America, Sexual Assault Survivors are Listening. What are We Saying?

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One of the blessings of the work I do is that people turn to me when they don’t believe they can turn to anyone else. They allow me close proximity to their pain. It is a holy place, and even though it is a tremendous honor to be allowed into the deepest recesses of people’s hearts and stories, this also means getting a front row seat to the incredible damage so many live with.

Recently I heard from a woman who I’ll call Emily. A few years ago Emily was raped by a stranger.

She has shared this information with almost no one close to her because of the trauma and undeserved shame she carries. Emily suffers alone every single day and through many sleepless nights, because someone else saw her as an object and ignored her consent and disregarded her humanity.

And yet as horrific as that day was for her, it was only the beginning of the nightmare she’s had to endure.

There have been more fresh nightmares this past year.

This past yeart she’s had to hear friends and co-workers and family members openly defend the words and behavior of Donald Trump, oblivious to the way these things silently wound her and force her deeper and deeper into isolation and sadness, and how their words assault her all over again.

She’s had to hear people like Rush Limbaugh make the issue of consent the punchline to some twisted joke.

She’s seen an alleged Christian leader like Jerry Falwell Jr. say that he would endorse Trump even if he had a history of sexual assault.

She’s listened to other women defend the GOP candidate and give guys a pass and blame victims and openly campaign for a confessed sexual predator.

Over and over and over she’s had to hear that she doesn’t matter. Over and over she’s been told that she’s expendable. Over and over she’s been reminded that her pain is inconsequential.

Maybe she’s had to hear this from you too.

Maybe it’s been your Tweets and Facebook tirades and coffee break conversations and flippant comments that she’s had to endure; bleeding internally, suffering in silence, grieving anew.

I suspect his may not matter to many of you, but I hope you’ll think about it.

Emilys are everywhere.

People you know and love and worship and work with have been the victims of sexual assault, whether you know it or not. They are in your kitchen, your staff room, your classroom, your church pew.

They are listening to you and they are being brutalized again, because people they know and love and worship with and work with were okay elevating a sexual predator to the Presidency and dismissing their trauma and excusing away rape culture as just “guys being guys”. I wonder if that’s something you are okay with.

I wonder if Emily matters to you.

I wonder if you knew Emily was listening to you,  if you would have still said what you’ve said or posted what you’ve posted. I wonder if it would make any difference at all.  

This year, America is speaking loudly to victims of sexual assault about their worth, their pain, their importance.

And honestly, I shudder to imagine what we’re saying to them right now.

To all the Emily’s out there: You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. You are not defined by what has been done to you. You are not alone. We see you. We hear you.

Be encouraged today.

 

 

If you are the survivor of sexual assault, here are some resources where you can find support, encouragement, and care. You don’t need to carry this alone. 
RAINN
National Sexual Assault Hotline
EROC (End Rape on Campus)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
Safe Horizon
INCITE (For Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color)
On Eagle’s Wings Ministries
Human Rights Campaign (LGBTQ)
NCLR Nation Center for Lesbian Rights 
Not Alone
Safe Helpline (Victim support for members of Military)

 

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A Funeral for My Christianity

 

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“You seem really angry lately.”

Someone said that to me recently—and at first it really pissed me off.

I instantly mounted a spirited, vigorous defense laying out the reasons she had assessed me incorrectly, but soon found myself trailing off and resigning myself to a harsh, unwelcome truth:

She was right—or at least she was in the ballpark.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the outside grief looks a lot like anger. The external markers tend to be similar; impatience, bitterness, violent outbursts, a loss of optimism (I’ll cop to those), but the difference is that the source, is a profound loss. Something or someone has died, and this is the mourning that has come to take up residence in your chest cavity in its absence. Yes, you’re all negativity and rage outside but it’s because sadness has fully saturated your heart, and carrying around that heaviness takes its toll after a while.

Looking around at my country right now I can’t help but grieve at the passing of the faith I used to know, the one I grew up believing was home for me, the one I once wanted to make my life’s work. I am witnessing the second death of Jesus here in American Christianity and no I’m not dealing with it well. When someone you love dies, the disorientation is profound, but when you lose your religion it’s an existential sh*t storm, so you’re going to have to excuse my unpleasantness while I process it.

Last night I came across a Facebook post from an old friend from a church I served at nearly two decades ago that crystalized it all. She and I have remained in contact all these years, albeit through the artificial closeness social media provides. In truth, we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in well over a decade, but she was one of those people I figured as a Christian, was some kind of sacred extended family and so I should keep the connection.

She was delivering a fiery political manifesto about the election, and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wants her to vote the way she intends. Beneath her heavily coded words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, gay folks, and people of color, mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only her candidate could rescue us from. Over the past few years these sentiments have become familiar in the circles I’ve traveled, and I’ve spent a good deal of time rationalizing them away, minimizing them, and looking past them. Today, reading my old friend’s words I realized that whatever this thing is that she and I used to share as a common thread has frayed beyond repair. Her Jesus and mine bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore. I am the outlier now.

That’s not to say that Jesus matters any less to me or means any less to me, it’s just that in so much American Christianity it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.

I don’t say these things for hyperbolic effect or to curry attention or sympathy. This is just what is. It’s the clearest, most sober revelation I’ve had about the state of my spiritual union; that I feel like something is gone for good. I see what’s become of the Church here in America and it’s like a wake for the religion I once called home.

I’m not sure what all this angry, chest-thumping, bullying, “don’t tread on me” thing that we’ve come to call Christianity is, but here’s what I do know:
It isn’t the Gospel.
It isn’t Good News for the poor.
It isn’t the Prince of Peace.
It isn’t the perfect love that casts out fear.
It isn’t Jesus by any measure.
It’s a toxic cocktail of power, control, fear, nationalism, and white privilege—and it looks much more like the bloated opulence of Rome than the early Church that resisted it.

Many times over the past few decades, my faith tradition has been life to me. It’s been the place I’ve found hope and rest. There was something bigger that I knew I was a part of, and in the people of Jesus I felt like I belonged. This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here. I don’t belong in that gathering like I once did. This is cause for real mourning.

But as with all funerals, they are necessary to mark the loss and to pivot toward life beyond it, as uncertain as that may be.

So yes, it might seem like I’m angry, but you’ll have to take my word for it I’m not. I’m just finally accepting the grief that comes when something you loved is gone and you wish that it wasn’t.

 

 

When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices

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I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.

 

 

The Church’s Sin Against the LGBTQ Community

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There’s a story Jesus tells, known as the Parable of the Talents. A wealthy man leaves his property in the hands of three servants to care for. Before departing, he gives each of them a certain amount of money (known as a talent). After a long time away, the man returns to discover that two of his servants have invested the money well, generating even more in his absence. They are greatly rewarded for their efforts, with shares of the property. The third servant, believing he had been wise, had buried his talent in the ground. When he presents it to his employer, the wealthy man is furious at the servant’s wastefulness. He takes the money from him and angrily sends him away.

The heart of the parable, is to use what you have been given by God well; not to squander your blessings or waste your time here. We church leaders teach the heck out of this when we’re looking or Nursery volunteers or we have a building campaign or when we want to get people fired up to evangelize—but it’s tough medicine to take for ourselves.

Seeing organized Christianity’s treatment of the LGBTQ community, it’s clear that we have been the foolish third servant—and we should repent of our reckless wastefulness.

Whether it’s championing anti-LGBTQ legislation, spearheading department store boycotts, aligning ourselves with hateful partisan politicians, rallying around incendiary celebrity preachers, campaigning against same-sex marriage, engaging in denomination-splitting battles, or daily using our pulpits and podcasts to beat the same dead homophobic horse, the result is the same—we bury our blessings in the ground. We waste our talents.

People (whether they identify as LGBTQ or not) are not coming to know Jesus through any of these things. They are rejecting them, condemning them, and using them to justify walking away from a religion they long suspected was fraudulent anyway. The Church isn’t shrinking in these days because people are turning from Jesus, but because they are turning from an institution that they can rightly see no longer represents him.

We have three resources in this life: time, creative energy, and money. We are given in this life, the opportunity to steward these things well, to cultivate them, to multiply them, to use them for goodness. They are finite, precious reserves we are entrusted with to reflect the character of Christ in the world. When I look at how much of these resources the Church has expended silencing, vilifying, eliminating, and persecuting the LGBTQ community, I am certain we are squandering them all and that we are flat-out failing our calling.

Seeing the massive investment Christians have made in recent years trying to keep LGBTQ people from marrying, from using the bathroom, from participating in the life of the Church, from ministering—or from simply living, I can’t help but wonder what far more redemptive things we might have accomplished here:

How many hungry people could have been fed?
How many people trapped in homelessness could have been released?
How many dilapidated inner city neighborhoods could have been cleaned up?
How many ministries to the poor and hurting could have been birthed, staffed, and funded?
How much racial reconciliation might have been engineered?
How many families and marriages could have been repaired?
How many suicides could have been prevented?

This is the sickening waste that the Church will have to account for.
It is the irresponsible frittering away of time that we each will have to personally answer God for.
It is the shared sin that we as the Church have to own, and decide whether or not we want to continue participating in.

I am praying that we will stop grossly misusing our talents to do things that bring God no glory, that do nothing to reflect Jesus, and that actively keep people from the abundant life he promised.

Church, stop wasting daylight. Stop burying your great wealth.

While you still can—pull your blessings from the ground.