A lot of people are being hit by this whole Duggar thing--and other headlines about stories of abuse coming out of well-respected churches--differently. Pretty much everyone agrees abuse is horrible and yet we can't agree on what abuse actually is. I hope it's clear to you, reader, whether you're here because you're trying to understand victims or my words make you feel understood as a victim, that I'm not terribly interested in every little detail of the Duggars. This isn't the place to argue about what was exactly right or wrong then or what's exactly right or wrong now. How could I even presume to know that? I've intentionally not given you a checklist of what I think counts as abuse and the Law Manual for how to go about it. That's not really the point, not for my writing. My goal is simply to give a voice to the legion of us for whom this entire situation is like a bomb just blew up in our face.
There are a lot of resources and opinions and it's not my heart's intent to force you to think or respond a certain way. My sincere hope in my post was that it might just help people see a tragically common person who has spent her life being surrounded by people, even church people, yet being unseen. Maybe hiding my real self, but you might understand why if you sat with me and I was safe enough to speak. For me, personally, the Duggar thing just brought up a lot of junk I was wrestling through, from all kinds of angles. I realized that I could hurt in silence, because it seemed like my suffering is at best a caveat or afterthought, or I could speak.
But something needs to be very clear: it's ok to speak to victims, in very carefully wrought circumstances. Especially the church. I support trying to shed some grace and light on situations like these--I know that's what I'm trying to do. The church just so often tends to blow it. They either say nothing and blame victims for being too screwed up to even try (imagine if Jesus treated us that way!) so they talk about all the lessons to be learned to prevent, and people eat it up because the thought of our babies being sexually assaulted terrifies us. Or the church tries to jump right over the suffering to get to how sinful everyone is, so let's all drop our stones. In doing so, they miss the woman caught in adultery that Jesus was there to save. And he stayed with her, didn't chase down the stone throwers. And, yes, in that situation, she was there for sin, but it's not a huge jump to think someone living that desperately likely would have been doing so based out of great pain. Even if not, Jesus cared about her.
This brings me to the heart of my post. First, I ask you to go read this article about why, even in the church, we are still blowing it in how we tend to handle abuse victims. I don't even support the way the murderer Josh is condemned, for what it's worth. Just how some criminals committing particular crimes are treated in a way that their victims are left, once again, thinking, "This hole in my gut is my own fault because clearly it doesn't mean much to anyone else."
So that article about the two Josh's? I can tell you that as I read it my soul cried out, "YES," and I didn't even realize I was crying until I felt tears drip off my chin. It isn't about who's right or wrong; it's about the fact that people matter and somehow everyone is so busy defending themselves against the worst ugly we're seeing out there (especially from those we don't like) that we are missing people right in front of us.
I know from the overwhelming response to my post that, while I absolutely still don't speak for every abuse victim, my words were the first time a LOT of us felt like we even had a voice. So many messages came to me through sobs of the soul that never once lamented or spouted anger at not being heard. They were just beyond relieved that for the first time they felt like someone was speaking to them and for them. They hoped people would hear, but weren't demanding it.
But as I said in my first post, we just hope that by speaking you will hear us, and our vulnerable cry is asking you to listen. And if we don't speak you can definitely never hear.
This post is hard for me to write, because Liberate changed my life. I have written time and time again about how Tullian Tchividjian's preaching and books and his Liberate ministry have changed my life. I still recommend Glorious Ruin to people over and over--and right now it's only $1.99 on Kindle and if you don't already have it GO BUY IT. Jesus changed my life so much through the message of Liberate that I'm planning a tattoo related to how Jesus set me free via Tullian, a mark permanently inked into my skin to visually remind me of the freedom engraved on my soul.
However, I see a tendency in my heart to excuse the stuff I don't like from "my team" as mistakes and the stuff from the "other" guys, who don't get the Gospel like I do, and that's wrong. It's arrogant and presumptuous. I'm on the team that preaches we're ALL actually that bad, to think things like I just described, and it's just as wrong when I do it as when others do it. We're the ones imploring people to live under grace and not law. So when we get it wrong, we should be the most free to admit it.
So, this Liberate article was painful for me. As I read it, the sinner in me cried out, "YES!" I agree with every word, in that Jesus' blood wasn't more needed for Josh Duggar's sin than it was for mine. I am legitimately grieved for the Duggar family--I saw some disgusting, vile things said to them on Twitter and I don't care what they did. It's wrong. Nothing that this situation brings up for me is more legitimate than the truth that in that Liberate post, because I don't deny my rags are equally filthy.
But my suffering is as legitimate. When abuse victims and some who advocate for us pointed out to the article's authors that their words minimized abuse, even if unintentionally, there was a tweet by one of the authors that said we all think our rags aren't as filthy as someone else's, which Tullian retweeted. But there has been silence on the front of why, perhaps, it's at least a disservice to say nothing to the abused.
And I realized we still aren't being heard.
So let me make something VERY CLEAR: I DO NOT believe that there is no redemption for perpetrators. At the risk of even offending other victims, I believe what Josh Duggar did was wrong, and it is a sin that is HORRIFIC. I also firmly believe that if he, or any other abuser no matter how vile, is in Christ that sin absolutely is covered. Jeffrey Dahmer tortured and raped and mutilated and cooked and ate his victims. He claimed he found forgiveness in Christ before his own murder, and I believe Jesus that even Jeffrey Dahmer's sins were made white as snow if he was in Christ.
That is scandalous grace, the kind that if Jesus came today, in the flesh, to call his followers then he'd pick the people that piss you off the most.
He'd take Ann Coulter and Michael Moore.
He'd get an IRS official and a libertarian who wants to end the Federal Reserve.
He'd grab the black man being beat nearly to death for a minor offense and the white cop who did it.
He'd grab a Mormon missionary off his bike in Suburbia, USA and the guy making fun of him with a joint rolled up in his fingers.
He'd call the radical who sold everything to take the Gospel to Africa and the corrupt head of the missions organization embezzling funds.
He'd tell the Coptic Christian beheaded by ISIS that today he'll be with Jesus in paradise and Jesus would tell the man covered in blood to drop the sword and follow him.
The child dead from cancer and the Westboro Baptist man protesting her funeral and the biker standing in between.
He'd get a girl off the table in an abortion clinic after the deed was done and then, on their way out, beckon one of the protestors holding the sign with a chopped up aborted baby.
The homeschooling fundamentalist Christian mother of 19 who actively advocates against gay marriage and the lesbian feminist burning bras.
He'd walk into a room with a child being raped by a man who bought the boy via sex slavery and he'd rescue the child and tell the man, "You, come too."
He'd take the little girl molested thousands of times from birth who never gets over it and he'd welcome in her father who violated her.
Do you see it? It's scandalous. It's ABSOLUTELY meant to wreck and offend us on every level.
I am not asking anyone to suspend the Gospel so that victims can be coddled.
I think the most harmful assertion made to me privately by one of the authors of the Liberate article was that the church only speaks in sin and grace and the state wields the sword. Victims want the pound of flesh that God gives to the state; God gives souls to the church. When I shared, carefully and gently, that it might be wise to have a follow-up article working with Boz Tchividjian or Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, he thought I was asking him to speak for the victims and said,
"People are too hurt. Too angry. I would be killed by those I was trying to speak for."
That broke my heart. Because I think this man genuinely hoped his article would serve the purpose of only setting people free. To see that when we rail against Josh Duggar or his "evil" parents we deny ourselves the freeing grace that comes with seeing that we are equally sinful in the sense that we have no stone to throw. We cannot base our righteousness on not being as bad as them. Our righteousness is worthless when compared to the only one who matters--the spotless, unblemished Lamb of God slain on our behalf. And that--seeing that we can actually love and forgive others because Christ has forgiven us of all? What a beautiful, beautiful article that every soul needs.
But I wasn't asking him to speak for me. I was asking him to consider a post that speaks to me about why we can't only talk in terms of sin and forgiveness. Not if our subject matter pertains to child sexual abuse. I was asking for acknowledgment that to think the church is only meant to speak to our sin but not our suffering in the context of sexual abuse was at least an oversight.
I don't think this man, nor Liberate writ large, actually believe the Gospel has nothing to say to suffering, nor even that Liberate shouldn't be a place a sufferer can come find as much freedom as the sinner; Tullian's book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Makes You Free was actually the primary place where I found Gospel healing for my profound suffering on a number of fronts. I just think that the outcry against the blog author for what he thought would be a really powerful, healing post has him reeling and he can't even see what he was implying when he said the church only speaks to sin and grace. He meant not justice but he blew right past me when I said he missed suffering.
|Our mantle, taken today.|
So back to that Liberate post. I want to it be clear: the original post didn't offend me. Again, the sinner in me cried, "YES! IT IS FINISHED!" The sufferer in me whispered through tears, "But is it finished?"
What hurt was seeing the defense of the post on Twitter. The tweet from an author of the article and then retweet about filthy rags from Tullian. The silence. And then the, "Thank you to the positive people." While still saying nothing to the people like me, the hurting people who weren't throwing knives, who were gently saying, "I think you are missing what I'm trying to tell you."
And I hurt for that man, the blog author who reached out to me. And let's credit him: he reached out to me after I tweeted to him. That speaks to character. But I hurt for him. You know why? He's suffering. Doesn't matter why. People are angry and in their own hurt they're just flailing about hurting people. And others use anonymity on the internet to say evil things. Wouldn't shock me to hear this guy has a hard time discerning the constructive, loving voices from the crazy hatred.
I can only assume he's confused and hurting and clinging to the only things that seem really, really true and important. His original post was really, really true and important, and I still maintain that. I just believe it was incomplete. And, by the Liberate website filtering out gentle feedback in the comments about why the post has been harmful to victims who feel dismissed, approving only those singing high praise, those of us who are hurting are being told once again that sin is all that matters. "Look how ugly! It's in you too! What is this you say about your suffering? Sure, I believe you. But that's an assumed and we're going to talk about the real stuff. And it kinda seems like you are just trying to skirt out from under your sin." Again, I bet moderators don't mean that; but when Biblical counseling tends to be, "I'm sorry for what happened to you. It was evil. Now let's talk about how you have sinned in response," then we feel silenced when even the websites we trust the most to care for our sin and our suffering only want to talk about our sin.
But I need to finish with one final analogy. This is, I believe, a powerful analogy that I hope can bring defenses down. This isn't about anyone against anyone. It's just that if the same site founded by the guy that wrote the most Gospel-oriented, life changing book on suffering that I have ever read can completely miss why even their best intent hurt so many people, maybe I can be Nathan and put all of of our eyes on a humble farmer and his one sheep, if you will.
To me, and many others in similar and related ways, my childhood sexual abuse had such a profound impact on my soul that this is the best way I can describe it to you; I'm going to talk about how you tend to miss me and why even your best intent, beloved Christian sibling, might cause damage you couldn't have anticipated when I tell you that you missed me (a HUGE risk for me) and you refuse to budge. I am hoping I can help you understand something so profoundly misunderstood.
The childhood sexual abuse against me, only very lightly and carefully detailed in my last post, took the body of my soul and forever handicapped it. My primary abuser, my own father, told me he loved me and then he took a rusty hacksaw and started maiming me. It was meticulous at first, careful little amputations of my toes at a time when I was a newborn baby. But as I grew older, sometimes he said it was loving to not make me have such a crooked stump at my ankle, so he grabbed an axe and lopped my left leg off just below the knee. Chunks and pieces of my soul painfully hacked away. I was alive, but grotesquely maimed, and I didn't even realize what was missing until many years later.
Every time I adjusted and learned to crawl through life, he or another abuser took something else. Some of my fingertips are missing, too. Or sometimes he would just tie me down, cut me so he could see me bleed. When I learned not to cry, to try and escape my body until it was over (in most of my memories of the abuse I view it like a camera above the scene; this is no mistake. I wanted to not be there). But when I mentally escaped, he'd slowly and cruelly slide the blade into my skin and then move it around to increase the pain. He'd put his face right next to mine, his eyes boring into me, his raunch breath hot against my face. He did that so often that sometimes I feel like my cheeks are permanently flushed from his very body heat meant to confuse me about where mine stopped and his began. He knew I would forever have his evil against me interwoven not just into my physical DNA but my being.
And that would be hard enough to live with psychologically, but, for me, my soul's body is covered in scars and my legs are gone at the hip. The Gospel took my ragged stumps, surgically opened them up, and with a surgeon's precision made the bones as cleanly cut as possible, made my stumps as softened as possible, made my life as bearable as possible with what I now have. My legs are still gone and my body is covered in grotesque scars, in my soul and spirit.
Maybe that makes you uncomfortable. That is my daily reality.
Let me tell you at the outright that because of the Gospel, because of grace, I have been given the great and gracious gift of realizing that while I would have NEVER chosen to go through life without legs, the fact is God revealed something precious to me. A lot of people think they can run this race on their own, that simply having working legs gives them the ability to run real fast and impress God real good. They are wrong, even know they are wrong, but can't even help but live like it's true. But I know I can't impress God by running. Sometimes I foolishly think I might get real strong in the arms to compensate, sure; but most of the time I praise God that because I can't even pretend my legs work I can know how God has already run for me.
But no matter how much my legs heal, no matter how much glory my sweet Jesus gets when people see me letting him be my legs, my legs are gone. My life is just different than it would be had my limbs never been taken. In my case, all I knew in my childhood was torture and pain, so I don't even really know what to yearn for because I never lived knowing what I would later lose it. I can only imagine what it's like to have regular scrapes and scars of childhood.
And that is bad enough. Really. If it ended there, it would be rough to have lost my legs and just rip-your-guts-out awful how they were taken. But it gets worse. Because sometimes things happen like the situation with the Duggars and it's like I am right back there--the gag is in my mouth and the terror is in my eyes and I can smell the blood and I feel him in my flesh and hear my bone break and dear god how much of my leg is gone now and the grotesque sound as he tosses part of me I'll never get back to the ground and this is all I know to be real in this very moment.
Is it hard for you to read that? Hard to believe? Hard to not to throw up or grab your kids and run for the hills just because that happened to someone on this same earth that you walk? Because I swear to you, if I weren't writing about me, I could not be writing this. I write as someone under the grace to have seen Jesus enter that scene and lay down on that table in my place. I have felt the Father draw me into his embrace as Jesus suffers in my place. I have known this grace. That is the only reason I can even try to help you understand by telling you about it. I hope you have compassion for the others who aren't where I am, able to openly be this broken.
So I am begging you, hear me. I do not deny my filthy rags. I have no claim to them being less filthy than my abuser's filthy rags because mud is mud. I am not theologically arguing that nor do I believe to have even implied it. Plus, by your own theological assertion, even if I stood pointing at my abuser's rags saying, "Jesus, but HIS rags are worse," even that sin is covered and I'm still robed in silken cloth gleaming white as virgin snow.
But if you are in this kind of situation, the kind that touches on abuse, particularly child sexual abuse, you must understand that when you feel your only role is to talk about how filthy all our rags are there are going to be people like me. Mud is flying all around us both. Both of our hands are dirty. But as you try to assess why people are throwing mud, I am flailing on the groud crying out to Jesus because I'm in that moment where my abuser just violated me, again and all at once and my blood is gushing. I'm screaming, "WHERE ARE MY LEGS? HE JUST CUT OFF MY LEGS!"
If you stand in front of me, impervious to the fact that your filthy rags are soiled red with the plasma spurting wildly from my veins, and all you can say to me is, "But look. Your rags have the same mud and grease and excrement as your abuser's, and that is what Christ would have me say to you as his bride," then even in my best attempt to understand you I'm just not going to hear it the way you wanted me to. I'm not even denying you the opportunity to point out my rags; hopefully you'll have the compassion to wait until I stop bleeding but if you never even acknowledge the gushing wounds? I can only gently say to you that Jesus immediately dressed my wounds and never once mentioned how much my clothes stank as he did so. Later? Yes. Through tender and compassionate and merciful patient words. But not when the wounds were still fresh and certainly not when I was on the ground gushing blood.
And let me give you the benefit of the doubt--maybe you honestly couldn't see me. All you saw was the mud flying all through the air, everyone trying to get someone else dirtier so they feel better in comparison. Maybe you got hit in the face with a rock and you're thinking, "Enough! Our Lord has made us all clean and we all have dirt so why don't we point each other to our righteousness," and that was all you were trying to do? I get it. I sincerely, really do. I told you--I ain't even mad.
I'm just hoping you can begin to understand why your compassionate appeal to recognize our own filthy rags missed the full audience. You saw the mud and I get it. But you didn't pause to see the blood, especially those flailing in blood and panicked the second the mud started flying. And I am not upset that you didn't pause nor am I holding it over your head to pause in the future. But RIGHT NOW, in this moment, I am giving you the opportunity to see that you telling me that my filthy rags--sin and grace--are the only thing that matter is every bit as extreme as if I tell you the only thing that matters is my gushing blood.
And finally, this: I don't doubt you had no idea. But if you tell me that someone close to you, whose opinion you regard highly, was amputated at the elbow but they really loved your article before you posted it, then I praise God. Truly. Not snarkily, truly. I'm simply telling you that this is where I am, and the truth is a lot of others are here with me. Perhaps part of the reason so many of us struggle is that because other people got their leg hacked off but graciously were fitted right away with a prosthetic and they never even notice, so that's what you say when we try to speak up about being handicapped. God did that for them, so he can do that for us. The assumption is that we don't want that kind of healing, or are making some sort of choice to be this jacked up.
THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS is where the church so often blows it. God doesn't need me to run so he can get glory. For some people he does that. But that hasn't been my story. My story is that my legs are gone and they're never coming back and PRAISE JESUS for wheelchairs. My story is that no matter how much I heal and experience grace without legs, I still have to sometimes relive how I lost them. Yet a lot of the church says, "I have scars, too, and I'm fine. I get suffering. So you've read the Bible! Believe! Rise up and walk!" They need to be the one to help adjust my spiritual mind so that God miraculously regenerates my legs. And I ain't just talking "healing" denominations here. Some miracles-are-dead conservatives are the worst, because they assume what this world needs is a bunch of people to walk tall and recite the verses that made it possible, the real miracle. What a horrible travesty.
But can you see, perhaps, that even your most beautiful, redemptive doctrine of, "It is finished," regarding sin alone can echo those same hollow commands? If you only address the sin and mercy, but not the suffering and grace, you are implying that all that matters is sin so stop bleeding and receive that grace for your sin already. And when I can't stop bleeding you misread my cries to Christ for mercy as, "CRUCIFY THEM," to those with muddy hands.
So, dear brothers and sisters, we are all the Duggars in the sense that we all live messy, complicated lives. We handle things horribly and often try to minimize and spiritualize it. But only some of us are the Duggar victims, and while our reactions vary, to address only the way the sin of our abuser is covered but not our excruciating suffering? You miss so much of the Gospel.
I am met with the power of the whole Gospel. Christ removes my rags of filth from the mud pit, indeed. He also tenderly pulls off my garments so bloodied that when peeled off my own skin goes with them. But he cleanses me, dresses my wounds, and adorns me in fresh, white linens and declares me righteous.
Now this is more specifically to Liberate, to the men who wrote "We Are All the Duggars", to Tullian, to the staff who moderated the comments, even to those defending the article as perfectly fine and pretty much writing off those asking for support for victims as bloodthirsty:
The beauty of the Gospel is that you can see why leaving out grace for profound suffering was erroneous. You can help everyone who only heard the part about freedom from their sin with your original post hear Jesus declare freedom over our suffering, as well.
Let's let the Gospel we ourselves declare shine! You missed the mark when you failed to graciously speak freedom to the captives of suffering. You can own it, and share why God's grace in suffering needs to be spoken right now. Don't be the person in filthy rags swearing your motives were clean. Even if they were, it could have been an actual mistake. But then you defended it, defended denial to speak to suffering as right due to a thirsty mob. That is flat our wrong and it was intentional. Let's be the Christians who actually own it when we were wrong because we're free in Jesus as much as we say we are!
And Tullian, do you know why I love you so much? Why I read your books and came to your conference to meet you? Because I have seen you own your sin. Not in the, "How can I escape the consequences?" way. In the, "I am the chief of sinners and you see this, right here? Last week? That thing I said publicly? I was wrong. I need Jesus as desperately as I say I do and now I get to allow you to see it." That's true humility. That's real strength in your weakness. So I implore you not as a fangirl, not a someone waiting for you to screw up so I can write you off, but as a sister who was wept and rejoiced with you as you have lived your life so authentically before me. I'm asking you to address this issue. The Gospel is not a one trick pony of just filthy rags, and you wrote the book that changed my life and teared up when I met you and wept about how thankful I am for you. I love you. I won't love you or respect you less if don't address this. I'll just be really, really sad and praying you eventually come around.
Yes, this is about that Liberate article, but isn't it really for all of us? How we all miss the people right in front of us? And if I am offending you, blowing past you, let's work it through. I mean that with sincerity. I trust the Lord can show my sin, and I have repented to siblings in Christ in the last few days because I was clinging to my suffering to the point that I flung mud at them. We experienced such beauty as the Gospel entered in, and there was grace abounding. To our sin and our suffering on all sides.