Church, Are We Having the Right Conversation?

convoI told myself there were a million reasons why I should not write this post.  OK, maybe just under a million.

I don’t like controversy or conflict.  Chiming in will put me in the melee.  {Deep breath}

I have never watched 19 Kids and Counting. I’m sure the Duggars’ love Jesus and are following what they believe He would have them do.  But the no-short wearing, no-hair cutting, woman-subservient-to-man, one-Bible-version-only, hyper-modesty camp they represent highlights to me a religious legalism that oppresses women into what is at best a subcultural stereotype.

While I fully support the Duggars’ rights to express their faith as they are led, it is not an expression I personally want to watch, support or be entertained by.  I have however loosely been following the media fray surrounding Josh Duggar’s pedophilia.  I’ve worked with child survivors and it is an issue planted deep in my heart.

I was praying maybe this one time we’d actually get the conversation right and protect the survivors.

Then I saw the 3 night interview of the Duggars on The Kelly File and my heart sank.  I became more disturbed and sickened with each minute.  It wasn’t only how the parents’ conversation repeatedly revolved around protecting the perpetrator, but how the parents and then the girls themselves minimized the actual abuse.  I scarcely could believe what I was listening to.

Do I believe Josh can be forgiven and horrible situations redeemed ?  Of course I do.

But church, forgiveness is only forgiveness when it is a choice. 

And for a choice to be a choice, that means there has to be freedom to choose alternatives even for a season and embrace an intimately personal journey.  Forgiveness that is forced through deeply ingrained expectations and desires to not disappoint authority figures may not give survivors the necessary space they need to go on their own journey with Jesus towards healing and freedom.

If you move on too quickly from trauma {apart from God doing the miraculous}, you wind up dragging the pain with you and not actually moving on at all.

I seriously wonder, given the culture surrounding these incidents, if forgiveness was indeed a choice that could be embraced in fits and squalls as the storm abated and healing came in layers, or if it was one-and-done, good-now-get-over-it.

The outrage I heard from the Duggars was not directed at the abuser or his very real abuse, but at the system, the media and seemingly everybody but him.  Over the last 4 years, I have seen repeated situations where the church has rushed to protect the perpetrators of sexual abuse, minimized the allegations and shamed the survivors into psuedo-forced-forgiveness.

The parent’s overt focus on Josh getting his life back and the repeated redirection away from the severity of the allegations or the impact on his abuse’s survivors, who were their very own daughters, shows the dark underbelly of a worldview still prevalent in some parts of Christendom where women are indirectly (if not directly) taught to be silent and stand by their man, no matter what.  And if we do talk about abuse or wrongdoing, let’s just soften it’s edges with platitudes touting mankind’s general imperfection.

Abuse is not indiscretion or imperfection.  Abuse is abuse. 

Whether the man is 14, 16, 18 or 98, sexual abuse is sexual abuse. When we minimize it, politicize it and protect perpetrators from receiving the full weight of the consequences of their actions, we legitimize its ongoing presence in our midst.

The fact that the media’s exposure of the abuse was 1000 times worse than the abuse itself in the survivor’s eyes makes me profoundly sad. It only points to how much the incidents themselves must have been minimized.

Church we need to stop trying to figure out how to protect our reputation or how to protect the perpetrators of abuse and focus on how to protect and provide a truly safe healing community for abuse survivors. We need to systematically address worldviews that devalue women and see how we can create conversations and contexts that empower women as Jesus does.  We need to once and for all say sexual abuse, no matter who perpetrates it or how “mild” the incident seems, is in no way permissible or tolerable in our midst.  Ever.

Let’s have this conversation.  Open. Honest. Transparent. Brave. Free.