The Church’s Complicity on Abuse Ends with this Book
Mary DeMuth published a book this year, We Too: How the Church Can Respond Redemptively to the Sexual Abuse Crisis. It provides a spiritual awakening to the church’s complicity on sexual abuse. As a victim, I was painfully aware of the fact that my abuser was one of the critical donors keeping our little church viable. Sadly, the one person I believed I could turn to was our pastor. But, that avenue closed to me because my father garnered such high esteem in the community and within our church.
As a child, I believed I wasn’t worthy of saving. Unfortunately, my child’s logic led me to think I was the only child in the world this type of abuse happened to. My church should have provided the haven of safety I so desperately sought. Sadly, it didn’t.
We Are a Movement
Unfortunately, I have learned through the years that I wasn’t alone in my plight. Other children from my community suffered abuse by fathers, uncles, priests, pastors, teachers, grandfathers, brothers, and friends of the family. The number of victims is astounding to me. For all the years of my childhood, I believed I was alone. I struggled to try to be perfect daily. My childish mind thought if I could be “Good Enough,” the abuse would end. For me, the underlying question will always be, ‘Who is ‘Good Enough’ to stand up to this eternal nightmare?’
The silence of those who know about sexual abuse and do nothing causes the entirety of society to suffer. For those of us who carry the scars, we no longer whisper, instead we shout: “No More!”
Our Complicity on Sexual Abuse Is Not Based on Scripture
I love the passages of scripture included in this book. We are at a time in history when Americans test each other on the distinctions between right and wrong. I look back on the days when we were “hushed” when talking about specific subjects. I was only seven-years-old when my abuse started. Children don’t have a voice to defend themselves. So, we depend on the adults to protect us.
Far too often, I heard, “Nice girls don’t talk about things like that.” This statement consistently linked to any discussion that remotely touched on inappropriate behavior. (An example: The whispers within the community about a doctor who impregnated his anesthetized sixteen-year-old patient while he performed an appendectomy. Sadly, this is another story from my small town!)
Mary DeMuth debunks the justifications for the church’s complicity on sexual abuse. She reminds us God aligns himself with the oppressed:
“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.'” Psalm 12:5 (NIV)
The prophet Zechariah prophesied against those who refused God’s command to protect the innocent and downtrodden:
Then this message came to Zechariah from the Lord: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other. Your ancestors refused to listen to this message. They stubbornly turned away and put their fingers in their ears to keep from hearing. They made their hearts as hard as stone, so they could not hear the instructions or the messages that the LORD of Heaven’s Armies had sent them by his Spirit through the earlier prophets That is why the LORD of Heaven’s Armies was so angry with them.” Zechariah 7:8-12
When will we stop minimizing sexual abuse? Can the church’s complicity on sexual abuse change due to the “Me Too” movement? If we don’t, we will continue to harm the victims and for those of us who have seen the ‘looks’ and listened to the excuses, change needs to happen.
An open letter to the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church by the staff of the National Catholic Reporter addresses this same desire to see a holy turnaround in our response to survivors. They write the following:
This (argument) is not about debatable matters — celibacy or the filioque clause, or the primacy of Scripture or whether the Earth is the center of the universe or whether women should be allowed ordination or any of the hot button issues that have kept us roiling and at each others’ throats these past decades.
This, instead, is about a rot at the heart of the culture entrusted with the leadership of the Catholic community. A rot so pervasive that it has touched every aspect of the community’s life, disrupting all of the certainties and presumptions about who we are and who you are that helped hold this community together…
You’ve been ensconced in a culture that has for too long protected you from the consequences of your worst instincts. The boundaries that once kept your culture safe from scrutiny have become as irrelevant today as the moats and walls of previous centuries. There is no hiding any longer. You’ve been imbibing the excesses of power, authority, and privilege that have accrued over centuries, and, like the addict who hits bottom, a fundamental decision for recovery is essential to your survival.
Failure of Leadership
Rightly, this is seen as a failure of leadership over the millennia, a terrible rot, a scourge. Consider the thousands of survivors sacrificed on the altar of reputation protection. Consider how many crimes could have been prevented had the church taken sexual abuse seriously.
The rot has not merely eroded the Catholic Church, but it has become pervasive in the Protestant church as well. When will we realize that God does not need us to preserve his reputation? He is not marred by our sins, but his reputation and the sullied reputation of the church is degraded by our silencing and cover-up.
(Blog note: I wrote in a previous blog post about the minister who consistently tried to push himself into me while I practiced the organ for church services. My experience was in a Methodist Church. The Catholic Church isn’t alone in the abuses perpetrated against our children. — The organ was in an alcove next to the altar. My only defense was to rise before dawn to go practice before the minister woke up. )
To those who try to silence a survivor because it is more convenient or too painful to hear the truth: Spend some time listening to a sexual abuse survivor. Hear their stories and love them. If that person is a minor, report the abuse to the authorities.
If you keep it silent or summarily try to silence survivors, you become a painful part of their abuse story. Your silence makes you culpable. To not act is to act.
To the Christian institutions who are trying to balance their legal obligations, moral duty, and their desire for self-protection: Do the right thing. Repentance and apology can happen at a corporate level. And, it must also happen from person to person.
Rapists should lose, not win.
They should be caught, not coddled.
They should be imprisoned, not passed along to different locales to rape again.
Shuffling perpetrators around smacks the face of justice mars the survivor’s pathway to peace and proves that the powerful when they become intoxicated by their power, can enact the evilest violence upon others.
Scripture Demands the Church’s Complicity on Sexual Abuse Should End
34 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.
4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; 6 they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep,
9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
The Lord God Will Seek Them Out
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.
The Complicity of the Church Affects Every One of Us
We need leaders who will protect us, not profit from our silence.
Also, we need action, not words.
Today, we refuse to live in fear with feelings of inadequacy.
We demand to live in a world of hope.
It is shameful how we revictimize the survivors with our insensitivity. I tell you from experience that it took me eleven years before I found the courage to tell anyone of the abuse that began when I was only seven-years-old. The threats of violence against my mother were meant to keep me quiet, and it worked.
Our churches are not merely guilty of keeping the abuse of our ministers and priests quiet; they have offered to counsel without any attempt to stop the abusers, whether they lead the church or are parishioners.
Ms. DeMuth laments the fact that we’re all tired of formulaic, one-size-fits-all religion. We all long for God’s redemption, and thanks to the “Me Too” movement, we know we are not alone. Do we need to read the Bible to know we have not handled sexual assault in a way God intended us to do? Without question, we have more respect for money and stature than we do for truth and redemption.
The church isn’t any single establishment; the church is “Us.” It lives within our hearts and spirits. It’s our responsibility to listen to others who have a story and to tell ours.
It is long past the time when we need to stop reframing the facts to fit our narrative.
Together, we can heal and find the power to change what has been to a future of hope.
Society conditioned us to silence the stories.
It began when the housekeeper knew what my father was doing and refused to tell anyone.
Then, It continued with a leader of the church who listened to my story with compassion, and then stated, “Men will be men.”
It ended with the police department who refused to do anything about my claims of sexual assault in the ’60s when I finally came forward with my story to protect a teenage girl after my father moved in with her mother.
You, who have stood by, looked the other way, and refused to become involved, did irreparable harm. A good shepherd would have tried to save the lamb. Think about it in context with the bible scripture quoted above. So, if you consider yourself a Christian, you must be a mandatory reporter as Ms. DeMuth demands.
Therefore, to our church leaders, I can only pray that you educate yourselves and your congregations. Don’t react in crisis mode.
Mary DeMuth Outlines The Church’s Responsibility
Sadly, when we review the past and the church’s complicity in sexual assault, we question why we haven’t demanded more.
As a first step, Ms. DeMuth has created a pathway for our church leaders:
- Err on the side of belief
- Don’t be a bystander
- Listen to survivors
- Don’t take the easy excuse path
- Avoid prescribing a healing journey
- Don’t minimize the abuse
- Educate yourself and your congregation
- Expect pushback
- Protect survivors, not reputations
- Be honest
- Get angry, but not at the survivor
- Don’t demand forgiveness
- Apologize when necessary
- Welcome independent investigation
- Report abuse
- Provide for survivors
- Create child protection policies and procedures
- Chase the now-and-not-yet kingdom
- Welcome public stories
- Give grace space
- Lift the maze
- Welcome everyone to the table
In addition, she elaborates on each of these points. Her outline is only a beginning point. Our clergy needs to do far more. Never once did anyone offer me love, encouragement, help, or support after my abuse. There have been so many missed opportunities where people in power could have helped me on this healing journey.
I know now that I am not alone. Our church community has an opportunity to finally demonstrate that they are a safe place for the wounded. It’s what Jesus believed.
Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so piously! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.
How many times have I voiced a straightforward sentence to those who turn a deaf ear: “My God is a loving God!”
I know Jesus would listen and care.
“Truth and justice matter to our Creator.” Mary DeMuth
Return our churches to what I believed they were when I was that small, hurting child: Places of truth, light, and hope.
The world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but are from this world 1 John 2:16
Learn About Mary DeMuth