimsy state of outrage and rejoice in the fact that our mental capacities are so immersed in exposing problems that we cannot logically think about viable solutions. We only have that much mental space and anger takes up a whole lot. None of us have time for that, and especially not the church.
Let me be clear that I believe righteous anger at sexual sin of any kind is needful. Exposure of sexual sin of all kinds is needful. Honesty about the state of a church or ministry when a scandal surfaces is not only needul, but paramount to ensure proper actions can take place for the protection of survivors. What I believe many of us do not recognize in our desire to evoke positive change is that there is a right and wrong way to expose, and a right and wrong way to act on anger. We must be certain when we are engaging with issues that have such intense and long-lasting consequences that we are doing it the right way. That way, I believe can only be found through desperate prayer and infilling of the Holy Spirit, and the humility to walk beside others.
If I could write a plea to the American church in the wake of a sex scandal I would include a few points for consideration.
- Not all exposure is healthy. If you are truly advocating for victims you will be extremely careful before speaking of their experiences on a social platform.
- Not all anger is productive. The rise of emotion within us should cause us to do some serious evaluation personally before exposing it corporately.
- Not all engagement is useful. If you are not face to face with the victim or the perpetrator, or called upon to involve yourself, be very prayerful in your endeavors.
- Not all immediate information is factual. From experience, I know that it takes months, and sometimes years, for facts to be sorted through for victims and perpetrators alike.
If we truly care for victims of sexual assault we will not blithly do anything in our endeavor to help. A sincere heart to expose can result in unnecessary chaos for the survivor. Holy Spirit led endeavors will have positive results. Human-led endeavors can have disastrous results- a lot like my social media page often portrays. God has answers for us. One of the things He tells us to do is humble ourselves and pray, and He will heal our land. Instead of letting the tragic details overcome you, let His wisdom lead you. Instead of bending to the avalanche of emotion, bend your knees in desperation to Him.
Most importantly, discover who you truly believe God to be in relation to evil.
Theodicy is the study of God’s goodness and providence in relation to evil in the world, and I believe it is one of the deepest quests of the human heart. Holy-Spirit led endeavors undoubtedly lead us face to face with victims, but many of us are too cowardly to follow Him because we fear the suffering and have never wrestled through who God is in relation to evil. Where we have been profoundly impacted by evil, we long for a profound impact of God. I suggest that many of us have not truly met Him in the most painful recesses of our heart. We may have confessed our sins and accepted forgiveness, but have not admitted our griefs and let Him carry our sorrows. Our inability to enter into the darkness of our own hearts cripples us when we are face to face with the darkness of others.
We have not come to know God in our suffering, so we cannot see Him in theirs.
When we do not know God in relation to evil, we cannot face the world as it is without being met with a chronic state of despair. When we see Him as He truly is, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, we cannot help but worship. It is that very worship that gives us the inner resilience to face another story of darkness, another life in chaos, another scandal in the church and remain strong in faith.
Dr. Diane Langberg says, “The degree to which we know Christ directly corresponds to the degree to which we are able to work amongst trauma. Without beginning from a place of worship, we will not be able to face the traumatized without being met with panic and despair rather than with forgiveness and tolerance.”
Worshipping Christians have all of heaven behind them. The gates of hell will not prevail against them. Tragic details have no power over them, rage has no hold on them, and the world has no grip on them. Evil cannot overcome them, and man-made systems cannot control them. They are peaceful, unflinching, faith-sparking, and courageous because they have allowed Jesus Christ to take the things they were most afraid of and replace it with a resounding courage that has the capacity to reverberate throughout countries and nations.
It’s that very courage that will enter into healthy dialogue for positive change in our communities and then moving beyond the conversation, implement positive steps of prevention and healing. It is that courage that victims are truly crying out for.
The devil really did come to kill and destroy, but before He ever came Jesus had a plan to give life. God promised we would have tribulation, but exhorts us to take heart, because He has already overcome it. The church of Jesus can choose to focus on the killing, destroying, and tribulation or the abundant life and overcoming. God knew about every scandal that would ever develop so He carved a plan of restoration and redemption long before they ever happened. He knew life would kilter crazily as the impact of evil spun around in the minds and hearts of the ones unprepared to meet it, so He sent His Holy Spirit as our comforter long before the scandal surfaced so we could peacefully and prayerfully engage in the healing process of all involved. He knew those who would refuse transparency and honesty, so He willed His truth to triumph through us, the church.
Are you passionate about being an advocate for survivors? Consider the following points.
- Expose abuse with accountability. We all need support and wisdom from others, and need to be open to varying opinions.
- Ground your emotions in the God of justice. He who carries our griefs and sorrows is fully able to keep us in His peace.
- Do not be afraid to engage. If you are face to face or acquainted with a scandal face it. Remember you do not need to draw hasty and harsh conclusions in that engagement.
- Be objective as you listen. Recognize the truth is often revealed as a part of the healing journey.
“We will not fear, for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.”
Allow His truth to penetrate the very core of your being and the fruit of your responses to evil will be positive and life changing. Let Him give you the wisdom to move into face to face interaction with survivors and perpetrators so you can breathe the very touch of God onto the ravaged parts of their hearts. His touch is what we’re all crying out for and when we allow Him to do His work, our cries will bring about redemptive change.
Thus says the Lord, ”I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know it is I, the Lord, who calls you by your name.” Isaiah 45:1-3