Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why Activism Matters

Over the past few days, the blogging world has been very active with the Josh Duggar and Karen Root Hinkley stories.  For those of us who have been impacted either by spiritual abuse and/or interaction with a pedophile, these “stories” are felt deeply and our anger is rooted in the trauma we have experienced and that we see others experiencing.  It is a deeply felt pain of identification that time and distance do not heal.  We are angry at the injustice, ignorance and our sense of impotence in the face of such evil.  It gets exhausting—anger may be an empowering emotion but it also becomes exhausting, especially when it seems that real change is elusive.

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just give up, bury our heads in the sand and sing a happy song.  But our anger and grief matter.  They matter a great deal and we cannot afford to be silenced on this critical issue.  It may be uncomfortable to be angry and to fully identify with the pain of others, but it is the catalyst for creating the change we want to see.  And it is critically important that change come.
Men and women who stood against the injustices, excesses and abuses of organized religion, social norms and punitive laws made change through their activism.  They got angry and decided to do something about it.  Reformers and change agents risked personal safety, reputation and anonymity in order to draw attention to a problem and to mobilize public support for change.  None of the major battles of reformation within organized religion and society were undertaken passively—they resulted from a burning anger at injustice and a commitment to do something to force change.

Our anger and subsequent activism matter; they matter a great deal.  Organized religion must change its approach to women and children and it must change its perspective on pedophiles. And we must channel our anger into positive action until change comes.  Our activism matters because:
  • Our children matter!  They deserve to grow up in a community where predatory behavior is not tolerated.  Childhood sexual abuse has been termed a “soul slayer.”  It destroys a child’s sense of worth, value and spiritual connection with God.  It is not innocent or harmless!  If we allow the severity of individual acts to be judged on the basis of whether they occurred over or under clothing, penetration was achieved or not, or any other attempt to minimize the impact on a child’s emotional and spiritual health, we are culpable as well!
  • Perpetrators are incredibly skilled at deception and manipulation.  Pedophilia is not something that can be prayed away; it requires years of intensive therapy with individuals specifically trained to deal with sexual orientation/addiction issues. And even under the best of circumstances, it is incredibly resistant to change.  Church leadership who think they can control, contain or manage a pedophile intentionally places the children in the congregation at risk.  And the church leadership must be held accountable, by their congregants and by the courts. 

  • It is time for the needs of victims to be prioritized without question.  We can quibble about theological differences of opinion regarding gender roles, submission in marriage, the role of women in the church,  recognizing that theologians may legitimately differ on what Scripture teaches with regards to these sensitive topics.  However, we must no longer tolerate further abuse or insensitivity towards those who have been victimized.  And we certainly must not remain silent when we see instances where the needs of the perpetrator are prioritized over those of the victim.  Victim-blaming must stop and we must not stay silent when we see it occurring.
The greatest tragedy that could possibly come from these two horrific stories (and all the other untold ones we have yet to hear about) would be if we allow ourselves to forget, to become distracted and to turn from the battle that we now see clearly.  The time for change has come.  If you and I do not take up the challenge, who will?  If not now, then when?  If not us, then who?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Heartbroken and Angry

Two recent news accounts of childhood sexual molestation, child pornography ad the church's response have reignited anger and sadness in my heart.  I have felt for a long time that the evangelical church is facing a crisis much larger than what the Catholic Church faced when it comes to perpetrators operating within its walls.  Churches are probably the last safe hideout for perpetrating pedophiles and it seems that the more conservative the church, the greater likelihood that molesters are at work.

The first story involves TLC reality star Josh Duggar's admission to sexually molesting numerous little girls a number of years ago.  When the molestation came to light, his father kept it a secret for at least a year--he then told the church elders who buried the story for a number of months prior to alerting the authorities.  Josh was sent to what was first called a "training center" but it turns out it was only a family friend who simply put him to work.  There is no evidence that he received professional counseling and certainly nothing seems to have been done to provide therapy and support for his victims.  The police detective who took the complaint is a family friend and it turns out is now serving a 56 year sentence on child pornography charges.  No charges were filed against Josh.

And then there is the story of Karen (Root) Hinkley, a former missionary to Asia with her ex-husband.  While overseas, it was discovered that he was using child pornography for his sexual gratification.  The sending agency brought them home and he found shelter in his very conservative church.  The church indicated in an email that Jordan Root knew that he could be arrested at any minute but assured its congregation that they were taking good care of him because he was "repentant."

Karen courageously filed for an annulment of their marriage and it was granted.  The judge granted an annulment rather than a divorce because she alleged that the marriage was based on fraud--that she had been deceived from the beginning.  I wish I had thought of that strategy!  When the church discovered that the Root's marriage had been annulled, they placed Karen in church discipline for taking such an action without their permission!  Meanwhile, the real villain, the real danger to children, the man who has admitted to criminal behavior and to pedophilia is in the safe harbor of his delusional church.

Both stories illustrate what is so very wrong in conservative evangelicalism:

  • Male privilege & double standards:  It is still a man's world in far too many corners of the globe and especially so in fundamental religions.  When men misbehave, it is chalked up to "boys being boys."  However, when a woman is even perceived to have misbehaved, the hard hammer of judgment falls on her.  Churches who insist on the submission of women within marriage or in the church create an atmosphere where men can do no wrong and women can do no right.
  • Cheap grace & pseudo-repentance:  All that the skillful and manipulative perpetrator must do is admit that he has "sinned" and seek restoration.  Little thought seems to be given to verifying his version of the "sinful" events or of acknowledging the real seriousness of these crimes and the very real threat these perpetrators pose to innocent children.  He says he is sorry, that he is all better now and church leadership takes him at his word.  Our children pay the price for this stupidity.
  • Women & children are expendable:  Because women and children are not valued as highly as the men in the community, their pain is not validated as significant as that of the males.  Their wounds are not properly tended to; indeed they are often not even recognized.  The unstated understanding is that women exist for a man's pleasure--not too far from the women as property mentality!
  • Religion is used to control the narrative rather than to seek justice:  Jesus defined true religion as one that cares for the poor, the widow and the orphans.  Partners of pedophiles may not be widows in the truest sense, but they have been abandoned in a profound and catastrophic way.  And violated children whose parents and/or church fail to protect them vigorously and seek justice for them are orphans.  Instead of protecting the vulnerable and abandoned, the church seeks to control the story, contain the damage and sweep it all under the rug, unless of course, the perpetrator is a woman.
I'm angry.  I'm disappointed in the institution I have been a part of for my entire lifetime.  And I'm sad--sad for the victims whose cries are ignored or stifled--sad that the Gospel is so perverted by those whose aim is control and power rather than justice and mercy.  Dear God, save us from ourselves!