I walked to her bedside. She had bruises on her face and arms and was rather stiffly trying to sit up in bed. She saw me enter and her eyes immediately grew wary.
“What do you want? Another SAMPLE? More EVIDENCE?” she snarled, lying back with a sigh and starting to open her legs.
“No, no!” I quickly said. “I’m a chaplain. I’m only here to see if there’s anything I can do that ISN’T “Evidence.” I am here only for you.”
Her body relaxed against the gurney and she started to cry. I gently touched her hand and she grabbed it and held on tightly.
“Oh God, no. I just want this to be over! I want to go home and forget!!!”
I said nothing. I was learning to wait and listen until the patient asks me a question. I handed her tissues. And waited some more.
This was one of the first rape victims I cared for as a student chaplain. It was over 4 years ago, and she was like many of the sexually abused I have seen in my ministry. They are visceral memories that pop to the surface when I read articles like the one recently published in Christianity Today (CT). An article (which I am not linking to because they don’t need the traffic!) that was from the perspective of the perpetrator, a now-penitent youth minister. An article in which the perpetrator was given a voice, but not the victim. And an article that (in fairness) has been pulled from the on-line journal edition, and the publisher states that the revenue gained from the ads on the page will be given to (in their words) “Christian organizations that work with survivors of sexual abuse.”
I appreciate the publisher’s apology. But it was unkind, wrong, and completely insensitive to publish it in the first place.
A felon’s confession of regret is laudable — please hear me. But the victim of the abuse, and it WAS abuse, has again been marginalized. The male, dominant, patriarchal culture of CT didn’t see a problem with publishing it. They allowed someone who abused pastoral trust, who took advantage of a position of authority in the Church, to again have a “pulpit” of sorts.
The victim can only feel violated again.
“But he’s SORRY for what he’s done,” you say.
I am sure he is. He lost his job. He hurt his congregation, his family, and broke his ordination vows in the worst way possible.
But there is something we are all forgetting here. He has hurt someone deeply. He has affected her trust in God, in her spiritual leaders, and in the Church Organizational. And he probably has damaged her trust in people in general. (In fact, one such victim’s account of her struggles and her faith are here. READ IT. There’s important messages for us who are pastors, chaplains and church volunteers!)
Publishing this article contributed to the “modesty police” subculture of reminding women “to dress so that his eyes don’t wander.” (Which by the way, is complete fertilizer.) As I have written before, modesty and self control are part of everyone’s responsibility. And we are tasked with not just teaching a dress code, but an approach to sexuality and humanity that has a proper perspective:
The images of misused sexuality are everywhere. To teach our children good judgement and a “strong moral compass,” we have to teach them to first see the men and women around them as human beings who are sexual, not sexual beings who are human. [From: “Dear Mrs. Hall, We Need to Chat.”]
Here is the greater issue. And it is much more difficult to accept.
The Church is called to be a refuge. A place of nurture, safety, comfort, encouragement and peace. A place where those who have been hurt, abused or cast-off can find security. It’s why many churches are seeking to be a place of safety, to have a culture of acceptance. A community where they do not have to justify why they are afraid or enumerate their scars, but be accepted as they are.
We write policies about nursery and Sunday School and youth group “safe church practices” and take them seriously. And then a publication allows a convicted felon to talk about how he violated them.
We teach our children and teens that “No Means ‘NO!'” and then re-victimize someone.
We preach about a God of justice, of One who commands us to care for widows and orphans and the strangers among us. (Deut. 10:18) And we continue to thwart God’s redemptive work among us.
Maybe if enough of us protest, past this moment of “take down the article,” the Church will gain a collective self-awareness and act with compassion towards the victims in our midst. And maybe our publishers and editors will figure out that this mindset has to go. Just maybe.
I sat with this young women for over an hour. I listened. I silently prayed and raged inside at what she had experienced.
She talked about everything BUT God, the rape, the perpetrator. She cried. She raged. And then she said, “I don’t know if I am strong enough to go through with pressing charges.”
Tears streaking down her cheeks, and responsive tears welling up in mine, I said, “You can be. You must. He must never get away with this again. You are WORTH it.”
She stared at me. “I’m worth it? God knows I’d like to be.”
“God knows you ARE.”
Her chin went up and there was a glint in her eye. “Yes. I AM!”
She left the ER that night with a friend. I had to leave and attend to a death elsewhere in the hospital and I didn’t see her again. I didn’t find out if she pressed charges or not, nor if the perpetrator was convicted. I’d like to think so.
Her story is like countless others I have heard in my role as a chaplain. They are each filled with anger, self-hatred, self-blame, and a furious distrust of a culture that glorifies dominance and fear.
It grieves my heart. It surely grieves the heart of God.
And it is time that we do all in our power to give a place for their voices to be heard. The voices of the victim and injured.
Lord help us hear their courageous, broken hearts
and respond with Your justice, mercy and hope.
If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, please visit these websites where you can get help! You are WORTH being cared for, listened to, and supported!
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network