It has been my privilege to pray with hundreds of sexual abuse survivors. For most, their pain was driven deeply into their souls because no one believed them. If anything, they were blamed, dismissed and discounted. And so I’ve rejoiced while watching the “Me Too” wave wash across our continent.
It’s taken me quite a while, however, to sift through the puzzling way our polarized culture has reacted. There’s a desperate need for grace in the middle between two extremes. As others rage, the Church needs to engage.
Americans were fixated on their flat screens during the confirmation proceedings for Brett Kavanaugh. A very believable Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when they were teens. His refutation also seemed credible.
Those on the right saw this as a contrived political sucker punch. “Why hadn’t she brought these charges years ago?”
The left channeled “Me Too” rage to their advantage. “These power-hungry Republicans are sweeping this aside because politics matter more than the cries of wounded women!”
Can we be honest and state the not-so-obvious? Neither side fully gets it. Both responses simply mimic the treatment survivors have received over the years. The Right wants to brush this aside. The Left wants to use rage for their own ends.
The pressing question for me is this: Will the Church fully get it? Or, as so often happens, will we simply mirror the divisive dysfunction of our culture?
A book on leadership, oddly enough, has helped me make sense of this. “A Failure of Nerve” by Edwin Friedman looks at conflict through the lens of family systems thinking. No matter what the organization—family, church, corporation, political party or culture—there is an emotional process that fuels the machinery. There are angry, stubborn people who fuss, fume or explode until they get their way. And so everyone in the system tiptoes around their whims and wishes.
What is needed, Friedman insists, is steady leadership which knows where to lead, remains meaningfully connected to all parties, and does not respond to the nonsense. When chaos erupts, the leader does not react in kind. In fact, Friedman states, that is precisely the moment when leaders should give their “I Have a Dream” speech.
Rage, fear and repeated complaints are the weapons used by those who want to remain in control. “Us” versus “Them” language is woven into conversations. Certain lines are drawn that few dare cross.
On the political landscape, we’ve long noted the lines that mark out “politically correct” language and actions. Vehement rage is aimed at all who fail to march in step with the Left.
But the Right has their “shibboleths” as well, especially within the church. It is a sad reality that the evangelical who expresses doubt about the party line on abortion or homosexuality will receive immediate blowback.
And so when it comes to Me Too survivors who speak up, evangelicals who lean conservative politically can be heard scoffing:
“Why are they just now bringing this up?”
“Why didn’t this person say ‘No’?”
“Is this simply sour grapes being thrown about as a false accusation?”
“Don’t they have any concern for the accused’s reputation?”
Progressive Christians seem far more sympathetic toward survivors, although I suspect each testimony of abuse fuels a bit of their own political rage.
Is there a place for rage within the Christian community? The prophets and psalmists model for us how to express anger in God-honoring ways. True prophets voice the anger of God. Psalmists aim their anger toward God. But the present rage so evident in America is part of this world’s system—a way of exerting control.
In Christlike fashion, the Church needs to live out Friedman’s wisdom. We must take the lead. Not react to the nonsense. Stay meaningfully connected to all parties.
And finding our pulpit, we must declare, “We have a dream!” That dream is the Kingdom of God where every victim can confidently come forward, knowing their concerns will be rightly handled. A dream where women and children are respected—not used for sexual pleasure. A dream where the anger of God is appropriately voiced, and where victims can be guided in their own psalm of lament toward God.
A man in my church was a hot mess during the entire Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal. No, he is not a Nittany Lion fan. A Buckeye guy, actually. But the stories of little boys being taken advantage of by football types exhumed horrifying memories.
Likewise, you can be sure that Blasey Ford’s testimony has tweaked some all-too-familiar memories for women in our churches.
As God’s people, we need to extricate ourselves from the political madness on both extremes and meet these dear women and men in the middle. Resist the rage. Learn to engage.
For biblical insights and practical ways to minister to the abused, read Chapter Four of “Into the Light: Healing Sexuality in Today’s Church”.